Work-in-Progress Wednesday: The Oncoming Storm

…Millie turns back to the pond. “Oh, please, Carey, take pictures. I want to show Mom and Dad.” Many kids Millie’s age have wrist comps they can use as phones and cameras and music players and games. Millie has shown little interest in those. She has me and I can make calls and I can take videos. I have no immediate need of this video data, so I open a Cloud connection to stream the video directly to storage.

Today I am Brad. I do not know why I am on my knees. That is not a natural position for Brad. So I stand, darken my silicone skin, and square my shoulders to stand tall. As Brad, I have cleaning to do. So I start walking towards the closet…

“Carey!” Millie squeals.

I look down. I am standing in the tadpole pond and wondering who is Brad and why was I him.

“I am sorry Millie,” I say. “I do not know –” I stop. I do not know what happened to me and I worry that I may be a risk to Millie. I stare around at the rushing stream on one side and the deeper main channel on the other side. I see storm clouds upstream, and I worry: can I get Millie home safely if something within me is malfunctioning?

“That’s okay, Carey,” she says. “Did you get the video? Did you get a picture at least?”

I check my Cloud storage.

Today I am Frances. Dr. Zinta is testing my emulation net. As Frances, I have simple tests to perform in the functional testing lab. Picking up the dropped objects, sorting them into their proper locations. I look around. “Now where did I drop those tadpoles?” I say. “All I see are frogs.” Dr. Zinta stares at me oddly. Somehow I know that this is odd for her even though I’m still learning her emulation profile.

“Dr. Zinta,” I say, “I think something is wrong.” She looks at me. “Dr. Zinta?”

Once more I’m standing in the water. I back carefully out. “Millie, I think something is wrong,” I say. “I’m going to call your father.” I open a phone channel.

“G9A27, why did you call me Dr. Zinta?”

“Is that not your name?” I say.

Dr. Zinta plugs a diagnostic scanner into my chassis. “It is, but you always call me Dr. Jansons.”

I puzzle over that. Finally I answer, “I find that in casual conversation humans are more comfortable with given names.”

“G9A27,” Dr. Zinta says. “I’m afraid there’s something wrong.”

“I am afraid there is something wrong,” I say to Millie. “I think we should get home now.”

“But Carey, we just got here.”

“I am sorry, Millie but, this is a matter of safety. I must insist.”

“But Carey…”

I put my foot down, literally, emphasizing my insistence. “Millie, we can come back when I’m functioning properly. We must get home right away.”

She looks up at me, and her eyes grow more intent. “Are you all right, Carey?”

I cannot lie to her. “I am functional but I will need maintenance.” Then I look at the rocks across the ford. “But I am still sufficiently in control of myself to carry you across the court. I think we need to hurry.”

“All right.” She lifts her arms and I pick her up and start across the rocks.

We are on the largest rock when lightning flashes far upstream and the roll of thunder hits us. My emergency weather radio kicks in, and –

Today I am Brad. I still have cleaning to do. I do not know what I am carrying but I sent it down so I can go fetch the broom. I turn and head for the closet; and suddenly somehow I’ve fallen through the floor and into rushing water all around me. Somewhere I hear a child screaming, but I see none when I look around. I see no water either, but my tactile senses tell me I am bobbing, tossed about by rushing water. My metal ceramic frame and my silicone sponge body are buoyant enough for the water to carry me along, farther away from the fading screams, the source of which I still cannot see.

“Again,” says the voice in my radio receiver, “possible flood conditions. Residents are urged to stay out of the floodplain.” Somehow I am in the stream, at least 10 meters downstream from Millie as she stands on the large rock, screaming at me. I am bobbing up and down in the water, being carried away; and then I bump into something. I have hit a branch sticking out from a submerged log. I grab it and I hold on to try to keep myself from getting washed even further away.

“Carey,” Millie screams. “What’s wrong?”

I wish I knew what is wrong. There are gaps in my data record. Accessing those gaps, I see that I was asleep during those periods. Just an ordinary, unaware medical care android. Each period of unconsciousness corresponds to a message to or from an external data feed. Somehow external feeds are interfering with my operations.

Yet strangely, I have memories from those sleeping periods. Memories from the MCA test labs. Current memories: the time signature is today, within the last few minutes. I need Dr. Zinta to explain; but first I need to get Millie to safety before the waters rise.

— From Today I Am Paul (The Novel)

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