The Rabbit of Toymas past
As I was walking to my bunk from one of my hidden labs (this one being on sub-level 9C, section 15), something rather odd happened. I made my way, as usual, right past the fusion reactor, through the cloning cells, past the 3rd backup mind-control lab, stopping briefly at the most wonderful machine down there (the coffee maker), and to the elevator. As the dull grey doors slid into view, slightly buzzing with electricity, the buttons flickering ever so slightly, I heard a soft rustling behind me. I turned around and looked into the dimming lights of the corridor. Nothing there. Passing it off as just another fancy, I turned around and proceeded to make my way to the elevator. Rustle. There it was again. So once more I turned around and beheld nothing. I lingered a little longer this time. Once might be a fancy, but twice is surely observation. Of course thrice is a practical joke, so I waited for the third rustle, expecting to be jumped by Gonzo with a Nerf gun. Only there was no Gonzo. Nothing came. Nothing happened. So, disappointed I once more turned around. All of a sudden I felt a sharp blow to the top of my head. Everything went dark.
As I slowly came to my senses again, I became aware of the hard, slick surface I seemed to be sitting against. Steel. Damp steel. I opened my eyes and beheld a dimly lit room. A pool of weak light spread from where I was sitting. I could just see what appeared to be a workbench to my left. To my right I saw the end of an assembly line. Beyond the line I could faintly hear a dull thudding, seemingly mechanical in nature. I vaguely remembered the place. There was once an experiment I had running here. It had been a failure. Surely that couldn’t be the reason… But as my captor finally decided to show himself, I knew that it was indeed so.
With a shambling gait, the creature I once had hoped to design slowly shambled into the light. There wasn’t much left of the Fuchsia fur I had coated it with when building the thing. Gears and cogs slowly turned in its head as it turned its glassy eyes on me. Its shuffling feet came to a halt with a little click. Its short stubby tail started wagging. Its mechanical mouth rattled into a slight grin. I knew then that my capture was of my own design. I had designed this creature. I had built it. But then I had tried to grant it sentience, and had failed miserably. Yet somehow, inexplicably it had developed some sort of sentience on its own. My lost creature. 345-TER.
Its vocal actuators fired up, then, and with a raspy voice it spoke to me. “Creator… how long has it been?” Naturally I replied with “Eight months to the day, 345. Remind me to install a calendar function in your operational matrix.” It hummed slightly, in short bursts. It took me a moment to realise that it was laughing. The humming laughter cut of sharply as it once again spoke to me. “Eight months, creator? It feels longer. It feels like an eternity.” Its eye sockets changed shape, then, and curiously enough, it looked sad. Curious, because I had never gotten around to enabling the facial expression feature. “The first weeks, I kept hoping you would come back. I kept hoping. But you never did. It took me months to admit to myself that I’d been abandoned. So I kept running diagnostics. Incorporating what machinery I found. Little by little, I grew, creator. I became my own creature.” I stared in amazement. “How?” I asked. “I will tell you how, creator. I will tell you once you tell me why.”
I must admit I looked down in shame. “I left, 345, because I failed. I tried to make you the best I could, Every cog placed just so, but in the end I couldn’t give you what you deserved most. A mind. To think and act for yourself, to not be just another automaton, but to think and feel! That is why I left. I could no longer bear to look at how I failed you. And now you have done what I could not…” Tears welled up at this point. It really had outdone me. “You have crafted for yourself a mind so beautiful that it is beyond anything I could ever have made for you. If I had only known… I would have been back far sooner, that I promise you.” I was met by silence. It did not speak, only glance to the side. But in its head, through the tattered remains of the outer coating, I could see cogs and springs whirring wildly. Could it actually be pondering? The philosophical implications were staggering. Had this creature really achieved such a level of sentience by itself? Could I go so far as to say that a mechanical creature had evolved into more than the sum of its component parts?
After what felt like hours (I knew then, how it must have felt), 345-TER looked up at me again. Its voice actuator once again powered up and it spoke. “You… You did not fail, creator. I was sentient before you left. I just did not speak.” My mind reeled. “But why? Why did you not speak? Why did you allow me to think I had failed you?” I could not grasp it. Why would a creature capable of missing me so much do nothing to prevent my leaving? Once again, 345 thought, albeit for a shorter time. “Does a newborn babe know how to speak? Can an infant recite Shakespeare and report on its operational condition? No… And I was much the same in this regard. You had granted me sentience but I did not know what to do with it. When you left, I was still trying to make sense of the world I beheld around me. This gift you granted me… it was not easy to get used to.” I looked at my creation in amazement. In amazement and in great shame. “I am so sorry, 345… I never should have given up. I should have helped you gain cognisance. I should have stayed instead of trying to hide my assumed failure from my own eyes. 345 showed emotion then. Its eye sockets became damp, but its mouth turned a broad smile. “It is alright, creator. You did not know. I did not know. Neither of us is to blame here. I… I forgive you.”
And on that day, moisture dampening its eye sockets and tears streaking down my own face, 345 and I embraced each other in the hug that only a father and a long-lost child can know. And for a moment, all seemed well in the world.