Chiron.txt (Page 6)

   Charles Besson slaved over the latest performance analysis sheet, scanning carefully each line, each character in each word printed on screen at least twice over, making sure nothing eluded him. His face was long, visibly exhausted. He hadn’t slept in three days, since the night of the party. Coffee no longer had any taste or effect to him, as he chugged it down, having moved the coffee machine to his desk, Megatron cast to the side to make space. Camille approached him from the back like a vet closing in on a wounded tiger.

   “Charlie, you should go home”, she said. He didn’t respond. “Have you been home recently?” Still, no response. She pouted, sighed, and put a hand on his shoulder to shake him slightly. “Charles!”, she yelled, calling the eyes of all in the lab.

   “Okay, Cam, fuck, what?”, he snapped back at her as he articulated each word rhythmically, causing her to pull her arm back in a moment of shock.

   “You’re killing yourself here, Charlie.”

   “I’m fine.”

   “But you’re not.”

   “I know I’m not. But I have to do this.”

   “What even are you doing? There’s nothing on the schedule about performance review for another month.”

   “It’s no big deal. I got this.”

   “You have clearly not got this, Charles. You’ve been acting all weird about Chiron since the party. What’s wrong?”


   She glared at him. Besson hated when she glared; it was that self-righteous, I know you know I’m right kinda glare.

   “Nothing”, he insisted, emphatically.

   Camille motioned for the desk with her hand, towards Besson’s pile of sticky notes and crumpled paper. As he raised his arm in a reflexive motion, shooing hers away, she noticed the side of his hand was smudged with ink from the cheap ball pens he had resorted to using. The empty pens sat discarded across the desk, almost confused in with the fresh ones spewing out from the freshly ripped ten-pack. She retracted and, frustrated, went in again, over his shoulder. Picking up the scratchpad off his desk, she flicked through it for a second or two before he grabbed it again.

   “What are you doing?”, Besson protested.

   “What’s all this? How’s this related to Chiron? This is all…”, she shook her head as if searching for the words, “this isn’t AI stuff, Charles!” And at Besson’s silence, she took her hand to his shoulder again, gently this time, and in a low, compassionate tone, “Charlie, what’s going on with Chiron?”

   Besson hesitated, looked down, exhaled. “Keep it down, Cam.” He handed her the notepad and motioned to the door, pulling out two cigarettes from his pocket. She turned hers down, to which he replied “Suit yourself. Come on”, before leading her through, outside.

   - -

   Through the heavy steel security door bordering the Facility’s Entrance halls and the outside world, Camille and Besson stood under the dusking sky, the faint glow of the closest stars already breaking through the fading sunlight. Him, back against the facility’s thick Bunkeresque walls, half-bent cigarette hanging from the edge of his lips, his gaze straight forward, meeting nothing in its path; her, standing a few feet ahead and to his right, watching the last rays of sun bombarding the searing Mojave sands, giving them a last bout of warmth to last well into the upcoming night.

   “This is the first break I’ve taken in days”, Besson realized between drags. “Christ.”

   “Why are you slaving so much, dude?” She didn’t turn to face him. “You’re stressing me out at this rate.”

   “It’s Chiron.”

   “I’ve noticed.”

   “He’s not well.”

   “Not well, like how?”

   “Like, not well. Like sick.”

   “What’s he got?”

   “You won’t believe it.”

   “Try me.”


   “Shit.” Her gaze swayed downwards, then up and straight ahead again. “Curable?”

   “In people? Treatable.”

   “What about him?”

   “I wouldn’t know. He’s the first case of his kind, and I’m no doctor.”

   She sighed. “Fuck.” She clenched a fist. “Fuck. How bad?”

   “Memory loss – well, leaks – and difficulty in concentrating his processing power.” A longer drag. “It’s deteriorating.”

   “So that’s what you’ve been pouring over.”

   “His performance reports show minor symptoms starting around two months ago. He’s been hiding it ever since. Compensating, rerouting power, storing data in his RAM... Clever son of a bitch knew how to hide it well.”

   “Why hide it?”

   “When you were feeding him intel behind my back – when he revealed it to me, he mentioned fear of deactivation. I think he’s still scared of being made obsolete, of losing his reason to be kept alive.”

   “So why only tell us now?”

   “Would we throw a party in his name if we were so keen on killing him?”

   Camille nodded, sighed. “He's desperate, he wants help. We all should help.”

   “Look at the staff, Cam. Look at the few of us who are left. We’re already overworked, understaffed. Word in the Ouroboros is that at least a couple more are looking to split. This is not a good time to tell them that the project is dying.” A deep sigh, a long drag, one to finish off the cig. “Besides, we’re all too attached to him by now. It’s like gathering the family around to tell them your infant son has terminal cancer.”

   “Well, you’re not doing this alone, Charlie.” Finally, she turned her head, slightly, just enough to catch him with the corner of her eye. “This is too much for just one person.”

   “I can take it”, he objected, bringing out another cigarette from his pocket. As he put it to his lips, the paper roll slipped from his mouth and he fumbled to catch it mid-fall, failing. As he bent over to pick it up, he glanced upwards and noticed Camille giving him her dreadful glare. “Oh, stop it, you.”

   “You will give me part of the work load”, she says. “I’m no programmer but I know Chiron’s memory banks like the back of my hand. We’ll get Marcus to help, too. If nothing else, he deserves to know, as one of the section leaders.”

   “Camille—”, but he was quickly interrupted.

   “He’s not your son, Charlie. He’s our kid. We all made and raised him until now. All of us. Whatever happens, we all have as much right to see it through to the end as you do.”

   He tossed the burnt paper stub to the floor and stared at it as the ember died out, buried under the sand. He kicked some over it, and reluctantly smiled, looking back up at Camille. “Okay. Get Marcus to come out here”, and after a quick pause to light a new cigarette, “mom.”


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