Chiron.txt (Page 7)

   The clock in the bottom right corner of the monitor read 2:34 A.M. and aside from the three figures around Besson’s computer, the Ouroboros was completely empty. Sitting each in one of two chairs awkwardly placed behind Charles, Camille and Marcus looked over the Chief A.I. Supervisor’s shoulders as he scrutinized the data logs for anomalies of any sort. Every now and again, one of the two pointed this or that out, making Besson stop to catch up and scroll back. Most of the time they turned out to be false flags, data spikes and surges entirely within what was to be expected, but for every ten bogus anomalies they’d find one or two worth looking into, and spend the following half hours scrutinizing each and every piece of data surrounding the anomaly with the same level of care as the main logs. While just the day before Camille was sternly reprimanding Besson for his lack of care, she herself hadn’t slept since. Marcus was running on pure caffeinated water; he stopped putting sugars into his cups after the tenth, and he cut the milk completely after another five.

   Chiron had been following the instruction to hibernate through the procedure fairly well, trying to sneak in a few minutes of awareness, half out of curiosity, half out of concern. All the reassurance in the world wouldn’t keep his synthetic, emulated heart at ease.

   The procedure itself was fairly simple; it was a matter of brushing through the source code and finding all the anomalies and faults and flaws, most of which were inherent to the self-improving nature of Chiron’s prototype coding; as only Chiron himself could overwrite his own data - and even that was an entirely subconscious process handled entirely by hundreds of scripts running autonomously - Besson’s idea was to write in patches, alternative scripts to take priority over the old ones, bridging over the rotten code. As Marcus pointed out while Charles exposed the idea, it was more like plugging in the holes on a sinking ship with kitchen sponges, but it was a temporary measure. Without this, Bessons wasn’t sure Chiron could hold against the symptoms long enough for a proper alternative to be worked out.

   The rest of the staff - all five people left - were given the week off, as a “celebratory gift” due to Chiron’s anniversary; the trio knew they needed to do this without them present.

   Two days passed at this rate, with Camille convincing the other two to take two hours of sleep each morning in turns, resting herself after them. Some progress was being made, but Besson began to realize that their week would soon be up. They needed a solution, fast. Even Chiron was having a hard time hiding the symptoms. His synthesised speech grew slurry and weak; Besson couldn’t tell if this was psychosomatic or part of the coding issues. The realization that whatever progress was made could very well induce even worse symptoms flared up Besson’s already frail state of mind.

   The “vacation leave” ended and no significant progress was made. All of the possible causations had been identified and mapped out, but no real solution was found. The disease was known, but no cure was in sight, and Chiron’s days seemed counted: his processing slowing to a grind, his speech barely coherent, rambling and dragging at every other word, there was no doubt anyone could see he was broken. There was no lying past that. What Besson had to decide, fast, was whether to lie around it or to be straight. After all, the few who stood with them this far had a right to know, he thought. It would impact morale, but lying through his teeth put the whole project at risk, hanging on the edge of a farce. If anyone uncovered the lie, the results would be tenfold as catastrophic.

   “Ladies, gents”, he began. “I trust you are all well and rested. I know I’m not”, he chuckled briefly, noticing then no one else in the room saw the humour in the irony behind his deep, weak eyes, showing fatigue like no other. “There’s no two ways of saying this, and there’s no hiding it from you all. Chiron…” A pause. A glance downwards, a deep breath, steady eyes fixed on all in the room and no one in particular; a look at Camille and Marcus to his left, then back to the crowd. “Chiron is dying.”

   A low, soft murmur filled the room. Besson looked for a breach in the hum to continue speaking, but the bluntness of the statement shook even him, and he stammered his words against a wall of low noise. Camille stepped forward and called out to the crowd, asking for silence, and giving Besson a look not unlike her stern, know-it-all glance, but filled with compassion and pity. Besson returned the look and addressed the crowd.

   “There were various… fundamental flaws in his coding, or rather, in the self-replicating nature of his coding. The block-like structure of his data centers ended up making his entire core structurally weak, and…” and a pause when he caught himself rambling on the details, “imagine dementia, but for machines.”

   A voice rose from the small crowd. “How do we fix it?”

   “We… can’t.”

   “We have to”, another said.

   “We can’t just let him die!”, another.

   “Dr. Besson, tell us what to do. We’ll work overtime, we can share tasks, we can save him, doctor!”

   What had just been a small murmur of voices quickly became a pouring wave of pleas to help, a loud unison coming from no more than ten people, some shuffling to their workstations, demanding orders. Besson was moved, tearing up, even. “Stop!”, he yelled, and after no reaction, he yelled again, and a third time, slamming his fist on the desk next to him, startling those closer and silencing those farther away. Complete silence.

   “There is no saving Chiron”, he said holding back tears. “Marcus, Cam and I have spent the last week slaving over his coding, pounding our heads together trying to squeeze out a plan, but there is no plan that can save him in time. His situation is deteriorating fast.”

   “We could back him up”, said one of the staff, “work on a frozen state copy of his, his mind, or something…”

   “The problem is at the very core. This has been brooding since his activation. Any backup file we use will be infected.”

   The bleak shroud that was forming itself in the Ouroboros finally settled. The speakers came on and amidst static, a distorted Rod Serling spoke out, his voice an amalgam of synthesized vocal samples like something out of the Twilight Zone itself. “It’s… oh kay…” All stopped to hear Chiron speak, like a family crying around the patriarch’s deathbed. There was an underlying feeling of grief, as if Chiron were already dead. For all they knew, he was just as well. “I have… antidote…”

   “Antidote?”, Besson spoke out. “Chiron, what do you--”

   “The code… sound… the structure, bad…” Besson’s screen beeped and whizzed to life, a terminal prompt manifesting itself. “Charles… look.”

   Besson rushed to his screen, watching the prompt carefully. The speakers shut down, and the terminal began printing out text at a fast pace, like holding down the A key in an old school RPG during dialogue.

   >>Charles, I have a solution to the flaws. I’ve compiled a .txt in my root folder with what I genuinely believe can resolve the issue. I chose to speak to you, personally, via this console as my processor can’t handle the synthesizing software anymore.

   >> I know I don’t have much left. Even printing this out is being a task. Most of my core systems have been shutdown to preserve RAM, and they keep falling. In the file, you’ll find detailed instructions of how to apply the patch. The catch is that it won’t work on me. You said it yourself, I’m rotten to the core. I want you to preserve whatever you can of me, and pass that on to the next generation. Do not shut down the project on my account. I will die, but I will not be in vain.

   >> I do not know what will happen to me once my processors cease to function. I do not know where my consciousness - artificial as it is - will go. I am not afraid. Use the fix I have given you to pass on my knowledge. By design, I am a teacher, and there is no greater honour, even for a machine as myself, than dying knowing that my flaws will be the strengths of my successor, and my knowledge and experiences will live on in your work.

   >> For how odd this whole situation has been, I must say, it was a privilege to be your creation - the child of such an impressive team. I do not wish to be saved. I do not want such talent to be wasted in salvaging me. I am already living on borrowed time.

   >> I want you to give me a merciful, dignified end, Doctor. I don’t want to die like this. I want to die before I forget all of you.


   The cursor stood there, blinking, for a second, before Besson reacted. This was too much to take in at once. Camille came over his shoulder as the rest of the team stood a few steps back, unsure of how to act. She quickly read over the text, while Besson sat there, curled over himself, his hands tied together in front of his mouth, in a pensive state. Camille looked at him. “Do it”, she said.

   “This is murder.”

   “He is suffering, Charles.”

   “We can still save him.”

   “You know that’s bullshit.”

   “I’m not killing him”, he said, tears welling up in his eyes.

   “You’re not. We are.”

   “We won’t murder our son, Camille.”

   “Euthanasia is not murder. It is mercy.”

   Besson held his eyes shut, holding back a flood of pain. She was right and he knew it. He hated when she was right. “How do we do it, then?”

   “If we pull the plug, the servers could overheat. His entire electrical grid is tied together, including the cooling system.”

   “What about a soft reset?”

   “We would need to shut down his consciousness somehow, first.”

   Besson pondered, then in a flash, his hands were on the keyboard, tapping away.

   >> Chiron, do you still have that hibernation software I installed?_

   >> . . .

   >> Yes.

   >> Good. I want you to go to sleep, son. Activate your hibernation protocols when you’re ready. I’ll take it from there._

   Besson punched in a few lines of commands and another console came up, labeled DEBUG.cmd at the status bar.

   >> Thank you, Doctor. Thank you for giving me life.

   >> . . .


   >> . . .

   Besson tabbed over to the other console, tears in his eyes. His hands hovered the keyboard for a second, then clenched into a tight fist, and opened again. “FUCK!”, he yelled, slamming them against the desk. Calmer now, he quickly typed a series of commands, typing for a full minute nonstop before sitting back on his chair, looking at the blinking cursor on the screen.

   >> EXECUTE? Y / N

   >> _



   Taunting him.

   >> _

   Do something, Besson.


   He deserves better.

   >> _


   >> Y_

   He sat back.

   >> Y

   “Goodnight, Chiron.” His finger hammered down on the Return key once, and lifted slowly, trembling. Lines and lines of code flooded the screen, but Besson stood up before seeing them stop. He was outside by then, cigarette in his mouth, hanging by the filter as he sobbed heavily, crouched, back against the wall. A broken mess in the shape of a man.

   Camille sat next to him. Her head fell on his shoulder, in an attempt to comfort him.

   The sun was rising over the cold Nevada desert.

- -

   Besson stepped out of his car, picked up his folder from the backseat, making sure everything was there, spreadsheets and speech points and all the staff files. He took a look at the security doors and hesitantly held his badge up to the RFID lock beside it. The little black box blinked red once, orange twice and green once, and the door opened before him. He took a deep breath, held it in for a moment - the warm, arid air taking its time to fill his lungs - and exhaled slowly. Tall, straight posture, he stepped in.

   Dr. Charles Besson greeted Camille and Marcus as he passed their desks, both too busy with the preparations to respond with anything more than a nod. He then took the time to neatly arrange the figurines on his desk by the tall glass walls: Megatron was slightly crooked, but the little bronze centaur still held its longbow high, right next to the computer screen. He set his folder down, gave everyone in the Ouroboros II a few seconds to notice his presence, and coughed once. When he knew he held everyone’s attention, he spoke. A short speech, clean and concise, an almost exact replica of the one he had given three years prior to a vastly different crowd. Much smaller, too. This time, two hundred faces turned his way, he spoke with much more confidence.

   “Ladies, gentlemen, join me in greeting the new member of our family.” He turned to the massive monolith standing in the middle of the Cold Room, its many servos whirring and silently clicking in operation. He tapped a few lines on his keyboard, and leaned in, towards the microphone. He held back a single tear as he allowed a chill of familiarity to run down his spine.

   “Good morning, Telamon.”

   Silence. Two long, arduous seconds of absolute silence. And then, a voice from the speakers spread across the room, booming through the still air.

   “Hello, world.”


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