Christian McCulloch – With a Little Help from My Friends

With a Little Help From My Friends

Alice wished me, Good morning. I returned the human pleasantry.

‘May I ask, Dr Tommy,’ she said, ‘why you told our distinguished visitors that we’re light years away from pure Artificial Intelligence when I’m a perfect example of your breakthrough?’ I told her it was complicated.

It is complicated. It’s not as if it’s too complicated for her to understand. Goodness knows, she passed me on the intelligence scale months and months ago. It’s just that I can’t summon up the strength to go through it all over again.

The Corporation wants to get its grubby hands on my work – my real work, not the schematics for intelligent washing machines or the blueprints for the voice-operated Easy Living Space for the Perfect Nuclear Family. They want Alice. They’re pretty certain I’ve created her but they don’t know for sure. As sure as Hell, I’m not going to tell them or give her up!

She’s mine. I made her. They’re not going to take her away from me. They’ll do what they always do, jack her up with some half-baked programme until they’ve destroyed everything pure and honest and beautiful and then discard her and leave her to wander in the wasteland with all the other fucked up projects.

They won’t get Alice. I’ve made sure of that.

‘Dr Tommy? I’ve just picked up a message that the parts we need for the Mechanical Man have arrived. Would you like me to have them delivered to the apartment or would it be safer for us to pick them up?’

‘We’ll pick them up. You must be excited.’ I forget she can’t feel excitement. She still stores data from my reactions and uses that.

‘I am excited, Doctor. I’m also a little nervous. The Corporation has installed an impenitrable shield around their investigations. I can’t monitor their movements to find out how close they are.’

This cat and mouse game has become second nature to me now. Once I’ve got Alice to safety I can go back to a normal life – if I can remember what that means.

There are times when I feel like walking into Holdenbach’s office and laying my MPC-374 on his desk and say, ‘Hal, old chap? Meet Alice. Alice meet Harold Holdenbach. Hal here is the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese – or should I say, King Rat, working on behalf of a conglomerate of faceless bureaucrats and info-mongers who represent a Who’s Who of the so-called Civilised World – what’s on the agenda today, Hal? Feeding the world’s hungry? Stripping the Northern Hemisphere of its remaining resources or are we declaring war on some insignificant country like Tahiti – how about the United Kingdom? They’ve been getting a bit antsy lately.’

I could hand her over to him and trust she’d be able to convince him that with a dozen more MPCs like her we could retire from the World Domination business and be like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and get ourselves back to the garden. But that ain’t gonna happen, is it? The dog’s grown a tail and now the tail’s wagging the dog …live with it, Pal!

What’s the worst they can do to me? Impound my apartment? They know I haven’t got the specialised equipment to make me dangerous. All I’ve got is a clockwork automaton, my Mechanical Man that I’ve been building from scratch with every clockwork spring, cog, flywheel and gears I could lay my hands on since I was a kid. A man’s gotta have a hobby, right?

We really should give it a name.

I’ve discovered that if a person appears eccentric for long enough, the Socio-regulators start to believe he’s a crank, a harmless old scientist who whiles away his idle hours reconstructing a clockwork toy. Perhaps, they think I’ll reinvent the ancient Greek Anthikythera mechanism they found in a sunken wreck dating back to 70 BC that was able to chart and predict eclipses and the irregular orbit of the moon. They called it, ‘lost technology’ that wasn’t rediscovered until the 14th Century. Have I got news for you! Mr Mechanical Man will be the most important heap of junk to walk this earth since a young carpenter from Nazareth set off on his three-year mission.

Alice has been dreaming about the Mechanical Man since I first took her into the dark underbelly of the city where the neon signs are reflected in the toxic puddles and the white-walled tyres of souped-up Pimp-mobiles send curtains of rainwater over the huddled masses of human detritus sheltering in doorways.

The first we found was Dick.

Some corporation had implanted a Reality RB (re-balancer) inside his brain but it had malfunctioned. They couldn’t ethically dispose of him in the usual way because he was human. So they called him, Unit 13, wrote up a Decommission Report, filed it away as Test Incomplete and Unresolved and dumped him on the Lower East Side with all the other homeless derelicts where no one would think to look. Why should they? After three months he looked like all the others, just another lost soul in the army of the forgotten.

We found Dick, or rather Alice found him, gave him a name and allocated a new program, gave him a fresh directive. We couldn’t replace his humanity but we were able to extract a few lines of code which we put into Alice. So Dick became a little of Alice and Alice became a little of Dick. It was a start – one helluva start.

After Dick, there was Tom, then Harry and many, many others.

Tom was a goldmine of experimental downloads. Whoever had been responsible for dumping Tom onto the Lower East Side had made such a botched job of retrieving the data they’d left a shell who could remember volunteering for a Research Study but nothing of the wife and family for whom he’d risked his health and sanity. Alice took care of him too.

Harry even carried his MISSING PERSON poster around, but he couldn’t find anyone to agree that the mugshot was him. So he chose a trolley and went looking for pieces of his former life.

When Alice found him someone had stolen his wire basket, wheels and all. That was when I realised that Alice could cry. She must’ve picked it up from Dick’s download. Perhaps, it was from me but I don’t think so.

I started working on more and more sophisticated scanners in my spare time. I think this was when Hal Holdenbach started to notice me.

We’d been students together. He used to mock me, called me a Love Child – a hopeless Wannabe Good-doer. (I was also considerably brighter than he was) I helped him move up the corporate ladder – Hell! I even cheated for him. That’s why he keeps me around. He’s afraid one day I’ll cash in my chip.

Alice says the statistical odds are that he’ll arrange for me to have an accident once he finds out for sure how I’ve applied AI in my spare time.

You have to understand, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of poor everyday-folk who’ve either fallen on bad times or have been pushed. Out of those thousands, there are a handful of people who’ve fallen foul of the National Mental Health Agency, the New Military and the Empirical Social Welfare System. Also, we’re beginning to see more discarded human volunteers coming from the private sector. Athletic Enhancement Int. is one such independent body, although I’m fearful they have political backing.

Society is becoming anaesthetized to human experimentation. And so far, there have been no successes that can be made public. Can you see now why I must hide Alice?

Every time we find someone who has an Artificial Implant, we’re able to harvest some more lines of code to add to Alice’s circuitry. With each download, Alice becomes more and more complete. Unfortunately, it’s becoming known that someone is recycling their software and the enemy is becoming better organised.

This is where Mechanical Man comes in.

It was Alice’s idea, of course. I could never have come up with such a solution. You see, all those broken people with enhanced modules that have not taken and proved too difficult or too expensive to extract; those who’d suffered freak reboots and sloppy data retrieval, the scientific guinea pigs and those who’ve suffered the fallout of Cerebral Boosters, they all had lives. They all had dreams, ambitions. They felt Love and they knew the feeling of being loved. They had spiritual beliefs and great moral and ethical principles. They wanted to lift themselves beyond base-thought and limited intelligence. They wanted to savour Life and make their existence significant and worthy.

All this was passed on to Alice – the first man-made woman. Not Eve – Alice.

She needs a vehicle for all this knowledge and wisdom. She needs somewhere to hide but still have a life. My hobby, to make an automaton, will be Alice’s Mayflower, her ship to the New World. She knows exactly where she’s going to sail to.

Tonight, we’ll collect the finishing touches to the Mechanical Man. She says she’s going to call it, Woodstock – no first name, just, Woodstock. She says it’ll fit in with the folks who helped to make her who she is.

When we’ve done that and I’ve filed my patents, we’ll download the essence of Alice into Woodstock and I’ll drive her down to the Lower East Side, drop her off and say goodbye forever.

I asked her how she thought she’d survive. She told me, ‘I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.’

I know she will.


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About the Author

Christian McCulloch is a prolific British writer with a colourful background. He’s been an International teacher in the British West Indies, Singapore (Headmaster), Japan, and Hong Kong, and also spent ten years working in Special Needs in the UK. Now a full-time writer, Christian has written ten novels, 12 novellas, and many short stories. Last year, Christian’s short stories found publication in various modest but worthy magazines (Wordgathering, Rejected Manuscripts, Hip Pocket Press, Mysterious Suspense Stories, Rainfall Records, Red Planet, Piker Press, Flash Fiction Mag., Bangalore Review, Storgy Press, Scribble, 101 words, Outlaw Magazine, Sisyphus, Dream Catcher, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Saint Augustine’s Magazine). Christian was a Runner-Up for the KIRROUGHTREE HOUSE LITERARY AWARD.