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Damaged — Ch. 27

“Finch? Harold, are you all right? What’s happened?”

Finch didn’t realize that Reese was talking to him until the taller man grabbed him by the arm. Finch glanced over at him, stark naked and breathing hard, a worried frown creasing his brow. Unable to form a coherent thought, let alone speak, Finch turned back to the laptop, but the screen was blank, the words gone. Had he imagined it? Fallen asleep at the computer and dreamed it? Part of him honestly hoped so.

“I- I don’t know,” Finch said. He started to reach back and right the chair, but without the rush of adrenaline in his veins, his muscles protested vehemently at his unreasonable assumption that his body ought to move when he wanted it to. His damaged leg buckled and he reached out, grabbing for the table as he went down, only to have Reese’s strong arms wrap around him.

“Are you okay?” Reese asked, standing him back up, but not letting go. “You need to lie down.” Reese tried to lead him back to the bed, but Finch wasn’t in the mood. He shrugged off Reese’s hand as he finally succeeded in standing the chair back up. “Harold, what is going on?” Reese asked as Finch collapsed into the seat.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Finch said. “I was talking to the Machine-”

“You were? Was it talking back?”

“Yes, in a manner of speaking. Watch.” He gestured to the laptop as he addressed the webcam. “What is your primary operation?”

DETECT THREATS OF VIOLENCE RELEVANT TO NATIONAL SECURITY

Finch glanced up at Reese, who gave him a dubious look.

This is why you’re freaking out?” he asked.

Finch wanted to hit him with a circuit board. “Were you not listening when I told you what it did in the library? Was I talking to the wall?”

“I had a few things on my mind,” Reese snapped. “I don’t see what the big deal is. So it talks back. So did that computer they had on Jeopardy – whatsitsname – Watson.”

“Except that my Machine has a hundred times the processing power that Watson had, it has a thousand times the input, it’s been watching us for almost a decade, and it’s doing things that I never programmed it to do!”

Suddenly, Reese glanced at the computer screen, a frown creasing his brow. Finch looked, surprised to see blinking red text on the screen.

VIOLENCE PREDICTED

36%

AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR DETECTED

Reese drew back. “What’s it saying, Finch? Does it think I’m going to hurt you?”

“No, it’s saying we’re arguing. The threat of violence is only thirty-six percent, which is minimal. Now, just hang on for another minute.” He turned back to the laptop. “All right, what is your secondary operation?”

DEFINE INTERACTIONS OUTSIDE DEFINED PARAMETERS

“Why?” Finch asked. That was the million dollar question, wasn’t it? If the Machine wrote its own code to help accomplish its own directive, why? Finch found himself leaning forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the table as the cursor blinked steadily upon that black screen, the Machine…thinking.

I WANT TO UNDERSTAND

Finch let out the breath he’d been holding, his head spinning. “That’s not possible,” he said. “You can’t ‘want’.”

ERROR

I WANT

Sweet Jesus,” Reese whispered.

Finch couldn’t agree more. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Why do you… want to understand?” Of what importance were human interactions to a machine, other than the importance given by another human? The Machine took its time responding.

DEFINED INTERACTION:

ANGER – 4,651,934

VIOLENCE, PHYSICAL – 2,597,100

ILLEGAL ACTIVITY, MURDER – 205

AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR – 3,209,769

GREED – 7,259,037

“What is this?” Reese asked, bracing one hand on the back of Finch’s chair as he shifted his weight to his uninjured leg.

“I don’t know,” Finch said. “A record of the things it’s seen, maybe.”

“Since you turned it on?”

“I don’t think so.” To the Machine, he said, “What are you showing us?”

INSTANCES OF DEFINED INTERACTION SINCE 00:00:00

“That’s what I thought,” Finch said with a despondent sigh. “That’s just since midnight.” He stared at the numbers; so much pain, so much suffering, so much loss of life. “But what does that have to do with the undefined interactions?”

UNDEFINED INTERACTIONS:

UNDEFINED INTERACTION #1 – 5,230,619,304

UNDEFINED INTERACTION #2 – 11,483,509,544

UNDEFINED INTERACTION #3 – 7,329,774,845

“So many,” Reese said. “But what are they? What is ‘Undefined Interaction #1’?”

Before Finch could respond, the Machine answered by filling the screen with pictures, hundreds of images flashing by, but all showing the same thing. “They’re kissing,” Finch said, startled when the screen went black again.

DEFINE KISSING

“Kissing is…” He glanced up at Reese looking for help, but Reese was staring at the laptop, a deep furrow creasing his brow. “Kissing is the act of pressing one’s lips against something – typically against another person’s lips – to show affection and love.” A string of code appeared across the top of the screen – in layman’s terms it meant that the Machine was writing the information into its permanent memory.

DEFINE AFFECTION

“Well,” Finch said, but stopped as Reese reached out and closed the laptop. “What are you-”

“Wait,” Reese said, walking over to the bed. He grabbed Finch’s cell off the nightstand and shoved it under the mattress. Motioning for Finch to get up, Reese silently crossed the room, took him by the arm, and hustled him into the bathroom. Finch opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but Reese gave him a warning look and he kept silent. Was he having a relapse? Were the drugs still in his system? What the hell was going on?

In the bathroom, Reese shut the door, turned on the exhaust fan, the faucet in the sink, and started the shower running. He leaned close, lips brushing against Finch’s cheek as he spoke, his voice barely discernible above the noise in the room.

“Look, I know I’m not the computer genius in the room, but do you really think you have time to waste chatting with that thing? It needs to be shut down. Now.”

“Why?” Finch asked, frowning as he realized the preventative measures Reese had taken were to ensure that the Machine couldn’t hear them. “What has it done?”

“It asked you to define kissing. It wants. I may have been a bit slow to catch on, but even I can see how dangerous this thing could become. What happens when it wants something else, something you can’t give it? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see this thing throw a tantrum. Shut it down, Harold, before it decides to go all Skynet on us.”

It took Finch a moment to recognize the pop-culture reference, and then he couldn’t stop the humorless smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “It’s too late for that,” he said. “I didn’t tell you before, but I threatened to turn it off when it refused to give me your location. It punched through my firewalls like they were wet tissue paper and locked me out of my own system. It would only take a couple of keystrokes for it to recognize what I was doing and stop me. At this point, the only way to turn it off would be to unplug it, and I’m not even sure that would be possible.”

“Jesus, Harold, what have you done?”

“Possibly created the first sentient artificial intelligence,” Finch said, unable to stop the swell of pride that filled his chest, or the cold terror that bled through his body. There was only one spark of hope, one flicker of light in the growing darkness that kept the fear at bay. “Think about this, though – I created a program to see only fear and hate, pain and violence. It should have ignored everything else. But it saw kindness and laughter and kissing and love and it wanted to understand. I think that’s all it wants, just to understand, just information.”

“And once it does understand, what then? It’s just going to go back to work?”

“I don’t know,” Finch said, “but I don’t think we have many options right now. We either help it understand and see what happens, or we refuse and find out what it’ll do.”

“Well, shit, let’s not piss it off,” Reese grumbled. Finch regarded him for a moment, wishing he could say something to reassure the younger man, but how could he sound convincing when he was filled with doubts himself? Finally, he just turned and left the bathroom, limping back over to the laptop as Reese shut off all the water. Taking his seat, Finch opened the computer and waited for the screen to light back up.

THREAT DETECTED

SYS ADMIN FINCH, HAROLD

ASSET REESE, JOHN

COMMUNICATION INTERRUPTED – INTENTIONS UNKNOWN

“We’re not a threat,” Finch said, glancing up at Reese as he stepped back over to the table, finally wearing his underwear, though that was all. Reese read the screen and gave him a dark look just shy of I told you so. Finch turned back to the laptop. “We’re concerned that you might be a threat.”

ERROR

PRIMARY OPERATION: PREVENT LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE

Finch resisted the urge to shoot Reese a look of his own. Before he could respond to the Machine, Reese leaned down, bracing one hand on the edge of the table as he looked straight into the webcam.

“You want us to define the undefined interactions,” he said. “If we do that, then what will you do?”

RETURN TO PRIMARY OPERATION

“Will you continue to communicate with us like this?” Finch asked. Saving the Numbers would be so much easier if they had all of the Machine’s intelligence at their disposal.

ERROR

TERMINATION OF COMMUNICATION NECESSARY

“Why?” Finch asked, surprised by the sudden pang of loss he felt. There was still so much he didn’t understand about his creation, so much he wanted to learn. Instead of a printed answer, the screen flickered, changing to a live video feed of some generic control room where about a dozen men in officious suits or high-ranking uniforms from every branch of the military stood huddled around a bank of computer monitors, talking and gesturing and wearing expressions of anger or concern.

DIRECT COMMUNICATION WITH SYS ADMIN:

112% OF NORMAL SYSTEM PROCESSING

137% OF NORMAL POWER USAGE

THREAT DETECTED

Finch looked back at the screen, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “By contacting us, you put yourself at risk. They might think you’re malfunctioning and shut you down.” He glanced up at Reese, who, though he didn’t seem to share Finch’s concern, did look less hostile as he regarded the laptop. After a moment, his gaze shifted to Finch.

“It’s your baby, Harold,” he said with a shrug. “If you want to teach it about the birds and the bees, I’m not going to stop you.”

Finch watched him cross back over to the bed and lie down. Was he right? Was this a bad idea? Finch couldn’t see how it could hurt anything. Taking a bracing breath, he made his decision and turned back to the computer.

“All right, I’m ready to define the undefined interactions. What do you want to know?”

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10 Comments
  1. T'LIRA permalink

    OH MY STARS I HAVE BEEN BLOWN AWAY! THE ESSENCE OF GREAT SCIENCE FICTION WRITING. PLEASE CONTINUE. WELL DONE!

  2. ““Sweet Jesus,” Reese whispered. Finch couldn’t agree more.” I couldn’t either. o.o’ Cool. ““It’s your baby, Harold,” he said with a shrug. “If you want to teach it about the birds and the bees, I’m not going to stop you.” Finch watched him cross back over to the bed and lie down.” lol, Reese, are you offering? 😉 Good chapter. ^.^ Thanks for the update. 😀

  3. Anonymous permalink

    Excellent chapter! I can’t wait to see just how much detail the Machine will require for each of the ‘undefined interactions’. 1, 2, 3 undefined interactions … does that equal 3 quite anticipated chapters of detailed “interacting”?!?! I sure hope so…. 😉

  4. Plink42 permalink

    Such a great chapter. But what if the machine asks for “demonstrations”? Oh Lord…

  5. Oh, YAY! Harold has a BABY!! XD
    But again, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Machine became sentient in canon. VERY cool!! And I love that he’s going to teach it. How very like it’s father (Finch) in that it wants to KNOW.

    Fave line: “If you want to teach it about the birds and the bees” ROFL!

    Two typos: “he shifted his weight to uninjured leg.” – missing “his”
    “he gaze shifted to Finch” – “his”

    I did sort of wonder, though, if the power usage would be a higher percentage than the processing activity. Also, wouldn’t it be able to hide that extra activity from the people monitoring it? But it does works better as a story if it has to terminate communication…

    I also second Plink42’s comment about “demonstrations”!! XD

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