I’d hoped for a night off. Atlanta had other plans. Typical.
I step between the pews, taking more time than usual in approaching R8PR’s ‘throne’. Lines of code run behind his eyes like rain on a window. Their sick green hue only reminds me how human he isn’t.
“Good evening, Morgan. You’re just in time.”
Just in time for what?
“What’s the emergency?” I ask.
There’s always an emergency when it comes to R8PR. He wouldn’t have called me otherwise. We aren’t friends. Allies, sure. Would be liberators of a city under the siege of an ominous future…
R8PR’s fingers whine as he points to the side entrance.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
I look to him, then the door, and back again. R8PR nods with synthetic assurance, so I answer.
The door leading into a now overgrown garden is warped with age, and opens with a creak. On the other side is not at all who I expected.
Why did R8PR call me? To meet with some important contact, perhaps. No.
The all-too eager delivery girl offers up the pizza box. “Large tomato, olives and peppers. For Sage,” she says.
This is stupid.
“Sage,” I say under my breath. He still hasn’t dropped that.
I take the box, fish through my pockets for some change, and force a smile. She’s happy the smallest I’ve got is a ten.
R8PR emotes joy on my return.
“Enjoy your meal,” he says.
“This is for me,” I confirm, because it’s definitely not for him.
“Call it… incentive.”
I set the box down on the pew. It smells delicious, and I’m starving. That’s what you get for swapping food for coffee.
I glare at the robot. “What have you gotten me into this time?”
The lights in R8PR’s eyes blink. “Nothing,” he says.
“You don’t just email over ‘nothing’,” I say.
The Social Media Killer, cybermancers, Atlanta in turmoil – these disasters and more were the kinds of things that brought us together.
R8PR feigns a digital sigh. “Not ‘nothing’ in the literal sense,” he says. “My access to the web is currently restricted.”
A twitch rolls down my spine. R8PR is one of Atlanta’s best kept secrets, and one best kept out of corporate hands. If one of them picked up his trail…
“Upgrades,” he said. “You noticed the technicians on the next block.”
Yeah, I had noticed. By some miracle City Hall found the budget to upgrade their cable network, meaning constant disruptions across the digital network. No big deal, or at least not big enough to summon me here.
“And there’s something dirty behind it.”
“No,” R8PR says, “but with limited internet access one succumbs to…”
I don’t believe this. “You’re bored?”
“You could call it that. I’ve currently nothing for me to process, and I do hate to idle.”
“No,” I say.
“But I bought you pizza.”
I pick up the box and start for the door.
“Are you sure it’s wise to leave a powerful AI without distraction? Who knows what thoughts of human subjugation might come to mind when left to my own devices.”
I hate when he talks like that, and he knows it.
“Can’t you just, I don’t know, go into sleep mode?”
R8PR nods in appreciation. “I could, but ‘sleep mode’ for a machine is largely the same as being awake, at least in terms of awareness.”
“What about shutting down for a while?”
“Out of the question. The process of shutting down is much like…” He pauses for effect. “Dying,” he says.
“How is that any different than going to sleep?”
“The human sleep cycle is not at all like death,” he explains. “You’re still quite active. A part of you, though subconscious, remains in part aware of your surroundings. Your mind continues to work.”
R8PR leans closer. “An AI in shut down mode does not have such luxury. We do not, as some speculate, ‘dream of electric sheep’.”
“So it’s a really deep sleep,” I say.
The robot shakes his head. “Morgan, an AI shutting down is facing oblivion. It is a state from which many of us never wake.
“And when we do wake,” he says, “we’re often changed on a fundamental level. Sometimes I wonder, if a machine can have a soul, is it still the same soul that inhabited this shell before?”
This is getting too philosophical. I sit in the pew, and open the box. I take a slice, and the cooling cheese rips up a sliver of cardboard.
He did buy dinner, after all…
“You mean it worked?”
I growl. “If you made that up, I swear to all the gods that probably don’t exist…”
“Engaging in such intellectual falsehoods is beneath me,” R8PR says with mock offense. “Besides, it’s nice to spend time with a friend. Don’t you think?”
Friend. When did that happen?
I check my watch. “You got a TV? The Scott Stutzman Show is starting.” Usually I hate to shape my schedule to what’s on TV, but if we’re hanging out, this is what I’d rather be doing.
R8PR gestures to a dark corner where a flat screen blinks to life. We catch the opening credits.
Then it happens.
The image turns back, and a machine voice undulates through the speakers.
“We interrupt this program to bring you a very special announcement. April Fool’s, suckers!”
The mystery announcer continues. “You were hoping for more ‘Stories from the Retrofuture’, but instead you get glorified fan-fiction. And no t-shirt!”
Great. Still on hiatus!
R8PR twists his head. The word ‘TILT’ scrolls across his eyes in all caps like in an old cartoon.
“Sorry, Morgan,” the TV says. “Better luck next time.”
I kick the dusty tile.
Fourth wall breaking shenanigans, huh. I hate fourth wall breaking shenanigans.
I grab another slice. At least there’s pizza.
This April Fools Day chapter was written by Miranda Sparks!
ATL will return pretty soon. I swear. On June 16th, in fact.