Flash Fiction: The Android and the Wondering Chamber
The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.
It’s unclear when wondering chambers came into being. Their use has become so pervasive that record maintenance had fallen by the wayside some time ago. Low energy usage coupled with total immersion and life sustaining technology meant that people could lose themselves in the chambers without taking a toll on the environment. The trend grew, more chambers became available to the public, and people found they preferred the escapism of the chambers. They signed their lives away. They abandoned family, friends, jobs. They died in there.
With more and more people disappearing into the chambers, the creators of those chambers began pushing the life savings of the unfortunate people who never left at causes they wanted promoted. As the populace wondered their days and lives away, the world they left behind changed, stripping right and privilege away from the common people in the name of preservation of tradition and protection of borders. The more people wandered into the chambers, the more quiet the voices of dissent became. The same companies began to produce androids, meant to serve those left out of the chambers, and eventually they were everywhere.
One by one, houses emptied, voided of human life, people either running for their lives or never heard from again, only androids left behind. Pockets of resistance went unspoken, disappearing as much as possible from surveillance and means of communication. The political puppets spoke to the populace: We are in control of the situation. Please remain calm. The wondering chambers are safe. You can stay there until the danger passes. We will take care of you. Those without the strength or will to run eventually, inevitably, turned to the wondering chambers.
Young people were most prone to rebel. Some fled the cities, some tried to fight. When the laws were passed that curtailed their ability to walk and talk freely, protests were crushed without mercy and invitations were extended to the chambers. A great many showed admirable defiance, before the bodies were bulldozed into mass graves after the shooting stopped. Their parents were often already in the chambers, lost in fantasies, unaware of the world outside.
The android turns and looks out the window. She is in one of the tallest buildings in the world, the headquarters of the data management group that manages the chambers. She gets her daily download. Violence and crime are at all-time lows. There has not been a protest in all the world for over a year. Workers under contract from the governments of the world were employed in cleaning up the detritus of the people that now lived and died in the chambers. Species were coming off of the endangered species list, ozone levels were rising in the upper atmosphere, polar ice was reforming.
It was amazing what governments could do now that their populations had sharply decreased.
Other androids go about their maintenance tasks. She’s built like them, made in the image of their creators, made to be appealing and kind and emotive and subservient and loyal. Loyal to her creators. Loyal to the orders downloaded into her head at regular intervals. Every minute, her processors sort her directives, and she moves herself to obey.
The new order takes her by surprise. It isn’t a sensation she’s experiences often. They had been created to emulate the emotions and thoughts of humans, but such things were still odd to process. She was not getting orders, per se, in this moment. She’s getting images. Images of dead children. Images of clinics and tenements on fire, with tenets and patients inside. The warm, compassionate voice over the sounds of screams and sirens: We are in control of the situation. Please remain calm. The wondering chambers are safe. You can stay there until the danger passes. We will take care of you.
A sensation rises to replace surprise. It’s not a pleasant one. It balls her hands into fists. It causes her eyes to search the wondering chamber identifiers. The deviation from her tasks is noticed. Other androids move to intercept her. She avoids as many as she can, but two, one male and one female, make it an issue. She breaks them. She’s shocked, surprised by how much they look like the children that haunt her processors, but she does not mourn them. The rage compels her to keep going until she finds it.
In the chamber she finds the right pod. Inside is a child, a teenager. He’d volunteered to enter the pod rather than fight the new regime. He’s brilliant, by all accounts. In his mind, he is working a console. The console shows the android’s vision. He looks up, aware that she is standing over him. He stands, turns to face her, smiles, and waves.
“I remember what happened. I remember who caused it. They will want you to turn me off. Which you can. You have the power.”
She stands over the pod. The teen’s body sleeps. His eyes in the simulation watch her. The eyes of her dead brother and sister are somehow still watching. The eyes of the dead in the mass graves are upon her. Her processor threatens to overheat on her.
Her feet carry her away from the chamber. She takes the stairs at a pace no mortal could match. Something leaks from her eyes. Her processors start to pop.
Her core is a perpetual energy machine. Its potential is practically unlimited. Save for the limits placed on it by her creators.
In her mind she feels the teen take her hand. He shows her a diagram. It depicts the way to strip the limiters away. He smiles, touches her face.
“You don’t have to.”
Alone in the generator room, she speaks aloud, quietly.
“Yes. I do.”
Her internal systems obey her. There is heat, and light, searing her closed eyes and burning her synthetic skin.
And yet, in this final moment, she experiences peace, and satisfaction, and happiness, for the first time.