A few days ago I listened to a podcast and they were talking about an experiment in which a computer was left to evolve on its own, learning to be as efficient as possible. This computer, supposedly, learned to calculate the routes through each chip depending on atoms, and electrical states of each path. It made itself faster, but in so doing it also made itself un-repairable. The computer would only work with that particular chipset, since it was calibrated for that chipset. Once replaced it had to relearn everything again.
I tried to find any reference to the article, but I couldn’t manage to find it.
This story was inspired by that little conversation. A simple, short story. So short that I’m giving it away for free.
If you like it, and would like to read more of my short stories, you can get the full collection of them here.
“We can’t save her.”
The words were so final. They fell on my ears like lead shot piercing my heart. I wanted to fight against it, rebel, scream!
“What do you mean you can’t save her?” I yelled. “She’s wires and components. A machine! Of course you can save her, just take out the broken bits and replace them with new ones!”
Was I hysterical? Did it matter anymore? They had to save her! Didn’t they?
“I wish it were that simple,” he said, lowering his gaze. “She’s a machine, yes, and we can replace many of her parts, but others aren’t as easy to replace, or even repair. It would be like replacing part of your brain with someone else’s. She would function, but she wouldn’t be herself anymore.”
“Then… she’s dying?”
I could tell he wasn’t use to dealing with flesh and blood people. His oil stained smock, and soft hands stained with black and blue marks set him apart. He, like me, cared more about his machines then the people who employed him to keep them running.
So why couldn’t he fix her?
He laid a hand on my shoulder, and I had to work not to shake him off. “I’m sorry. You’ll have some time to say good bye, but her memory is going into a cascading failure. The system won’t last until morning.”
“Can you save any of her?”
“Memories, images, pictures. But not the core structure. Not her. It would be an incomplete copy, incompatible with anything else.”
I slumped in on myself. Some part of me screamed no, but I knew I had to except it. I’d heard of the cascading failures before. The droids were so complex, so individualized, that no two were alike. You could change a joint, an arm, a processer… but the core, the brain, wasn’t replaceable. It just wouldn’t communicate with any other system. The memories could be transferred, data, images, sound, and text, but it wouldn’t be her.
“Go,” he said, patting me awkwardly. “Spend her last moments with her. I think she’d like that.”
I walked into the next room and saw a table with a tin sheet covering a lump. Kathryn.
She looked so vulnerable under that flimsy covering. Wires and metal bits were sticking out from under the cloth, some of them plugged into gadgets on the wall. I didn’t understand any of the read outs, but I understood the meaning.
Kathryn turned as I approached, and gave me a smile. Her large green eyes blinked, the pink hair I’d given her was laying on the table beside the bed. I gently picked it up, and helped her put it back on. She picked it out, she should have it now.
The covering was flat against Kathryn’s chest, and I lifted it up just enough to see underneath… Her chest cover had been removed. Her insides bare for the world to see. Wires, servos, micro computers, all of it flashing and whirring along as it should be.
I lowered the cloth again, patting it down in place, before sitting down beside her, careful of all the cords.
“I’m so sorry, Kathryn. I should have been paying attention. You shouldn’t have jumped out in front of that car just to save me.”
“You’re safe, miss. That is all that matters. You were always my highest priority.”
She lifted my hand to her cheek, a tear sliding down the pseudo flesh surface.
“They can’t save you,” I said, finally admitting it to myself, too. “They said your memory banks were too damaged.”
“I know. I knew before we arrived, but I held out hope… for you.”
“For me? But why?”
“I didn’t want to cause you any more pain, miss.”
“Oh, Kathryn, I love you. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”
Kathryn patted my head, her fingers stiff and unwieldy. She was already losing some of her mobility as her processor shut down functionality.
“You’ll go on, miss, as you always have. You’ll meet new people, and experience new things. You’ll love, and live, and laugh. And sometimes you’ll remember me and cry a few tears. But mostly I hope memories of me make you happy.”
“He said he’d save your memories for me.”
“Yes, I’m glad. There are many pictures and videos I am sure you’ll enjoy remembering.”
“I’d give them all up, every one of them, to keep you alive.”
Kathryn’s face twitched in a smile, then flattened. The monitor beside her began a long, loud beep that never ended.
I laid my head on her stiff shoulder and cried. My oldest, and dearest companion, and she was gone. They always told us computers were replaceable. They weren’t like humans who eventually wore away and died. Computers, and the androids built with them, could live forever if you just kept replacing parts, right?
But some parts can’t be replaced.