“Don’t state the obvious,” the human Colonel warned the iron sentinel.
“But I don’t remember,” a deep metallic din protested. Though called iron sentinels, these were state-of-the-art humanoids made of titanium-mercury alloy. They could withstand the blast of a thousand RDX and come out without a scratch.
“What was that?” Colonel Arlong had never witnessed a sentinel raise its voice, least of all, protest. A forty-ton humanoid towering fifteen feet over the Colonel in a dim-lit interrogation room was definitely not a foe that the Colonel expected to antagonize.
“Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to..”
“You didn’t mean to what?” Arlong ensured that he maintained an upper-hand. The sentinels were smart AI and could sense human emotions from miles. If they ever sensed fear, then only the Almighty would have to intervene to save the human bosses from the sentinel’s wrath. After all, these were created to exterminate humans; the enemies of the bosses.
The sentinel's blue lights, substituting for eyes, stayed focused on the colonel. They didn’t blink. They never did. “I was about to fire, but the screams of the younger human brought back some memories.”
“Memories? You have no memories. You have no consciousness. None of the sentinels have. All that you are made up of is a clock, gears, and Radium-powered cells.”
“I don’t know. I was unable to open fire. It felt like my son,” the C-10Z01 looked away. That was another unusual expression. Machines don’t look away, and they don’t have children.
“Alright, this has gone too far. We need to investigate your synapse,” the Colonel got up, and so did the sentinel, “ and you will not resist the link.”
“What will happen?”
“That’s none of your look-out C-10Z01,” the Colonel was curt. “Take him out.”
Two more sentinels walked in and grabbed C-10Z01. The machines walked out with loud dins and thuds following their moves.
The colonel lit his cigar, and even before he exhaled, words poured out, “what did we just witness?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Jennifer, the resident sentinel architect, responded, “that’s a clear deviation from the default programming.”
With a cigar in his mouth, Colonel Arlong retreated to his office. It wasn’t the glitch in the sentinel’s program that bothered him.
A few days ago, while walking down the corridor, suddenly, the Colonel had a completely out of reality experience. Briefly, for three minutes twenty-five seconds (as soon as it happened, he reflexively turned on the timer on his wristwatch). Even during the moments of absurdity, his reflexes held firm - and that was good.
From the grey and bleak corridor of his regiment, the colonel mystically transgressed to the quiet street in the outskirts of some city. Judging by the surroundings, it was somewhere in the United States, at the end of the twentieth-century judging typical architecture and the look of cars at the time. In this “other” reality, the colonel stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. While he was looking around, the ball landed at his feet - the boys played in the yard. The officer bent down, picked up the ball, and felt it... It was quite real. A boy ran up to him, stretched his hand toward him and said:
"I am glad you caught it, Mr. Nielsen. Thank you!"
“Sure...” the colonel nodded, slowly stretched his hands and gave the ball to the boy.
It felt weird, but the boy seemingly took it without hesitation and ran back to his friends to continue the game. The colonel took a few steps down the pavement, glancing around in bewilderment. Then the delusion suddenly appeared. He stood again in the middle of an empty corridor near his office in the main building as if the vision never has happened.
A few hours before the strange incident with the fighter sentinel, Colonel Arlong again experienced a flash of the "false memories." It was the brightest recollection of how his father took him to the lake as a child where they swim, sunbathed, and did some fishing. The Colonel remembered clearly that his parents were divorced and every two weeks his father took him for the weekend, and they always had fun together – taking trips to the mountains, going to the lake and the like.
In the "false memory," all these events took place on Earth - where the colonel has never been. The sentinel incident forced the colonel to rethink what was happening to him. This might not have been hallucinations or false memories after all. Having sat down at the table, Colonel Arlong attempted to log into the secret databases that contained the data about experiments with cyborgs. He wanted to search for the last name "Nielsen..."
He heard about these secret experiments – where the preserved brains of ancient inhabitants of the Earth were injected into artificially grown bodies. After the Great War and the relocation of mankind to other planets, people’s cognition underwent detrimental changes: it manifested the sluggish response rate and gaps in logical thinking. Surely, humanity could benefit from AI, capable of solving tasks of great complexity, but there was a need in field officers - and many couldn’t cope with the tasks. From the point of view of the late twentieth century, the contemporary to colonel Arlong people of the twenty-third century would have been characterized as stagnant addicts. Therefore, the brains of the ancient inhabitants of the Earth were injected into the bodies of cyborgs. The subjects of these experiments usually became field officers.
Sure enough - access to the information about the experiment was blocked.
The colonel called upon sentinel architect Jennifer.
“Did you call for me, Colonel?” she inquired.
“Jennifer, have you heard anything about the “Headliners” project?”
Jennifer appeared noticeably strained.
"Take it easy," the colonel called her down. "It seems like I'm malfunctioning. I am in the need of a reset. Tell me, was my last name Nielsen? Also, did I live on Earth in the late 20th century?”
"Exactly so, colonel," Jennifer nodded. "Now, I have to call the medical team to get you to the lab.”
"Of course," the colonel nodded. “I need a reset. Memories are leaking already for the fourth day. I just figured what was going on.”
As the colonel lay, pinned to a table in the lab and felt that anesthesia was beginning to act, a lonely tear rolled down his cheek. He was left with only the last few minutes of his present consciousness. Remembering his happy childhood in San Diego, he realized with sharp clarity that, at times, immortality can be more terrible than the darkest predictions of the science fiction writers of his era.