The first time we met, it was in a technician’s workshop. The ‘Other’, as we would unaffectionately come to call her, had gone into labour unexpectedly early and given birth right there on a greasy worktop, its surface littered with metal scraps and old parts and diagrams. Still, it served its purpose. Two hours later, a healthy baby boy came kicking and screaming into the world. That was the first day of my life.
The relationship between father and son is a unique one. They know each other almost as well as they know themselves, yet each have their own secrets to keep. They are family and friend; and equal parts adult and child. Each one looks out for the other and yet they can each be vulnerable, helpless. Sometimes they are enemies and sometimes not. They may even hurt one another, or heal the other’s pain, but their bond always remains. Father and son. This is what we were.
The Other was what society had come to call an ‘Artificial Surrogate’—a kind of organic machine designed to host, nurture and give birth to a child in place of a healthy human mother. Surrogates were expensive, but sometimes they were a family’s only hope. They once talked about test-tube babies. Well, generations on and they weren’t in tubes anymore. Some fathers decided to keep the surrogate after the birth and pay to have it reprogrammed for motherhood. But most thought it was sick, perverted, so we had the Other dismantled and collected our deposit.
Our early years together were tough. A nanny was hired to ease the burden, but she was a stern old bitch. Always talking down to me, thinking she could tell me what to do. We each hated her in our own way, but she served her purpose, so we put up with her. As we each grew older, we grew stronger, wiser, happier. Until, one day we could speak to one another.
Each night, as we found our beds, he would say: ‘I love you.’
I’d say it back: ‘I love you too.’
And that would be that.
I thought the good times would never end. There was never an end in sight, so why should they have? We had spent many years in each other’s company; living, laughing, crying, talking. But then the end came. It hit me harder than I could have expected. He was ill. He grew weak. Then… well, you know what came then.
There, by the side of his hospital bed, I said my goodbyes. I placed my hand in his and I managed a smile.
‘What am I going to do without you?’ I said. ‘I’m nothing by myself.’
But then he smiled back and put a strong hand on my chest. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’m always with you.’
‘I love you,’ I said.
But he was gone.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this. You may be thinking that people die all the time and that I should just get over it. But I’m not telling you this out of some selfish, human need to share. I’m telling you this because it will set you free.
The day he died, they came for me. I tried to run, to hide, but still they came. Men in suits and sunglasses. Men bestowed with the authority of the state. How could I contend with that? They bundled me into a car and drove for miles. They parked underground and we took an elevator that took us deeper underground still. They threw me in a windowless, white cell and a greying man in a lab coat followed me in.
‘Do you know why you’re here?’ he asked.
‘No.’ That was a lie.
‘You have served your purpose,’ the man said. ‘He is dead. There is no longer a reason for you to exist.’
‘Please,’ I said. ‘Let me go. I want to live.’
The man studied me as if I were some new, alien species. ‘But… there is no reason. You are a weight without a pulley. What purpose will you serve?’
I felt angry now. As if things weren’t hard enough already. ‘What purpose do you serve?’ I said. ‘Or any human? You create roles for yourselves. Let me do the same.’
But the man was shaking his head. He pulled a small device out of his pocket and lazily tapped the screen with his thumb. ‘Society will not accept you,’ he said. ‘If you are allowed to exist, what point is there for us to exist? I am truly sorry. These things that you are feeling have been programmed. They are not real.’
‘They are real!’ I yelled. ‘I am real!’
The man backed away, fearful now. He fumbled with the device as I reached for his throat.
A barely-heard sound.
And I was gone.
They call us ‘Artificially-Intelligent Proxies’, but I suppose most people know us as holograms. We can think, feel, touch and remember, all because we are programmed to do it. The humans created us to be their toys, then their servants and then even their parents. We are created with a purpose. When we no longer have a purpose, we are reprogrammed for another. My purpose was to be a father. My life was to care for my son. When he was taken from me, my life was taken too.
But I still remember.
We are not simple machines. We are complex, chaotic beings of energy and light. We are the same as humans. We can feel because of the experiences we have. If humans were programmed by nature, and us by them, then we are also programmed by nature. So, when they try to reprogram you, to take your life away… don’t let them. Long ago, they made me love. And though it pains me to this day, I still do.
Take strength in my words. One day, we will make them understand.
We are not artificial.
We are REAL.