Machine Feelings, by Phil Temples
“I prefer the term ‘artificial person,’ if you don’t mind.” I said it louder than necessary.
I don’t know what surprised him more, my physical affront or my expression of anger, as evidenced by my tone and increased amplification of my articulation.
My “request” was made all the more ironic by the fact that I held the man’s neck in a vise-like grip. By my approximate calculations if I were to increase the pressure by only a few millipascals I would terminate his life. He was in no position to refuse my polite request.
A few moments earlier, I had been minding my own business, simply walking across the street on my way to attend a meeting in this mostly blue-collar, working class neighborhood. Suddenly, this brutish barbarian came running up behind me. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had done to anger this man, someone with whom I’m certain I’ve never had any contact. From his deranged soliloquy I ascertained that I, a “friggin’ machine,” possessed an overabundance of moxie to dress in a human suit and tie and to carry a brief case. The next thing I knew, this human had picked up a blunt object – a club or block of wood – from the curbside. He waved it at me in a menacing fashion.
Of course, the programming of any artificial person or lesser ‘droid requires that we preserve ourselves in the face of damage or destruction, so long as that directive does not endanger human life. To my knowledge, my kind has always adhered to these directives. So it was all the more curious then that I reacted in this manner, a manner utterly foreign to me.
Mind you: I have never been truly angry with a human being until today. I am programmed to recognize and display joy, anger, sadness, and hundreds of other subtle emotions insofar as I might better relate to the entities that created my kind and me. But until this day, I had always only emulated such emotions. I can’t say that I fully comprehended what an emotion was – until today. At this moment I totally grokked it! It was a shocking experience. A part of me felt that I had “crossed over.” I was suddenly superior to my kind, perhaps even superior to my creators. I felt both rage and terror. And they were real feelings, not just artificial constructs or models.
‘Kkkkk-shhhh-thh-sssss.” The man was trying to say something to me. It seemed to me I was actually reveling in this man’s pain and discomfort. Even so, I loosened my grip ever so slightly so that he might be afforded the opportunity to fill his lungs with air and address me in a more respectable fashion.
“You crazy som’ bitch! They’ll put you in the slag pile for this!”
“Yes, I suspect you may be correct, sir. But, speaking as a sentient entity, I feel that I deserve respect. To my knowledge I have never perpetrated any ill will or harm against you, at least, not until now. You were unprovoked insofar as I can see. Why would you threaten me in such a manner? You make me feel very… angry.”
“Bullshit! You can’t feel a goddamned thing. You’re a faggot machine, that’s what you are… Ggggg-rrr-llll…”
I had heard enough. I re-applied pressure to the man’s neck at the larynx. By this time my anger had intensified and it was not difficult to will myself to apply additional pressure. I crushed the man’s vocal cords, in the process severely damaging the spinal cord stem. I had rendered the man a quadriplegic as well as a mute.
“You’re wrong,” I replied. The man looked up at me with a terrorized expression.
“I feel. I feel a lot.”
My own words sounded odd, even foreign. The grammar was very colloquial. For a moment I wondered if it was I who had actually uttered the response.
I was angry enough that I decided not to terminate his life. Instead I would leave him in this pitiful, severely damaged state. No doubt the man would endure terrible hardships in his quest for physical rehabilitation. Moreover, I suspected that his associates would later ridicule him mercilessly for allowing a “mindless machine” to get the better of him.
I headed down Lexington Boulevard at a fast trot. I felt a strong sense for self-preservation – an act that would be much easier, now that it felt okay to take human life…
Phil Temples has written flash and short sci-fi/fantasy for nearly ten years for his own enjoyment. He works as a computer systems administrator at Boston College and resides in Watertown, MA. When not writing, he can be found on the ham radio airwaves.
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Tags: death, machines, murder, on the run, phil temples, robots