Written By: Kristen Siegel
June 14, 2015
The constant buzz of tireless machines. The dissonant beeps of the monitors drawing information from wires. The nearly inaudible hum of EverBrite anti-burnout lights whose buttery glow had yet to arrive in her artificial corneas. Tesla Six, like all rebooting computers, emerged slowly into this cacophonous reality, encoding and storing every piece of data surrounding her lethargic body. She was immediately cognizant of three things: her name (Tesla Six), her purpose (to spend the subsequent three-day cycle inventing something revolutionary) and every meaningful sliver of information her handler had downloaded into her brain.
Hovering like an anxious mother was her personal handler - Sery Corzillia Gadge, nineteen, female, resident of LA IV, daughter of.... Tesla's database extended far past the normal conventions of the human memory. Sery, with her dark-ringed eyes, had busied herself peering and poking at Tesla with a pocket version of the lights burning endlessly above. No greetings - handlers and Ephs were no more friendly than a typist and their computer. After three minutes and twenty-one seconds, Sery gingerly positioned Tesla (Tess as everyone but Tesla knew to refer to her as) onto the self-scouring floors and brought her upright. It was time for another cycle.
Precisely on time, the overhead screens roared to life, exhibiting a life-sized portrait of Ephemeral Corp's executive, Jag Permer Denzy, forty-nine, male, resident of LA IV, diagnosed and cured of lung cancer... Tess and the other Ephs sat patiently and listened indifferently to the entirely unfamiliar speech that most of them had unknowingly heard countless times. It was general information about the goals of the Ephemeral program - knowledge that Tess could have effortlessly extracted from her database, but was forced to hear for legal reasons.
"You served this country with your lives, and now you do the same with your deaths. Go forth and invent, improve and innovate so that America can thrive, " he concluded proudly to the audience of transfixed Ephs. This apparent paralysis was misleading. Tess and her brethren were rapidly looking up words, histories, formulas and anything else they needed to discover the cure for the latest superbug, the next advancement in genetic engineering or even the optimal shape for an atomic missile that fit in a purse.
Tess spared two minutes to dwell on the word America. Synonymous with freedom, yet bloody with slavery, this country presented an interesting paradox that she found inspiring. Perhaps one could invent something that was both good and evil, Yin and Yang. The duality of her nation was not the only thing that her rational mind found incredibly intriguing. Like regular humans, obsessed with the creation stories detailing their original birth, Tess was fascinated by the formation of Ephemerals. Dead donor body + genetic engineering + electric battery + computer database = incredibly intelligent inventor that churned out devices never before seen in only 72 hours.
Her workbench was cluttered with cloudy test tubes, a centrifuge and metal scraps that she intended to form into a deadly offensive weapon. Nearby, the other Eph’s emotionlessly tinkered, swirled and welded materials, completely absorbed in their work. There were no shouts of “Eureka,” no tears of joy or sadness when a prototype succeeded or failed. Computers felt no ecstasy or pain and neither did their human embodied counterparts. Tess herself was more focused on developing the right combination of nutrients to allow her bacterial infection to multiply than the fact that these murderous microbes would soon be unleashed on an unsuspecting population. Suroden and Genzoglucta didn’t work. Pipette a bit of this solution, into a bit of that. Swirl. Test. Repeat with different ingredients.
A microscopic clock, synchronized with the pulse of her electric heart informed Tess that her time was half over. Casting a cursory glance over her work, Tess powered on. The bacteria were nearly ready to be loaded into bombs of her own invention. Casualties were projected to be high, so long as she had calibrated the intricate release mechanisms perfectly. A radius of 250 miles. Perhaps she should try for 300. More tinkering, swirling, welding.
Tess knew precisely what happened to Ephs who didn't produce - Sery made sure that this particular fact was a bonfire among fireflies. The failures were discontinued, a word she understood to be a gentle euphemism for burned. Perfectly rational, Tess preferred to face the facts rather than the metaphors. If this bomb didn't perform, she would be furnace food - no fluff or gentle words about it.
Originally, Tess interpreted the sensation that was ruminating on her stomach as extreme starvation- an aftereffect of once being human. After gazing at her half filled arsenal of bacterial bombs, however, she knew that for once she was false. This was fear. But Ephs didn’t feel fear. It had to be hunger. She tightened her already tense grip on the glass pipette, barely noticing as it burst in her vice-like hands and spewed infectious bacteria everywhere.
“Health Hazard at Tesla Six,” she hollered, prompting a hazmat suited cleaning crew to hurry over.
She couldn’t continue; this would eradicate thousands. She didn’t want to be discontinued; that would kill her. Feeling the pressure of her fleeting hours, she formulated a plan.
All bacteria had been disposed of and bomb materials recycled. In front of her lay a Frankenstein plant, composed of the prime pieces of many different flowers and weeds. It didn’t kill, it didn’t cure, it produced the perfect apple.
Sery collected it, her human face unable to disguise disappointment at the unremarkable plant. Tess understood that she was a failure. She wondered if it hurt to be discontinued.
As the chemicals powered Tess's body down, Denzy tossed the already wilting plant into a drawer containing 20 identical ones. On his desk played a live feed of the recent cycle. Distantly, Tess heard his unflustered voice over Sery's pager, “don’t discontinue. She’ll cave to her programming soon.”