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Posted by MasterofMetal on Jul 2nd, 2013
Alma awoke with her eyes closed, and she didn't want to open them, she wanted to sleep a little while longer; to dream whatever nice dream she was having only a few seconds before, but the smell of frying bacon roused her from sleep. Alma's eyelids opened and she looked for the source, which turned out to be from beyond her bedroom door, predictably. Shimmying under the quilt to the edge of the bed, Alma dropped down and started smelling the air for that wonderful scent. And while she couldn't taste or eat, as she didn't have any muscle or flesh, she could still appreciate aromas, and this was one of the sorts that would make her, and most humans, salivate.
Alma managed to open the door by jumping from the bed and stepping on the handle for a second. From her bedroom she entered the hallway and followed the smell to the kitchen, where Alma could see Simon with a frying pan over the stove in one hand and a glass of apple juice in the other. Every so often he would flip the bacon strips with a spatula, to make sure they were nice and crispy on all sides. Alma, knowing she couldn't have a piece, jumped onto the sofa and stepped on the TV remote, turning the screen on to show channel 7. Reporting on the news was a middle-aged woman with brown hair. Alma had so conveniently turned it on at the right time as to see the next article.
"...vestigation by the Turan Federation continues, we will bring you all the news as it is received. Looking to finances now and the US dollar continues to fall in value as the P.I.E.A dollar continues to dominate the Pacific region, Jack Brannigan with more on the story."
"You know how I said that I can't represent all of humanity?" asked Simon, surprising Alma a little. She nodded, "This is what I mean," he continued, "greed at its finest."
"Thank you, Sam," exclaimed a man on the TV, wearing casual attire; green t-shirt and short jeans. Jack stood in front of a hardlight holographic projection of the Pacific region, including Australia, India, China and Russia, and the west coast of the U.S.A, Canada and Alaska. "Well as you have probably guessed, yes this is a picture of the Pacific region and if we snap our fingers really hard," snap, "BAM!" a yellow area appeared, "some magic will happen, and what do you know? It's the P.I.E.A, and I for one am really happy to be an Australian right now because Australia is part of the Alliance; it's like one huge birthday party with every country in the yellow area getting an equally big slice of profit-filled cake. For all of you newbies just taking interest in economics, P.I.E.A stands for Pacific Independents' Economic Alliance. And if you don't know already, I'm going to have to name all the members of it, okay, here we go." The hologram then highlighted every destination he listed, "Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, Comoros, the Cook Islands, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Laos, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Marshal Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, jeez that's a lot of M's, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, the Solomon islands, Sri Lanka, the Tahitian islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Korea, Vanuatu, Vietnam, oh god that's a lot of countries, do we really have that many? Anyway, the Alliance is just having one huge party because it is so great and because the P.I.E.A was such a great idea. And why was it such a good idea? Because the exchange rates were off the charts and too hard to keep track of, and now we can send aid to, say, China, in terms of money without any of the exchanging of dollar to Yen and vice versa. And America," the hologram flew to America, "great as it is, its dollar just isn't being accepted as well as before because the P.I.E.A members are trading happily with themselves so much, which really isn't too good for the U.S.A. So at some time or another, America's going to have to join one of the World Economic Groups to do well in the long run, unless it wants to create its own alliance, in which it'd better have some available friends nearby, which doesn't seem to be likely. Countries in the Middle East, however are caught between joining the Turan Federation, or creating its own mini-group, which is quite unlikely given the sectarian circumstances. Back to you, Samantha."
Simon hit mute on the remote, "You see? America is just refusing to join any sort of operation unless it is sitting in the boss's chair. It's refusing to accept change."
Alma had a question, but didn't see the laptop from the night before. Simon, almost like a mind reader, pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil from his pocket, Alma wrote away, "Why won't it accept change?"
"Because," explained Simon, "it's used to sitting in the pilot's seat. Ever since World War Two, it tried to pulled the strings. Sure it was right to step in and help out with the Marshall Plan and keep the USSR out, but after that... well... let's just say a lot of the ‘Hot spots' during the Cold war were made worse with US intervention." He looked down to see Alma's puzzled expression and instantly retracted himself from the edge of the long sofa. "I'm sorry. I just... wanted to speak my mind... tell someone what I think."
As the smell Alma scented filled Simon's nose, his sadness turned to surprise, "Oh, SHOOT!"
After a little all-this-panic-for-nothing hassle, Simon's breakfast of bacon strips and pancakes, a meal he had ‘always wanted to make', was ready. While Simon consumed the food and all the delicious aromas that came with it, Alma sat on the couch watching both news and children's programs; when one was over, she flicked to the other.
Most shows on the channel 23 this early were cartoons, and most of them, Alma noticed, made Simon laugh, suggesting that some of the programs had been on since his childhood. Or he may have never grown out of it. Such a curious character; she had been with him for more than a year now and still she was finding more out about him.
When Simon had finished, he got up from his chair, walked into the kitchen and ran the plate under some water. After finishing washing up he grabbed some shoes from the entry and sat back down on the sofa as he tied the laces, watching the news as he did so. Alma knew what was coming next.
"Want to go for another hike?" he asked.
Alma nodded excitedly.
Simon finished tying, "We leave when you're ready."
Alma simply jumped down and headed for the front door, practically begging to be let outside that very instant. Simon followed, but with wireless earphones stuck in his ears, and a small audio device in his pocket. He put on a jacket and brought out a set of keys and unlocked the door. A burst of cold, fresh air filled the entry and Alma was forced to shiver a little. She peered through the still-locked flyscreen and saw the green of the valley's forest before her. The mountains in the distance that bordered the area, how tall they were! How barren they were! And - when the door was opened - how free she was!
"Just a sec," Simon said, getting Alma to halt by the door, "gotta get my bag."
Simon came back out of the house with a medium-sized blue backpack, predictably packed with a sandwich he'd already made, and a few bottles of water. When Alma saw all was okay, she proceeded right; heading for the usual route she and Simon had taken dozens of times before.
"Not this time, Alma."
Alma looked back to a smiling Simon.
"This time, we go somewhere special, somewhere you haven't been before."
Oh goodie, she thought.
"You know how this valley is split into two at this end?"
"The view from the dividing ridge, you just have to see it, and in this light... c'mon."
A tripod in the backpack was not what Alma had thought Simon had put in there, yet he pulled a collapsible silver tripod from the pack and set it down an extra metre from the ridge's edge. He brought out a photography-grade camera from the bag, fixed it onto the tripod and adjusted the elevation and angles until it was at an agreeable position. While this was happening, Alma observed the fiddly procedure and, in a very saurian way, laughed a little. It sounded odd a bit; a dinosaur laughing. How did Simon know if dinosaurs, let alone coelophysis in general, had any sense of humour? But then again, who did know? The latest dinosaurs had been extinct for sixty-five million years, give or take a hundred thousand, it wasn't like the earliest humans had been conceived at the time. Still, it was best not to question these things; it was best to love them while they lasted.
"All done," Simon announced, now stepping away from the contraption, "let's just let it get into focus." Alma couldn't stop fidgeting; her first photograph with Simon. How should she stand or pose or... she couldn't smile either, or show expression, so how was she supposed to show she enjoyed this? A thumb shot out and propped her head up to look at Simon, and one look into her eyes seemed to tell him everything, "You really want to smile don't you..."
Alma nodded; she couldn't lie about that.
"Fine, we won't do a photograph of us, just the landscape, okay?"
She had mixed reactions.
Simon sat down next to her and stared into the green floor of the valley, "Don't you just love it here?" he asked, almost as if he were talking to himself.
Alma made a noise that sounded like she agreed with him.
"I mean, just feel it, and smell it. The wind on your face as it passes through the valley... The earth beneath your feet... The warm sunrays on your back as you watch this place... This is as nature intended. Sometimes I wonder why we humans seek to destroy it so."
Alma gave him a curious look.
"Well, I mean just look... would you like to desecrate this, this... wonder... just because there are some special rocks under the surface?"
"Exactly, you wouldn't, I wouldn't, millions of others wouldn't, but millions of more would. And most of these people who would care for nothing else aside from the destruction of beauty and the wads of green pieces of worthless paper they get from it." Simon raised his voice slightly, "Some of them even value paper more than their own family!"
Alma took a step back, the first time, she had to admit, she'd been afraid of Simon. Usually he was so calm and collected and patient. And now he was scaring her.
"I just..." he started, "I... just I..." he let out a long, angry sigh, "I'm sorry Alma, it's just that ever since I was fourteen I've been wondering where the hell we are going to go. Humanity, that is. Utopia or oblivion, and..." he turned his head to her, "I'm just so sick of there being idiots who point us to the latter."
Alma really hated not having skin now; she couldn't talk or show she sympathised with Simon's way of thinking. She couldn't show facial expressions of any kind. All she could do, all she could ever do, was just nod or shake her head or make noises that couldn't be understood.
"Still wishing for skin aren't you?"
Simon lay back on the rock and dirt of the ridge and looked up into the clear sky. Quietly thinking to himself, tapping his index fingers on his chest to an invisible beat. Alma looked away for a moment to stare at the scenery. The trees in the valley swayed so freely in the wind, and their branches were alive with the twitters and chirps of small and large birds, all calling to one another, telling each other to stay away from their territory, or keeping in check with a relative's location. Alma took note that it was now midday; as there were no shadows cast by the bordering mountains. There was still a slight chill in the air being carried by the wind from the frozen north, but she kept warm with the sun's aid. It truly was a beautiful place. She began to wonder if Simon meant there was something valuable underneath the surface of the soil; iron or lithium or some other scarce mineral like that. But surely nothing, nothing could trump the view in terms of green wads of paper. Not just the view, the orchestra of birds too, with their sweet harmonies and symphonies and lovely combinations of voices. Voices. Voices everywhere...
It scared her a little; that everything seemed have a voice and she did not. Why couldn't she at the very least speak a single word? Just one? Perhaps she could have been able to say yes and no rather than nod and shake all the time.
Alma looked back to Simon, who was now sitting up and looking out toward the same spectacle she observed only a few seconds ago. Alma approached him to see if he had any paper, but got a little shock. Simon held his hands above his mouth to support his nose, his eyes were shut and a single teardrop was creeping its way down his face. She grabbed his right sleeve and tugged gently.
"Yes," he replied, wiping his eye, "what?"
Now Alma just stared at the surviving tear.
Simon rubbed his finger on his cheek and removed the lone water droplet, then observed his index. He smiled a bit, "Sorry, I was just thinking what you would look like with skin. And trust me, that drawing you did of yourself, that would fit you perfectly." He started stroking Alma's forehead and she felt a lot safer and happier. Alma followed his hand and nuzzled herself under Simon's arm and stared out into the valley with him. It was a lovely moment, she thought. Simon gently pulled her head up to his neck as he brought his head down to hers and talked softly. "Fine," he said, "I'll do it."
Alma shimmied out of the grip to look him in the face, though she already knew what he meant.
"You heard me," he repeated, "I, will, do it." Alma was fidgeting; squinting her eyes and stepping down on the ground, as she could not contain her excitement. "You will be another world first, Alma. The first robot ever with flesh and blood!"
Simon sat on the edge of The Simulator and tried to clear his mind, as it was necessary to enter its wonders with a clear head. Well, more recommended than necessary - as creator of the device he still wanted to uphold his own guidelines.
It was a wonder-machine, The Simulator, something he'd made not too long ago as a means of escaping the reality of the real world for a short while and entering a world of the user's creation; their own Utopia. The user enters a medically assisted dream state and creates every single thing from their mind. Whole games, entire planets, a small paradise island, anything - such is the power of dreaming. As the user makes the world, so are the rules, and the creatures and the people, and everything acts and behaves accordingly. It was a marvellous design and second only to the creation of Alma and nothing else.
Simon first considered the idea of a controllable dream when he was frightened about going back to sleep one night; for fear that a nightmare of his was a reality and hounds of hell were sniffing up his hallway, searching for him as their next meal in the unquenchable appetite. He thought about how in some dreams he was in control of his actions while in others he moved unconsciously, as if he were part of some play and he had no knowing and how in others he was completely aware of this fact and still had no control. He further thought about why he could feel a tingle in areas of his body there were in pain during the dream even after he woke up, and whether this was just him or it was the same for all other humans. It was such a curious idea at first, and very, very far-fetched, but what did you know, then came the twenty-second century, and with it a multitude of advances that scientists had held out on the public. After finishing and excelling at computer programming and metalwork, and taking several crash-courses along the way, he was ready to build The Simulator.
Initially, the designs were sketchy and it was only at the end of 2112 that he had a solid target. In the end, however, it was a sleek, horizontally lying, white, black and red design that Simon settled with; the design he was now sitting on and was about to use for the benefit of, not himself, but Alma. Both, he found, were somewhat equally complex. Where Alma was intended to act like a coelophysis but, predictably, with the knowledge needed to live in the modern world, The Simulator was to accommodate an entire human mind and, along with that, human imagination, and all their quirky and unpredictable habits. Who won?
The Simulator won in terms of time and thought.
Alma won in terms of all round care and complexity; he'd coded emotion. Emotion! He had coded something so mysterious it could only truly be explained if experienced and allowed a robot to feel the joy of the experience.
And what was the point of all this, what did he seek to prove? Only that the impossible could be done, and it could still be done with the human mind, and not solely by a deity of the divines beyond, with all the scepticism and belief and mythology behind it all.
Perhaps there was a great all mighty being pulling the invisible strings of fate, and perhaps Simon was cheating one of its many commandments, but it had not stuck him down yet, so it seemed as though Simon was free to do as he wished.
For the time being, at least.
Simon got up and looked through the dark hallway to make sure Alma was asleep; didn't want her waking him up during the process and ruining his train of thought. She was probably smarter than that anyway, but he checked away to see the light from her bedroom off. It was, what, seven o'clock in the evening now? That would give him eleven or so hours of work at the most, but considering the amount of time that passes inside a dream, where five minutes in the real world would equal an hour in the dream, that would mean approximately five days and a half of working time. Five. Long. Days. Maths and computer coding non-stop, including numerous crash-courses in complex biology.
Simon hooked up his laptop to The Simulator so that all his work would be done, otherwise his human mind would prevent anything from being brought back to the real world. And what's the use of trying to remember thousands and thousands of lines of code when surely you would forget something along the line. Not even the world's greatest minds would be able to have the memory to memorise such a massive amount of information.
Once Simon was sure it was plugged in and switched on, he lay down on The Simulator and pulled a visor over his eyes. There was a sudden flash, and instantly he was transported into the world of his Utopia.