Scientists are working every day to bring more artificial intelligence into our lives. Robots that are almost human in appearance and capable of developing and learning already exist. How far are we from creating a sentient being that can learn how to feel emotions like us. What would happen if we did? Would the human race respect or despise such an invention?


 


 

SALOME.


 

Kazakhstan, 2065. Salome sat alone in the laboratory that had been her home since...? She wasn't really sure how long. Since she was born possibly. But when you are a Mark 5 All Terrain Android can you use the word born? Maybe she was switched on. That was five calender years ago. In those five years she had learned so much. Her creator, her constant human companion, Professor Dmitri had built her with his own bare hands. He had made her female and many humans said he had made her beautiful. Then there was her programming where he had filled her brain with extraordinary amounts of knowledge. Salome spoke every language that existed on Earth, played a whole host of musical instruments, had a whole library of books downloaded into her memory and with her added ability to form and express abstract thought and hold spontaneous conversations it was almost impossible to tell her from a human being. Professor Dmitri explained to her once that he had built her in the image of a woman so she would not be perceived as a threat. He had made her sophisticated and knowledgable so that she could talk to any human about any subject and always be interesting and charming. Very useful skills he said, when he was trying to secure more funding for more research in to making her even more incredible. Professor Dmitri had devoted his life to her. In turn she did all she could to make him a happy human. Although she had only very rudimentary emotions she knew that humans were sensitive and subtle. They could be made sad or happy by the smallest things. It was very hard to understand these nuances and impossible to predict what a human was going to feel or do next, but with the professor she had studied him so hard and been with him so much, she just knew. He called her 'his little android wife', always ready with his breakfast at the start of the day before they began to work. He would stroke her hair and kiss her hand when she mastered the skills he was teaching her and smile proudly when she was showing others what she could do.

Salome was an engineer. She could mend anything mechanical from a bicycle to another android. She could even effect repairs to herself. She had been told by Professor Dmitri that she had a very special mission ahead of her. Salome was going to Mars. The surface of this planet was now full of rovers, sensors, stationary information gathering devices and general junk. Every country that could muster up a space programme had launched a probe or rover on to the surface of Mars. Some of them had been there for almost a century. Now it was becoming prohibitively expensive to send more. Salome was going to be the one to repair and maintain billions upon billions of dollars worth of equipment. Also she was going to be the ultimate explorer. Communications could reach the Earth from Mars in a little under five minutes via an array of satellites strung between the two planets. As Salome travelled the surface of the planet everything she saw and everything she did would be transmitted back to Earth. For the international team of scientists watching her every move it would be the next best thing to actually being there.

This particular morning was the special one. The morning that everyone around Salome had been working for. She was going. There had been no breakfast with Dmitri today. He had explained that he would be having his first meal of the day with the Russian President. By the time he took his second meal at one o'clock she would be gone. Their last meal together happened the previous evening. At the end of it Professor Dmitri had put on some soft music and danced with her. Instead of her going to her room he had asked her to sleep next to him. He had asked this before on other occasions when he showed signs of being very sad. He held her tight and she slept with her head on his chest. He seemed to like this, but she felt it would be better for him to find a human female. She could not understand why he cried in the night sometimes. Another human would.

The door opened and Professor Dmitri walked in. He smiled at her and she returned the gesture.

“My lovely Salome. How are you this morning?” he asked.

It was a pointless question in a way as Salome never felt ill or had pain. Once she had recharged at night she was fine, all day, every day.

“Operating at full capacity thank you Professor. How about you?” she replied.

“It's all going well Salome. It's a big day. I'm very excited. Are you ready for your fantastic journey?”

“Yes Professor. Everything is prepared. They have told me to wait here for you”

“We are going to the launch site together. I want to see you off in person. I need to know you will be safe for six months in space”

“I will be down powered Professor. I won't know anything about it. You told me it will be a peaceful time”

The main reason it had been decided that Salome would be effectively in a semi torpid state was that if anything went wrong at the launch or on the journey to Mars she would be ejected in an escape capsule, brought back to the international space station and then collected on the next mission. Dmitri hated the thought of her being awake during any emergency that may arise. It would be a long and bumpy ride back to Earth. He wasn't sure if she was able to feel suffering but he knew that he was. He was strongly attached to Salome. It had been a mistake to make her in the image of his late wife. Instead of being a comfort to him it had just served to remind him how much he missed her. Now Salome was going to be blasted away from him too. She would be forever out of reach. The time came to make their way to the launch pad. Professor Dmitri sat beside her on the small coach that carried them and a small team of technicians to the enormous Saturn 8 rocket. He held on to her hand, warm, soft and human feeling in his. His heart was at once filled with pride at this enormous achievement and and breaking. Once inside the body of the rocket he helped Salome in to the capsule that she would sleep in for the next six months, strapped her in snugly and kissed her on the forehead.

“Dmitri, when am I coming home?” she asked.

“When your work is done dear” he replied.

She smiled spontaneously and as he down powered her systems the sweet smile faded and her eyes closed. He hadn't had the heart to tell her that she would never see Earth again.

The next thing Salome was aware of was a bump and her conscious mind coming back on line. For the first few moments everything was quiet. She waited for the lights to come on and when they did the communications channel sprang to life. She could hear Professor Dmitri whispering her name, his voice tense and hoarse.

“Salome. Are your systems operational? Over”

“Salome here. All systems functioning. Hello Professor Dmitri. Are you well?”

At the sound of her voice the control room erupted and she could hear whoops and cheers that had left the earth five minutes before. She would have to get used to the delay in response time.

“Well done Salome. You made it. Please release yourself from your pod and send us a full report onyour situation”

When the message arrived she was already up and moving around, checking equipment and making sure there was no damage. When she got to it she switched on the cameras and linked it to her visual cortex . When the team on Earth saw the first pictures they cheered rapturously once again. Salome opened the shields over the viewing ports on the side of the capsules and when they saw their first live view of the surface of Mars silence descended. Her communication screen showed one face. Her Professor looked tired and drawn. However he still managed to smile and touched her face on the screen.

“Salome” he whispered “How I have missed you”

Soon a routine was established. Each morning an alarm signal came through that woke Salome from her recharging session. It was seven in the morning in Kazakhstan and she sat and spoke to the Professor while he ate. When he left the laboratory for the control room and their private conversation ended she made contact with the crew on the international space station. They swapped reports about 'space weather' and then Salomes work began in earnest. For the next twelve hours she roamed the surface looking for the next repair job that needed doing. At various intervals she left her surface module and performed her allotted tasks. The module towed a trailer full of spare parts. Salome wondered what would happen when she used them all up. Perhaps that is when she would go home. Her mission would come to an end and like the humans on the space station she would be relieved by another android, step in to a return module, sleep for six months and wake up with her Dmitri. As she explored Mars, hiking across plains in the cold dry dust, scaling mountains and investigating cave systems Dmitri went with her every step of the way. He warned her when her exposure to radiation limit had been reached for the day and made sure she recharged for the correct amount of time in each twenty four hour earth cycle. Even across the frozen waste of outer space he looked after her and made sure she worked at optimum capacity. When she looked at him however, she could see he was changing. Five years in to her mission he started to show grey hair and lines around his eyes. Another five years passed and he needed to wear glasses all the time, his hair now almost white. Ten years further on and this thing the humans called ageing had him firmly in its' grip. One morning as they spoke over his breakfast she broached the subject with him.

“Professor Dmitri, are you well?” she began.

“Of course I am my dear Salome. Why do you ask?”

The unchanged features gazed back at him across the vast expanse of space close enough to touch on the screen of his comms unit but too far away to feel. The truth was he felt desperately alone and although his physical health was good, his heart had never healed.

“The lines on your face. Do they cause you pain?” she asked.

“No Salome. They do not cause pain. They are just a reminder that I have been around for a long time now and most likely have more sunrises behind me than I have ahead of me. I am seventy this year after all. I'm probably only good for another forty”

Even an average life span of one hundred and ten seemed like the blink of an eye to Salome. She knew her systems were reliable for three times that.

“Will I come home before your time is up Dmitri?”

“You will return when your mission is finished Salome. You know that” he replied.

“I want to come back to you”

“You will my dear, as soon as your mission is finished”

“When will that be Dmitri? I have been here for twenty years. Hundreds of humans have come and gone on the space station. I have spoken to all of them. Yet here I remain in the cold and the dust,alone and forgotten. One of the Russians when I spoke to them last week said he didn't even know I was still operational.”

“We know Salome, and all the scientists who work on Mars research know. What you do has opened up whole new frontiers of research and knowledge. You are invaluable to us all. You are not forgotten.”

“Maybe not Dmitri, but I am alone. I want to lie in your bed beside you again and hear you breathe. I want to sit beside you while you eat. I miss your conversation and your company. I want to come home Dmitri”

It had never occurred to the Professor that Salome could possibly develop feelings of loneliness and isolation . He had created her but had never really thought about how she may evolve once on her own. This could be the start of a crisis that no one had foreseen. Was his beautiful android becoming depressed? Could the fierce radiation that bombarded the planet be affecting her systems? Was she maybe, just maybe, becoming a little more human than they could ever have imagined. Salome went back to the routine and back to the never ending work. On one of her repair trips to an old American rover that needed a new wheel after failing to negotiate a small crater she found it had another malfunction with its imaging system. It was something that mission control had to reset remotely so she switched on her comms unit. She waited, knowing it would be ten minutes before a reply came back, but a voice came over the unit sooner than she expected. The space station orbiting the Earth was at its closest point to Mars right then and the communication between them was almost instantaneous. The voice of an American astronaut came over the airwaves.

“They told me that dumbass android on Mars has asked to go home. Says it's lonely”

“No way!” replied his companion.

“Yeah, it's true. They think its got feelings and everything now. It doesn't even realise what its name actually means”

“What does it mean?”

“Salome stands for Sentient Android Lone One way Mars Expedition. Guess no one pointed out the Lone or the One way bit to it. They sure as hell won't spend money they haven't got bringing that old thing home. Anyway since the ban on android building it won't even be allowed out on the streets. No one trusts those damn machines any more.”

Another voice broke in. Mission control was replying to her request for technical help. Later alone in her capsule Salome decided to call the space station and find out exactly what the American had meant about no one trusting androids.

The next morning her wake up signal came as usual. Dmitri was there holding his customary cup of black coffee, smiling benevolently at the screen. Usually they exchanged pleasantries and chatted like old friends but today Salome wanted answers. Why had he lied to her? What had happened to change attitudes to androids? When she left Earth over twenty years before androids were seen as the future, the way ahead for mankind able to be used in both the home and the most hostile environments for a whole range of purposes. His smile faded as her questions filtered through. At

first the old man looked sad and finally defeated.

“Oh Salome! I am so sorry. I have been a coward. No there was no plan to bring you home when we sent you to Mars. I had hoped that once everyone saw how wonderful you are I would persuade them to bring you back somehow. Then came the backlash against the use of androids. The very rich used them to replace the workforce that had once been made up of the very poor. Millions of people lost their jobs and it was a dreadful state of affairs. Androids are only allowed in certain jobs now where it is too dangerous for humans to go. Many have been decommissioned.”

“So you are saying that I can not come home?” she asked slowly and deliberately.

All she heard as her reply was the old man sobbing bitterly.

Salome had stopped following schedules or taking orders from anyone on Earth. What could they do? She was six months away. She had redefined her own mission. She was going to get back to Earth and she had the know how and the materials to do it. Mission control was very unhappy about her stripping parts from the machines she was supposed to be maintaining. She had calculated how much thrust would be needed to lift her craft off the surface of this red, dusty and silent planet and found enough fuel to make it happen. Salome had built her own launch rocket and now it was just down to timing. Dmitri was the only one she would now talk to on Earth and only with a scrambled transmission on a secure channel. She trusted no one else. The day of her launch in to space came. Once she was clear of the planet and had set the course for home she would put herself in to sleep mode and await her fate. Hopefully, for she had developed feelings of hope, her next awakening would be on Earth and with her Professor.

Salome knew nothing else until she felt the sharp jolt of a landing. Her module lights came on and she released herself from her restraints. Turning on the sensors she could tell that she had landed in water. There was a very good chance that this was Earth. Even better, she had landed in the Pacific so the chances were she had been undetected. Now it was time to make contact with Dmitri. Looking at the sensor array she could see the module was surfacing and correcting itself in the water. The journey had taken six months and three days, just as she had calculated. He would be expecting her call. She just hoped he hadn't died in the meantime. Humans had a horrible habit of dying when you least wanted them to. Dmitri answered his comms unit and sounded overjoyed at the news that she had made it home. Mission control had been disbanded so no body else was there to intercept the messages. Professor Dmitri had told them all that after twenty years of valuable service poor Salome had been affected by the vicious radiation on Mars and he was left with no choice but to switch her off and leave her on the surface of the alien world. After this he retired to a new home on a remote pacific island to spend his days in writing and research. This was not a total lie. He just neglected to add that he would also be waiting for her to return and join him there.

The module she had crossed space in had a tracking beacon and within a few hours Salome was found off the coast of the small island that was going to be her home from now on. Here they could hide away for the rest of his days. Surely his days would be fewer than hers. Dmitri, when she saw him threw himself at her feet and begged to be forgiven. She wasn't really sure what forgiveness involved or why he thought he needed it. She was not capable of anger, but she felt a great rush of warmth when she saw him again. That night she slept with her head on his chest and the isolation and sadness that had invaded her on Mars disappeared. The twenty years they had been apart dissolved and it was as if she had never been away.

Professor Dmitri lived to the grand old age of one hundred and fifteen years. At his side for the last forty five years of his life, helping him with his work and keeping him very happy was his android Salome. They kept very much to themselves on the pacific island that was a vision of paradise. The old man had one final request, that he should be laid to rest next to his wife in Russia. Salome carried out his wishes and the day after his funeral she wondered what she would now do with herself. Dmitri had been everything that gave meaning to her existence and now as the sun set over the tropical island that was home she felt very sad. She decided to go inside the house and start to tidy things away in his laboratory. It was a long time since she had been in there and he had kept it locked for the past few years. He instructed her not to go in there until after his death and as always she carried out his wishes. The first thing she found was a hand written note with her name on it. The spidery handwriting of the old man was quite hard to read at first but it told her that he had left a final gift for her and hoped she would find it satisfactory. Open the door to the inner store room and all would be revealed. Before her stood a figure. When she turned on the light she could see that the figure had a familiar face. Dmitri, but not as an old man. He was the way he looked on the day she had blasted off for Mars some sixty five years before. The android activated when she touched its shoulder and looked at her.

“Salome my darling. You didn't think I would leave you all alone again did you?”

He stepped forward and took Salome by the hand. She knew now that her name stood for something very different. Sentient Android Loves One Man Eternally.


Submitted: March 03, 2019

© Copyright 2022 Petula Mitchell . All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

AdamCarlton

You raised some questions in your summary at the beginning. I suspect your answer lies on the extremely optimistic end of the spectrum, unfortunately. We can only hope!

Sun, March 3rd, 2019 5:04pm

Author
Reply

Indeed we can only hope. As a species we need to develop far more compassion for everything that we share this planet with. The creations of nature and any intelligent life we create ourselves in the future.

Mon, March 4th, 2019 12:29am

Facebook Comments

More Science Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by Petula Mitchell

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Science Fiction