“Circuits and Wires”
By: Anthony Iannaccio
The AutoWay had come to a complete halt. A thick haze of black smoke covered most of the road as I clumsily made my way to the far end of it. The scent of burning rubber and melting plastic in the air made it difficult to breathe. On the left side of the road, I noticed Andy’s bright, turquoise bike, with its front tire severely bent to one side. But where was Andy? As a strong gust of wind blew across my field of vision, I saw pieces of metal and wire scattered across the road. An ear-shattering silence broken by a sharp, metallic symphony in the distance slowly approached. Cl-clank. Cl-clank. Cl-clank. I saw something small, something round, beginning to roll towards me. In my disoriented state, I had trouble telling what it was. “Is it a ball?” I mistakenly thought. I wish it had been. I wish it were absolutely anything other than what I saw.
Today had started out like any other normal day. It was a Tuesday, and everyone knows nothing interesting ever happened on a Tuesday. Up until about twenty minutes ago, this Tuesday wasn’t any different. We headed out to the tennis courts the way we used to do every Tuesday afternoon when school was over, and sometimes during school too. Andy and I would ride our bikes down this beautifully paved, winding path that cut along the highway to get to Optimus Park, one of the few remaining parks in the state. One of the reasons why we liked this particular path so much was that there were so many trees. Seemingly boundless swathes of pine and oak covered our field of vision everywhere we turned. It’s not often you get to feel so in touch with nature living in the city. This was the closest we ever got. We would ride up and down the rollercoaster-like hills, never worrying about the cars zooming over one-hundred miles an hour literally feet away from us.
Our city recently got the automated highway or, “AutoWay,” installed a few months back and no one was completely used to cars driving by themselves yet. Hammond Industries, the company that built the Autoway, assured us time and time again that it was completely safe. Each car was equipped with a special built-in sensor to immediately brake if any living creature was within its radius, so it was impossible for a person to get hit. My mother, always untrusting of new technology—as most adults are—wouldn’t even let me ride my bike the first month that the AutoWay was operational.
“Robbie, those cars have a mind of their own, but so do I, and it’s telling me not to let you anywhere near them,” she would say. That’s the thing about moms, the second you step one foot out of the house, they think you’re going to die.
“Wait up, Andy.” The gears of my bike made that familiar click click click as I trudged up the steep hill, panting. Andy was fast. If you ever caught him lagging behind, it was only for my sake. And no matter how long we rode for, no matter how hard we played tennis, he always had this tremendous amount of energy, like a small supernova was burning in the center of his chest. He was taller and more in shape than me, with cropped light-brown hair, and dark blue eyes that always seemed to be piercing your soul. Next to me with my messy dark brown hair, stubby legs and slightly too large for my face nose, Andy stood out. I was a Hobbit and he was the perfect model.
“If I knew I was riding with my grandma today, I would’ve brought you flowers.” Andy shifted gears on his bright, noticeably turquoise bike, and was out of sight before I got halfway up the hill. But as always, he was there waiting for me at the bottom with that huge grin of his.
“Geez, Robbie. You need me to get you training wheels or something? Maybe some ribbons to stick inside your handlebars? Oh! What about a nice little basket with a pretty floral pattern to stick on the front of your bike? You know, now that I think about it, that would be a great place to hold your tampons.”
“Screw you, man! That was a really steep hill.”
“Screw you, man! That was a really steep hill,” mocked Andy.
“I don’t sound anything like that… shut up.” To be fair, it was actually a really good impression of me. Andy was great at impressions. Just another item to add to the long list of things Andy was better at than me.
“I’m just messing with you, dude. Don’t tell me you’ve become an android and lost your sense of humor?”
The only thought in my mind at that moment was, “here we go again.”
“You know androids have a sense of humor just like anyone else, Andy. They programmed humor into most models back in 2027.” Of course, that was before models became advanced enough to understand humor autonomously. That was about twenty years ago, around 2037, when the first android achieved consciousness. My father was a senior android technician, an android doctor of sorts, and would tell me everything he knew about them, so I was pretty well versed when it came to androids.
“Right… and my refrigerator is touring the country doing stand-up. You should hear his set about ice cubes. It had me in pieces.” If sarcasm was an art, Andy was its Van Gogh.
“That’s not the same thing, Andy. You know that.”
“Like I said, no sense of humor.”
Lately, Andy seemed to have a vendetta against androids, which to me, made absolutely no sense. Androids have been an integral part of our lives since we were kids and were around since before we were even born. As far as I know, they were initially created as an automated workforce, but as our technology became more sophisticated, so did they. I’ve had babysitters, bus drivers, even doctors that were androids and I’ve never encountered a problem with any of them. Our English teacher from sophomore year, Ms. Bender, also happened to be an android. Except in her case, we weren’t aware of that until… well, until it was too late. See, the thing with androids is that nowadays, you can hardly tell the newer models apart from a human. Some people claim that certain androids have “tells” that immediately give them away. But if you ask me, I think those people are full of shit. Although androids live alongside us peacefully and go about their day-to-day lives just as any normal person would, those very same people deem them “dangerous” and believe they attack our rights and freedoms as humans, or “The Sanctity of Humanity” as they like to call it.
Give me a break.
Just before the enormous hill that crosses the eight-lane AutoWay and leads directly into Optimus Park, Andy and I stopped at a bench on the side of the road so that we—well—so I, could catch my breath.
“How… do you stay… in such good shape… Andy?” I panted.
“Eat right. Exercise. Be born in peak physical condition… not complaining every five seconds…”
“Have I ever told you how much of an asshole you are?”
“Oh yeah, I’m the asshole because I like to keep my body in prime condition and you’re out of breath by the time you even finish the first level of ‘Super Galaxy Crushers.’”
“Hey! That game is stellar difficult.”
“Yeah, if you’re four years old… and blind.”
Well, he did have a point, but play the first level of that game and tell me it isn’t the most intense, pulse-pounding experience of your life. It’s galactic.
Since our sophomore year at Asimov High, we would come to this same old, worn-out bench every week to sit and work out whatever was bugging us with life at the moment. We named it, “The Thinking Bench,” and it was one of our few escapes from the outside world. On the Thinking Bench, we were cocooned in our own bubble, kept safe from the dangers and problems of reality. But recently, it had become more of a pulpit for Andy to preach his anti-android rhetoric.
At the far end of the bench, just out of earshot, a tall, slender looking man with long, snow white hair and magnifying lens glasses sat down. He began sipping tea out of small white cup he held gently in his hands. Andy, brow furrowed, gave him a long, cold stare out of the corner of his eyes. Under his breath he whispered, “He’s one of them.”
“One of who?” I asked.
He gave me the same look. “You know exactly who I’m talking about. One of them. He’s an android,” he said, as if he had a waterfall of vomit curdling in the back of his throat, just waiting to gush out.
“You’re joking, right? How can you even tell? He looks just like a regular old guy to me.”
“Just look,” Andy whispered as he stared intently at the old man.
The old man slowly pulled out a long, black wire from an unnoticeable compartment concealed in the side of his ribs and plugged it into a small port in the side of the bench. He turned his head slowly in our direction and gave us a soft, closed-lipped smile. From where we were standing, you could hear the whirs and clicks of the worn-down mechanisms in his head as he turned.
“Fine day we’re having today, isn’t it?” he said as he lightly raised his cup of tea. The audio quality of his voice had somehow deteriorated and each word came out sounding choppy and methodical. I nodded and waved. Andy couldn’t wipe the intense look of disgust from his face.
“He’s an older model, but he’s still one of them.”
“Alright, so what’s the big deal? He’s an android. Just let him be. He’s probably just uploading today’s news into his hard drive. He’s not bothering anyone. Mind your business, dude.”
At that moment, Andy got a look on his face as if he was about to punch either me, or the old man. I had never seen Andy switch gears so fast in my life.
“Mind my business? How am I supposed to mind my business when this… this Roidie is sitting five feet away from me?” Andy shouted, with an intensity I’ve rarely seen him use.
“Would you calm down, man? Geez, what the hell’s gotten into you lately?
Andy and I became friends the summer before we started our freshman year at Asimov High. I would go to the tennis courts alone almost every day and practice serving, which I was absolutely terrible at. Andy would be there most days playing with some of his other friends and noticed I never had anyone to play with. He approached me, introduced himself and began teaching me how to play tennis, without me even having to ask. Andy was calm, considerate, and extremely patient. He always had kind words to share and if he saw anyone else on the court struggling, he would be the first to help them out—all the while sporting that signature smile of his. That summer I learned what it meant to be a good tennis player and a good friend. It might be hard to see now, but Andy was one of the nicest, most thoughtful people I had ever met. If it wasn’t for Optimus Park, I might still not have any friends. It was a sacred place to us.
We started coming to the Thinking Bench our sophomore year because of the… incident. That is, the incident involving our teacher, Ms. Bender. She was hands-down one of the most insightful, compassionate teachers we’ve ever had, and she was an android. No one in my class ever seemed to mind that fact, especially Andy. He was Ms. Bender’s biggest supporter and would passionately defend her if anyone ever had something to say, especially when it came to her being an android. Andy was a foster kid and I think Ms. Bender was the closest thing he ever had to a mom. Ms. Bender made us feel like people, not just students in a classroom. If it weren’t for what happened, most of us probably would’ve forgotten she was an android. It just wasn’t a concern. She taught us poetry for God’s sake.
One day, during lunch hour, Ms. Bender was plugged into the school’s main server, uploading that afternoon’s lesson plan, when a student walked by and noticed what was happening. We later found out Ms. Bender had an older processor that had this old-fashioned way of uploading data which paralyzed all of her motor and cognitive functions until the upload was complete. Basically, she had absolutely no way of stopping or for that matter even being aware of the travesty that was about to occur.
The student, who to this day still remains unknown, entered the classroom and somehow managed to hack into the school’s security system and seal the room from the inside. Even if someone found out what was happening and wanted to stop it, it would have been virtually impossible. The unknown student, who must’ve somehow known about her processor, then proceeded to cut off the wire connected to Ms. Bender, mid-upload. Unfortunately, the fatal design flaw for Ms. Bender’s processor is that, if you unplug or interrupt the android model at any point during data synchronization, there’s a 98% chance that all of their data becomes corrupted and the android effectively shuts down. A secondary design flaw also makes it impossible to retrieve any of their data that may have been backed up. Something about interrupting data synchronization shorts out part of the processor. To put it bluntly, it kills them.
To this day, Hammond Industries has yet to recall the processor.
The media and law enforcement, especially in our state, largely ignore attacks like these. The unknown student was never caught and so he was never brought to justice. All that was found at the scene of the crime was a tear-dropped shaped crimson sticker with a bright yellow cross in the middle. The symbol belongs to a radical Christian organization called the “Soldiers of Flesh,” but that apparently wasn’t enough evidence to implicate them in the crime. Ms. Bender, unfortunately, was permanently shut down and from that point forward, every teacher around the country was legally required either to register as human or non-human. Andy took the death of Ms. Bender the hardest out of anyone I knew. He stopped coming to school for two weeks. When he finally came back, he burst into tears the moment he saw me. “Why would someone do that to her? How could someone be so monstrous? No one cared about us more than her! She didn’t deserve that, Robbie. No android does.” Based on Andy’s attitude as of late, I’ve started to wonder if that was all just for show, if Andy was somehow involved in her death and was just trying to cover it up. The sad truth was that Andy just wasn’t the same person anymore. Something inside of him had changed. He seemed to have forgotten his humanity.
With his fists clenched, Andy stood up from the bench and started walking towards the old man with long, white hair. The old man paid no attention to him. He couldn’t. He was as responsive as a pile of scrap metal and Andy was well aware of that.
“Andy, don’t you dare do what I know you aren’t about to do!”
Andy kept walking towards the old man. He had this far-away look in his eyes that told me he wasn’t all there. His body seemed to be shaking, almost convulsing, out of anger, but as if he was trying to stop himself from doing something terrible. Then he reached for his pocket.
I pleaded with him. “Andy, please! You should know better than anyone else how dangerous that is. If you unplug that old man from the bench, you’re going to kill him! Just power down for a minute, man. You aren’t thinking. Just leave him alone!” But Andy refused to stop. All of his anger seemed to be boiling over and I had no idea why he was acting that way.
“You think I’m about to unplug this old Roidie? Hah!”
From out of his pocket, he pulled out a small knife. The old man with the long white hair was oblivious to what was about to happen.
“Andy, I’m begging you. Stop! Right now!”
“Why should I stop? Andy stared down at the knife, then back up at the old man. “These things are an abomination. They have no place among humans!”
About a month or two after Ms. Bender died, Andy did something extremely odd—he went on a vacation. As long as we had known each other, I’d never heard of him doing such a thing. Part of the reason was because he lived in an uber-religious all boys foster home that could barely afford to support all of the kids they took in, let alone take them on a vacation. What made it even stranger was that Andy wouldn’t tell me anything about his “vacation.” In fact, he acted as if it didn’t even happen.
“Dude, what are you talking about?” he would say when I asked about it. “I’ve never been on a vacation in my life. Rub it in, why don’t you?”
At first, I thought it was just a really weird prank Andy was pulling on me, but after a few weeks of him not even mentioning it, I dropped the issue. That’s when he began his entire, “anti-android campaign.” It started off as a joke here and there but eventually, it seemed to be all he was about. It was almost as if a virus had infected his mind and the only thing he could think about was hurting androids. It was like he had been reprogrammed.
Andy started showing me these horrifying videos of people beating and dismantling androids in public. They would cry out for their lives as the people brutally beating them would laugh out hysterically and shout things like, “Take that, Roidie!” and “Burn in hell, android garbage!” Andy’s huge grin would appear every time he watched one of these videos. It was sickening. Once, he showed me this video of a rally for the Soldiers of Flesh where people were torturing a group of android toddlers in the middle of Times Square while police officers just sat back and watched, some of them even laughing. It looked exactly like someone was doing the same thing to a group of human children, except all around their bodies there were these circuits sparking and wires dangling. Watching the video, I had to fight to hold back a rush of tears and vomit. “How,” I would argue, “is this not murder?”
“They aren’t actually alive, Robbie,” he chuckled. “Power down, man.”
“What do you mean ‘aren’t actually alive?’” I said. “You power down.”
“You saw for yourself. They’re just a bunch of circuits and wires meshed together.”
Ignorance like this always bothered me, but it was something I generally ignored to avoid getting into petty, bigoted arguments. Plus, Andy was practically my only friend. But on that day, I wasn’t going to let Andy spew his hate.
“What’s the difference between that and a human then, Andy? Aren’t we just a bunch of nerve endings and veins meshed together?”
“Look, you can’t simplify humans that easily. Let’s put it this way: we’re conscious, they’re just machines.”
Having a father who was an expert on androids taught me more about androids than a person my age should know, so I knew that what Andy was saying was downright outrageous. But that’s not what really bothered me. It was the way he was saying it. So nonchalantly. So confident. He was preaching to me as if it was fact.
“Are you telling me an android can’t be conscious? These ‘machines’ are self-aware, Andy. They know they’re alive. They think for themselves. Is that not consciousness?”
I could tell this made Andy extremely upset. He tried to argue that androids aren’t really conscious, they’re just “programmed to be that way.” He couldn’t let go of the “fact” that androids were “just machines.” Or as he put it, “Whether or not they do have consciousness, which they obviously don’t, they’re still machines. Machines built by man. They are not creatures of God’s kingdom. They are an abomination.”
That was it. The definitive statement that proved to me just how deeply indoctrinated Andy had become. He was making this about religion, when in fact religion had no grounds whatsoever in claiming any sort of authority on the subject. It reminded me of a small movement I read about that started in the South and was slowly spreading around the country involving a devout group of Baptists who claimed that androids were mentioned in scripture as works of Satan and were thought to be the heralds of Armageddon. They believed the creation of androids signified the end of the world. They were no Soldiers of Flesh, but a lot of people began feeding into their rhetoric, including Andy. I would never expect someone like him to buy into that garbage. I mean, androids in the Bible, really? It was like we were living back in 2012.
I could tell that our argument was heading straight into a titanium wall at five hundred miles an hour, so I dropped it. Of course, Andy took that as him being the “winner,” but in reality, I couldn’t help but think less of him. He had changed so completely in such a short amount of time and it scared the shit out of me. How could someone I’ve known for so long, someone who I thought was so smart, who I called my best friend, be so stupid? In my mind, I chalked up his sudden personality change to the power and persuasion of religion, but I couldn’t help but think something else was involved. Something so terrible and terrifying that it not only changed Andy, but forced him to forget it ever happened.
“If you hurt that old man… I’m going to hurt you!” I shouted. Andy stopped walking. That got his attention. He briskly walked back toward me and stopped inches away from my face, knife still in hand. His face was burning with rage and became contorted in a way that I’d never seen before. He was reaching critical mass.
“You’re gonna hurt me?” he shouted. “Your best friend?”
There was a lump in my throat the size of a pineapple. “… Yes.”
Andy started laughing. “So let me get this straight. You’re willing to ruin this friendship, let’s face it, with the only friend you have, just so you could stand up for some old Roidie that you don’t even know? What are you suddenly the Roidie messiah now?”
“Stop using that word, Andy. Do you even hear yourself?”
“What’s wrong with saying Roidie? Huh?”
“It’s offensive, just stop! You’re being an asshole for no reason. Let’s just go to the park and play tennis like we said we were gonna do.”
“I think I’m fine right here, Robbie.” Andy said, with a strange, bright twinkle in his eye. He looked like a mad man. “Hey, I just thought of something very, very interesting. Robbie. Roidie. It sounds a helluva lot similar. And with you being so sensitive about all these androids…”
“Don’t say it, Andy. I already know what you’re thinking. You couldn’t be any more wrong. Don’t say something you can’t take back.” I felt my cheeks flush red with anger.
“How do I know you aren’t a Roidie… Robbie?”
I couldn’t hold back my rage any longer. I didn’t care that he still had that knife in his hand. “Are you fucking kidding me? How many times have you stayed over for dinner? Slept over my house? How many times have we helped each other out in a fight or played video games until our eyes were practically bleeding, huh? Andy, we’ve been friends for almost five years, that’s gotta count for something.”
Andy stopped to think about that for a second, but only for a second, the briefest of seconds. Thinking hadn’t been his strong suit as of late.
“Yeah, yeah. I guess all of that stuff is true, but you never proved to me that you weren’t an…” He paused. “… an android,” he added sinisterly.
“What happened to you on that vacation, man?”
“Would you stop talking about that damn vacation?” Andy shouted. “I never went on any freakin’ vacation. You’re trying to mindfuck me, man. It’s exactly what a piece of filthy android garbage would do. Those abominations are trying to bring down society and all you ever wanna do is try to protect them… protect them like they were one of your own.”
“I’m not an android.”
“Prove it.” The bright sun gleamed off of his knife, still too close for comfort. “Cut the wire.”
Andy held out the knife with a psychotic look in his eyes. I considered taking it out of his hands, but I couldn’t tell if it was a trap or not. The old man with the long, white hair sat there, still uploading, still completely unaware of what was happening around him. I, meanwhile, feared for my own life. My best friend was going to wind up killing me if I didn’t do what he wanted. He was going to stab me in order to prove to himself that I wasn’t an android. My best friend… my only friend.
“Why are you doing this, Andy? This isn’t you. This is inhuman. Think about Ms. Bender!”
Andy seemed taken aback, and for a moment, I felt like I had actually gotten through to him. His arm went limp and he started to loosen the grip on the knife in his hand. I could’ve sworn his eyes started to fill with tears too. But just as quickly as he had become pacified, he snapped back into a rage.
“She… she got what she deserved. What all androids deserve. What you deserve!” Andy screamed as he lunged towards me.
I quickly turned and jumped on my bike, pedaling as fast as I could. I heard the sound of Andy’s bike chain rattle as he quickly jumped on his bike and started chasing me down. I had just enough of a head start to make it to the crest of the steep hill before he caught up to me. But Andy was stronger than me, faster than me. There was absolutely no chance I could feasibly get away from him. I turned my head around for a quick look at Andy and saw that his signature smile had become a gruesome grin. With knife in hand, he was rapidly gaining on me, shouting “Where are you going, Robbie? I just wanna see if you bleed!”
“Jesus Christ, Andy!” I shouted back with what little oxygen I had left in my lungs, “You know me. You know I’m a human. You don’t have to do this!”
“But you don’t understand, Robbie. I do. I need to make sure! And you know there’s no chance of you getting away. I’m a better biker than you, just stop and make this easier for the both of us!”
I started to lose my grip on the handlebars of my bike, as my palms became Niagara Falls. I couldn’t do this anymore. I wanted to cry. I wanted to live. But most of all, I just wanted my best friend back.
As I pedaled down the hill in high gear, trees blurring past me, I quickly realized that the only way to get to the park was to cross the eight-lane AutoWay. If I had even the slightest chance of getting away from Andy, I had to cross it. As the cars zoomed by, I knew I couldn’t stop for anything. My life literally depended on it. I could almost feel Andy’s breath on the back of my neck. Terrified, I let my momentum carry me across as car after car flashed by in a multicolor blur. It was only when I heard a loud, metallic crash, like someone dropped a refrigerator off of the side of the Empire State Building, that I opened my eyes and found myself at the entrance to the park, unscathed. But where was Andy?
Disoriented, I tried to collect my thoughts. Andy’s turquoise bike, front tire severely damaged… circuits and wires strewn out along the road… black smog filling the air around me… it’s hard to breathe. On top of that, a cloud of debris blew into my eyes, blurring my vision. Off in the distance, I could hear a jingle-jangle of metal slowly approaching me. Cl-clank. Cl-clank. Cl-clank. It was the only sound I could hear at the moment. I rubbed my eyes to try and get a clearer view, but everything just looked blurry. My mind raced as I scanned the horizon and I could barely make out what looked to be a strange ball rolling towards me. I approached the “ball,” trying to get a closer look, but as my vision began to improve, I started to make out something that looked like… a human head? “No, that would be insane,” I thought. “Why would it be making that noise if it was someone’s head? I must be hallucinating from all of this adrenaline in my brain.”
The ball-like object rolled closer and closer, clanking, until it hit my feet. “If this is a ball,” I thought, “it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s dark, misshapen, and covered in… is that hair?” I reluctantly picked up the “ball” and turned it over. It was unusually heavy and had a strange coldness to it. There was also a strong smell, something like burning plastic, emanating from it. As my vision returned, I wished I hadn’t gotten it back. As I looked down in horror, all I could see was Andy’s huge grin staring right back up at me. I immediately dropped it… him… and heard muffled words coming from the ground.
“Wh-what?” I said, sick to my stomach, barely able to stand. The world became a wild vortex swirling around me as I heard my own voice echoed back to me.
“Screw you, man! That was a really steep hill.”
Note: This story has also been recorded for the podcast, “Stories From Today.”
Link: Stories From Today – Circuits and Wires