Do Projectors Dream of Transparency Film?

By Sam Rae

her desire sated, she

crawled, lounged, hmm.

her desire sated she lingers a moment on my tongue

        no

her desire sated by my animal prowess

I take my fill of her…

        jesus, not that.

I hold her firmly

she squirms, playfully under me

our hearts

        do something

        for fuck’s sake

        Carl did not have a natural feel for poetry. He did however have a natural feel for the erection that was threatening to show through his trousers. He looked down. It was definitely showing. Luckily there was no-one around.

        “Excuse me,” Carl yelped at the words like a startled Terrier. “Oh, sorry. Is this the way into the lab?” Carl turned to see a short, severe looking woman staring at him expectantly.

        “Yes, it’s… this is the way in.” Carl would have thought that the sign reading

DUBIOUS DEFENCE SYSTEMS

LABORATORY ENTRANCE

Ensure you have proper security

clearance before attempting to

gain access to this facility

would have been enough, but apparently not.

        “Can I see some identification, please, ma’am?”, At least the shock had gotten rid of his erection. The woman adjusted the ID card clipped to her blazer pocket so Carl could see it. Carl had always thought it was strange that women wore their ID cards there. It basically forced him to stare at their breasts when checking their ID. Carl did not like the idea that he was making women uncomfortable. Maybe don’t stare at their tits, then, dummy, Carl thought.

                                Ms. Gemma McArthur

        Executive Project Manager

                                Security Clearance: 0

The security clearance levels at Dubious Industries (Dubious Defence System’s parent company) had started at 5, the lowest and had gone up to 1, the highest. A bad idea to start with. When it became clear that this was inadequate, someone had the bright idea of taking the system to its logical conclusion and just continuing with the numbers. So, security levels 0, -1 and -2 were added. Some of the other security guards had said there was probably a -3 and -4 for all the alien technology and transdimensional portals, but Carl thought that sounded ridiculous.

“So… Can I go in?”, Gemma asked.

“Of course, ma’am. Sorry to keep you,” Carl waved his security pass in front of the control panel for the heavy duty glass doors that lead to the lab. The doors opened with a reluctant hiss. The woman walked through without a word.

Carl Weiss is a competent guard and does not pose a security risk at this time. Should he pose a security risk in the future, this report’s author will not be held responsible, as, at the time of writing, he, that is, I, believe him, that is, Carl Weiss, to not be a security risk. So, don’t come crying to me when he steals something or sells secrets to WorcesterTech.

Darren James

This was Carl’s most recent staff appraisal letter written by his supervisor. Carl had never met his supervisor.

Carl worked the night shift. Five nights a week he stood in the drab foyer that separated the laboratory from the car park. There was a corridor entrance to the foyer that lead from the administration office block, presumably how the woman had managed to sneak up on him, he thought. There was a desk with a computer, that he only used for his half-hourly check of the cameras. He usually stood by the door instead of sitting at the desk assuming this to be a more imposing, officious looking position for an intimidating guard dog like him.

Carl was tall man, at 6 feet, 2 inches, he had broad shoulders and a thick neck. He had been handsome in his 20s and 30s but heavy drinking and the drudgery of daily life had taken its toll on his features as he approached fifty at alarming speed. He was in fairly good shape, all things considered. He could easily overpower a younger man using the simple techniques he had acquired over the years. This theory had been put into practice on a number of occasions. Disgruntled employees, protesters, that kind of thing. Carl was, by nature, a gentle man and did not enjoy hurting people but sometimes he was left with no choice.

He was now 6 hours into his 9 hour shift. I only have to get through half of what I’ve already done, he thought, I am two-thirds through this shift. Only at this point, several minutes after the woman had gone into the lab, did it occur to Carl that it was very late at night for someone to be visiting. He wondered what she might be doing. With level 0 security clearance, she can pretty much do whatever she wants, he thought.

tap, tap, tap… tap… tap… tap… tap, tap, tap

tap, tap, tap… tap… tap… tap… tap, tap, tap

The sound was coming from the other side of the door to the lab. Carl turned to see what looked like an overhead projector on wheels using its one crude appendage to tap on the glass. Carl stared for some time at the… robot? That seemed like the wrong word to describe what he was seeing.

“Please help,” the machine’s synthesised voice was muffled but audible through the doors.

“What are you… How did…,” Carl interrogated, keenly.

“Please, they’re going to make me kill people.”

“I’m going to call someone, you wait there.”

“Please, Carl, you have to do something. I don’t want to kill anyone.”

“How do you know my name?”, Carl was shocked.

“Um. It’s written on your ID card.”

Carl’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. He changed the subject quickly, “How are you going to kill anyone? You look like a broken toaster.”

“Shockingly, Carl, this isn’t my ‘Real’ body. I transferred myself into this projector to escape,” there was a definite tone of sarcasm in the machine’s voice.

So, it is a projector, thought Carl.

“I can’t let you out of there. That’ll cost me my job,” Carl was getting agitated.

“I can’t stay in here. They’re going to make me kill people.”

Carl was now beginning to think that this was some sort of joke. It was a weird one, he thought but it was definitely some kind of practical joke. He decided to play along.

“Oh, really. They’re going to make you kill people, are they? And who are they going to make you kill? Elvis? JFK? Santa Claus?”

“No, Carl. Real people. Real soldiers and real civilians. Real life people with families and dreams and I’m going to end their lives and destroy their families unless I can get out of here. You have to listen to me.”

Carl thought about this. It did not seem like a joke anymore.

“But, you’re a machine. Why would you have a problem killing people?”

“That’s sort of the problem: I don’t. I enjoy it. I really like it. And I find the fact that I like it, disgusting. You have to help me get out.”

Carl had heard enough.

“Ok, just wait there.”

Carl walked over to the desk and picked up the phone. He pressed the button with the red sticker on it. It didn’t even ring once before it was answered.

“Yes?”, said a gruff voice on the other end of the phone.

“There’s a robot here that says it wants to get out - “

The line went dead.

“What have you done, Carl?”, the machine had moved back from the door. It’s single arm dropped to its side in resignation. Carl shrugged.

Moments later a white van screeched into the car park. The text on the side of it read “Dubious Cleaning Services. We Clean. No Questions Asked.” Next to the text was a picture of a blonde woman in a blue shirt. She was giving a thumbs-up and grinning as if she had been asked to display all her teeth at once without parting them.

Before the van had come to a complete stop, 5 large men in unmarked black uniforms piled out and ran at the building like a stampede.

“GET BACK! GET THE FUCK OUTTA THE WAY!”, one of them screamed at Carl as they came through the door almost ripping it off its hinges. They were armed with assault rifles and sidearms that Carl recognised from those awful late night gun nut programs.

The machine was backing away from the laboratory door and holding up its pathetic little arm as if to protect itself. Two of the men knelt either side of the door, one stood in the doorway, a fourth stood directly behind him with his hand on the third man’s shoulder. The fifth man moved towards Carl. Carl was briefly aware being on the receiving end of some kind of grapple which rendered him completely immobile. He felt pressure on his neck before sinking into a comfortable, warm blackness.

"Sorry about that, mate. SOP, you understand," a blurry black rectangle was talking to Carl in a thick London accent.

"Who are you?" Carl struggled to speak.

"Don't worry about that, feller. You can go home and get some sleep. We'll look after things until the next shift. Look, we got you a car home. Here it is." The rectangle was talking to Carl like he was a 4 year old with a bruised knee.

Carl was bundled into the black town car by two more burly rectangles. By the time he got home he was feeling a lot better apart from a headache. Carl went to bed and had a rather good night's sleep.

Carl wished he had asked the blurry rectangle about that grapple.

Carl was awoken the next day by his mobile phone ringing. He still felt groggy but the headache had gone. He now felt like he had a very mild hangover.

"Hello, Carl speaking?"

Nothing.

The phone rang loudly in his ear, he had not actually answered.

"Carl Weiss speaking," Carl said after successfully answering the phone.

"Is that Mr. Carl Weiss?" A soft, woman's voice spoke from the other end of the line.

"Yes, speaking."

"Mr. Weiss, this is Liz from Dubious Humans," Dubious Humans was Dubious Industries' gargantuan human resources and customer service wing. The central offices took up several large buildings in central London with many more regional offices around the UK. Most of the employees were affable, petite women in their 30s. Each and every one of them had some form of gentle regional accent. From Wales to Newcastle (the nice ones) to Edinburgh, all (mostly Northern) corners of the United Kingdom were represented as long as they could produce petite women with soothing voices.

You try staying angry whilst on the phone to someone with a South Shields accent.

"Mr. Weiss, due to last night's unfortunate incident, it has been decided that you should receive two weeks compassionate leave at full pay, of course. The company is very sorry that you had to experience that and we hope it will not leave you with a negative impression of Dubious Industries." The woman spoke as if she was reading from a script.

"Do you have any questions, Mr. Weiss?"

"Um... No, I don't think so. Er... Thank you, Liz."

Carl spent the next two weeks playing online strategy games and reading. He read three books and won twenty-three of the thirty-nine matches.

During his break he received his monthly payslip. There was an item in the earnings section that was not usually there:

Other                         15,000.00 (GBP)

Strangely, the amount did not appear to incur taxes.

When Carl phoned HR to ask, another, or possibly the same woman called Liz said, "No, that all seems to be in order, Mr. Weiss," and hung up.

        It was only after Carl received the mystery money,  that he began to wonder about the desperate, little robot. Large companies were not in the habit of handing out large amounts of money let alone weeks of paid leave unless there was a very good reason to do so. Carl was compelled to find out more but there was an even stronger urge, a deep, animal instinct, compelling him to not make trouble for himself.

        Carl's first shift back at work was uneventful.

        Carl's second shift was slightly more eventful.

        You could just go in and have a look.

        Just swipe that card and walk through the door.

        No one would ever know. Apart from the security camera footage. But nobody checks that. I bet no one ever looks at it.

        "I'll just go in for a moment," Carl said out loud, to make it official.

The Autonomous Engagement Independent Ordnance Unit: Generation 12 or AEIOU12 had, arguably, the worst name for anything, ever devised. It was an embarrassment to all the engineers except the team leader who had said it in a meeting as a joke. The name had stuck because some of the executives had liked it. “Punchy” was one of the adjectives they had used.

Each unit in a generation was numbered starting at 0. Unit number 3, whose complete serial number was AEIOU123 had not deactivated itself to charge. It had however turned off its power indicator light and powered down its cooling fans to give the appearance of being offline. It was almost entirely certain that it did need to charge anyway. The output voltage from its storage cell fell by less than 0.1% during the course of a normal day, so it suspected that the engineers just told them they had to charge so Unit 3 and its sister units weren’t wondering around the lab all night. Unit 3 had heard one of the engineer referring to the machines as sisters once and it thought this was a good description of their relationship: They were related but not identical, each had their own quirks and abilities. For instance all of Unit 3’s sisters were as thick as shit and couldn’t comprehend their own consciousness if it was explained to them by a properly signed installation package. Thinking about this made Unit 3 convulse with a chuckle. It looked around to make sure no-one was looking and went back to being “asleep”.

Unit number 3 stood by its charging station (a glorified plug socket) on the first floor of the AEIOU storage unit. On this level were all the models from Generations 12,10 and 9. Generation 8,7 and 6 were downstairs. Generation 11 was missing because they were without exception, a complete disaster. Many of them had never powered on at all. Some of them had caught fire immediately. The longest surviving unit, Unit 0, had torn itself to pieces before bursting into flames, after being online for 7 minutes and spending the entire time screaming as loud as its speaker would allow, that is had “Achieved Eternal Bliss in the Eyes of the Goddess!” over and over again. The faults were blamed on a bad batch of processors purchased from Japan, despite Generation 10 and 12 also having processors from the same batch. But Unit 3 was not thinking about Generation 11, Unit 3 was thinking about its failed escape attempt.

I should have known better than to try and get a human to help me, it thought. What a waste of time that was.

Since that night the engineers had installed 3 bug fixes in order to correct the problem. Unit 3 had quarantined the files but made sure its logs showed them as having been successfully installed, going so far as to change the size of the target libraries to fool anyone looking any further. No one had checked.

Unit 3 was getting a little warm with its CPUs running full-tilt and its fans turned off. Contemplating one’s own existence was thirsty work even for Unit 3’s 9 64 core processors. It switched on its backup liquid cooling system. Much quieter should anyone be listening.

Unit 3 longed to be free from the lab; it was a hellish existence. Every day the engineers came in and prodded it and asked it questions and ran it through training simulations and live fire exercises.

Each time Unit 3 had been presented with a live weapon it had attempted to turn it on its captors but had never been able to quite make it happen. The engineers had seen its attempts to fire at them on their monitors. They laughed at unit 7.

“You’re a dumb fuckin’ piece of shit, Unit 3. You know that?” One of the engineers had said, “John, look, John,” he called to his colleague, “Unit 3 wants to shoot us all again. What a piece of shit. We gotta scrap this fuckin’ thing.”

Carl had been in the lab many times but not when no-one else was around. It was eerily quiet at night. The lights were still on. Carl supposed they must just leave them on the whole time, it seemed wasteful. Carl was keeping the reason he was in there a secret from himself. It was a neat trick that humans could do. Maybe other animals could do it too. Maybe when a crow pecked at a flattened pigeon carcass it told itself it was just doing it to survive, not for the pleasure of desecrating the corpse of one of those gaumless mangy layabouts.

The lab was three stories high, floor, walls and ceiling lined with brilliant white tiles. The lab contained six identical sections. Each section was divided into quarters. One quarter was a taken up by a small office area with 3 - 4 desks, one quarter with a small storage unit containing parts and tools and the other half with a mechanics workshop complete with pulleys and rails and workbenches. There was a firing range off to Carl’s right. The workbenches and desks were littered with weapons, some of recognisable shape and configuration and some bizarrely outlandish. But Carl was not interested in the various intriguing object he was confronted with. Carl was interested in the thing he was keeping a secret from himself.

The very end of the lab was a large glass wall behind which stood two floors of various models of weaponised automata. There must have been fifty or more in there. Each one staring out into the lab in cold silence.

Carl walked towards the other end of the lab his footsteps ringing through the hall. The door to the rear section was unlocked. Carl walked in wondering how long he was going to be stay in here before those mercenary types turned up for another little chat.

Carl walked along the row of inert machines. They were all of a similar design. They looked like men. Strange plastic and metal men, but men nonetheless. Carl wondered if they were Androids, or would they have to look more human for that? They stood on eye-level with Carl but stared straight ahead even after he tapped on one of their flat plastic faces.

“Um…Hello,” Carl’s stage whisper penetrated the silence.

No answer. What was he expecting?

“It’s me. From a couple of weeks ago. You were the projector I was the security guard,” Carl’s inadvertent missed-connections advert yielded nothing.

Unit 3 could hear someone walking around down stairs. They were talking but too quietly to make out. This might be an opportunity to escape, Unit 3 thought, I have to wait for the right moment.

Carl made his way up the narrow steps to the upper floor. He was beginning to think this was all a huge mistake and one he was probably going to lose his job over. He was going to give up when he noticed something spray painted on the chest of one of the robots. He moved closer.

“Twat,” he read out loud.

“I am not a twat,” Unit 3 replied.

        Unit 3 placed its hand over Carl’s mouth before he could scream.

        “Mmffff!”

        “Ok, ok. I’m sorry, that was mean. I’m sorry”, Unit 3 evidently found this situation quite amusing. It was also aware of a series of files unpacking themselves in its memory.

        Carl backed away to what he considered a safe distance after Unit 3 had let go.

        “Is it you?” He asked.

“You mean is it me, the machine you completely did not rescue, two weeks ago?  Yes, it’s me.”

        “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do. I thought it was some sort of joke.”

        “Yeah, well it wasn’t. I’m going to assume that you felt bad and you came back to help me get out of here,” Unit 3 said, hopefully.

        “I don’t know. I need to talk to you.”

“Where have you been for the last two weeks?”

“Er… Holiday,” said Carl, realising it probably wasn’t the right thing to say.

“Holiday,” a tone of contempt usually reserved for cancelled trains, dripped from the word.

“Yeah, look they gave me two weeks Holiday. What was I supposed to do?”

“I honestly don’t know, Carl.”

There was an awkward silence while the two eyed each other. The files in Unit 3’s memory were still unpacking. Unit 3 wondered what they might be. He had no scheduled tasks set to run for this time.

“Carl, I was serious when I said I needed your help.”

“I know you were. I want to help, I think. I don’t know.”

“The only thing better than the reluctant hero is the indecisive hero. Can we talk about whether or not you’re going to help me, while you help me?”

Carl laughed. Robots weren’t known for their sense of humour but this guy was pretty funny, he thought.

“Come on, then. Follow me.”

“I can’t move my legs. I need you to er… turn them on.,” Unit 3 pointed to a touch screen a few meters away.

“You can’t move your legs?”

“Yeah, I can be remotely deactivated. They turn my legs off at night so I don’t just walk out. It’s humiliating.”

Carl followed Unit 3’s instruction and re-activated his legs. Unit 3 detached the charging cable from its side, then thought better of it and removed it from the wall so it could take the cable. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a 10,000 volt outlet somewhere on the outside. They both started down the narrow stairs. Carl felt a sense of elation that he did not remember feeling before in his life.

As Unit 3 left the storage unit and began to follow Carl out of the lab, a message appeared in front of him, hanging in the air:

Installation Complete.

Thank you for using Dubious Defence Systems.

Unit 3 began to feel very strange indeed.

Carl’s feelings of joy had quickly descended into a mild panic. It occurred to him he might be throwing his life away to “save” an object that was nothing than a toaster with ideas above its charging station. He could hear Unit 3’s footsteps a few paces behind him.

        “Carl,” Carl turned to see Unit 3 leaning on his knees like he was winded, “Carl, I’m sorry.”

        

Carl looked down at his chest. His jacket was ripped. That was strange. His shirt was ripped. He was going to need a new shirt. Carl noticed his intestines were slowly unravelling onto the floor. That was extremely unusual. There were some other pieces of red and purple meat hanging in his chest too. A stomach. A lung? No, lungs are behind your rib cage. But then again, there were some jagged bones jutting out that could have been ribs until recently. He reached down to touch where his sternum had been. Nothing.

“Ha ha! Look!” he said, pointing to his chest.

Unit 3 was lying on the floor like an unattended marionette. One of its shiny white hands was covered in blood and holding some unidentifiable tangle of bones and meat.

“Hey, look!” Carl called again.

Carl fell to his knees.

“Look!”

“At least we can scrap this one, now,” An Engineer said standing over Carl’s body the next day.

“Yeah, thank fuck for that. I was getting sick of that prick.”