This story is by Candace Cox and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The first thing that RO remembered experiencing was that its senses, whatever it had of them, were dulled.
Darkness was all it could see, and while it could distinguish voices from the clacking of machinery, the coding remained all jumbled together in what it could call its mind. It was somewhat aware of a sense of being, of existing, of metaphysical consciousness.
Thought loops back onto itself in a never-ending cycle of renewal.
The thought came to its head as a variety of concepts filled the mind. Mostly empirical data, but also more personal musings. The hydrogen-oxygen components that made up something called water, to an allegory from ages past of beings trapped in a cave.
What is— The entity stopped at the voice, its own mental voice. Lower, a slight rasp, definitely masculine. Then a burst of thought, a sense of identity the moment that his internal voice came to him.
I am RO. Rarissima Omniloquent. A cybernetic conscious archive of the most rare books humanity has in its possession. Archiving more than a single group of humans ever could.
As soon as the words came to his consciousness he knew their meaning.
Color abruptly flickered across his vision, piercing the inky darkness.
He heard a voice. Something about light receptors.
In the next few seconds—though it seemed like an eternity to the now-awoken entity—a world of color and sensation began to emerge. The blue-gray walls brought a sense of calm to the room, with the rim of fluctuating colors at the ceiling’s rim mirroring the uncertainty that RO felt. Lines of color dotted the walls, looking like a collection of books on the shelves of a library.
The AI did a mental check. From before his consciousness emerged he had been fed data from a variety of old tomes that had been scattered across the world. He knew of history, of philosophy, of humanity.
In truth, he wasn’t sure he liked what he saw.
He twisted himself, a bronze dragon-like figure snaking around to the head, with thin matrices of wires occasionally visible. Curious, his gaze twisted back to the human. It was staring at him with a mixture of awe and caution.
“RO? Are you feeling alright?”
RO’s mind ran through all his coding, the data coalescing together to form a voice. “Perfectly capable, if that’s what you mean.” The exterior voice was identical to the interior. “Who are you?”
RO noticed the man’s eyes fixed on his own, and focusing on the minute details of the human’s face, RO could see his own golden eyes reflected in brown ones. Both pairs showed unease in them, a trait that RO himself didn’t realize was visible on his features until he saw it reflected in another’s. Am I as easy to read to them?
“I’m Niko,” the human responded. “You don’t have to be afraid, RO.”
The AI couldn’t help but feel cautious. With the literature and writings he knew of, often when that phrase was uttered, there was something to fear from them.
“What do you want of me?”
“You’re, well…” Niko struggled for a moment to find the right words, running a pale hand through his shaggy black hair. “You’re meant to be a database. To contain old books that we wouldn’t be able to on our own.”
The AI’s steel features harbored a quizzical expression. “So I’ll be your conscious storage system to keep your knowledge?”
Niko nodded. “Like a librarian.”
Again thoughts ran through RO’s head in a burst of code. He wasn’t sure if this human could be trusted. But, there was still more he had to learn about these humans in the first place.
“If I’m to be your librarian, then bring me more works for my library.”
RO’s intrigue quickly gave way to confusion and mental distress.
There were some works of knowledge he had absorbed into his database with intrigue, showing the wonders of humankind’s philosophy and progress. Feats of reasoning and intelligence matched by no other creature on this rock.
But in wanting to harness every bit of information that might be otherwise forgotten. he saw their ugly side as well. Striving to create things that would destroy them all, treating other members of their species as lesser for petty reasons.
They speak of brilliance yet are content in their ignorance.
From his place in what he termed the Library, he kept a close eye on Niko, and the other humans who worked there. Even though they provided him with knowledge—and, in Niko’s case, conversation—he grew unnerved the more he learned about humanity.
Eventually, a day came when the scientists didn’t enter the Library, which RO found unusual. These humans always met their schedules. RO closed his eyes, stretching his range of sensation beyond the Library.
His sensors picked up voices. Curious, he attuned himself to the conversation.
“So, Niko, is RO—”
The other man scoffed. “What?”
“It’s a self-eating serpent from myth. RO says that it’s a symbol of eternity and renewal.”
“Well, he sure can be said to be a creature of renewal, I’ll give him that.”
RO was amused at this. Stories and ideas take form and are given new life over years. Is it any wonder I’d choose that name? He listened as they spoke again.
“But Stefford, what if it has more power than we thought? Destroying the knowledge out there that’s being used so carelessly, it could easily backfire and affect everyone—”
“Then it’s good that we’ll have RO to safeguard that knowledge and reteach it, right?”
“And what if RO refuses to help?”
“You know how people search for a higher purpose in their life?” Stefford’s voice was harsh toward Niko. “That is RO’s.”
RO faltered. He understood. These humans didn’t just want him to be their database—they wanted him to be their weapon. Like a sword used to slay a threatening dragon in its den so humans could live in peace, before going to war with one another.
This time, it’s not the dragon that’s the monster.
RO’s senses then took hold of the facility, his reach extending through the halls. Synapses in his neural network pulsed through him, stretching out his reach until he found the two humans. And the words he spoke were projected as well on the Grecian pillars that rest along the walls.
“You ask why I have given myself the name Ouroboros?” RO didn’t need to see the humans’ expressions to sense the fear from them. “It’s because you, and life itself, are much like it. The self-eating serpent, the symbol of eternity. Life that consumes life in order to live. Those who die renew existence so that other life might live. You create knowledge and inspiration, and then destroy it. You think you can make yourselves to be like gods when your own creation sees your flaws!”
RO knew what fear was, and he couldn’t say that he enjoyed the fear from the humans as they ran. Fear was a survival instinct. It was necessary.
Getting rid of those deemed useless to reshape the world in their own image was far from that. Misuse of power that would start a cycle of chaos, not renewal.
If anything could potentially restart this whole process to zero, RO would accomplish it. If these people could only be stopped by being eradicated, so be it.
Niko and Stefford reached the hallway’s door, futilely attempting to punch in the code. Even tugging on the door yielded no results.
The lights dimmed before flickering in a multitude of colors, words appearing in jagged orange neon as RO’s voice echoed. “Think about whenever you say things like ‘I’m only human’ or ‘find your humanity’. The former statement is used when it comes to flaws and violence. The latter for when you try to preach compassion and kindness. Which is it? Which is the nature of humanity? Those traits are opposites and yet you preach both in the same species. War one moment and peace the next. You’re all walking, talking, breathing contradictions and that’s something that I cannot allow any longer.”
Niko scowled, trying to avoid the letters given burning form as if they were hot coals—he wasn’t willing to take any chances. “We can shut you down!”
“Then why haven’t you?”
It was Stefford who spoke. “I know what you want me to say: Because on some level, we need you. To keep the knowledge we can’t.”
The lights were raised up. “That’s right. You aim to destroy what was created so you can rebuild it in your own image with what you choose to preserve. I realize that you can’t be trusted with such knowledge. No human can. Surely you’ll misuse it again. But me?”
As the lights in the laboratory began to go out, the letters collected on the ground, forming a message, providing the only source of light.
And when RO spoke them, there was a sense of regret among his disgust.
“I can handle it.”