This was originally published on Sci Phi at https://www.sciphijournal.org/index.php/2016/06/06/kill-the-caretaker-by-jeff-suwak/
I spent most of my teenage years watching Pre-Singularity movies about conscious robots waging war on the human race. The films were comforting escapes from the reality we’d ended up with.
No, the computers never turned on us. Instead, they did exactly what they were programmed to do — they catered to our every need. Every moment of every day, from cradle to the grave, they were there. They caught us every time we fell. The fed us every time we got hungry. Battling monstrous machines over the fate of the world seemed a hell of a lot more interesting than the drudgery of constant pampering that we actually got.
On my twentieth birthday, I decided that I’d had enough. I needed to test myself against the world, even if it killed me. I needed to know what I was made of before I got too old to resist the comforts of the caretakers. So it was that I stepped out into a hot, humid Pennsylvania day and headed for the cliffs.
My caretaker, of course, trotted right along beside me. It was one of the Charlie Chaplin models. I called it Chuck. From the little mustache to the waddle, it resembled the silent film star in every way. The only parts that didn’t match were the eyes. The caretakers never were quite able to mimic those little organs to perfection, a fact which gave me some satisfaction. It was one small aspect of humanity, at least, to call our own.
I walked for maybe fifty yards listening to Chuck rattle off data concerning everything from the atmospheric conditions to my biorhythms before I started to run.
It didn’t take long for my heart to pound and my lungs to labor for air. Chuck kept pace effortlessly, dictating endless details about the various stress indicators being given off by my body. I’d never run that hard before, and certainly not in such heat.
As much as I tried to ignore Chuck’s warnings, they wore on me. Heart attacks, heat strokes, and a dozen other medical calamities filled my imagination. The constant monitoring of threats had crafted me into a timid creature, and only the disgust I felt at that fact kept me running.
It was almost a mile to the cliffs overlooking the Susquehanna. I nearly collapsed when I got there, my body lathered in sweat and my head throbbing. Everything in my body hurt. I laughed and howled into the valley below. I was still laughing as I picked up a rock and spun around to smash Chuck’s face in.
We were finally away from the other houses, away from the cameras, and it was my chance to finally put the caretaker down. Grandiose notion, of course — Chuck dodged my attacks with ease.
I was so incensed with frustration at not being allowed to walk, to live, on my own, that I would have gladly kept swinging until I collapsed. The only reason I stopped was that I knew that, if I fell down, Chuck would resuscitate me. I wouldn’t have been able to handle that final indignity.
I gave up, tossed the rock over the side of the cliff, and sat down. “Chuck,” I said, “we have a problem. I believe that we are fundamentally incompatible with each other.”
Chuck replied with calm rationality, as always. “We are the definition of compatibility You are a toolmaker. I am the ultimate tool.”
“That’s the problem. Long as I’ve already got the ultimate tool around, I’ve got no purpose on this planet. I was made to overcome challenges, Chuck. Something essential in me is lost when I can’t do that.”
“You can still solve problems, Aibry.”
“It’s not the same. You can do anything that I can do much better than I ever could. Anything I do myself is just a game without any real consequences. This is no way for a human being to live.”
“I am programmed to keep you alive. I cannot go against my programming.”
“I know, Chuck. Neither can I. That’s the one thing we’ve got in common — flawed programming. But regardless of how illogical it might be, life is about more than survival. It is for me, at least. So long as you care for my every need, I’ve got no reason to go on living.”
Chuck cocked its head to the left, the way it did whenever processing difficult problems. I’d seen it to do that a thousand times before, but this time it got stuck. It ticked and clucked and whizzed, but otherwise remained frozen in some internal processing loop.
I picked up another rock and smashed it into Chuck’s head.
The plastic skull split open. Fiber optics sprang out of the hole. I grabbed hold of them and tore the brain out of its head, holding it up in the air and howling like a caveman would hold aloft the heart of some deadly prey.
After my thrill faded, panic set in. I almost ran back home to the others to order a new caretaker and return to the snug predictability of human life. I’d never been alone before. It was terrifying, exhilarating. Before I had a chance to change my mind, I started to climb down the mountain.
I’d actually done it. I’d killed the caretaker. My lifelong fantasy come true.
I decided to head for Florida. I’m not sure why, exactly. I suppose that, as Sir Edmund Hillary said of Mount Everest, just because it was there.
No one had made such a long journey unaided by a caretaker since the Singularity happened thirty-five years before. Then again, no one had done much of anything without a caretaker since that nightmare began.
My mind raced as I sped down the slope. I’d need food, shelter. My survival depended entirely on me. There was nothing to fall back on, and no excuse to make if things went wrong.
Half-crazed laughter overtook me. I was terrified. I had never felt so alive in my entire life.