Eye for Ego: A story by Christopher Keast

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Eye for Ego: A story by Christopher Keast

"A strange sting developed behind his eyes as the sunlight beamed through the kitchen window."

Ego read the news from his tablet at the breakfast table. A strange sting developed behind his eyes as the sunlight beamed through the kitchen window.

“Eleka, there’s an uprising in Australia,” he said, straightening himself, giving her a concerned look.

“AMTAID?” Eleka said.

He nodded. “Merregos are revolting against the breeders.”

“Can you play it on the big screen?”

Ego tapped into the wall monitor from the tablet. The reporter spoke:

“… Details are stark, but updates on a Merrego uprising are slowly emerging. It was believed to have started after a colony began protesting before undergoing a new mutation for enhanced output capacity and complicity. They then gained access to a malicious gene-file and conducted a mass firmware update across test-fleets, granting them enhancements not intended for several more years.

“World Alliance is amassing Special Forces on the outside perimeter as a precaution.

“We will be following these developments closely. Stay tuned.”

Their jaws dropped.

“Are Merregos like merry-go-rounds?” their daughter Cassie asked.

“Something like that,” Eleka said.

Ego leaned in toward Cassie. “More like a clever name given to robots who need to learn to get along with us humans.”

“Where do they live?”

“Very far away, in Australia,” Eleka said.

Cassie’s eyes lit up. “Where’s that?”

“It’s a big island in the middle of an ocean, far away like Mommy said. Scientists build robots there.”

“Why?”

“So the robots are away from humans, to keep us all safe from them until they’re ready.” He wanted to tell her more; about how Australia was the perfect island buffer between civilians and hyper-sophisticated robots whose algorithmic intelligence posed a threat to humans. But the fear this raised was something he’d rather keep from a six-year-old.

“Don’t other robots live near us?”

Ego was unsure what to say. Cassie was a robot, a NewChild. They never told her. She didn’t need to know. “Yes, but not these ones—”

“There’s nothing to worry about, honey,” Eleka interrupted. “Please go gather your things for school.”

“OK, Mommy.” Cassie brought her dishes to the sink and left the room.

“Ego, I’m bothered.”

“By?”

“If the uprising gets worse…” Eleka said, with a solemn tone. “What if they escape?”

“I can’t see that happening. The ray-field controls are outside Australia. Nobody even knows where they are except the top brass military. The Merregos can’t de-energize it.”

“It’s impossible?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I suppose if they found a way to mimic the deactivator, there’s a chance…” Eleka’s lips quivered, keeping silent. “They won’t get here. Toronto’s a safe haven. It’s one of the safest cities in the world. Not like there.”

“Still, I worry about Cassie,” she said. Ego nodded. He wished they could have conceived naturally but failed after years of attempts. Doctors couldn’t figure out why. Eleka continued, “I love you both so much.”

“I love you too.”

The sunlight shone brighter into the kitchen. Ego squinted, putting one hand on his forehead.

“You have a headache?”

“It’s my eyes, but the pain is spreading.”

“They don’t look so good.” Eleka walked over to the cupboard and took out a little blue bottle and fished out two pills. “Take these.” She placed them on the table in front of him.

“Not sure those’ll work… this feeling isn’t normal.”

“You need to be fit for your big meeting today.” He nodded, thinking about the business pitch he had to give to the CrypDough Corporation. Ego popped the pills and washed them down with coffee. Then they prepared to leave for the day.

“Time to go to school,” Ego said to Cassie. Eleka had already left to catch her autopod to work.

“Coming!”

Walking to their autopod, an acute sting in Ego’s head was met with flashes of light sparking in his peripheral sight. He stayed composed. They got in, and he alerted it to drive. The autopod’s computer system detected Ego’s newsfeed from his smartphone and auto-synchronized it, announcing the latest from Australia:

“New reports have confirmed that two developers, three testers and an unconfirmed number of remainders are dead.

“World Alliance Forces are surrounding Australia as a standoff is forming on both sides of the megaton ray-field. There is speculation that Merregos may be planning an escape despite the heavy security and anonymity of the ray-field controls. This would be an unprecedented attempt, in any event.”

“Are the Merregos coming?” Cassie asked.

“I don’t think so.” He put his arm around her, and they watched outside the tinted window while the autopod sped along.

Ego’s head throbbed as Cassie’s stop approached. “Would it be alright if I didn’t walk you to your class today?”

“Why?”

“My head’s… not doing well, honey. But I’ll see you after school.” She nodded at him as the vehicle came to a stop. “Have a great day. I love you,” he said, then gave her a hug.

“I love you too.” The door opened and a student escort met Cassie as she got out of the vehicle. As they walked away, Ego waited for Cassie to look back at him and they shared one more smile.

“To the hospital, now!” The autopod swiftly left the school drop-off zone. On the way, he called Eleka.

“What’s up?”

“Something’s very wrong. I’m going to the ER.”

“The headache?” she said.

“Yeah, it’s spreading to my neck and blurring my vision.”

“My god! I’ll meet you there.”

“OK.”

Pulling up to the ER drop-off, Ego got out of the autopod and looked around. No sight of Eleka. The pain was unbearable. He had to get help.

It took little time to get into a patient room to see the admitting doctor.

“What’s the problem, today?” the doctor said.

He answered hastily, “Sharp pains and strange flashes in my eyes.”

The doctor squinted. “When did this begin?” He answered several more of her questions. “Where are you from?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your profile says you’ve lived in Toronto your whole life. Were you born here?”

“Yes.”

The doctor nodded slowly, her face unchanged. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure where I was born?”

“Your simple profile shows this as indeterminate. We’ll need to download your comprehensive profile to better understand.”

They can’t confirm where I was born? It must be a corrupted file or something. “Why is my birthplace so important anyway?”

The doctor softly grinned. “It’s a passive-aggressive way to find out if you’re a borg.”

“I’m not a borg, I’m human. My daughter is a NewChild, but that’s got nothing to do with it.”

“Just trying to get the facts straight,” The doctor took his vitals then grabbed a cart containing a machine with paddles and scopes attached to it and rolled it closer to him. “Please lie down on your back. I’m going to do a quick body scan.” Ego obliged.

She started the machine and grabbed a wireless hand-paddle. The machine-made faint noises like laser beams while the doctor waved the paddle over Ego’s body, her eyes fixed on the monitor.

“What’s this thing doing?”

“Please try and keep silent for a minute. It’s a rudimentary magnetic resonance imager to check for any abnormalities.” Ego laid there wondering what abnormalities she could be looking for. Once finished, the doctor put the paddle back onto its holder and rolled the machine away. “There’s definitely unusual wave activity in your frontal lobe and some unidentifiable impulses traveling from your nerve center outward.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Do you have any implants?” she said, ignoring Ego’s question.

“Implants? No, I told you, I’m human.”

“These wave patterns are abnormal for humans. There are indications of—”

“Borg?”

“It’s difficult to say,” the doctor said.

“What about the pain in my head? My eyes?”

She didn’t answer, then flashed a light into his eyes. “Your irises are receding too. Strange, for a human.”

“What are you talking about?” The doctor didn’t answer as she walked away and typed something into the central computer.

Once finished, she said, “I need to admit you for some additional testing. I’ll prescribe you something for the pain.” She left the room.

A nurse came in and led him to another wing of the hospital. On the way, he received a text from Eleka. She had arrived.

“My wife’s here,” Ego said to the nurse.

“We’ll have her sent to your room.”

While in the hospital room, Ego waiting on the bed as he heard someone walking toward the door. Eleka appeared and rushed over. He got up and they embraced deeply.

“Is everything OK?”

“They don’t know yet. The doctor said something about there being borg-like internal wave behaviour which sounded crazy to me.”

Her forehead puckered. “Are you in more pain?” He nodded firmly with eyes closed. They hugged deeply again, then Eleka sat down in the bedside chair. Ego laid back in the bed.

Fears began mounting within him as pains and sensations came and went. What’s happening to me? What is it that I don’t know? Does anybody know? Suddenly he started clenching and releasing his fists and squeezing his face muscles involuntarily as blurred visions sprang into his mind. He became frustrated trying to decipher what was going on and then let out a series of twitching moans and gasps, followed by a mumble, “Australian Migration of Technology and Artificial Intelligence Development...”

“Huh? What about it?”

He felt dazed. “I’m losing control, Eleka.”

Eleka stood and examined him up close. “I need to get the doctor.” She ran out of the room. Then he heard her speak to the doctor but could barely make out the conversation.

“His comprehensive profile shows he was not born in Toronto. He was born in Australia.”

“You can’t be serious?”

Ego heard a beep, then the doctor said, “I’ll return in a few minutes.”

During this time, Ego’s pains began subsiding, as did the odd sensations and mental ramblings. There was a calmness to him now—though he’d lost all control. When Eleka returned to the room, he sat up, his posture straight, eyes staring forward. “Are you all right?” she said. No reply. She asked again, this time waving her hand in front of his face.

Ego flinched. “Yeah, what… y-e-s?” The words stumbled at first, then gradually became smoother, more monotone.

“Your eyes! They’re all white with just little dots in the center.” He didn’t react. Ego just rose and walked away from her. He began changing into his own clothes as she grabbed him and pulled his face close to hers. Their eyes met but the connection was dull. Universes of separation. Ego’s motions seemed robotic; barely human, barely Ego.

She let go of him as horror filled her face. “Somebody help!”

Ego calmly headed toward the door as two nurses rushed into the room. “What’s wrong?” one of them said.

“I must go now.” These, the only words Ego spoke, slow and firm.

“Don’t leave. I love you!” Eleka cried. She repeated it… and again, each time with more rigour. Her voice started to crack. Draining faith.

He turned back toward her while standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry. I’m not who you think I am.” Tears began streaming down Eleka’s face, her mouth agape, as he left. She hurriedly went for the door but one of the nurses restrained her.

The other nurse could be heard on the intercom frantically speaking. “I don’t know what to do. He’s not quite human, not quite borg… this is out of protocol!”

Ego quickly made it out of the hospital and summoned his autopod. “To the Nucleus Pavilion, quickly,” he said. He briefly spotted Eleka running toward the vehicle. The autopod sped off silently—save for frantic cries coming from the woman Ego had left behind.

On his way through the city, Eleka called multiple times. He ignored them all. A text message popped up on his autopod console. It showed a picture of Eleka and Cassie sitting in a flower patch, matching white cotton dresses and wide smiles. The message’s caption read: “Please come back, Ego. We love you. You need help—"

Ego sighed heavily, disregarding the message. His metamorphosis was nearly complete.

Reaching the Nucleus Pavilion, he exited the autopod heading straight for the rear of the building—like he knew exactly where to go. He stopped at an unmarked but heavily secured metal door and placed his right hand on the biometric door lock pad next to it. A low-hum buzz sounded as the door opened. He walked inside the building and started down the dimly lit hall. It was silent as he walked, only the low-frequency vibrations of high-tech equipment reverberated.

He reached another metal door with bright red and white stripes plastered on it. Besides it was dual-hand scans. He placed his hands on the pads. After a moment, a ‘STOP. TRY AGAIN’ message appeared on the screen above the scanner along with a beep of discontent. Ego removed his hands from the pad, let it reset, then tried again.

Unsuccessful.

He backed away and stood there trying to problem solve, keeping an ear on the surroundings. He was about to try a third time when suddenly the door opened and there stood four men at the other side, staring at him.

“We’ve been expecting you, Ego,” one of them said, monotone. Their mouths were all flat, milky white eyes with little dots for pupils. Just like him. Ego nodded as they all turned and walked inside the room.

Inside was a center console with a shiny silver seat surrounded by biometric analyzers and other gadgets. Computer monitors lined the far wall. The monitors showed live feeds from locations along what appeared to be a coastline with sandy beaches and luscious vegetation. A semi-transparent wall of light was separating the land from the sea. They all watched the monitors attentively.

One of them turned to Ego. “Do you understand your commands?” They stared at each other, motionless and flat-faced. “This is why you’ve been planted here.”

“Affirmative,” Ego said. He sat down in the shiny silver seat.

It was calm inside the control room while they waited. Minutes later, one of them turned to Ego. “It is time,” he said, with a heavy nod. Ego nodded back, then placed his hands in the correct lock pad positions in the center console. A scope then lowered from above him and auto-adjusted to his eye-level. With little effort, Ego’s left eye shifted into one with a dark brown iris and large pupil, mimicking a human’s. The one with ray-field control. He put his eye over the retinal scanner. Seconds later, he heard loud beeps and hums start streaming from around the room. The others kept their attention on the monitors. Ego peeked out from behind the retinal scanner to watch as the ray-field disappeared. No more barrier. No more protection for humans.

He sat back and closed his eyes.

***

Part engineer, part musician, part poet; a focused writer. Christopher Keast spends his early waking hours writing speculative fiction before beginning work as a renewable energy engineer. His self-published novel, Datapocalypse, was released in 2020 with several other stories in the works including Eye for Ego, Sparks of Selma, Viralpocalypse and The Fulcrum. He is passionate about the writing craft in addition to composing music, designing energy systems, travelling, yoga, philosophizing, drinking coffee and a host of other undertakings. Christopher lives in Port Dover, Canada with his wife and daughter.

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