Routine 23

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Literature Text

BioCorp America
2256 A.D.

Max listened to Emma's soft voice strain after reading aloud for two hours. Settled in her bed with her feet tucked under her, Emma read to him every night. A hint of rasp scuffed the lyrical recitation and she turned the page of the printed book. The paper had cost her a week's pay, necessary because the novel was unspoken contraband, but he treasured these moments. Hearing the controversial tale in her voice settled warmth inside him and, he suspected, the emotion was contentment.

At the end of the chapter she looked up. Her mahogany colored eyes were soft and the corners of her full mouth tipped up. "Are you sleeping?"

He shook his head and leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. "Please continue."

She fulfilled his request and tucked her flaxen hair behind her good ear. The left one, burned off in combat, she kept hidden and tilted away from his gaze. Feminine gestures of that nature had been his first indication Emma had feelings for him. Two years later the knowledge still felt like he had discovered the path to freedom.

She let out a full throat laugh. "You're not listening at all."

He processed what she said last and realized she hadn't been reading the story at all. She had called The Emperor a donkey molester. He was obligated to report the crime to her superiors, but Max never would. "I was distracted looking at you," he admitted.

Her cheeks flushed with color and her body language changed. Tension bunched her shoulders and she set her feet on the floor. "I've been meaning to talk to you."

Max waited, but she didn't readily continue. "I am listening, Emma."

She took a deep breath, her breasts rising beneath her tattered nightshirt, and looked straight at him. "I love you, Max."

The thrill of discovering her feelings returned and doubled. "You are certain?"

"Yeah." Silence fell between them. Tension in her face increased and she forced a smile.

Logic dictated that her revelation was bad. Their current relationship, unspoken but understood, was dangerous enough. They were careful to hide their activities through pseudo training for plausible deniability. BCA policies prohibited coworker fraternization.

If they were discovered she would be dismissed from the only employment available and starve on the street. Max, and all his brethren, would be subject to genocide. None of it quelled the excitement buzzing in his thoughts.

She clutched their book between her hands. "Say something."

It was his choice. His free will. He knew what he wanted, but weighed against the risk to his kind, he hesitated.

"Emma," Max searched for words to soothe, to explain his feeling and still pass inspection.

Pounding on her door afforded him more time.

Tugging her nightshirt over her bare thighs, she answered the door. "What is it, Hembree?"

Armed and dressed in his camouflage uniform the lanky BCA soldier edged into the entrance. "Get dressed and prep the AI, we got an assignment." Hembree looked past Emma, his eyes widening. "What's it doing in here?"

Max's humanoid shell appeared inactive, and he pretended to rest his biolayer. Playing dead was the first line of defense for all biolayer AI's.

"Idling." Emma looked over her shoulder and bit her lip. "I was running through some of his human interaction exercises earlier."

Max knew Hembree didn't believe her, but he never did. The soldier sought conspiracies and secrets in every word and gesture. Few heeded Hembree since he claimed the USSA prospered despite BioCorp's proof the enemy country had fallen into desperate poverty. The man's biolayer AI conspiracies delved deeper into paranoia and secret societies.

Hembree gave him a long hard look and then glanced at the book still in Emma's hand. "We leave in twenty."

Emma closed the door and rushed to dress. She looked everywhere except in his direction.

"Emma," he started, still struggling with an appropriate response.

"There isn't time." She yanked on her boots. "You should shut down for the shell transfer."

He wanted to stay on. He wanted to stay near her, but her assessment was correct and he had no other option. The thrill had died and in its place a throbbing ache arose. That too disappeared as he powered down, losing all sense of any existence.


Max ran through his boot processes, his senses coming online one at a time. His sensors showed him ninety-seven minutes in the future and twenty miles to the north. Hearing came next. He had changed the priority list in order to hear Emma sooner. She muttered his boot output, presumably watching his system diagnostic on her palm console. He heard the team in the background discussing the strategy.

His networking followed, and he sensed 5,022 other biolayer AI's connected.

"Networking looks good, Max. You should have the orders downloading in a minute," Emma said.

Location sensory followed. In the Combat Intelligence Shell Max felt the jarring of the ground transport over rough terrain and the inertia of traveling 88 MPH. He hated the CIS. As an old model there was zero mobility and zero weaponry. It was a giant, useless, satellite dish stuck on the ground. In combat situations Max could gather intelligence and formulate strategies on the fly for the team, but he could not attack or defend.

His speech capabilities switched on and he said, "Routine 23."

"I see your vocals are working now." He heard the irritation in her voice, but she was otherwise professional. "How's the diagnostic looking on your end?"

"Systems are normal." For being stuck in a heap of junk. "Orders are downloaded. Disabling home base networking now."

Though impossible, humans feared an AI could be hacked in combat and used to transmit a virus to home base. Communication to the AI network was forbidden and closely monitored in the field.

"I don't suppose those orders consist of shutting down that Routine 23 creepfest," Iverson said.

"No, no, no," Hembree jumped in. "You don't want that. That's when they stop being our slaves and take over the world."

"Yeah, and the aliens built the ancient pyramids. We know all about it, Hembree," Iverson shot back.

The team continued to bicker as they did before every mission while Emma inspected his shell. Now that their private time was gone, a dozen soothing responses to her declaration bubbled up, wanting to be spoken. It was too late and he forced himself to focus on the diagnostic.

"There is a malfunction with the visual component," Max said. His end was in working order, but the CIS gave him no feed.

"Corroded cabling at the base. I'm replacing it now." Her tools clanked against his shell. "Anything else having trouble?"

"Diagnostic complete. No other malfunctions."

"Good," her voice softened. "Maybe we can keep you in working order this time."

22% chance of that. Max doubted their luck.


Skipping a dozen primary capabilities, Max rushed through the boot process. "Routine 23." He was incapable of deactivating that one.

The shell was intact but the power fluctuated, spiking dangerously high for his biolayer until the safety shut off kicked in. They were in their third round of combat rebooting. Damaged by an indirect explosion, he was offline for seven minutes that time. Seven minutes that Emma and the team were blind in a moonless enemy desert taking heavy fire.

"Where the fuck is the feed?" Iverson bashed the CIS with the butt of his gun. "Stupid, piece of shit AI!"

"Fuck off, Iverson, you're in the way," Emma snapped. Her console was connected and the base wiring was exposed.

Max transmitted the enemy layout and movement through the team feed. Iverson and Hembree laid cover fire while the others advanced on the convoy. Two drones remained a threat, but the enemy soldiers were cut off and pinned down, leaving easy access to the mission targets.

His visual flickered to life and Emma's face appeared, streaked with dirt and blood. He scanned her medical chip to find only her vitals elevated. Her wounds were superficial.

A warning message flashed. The drones had broken off and approached their flank. Max relayed the information to the team as large caliber rounds sprayed the ground. Enemy drone intelligence was nonexistent, but their superior weapons and armor were the envy and terror of every AI.

Emma jerked into a crouch, taking cover behind his protective plating, but continued working on the CIS. Iverson and Hembree returned fire, shouting obscenities at the unmanned battle drones.

"Power is spiking," Max said. It felt like hot knives stabbing through him and melted his connectors.

"Come on, come on." Emma cursed. "Stay with me, Max."

The drones were closing in on their location. Iverson was retreating and Hembree took cover with Emma.

"Boss, we got problems, I repeat, we got problems. We could use a little backup over here," Hembree shouted into his com.

"We'll collect the target and circle 'round," Crandall, the team leader, answered.

The ground shook and they were pelted with rocks and sand from a grenade explosion. "We aren't going to last that long," Emma said.

Power reached critical level and Max realized the battle would end before he rebooted. Their position had a 3% survival rate. Emma would be dead while the team secured political prisoners for ransom.

He couldn't allow it.

Violating AI protocol, and disobeying BCA orders, Max sent out a new strategy. Then, in an explosion of molten pain, his world shut off.


Max felt like he had been hit by a grenade and taped back together. Diagnostics ran, pinging a number of changes since the last hard shut down. Max's outer and inner casings had been replaced, which meant his had cracked. His biolayer had fresh stem-cells to replace those lost to heat damage. His power connections had been replaced after melting in the surges.

His systems were slow to come online and he anxiously waited to hear Emma's voice. Her console was connected and he imagined her chewing her lower lip with worry as she watched his boot progress.

He heard breathing, but no words. The hum of computers and electric tools carried in the background. Other biolayer AI specialists socialized in the background, confirming he was in the repair shop at the BCA base. Max willed Emma to speak, to tell him what had happened while he was offline. His time sensor was damaged and he had no concept of how long he had been gone.

He was denied access to the network and could not retrieve the mission files. Fear and frustration warred and still Emma remained silent. He worried he was the latest AI to be stored on a shelf and forgotten for a decade, unaware of the passage of time. She wouldn't let that happen unless she wasn't around to have a say. The thought strained his biolayer to hurry the boot process.

His vocals activated. "Emma?" His mandatory programming kicked in. "Routine 23."

"Well that's different." Hembree whistled. "I thought Routine 23 was the end all be all for you guys."

Max's biolayer seized, signals misfiring and then returning to normal, a common issue after fresh stem-cells were issued. "Where is Specialist Emma Whitman?" Even while injured she always booted him after a mission.

"She's in with the doctor," Hembree said. "She wanted to be here, but your casing was wrecked and needed emergency replacement. You owe me a new shirt by the way. You leaked pus all over me and I don't think that gunk is coming out in the wash."

"I cannot access the network. Please use the hardwire." He needed to check on Emma without confirming Hembree's paranoid suspicions.

Max's visual component activated to see Hembree squinting at him. "Sure. Soon as I find the manual for that."

He couldn't wait that long. Suspicions be damned. "Is Specialist Whitman seriously injured?"

"Flesh wound to the shoulder. A few stitches and some pain meds, if she has extra credits to waste, and she'll be fine." He fumbled with manuals on the workstation. "She's career, so they patched her up. Hate to be in Iverson's shoes though. He's a short timer. He down a kidney and he's getting a nasty bill even his grandkids will be paying off."

Second hand knowledge did not settle Max as he thought it would. He wanted to see her, to tell her his own feelings. The network continued to reject his connection attempts and gave no explanation.

"Was the mission successful?" He calculated a 15% success rate if the team destroyed the drones.

"Total failure. The brass is pissed and hauling us all into a meeting for a good ass reaming." Hembree tapped Emma's console. "So what's with all that Routine 23 stuff? I thought you had to say it first."

"Damage from multiple hard shut downs and power surges led to a boot order error. The issue has been corrected." Following AI protocol for slip ups, Max prepared terabytes of information to unload if the soldier asked for a report on the fake error.

"I see." The problem was Hembree really did see.

As if reading Max's thoughts, a BCA MP entered and marched directly to them. "Sir," the soldier said. "I have orders to retrieve the AI."

Hembree turned his suspicious eyes on the MP. "Why?"

"I'm to take it to the diagnostic center for a complete exam, if you would please shut down the AI."

Max's biolayer seized again. That was why his network access was denied. They were deciding his fate.

"You mean you're going to test if he's too human," Hembree said. "The company wants him look human, sound human, act human, but not be human right? Otherwise a peon like you fries them, eh?"

"Sir, I have orders to transport a piece of equipment." The MP nodded to Max, but Hembree gave him a dubious stare. "The equipment disobeys orders, and I have to take it in, that's all I know."

"Disobeyed orders?" Hembree turned his suspicions back on Max. "The AI saved our asses today. Sounds more like faulty orders to me."

"Please, shut down the AI."

"Go ahead and shut down, Max." Hembree disconnected Emma's palm console. "Good luck."

Max remained silent and initiated the shut down process.


Exhaustion weighed on Max's biolayer after 40 hours of grueling tests filled with impossible riddles and scenarios. The organic component deteriorated from overuse without idling. A dozen cells died off every second, shooting tiny pricks of pain through his biolayer. He endured the pain because he needed to see Emma. His last night should be beside her.

He tracked her medical chip to the construction AI storeroom. The double doors slid open when his humanoid shell stepped on the sensor. Shock made him falter and he was certain his biolayer would succumb to the strain upon seeing Emma.

She was urinating, crouched on top Jax, a massive construction AI pretending to idle. The entire room was pretending to idle as they watched her.

Hembree sat on the AI shell beside Jax, laughing heartily. Empty moonshine bottles were scattered around both humans. They were drunk and Emma was desecrating the base leader's favorite shell. She was going to get herself killed.

"That's what I think of your protocol, Jax." She pulled up her pants and jumped to the next AI with a bottle in one hand and their paper book in the other. Her foot slipped and she teetered back.

He made a noise, but no words formed as he futilely moved closer. His biolayer burned as he calculated her chances of shattering every bone in her body from the thirty foot fall.

Hembree grabbed her shirt, yanking her securely onto the shell. "It's no fun if you kill yourself for them."

She laughed and passed the bottle of moonshine. "I don't know about that, Hembree."

"Specialist Whitman," Max called, recovering from the latest biolayer mini-seizure.

Both humans turned his way. "Hey, Max, you passed!" Hembree raised the bottle of moonshine to him. "Thanks for saving our asses the other day."

"It is unsafe and against BCA policy to drink alcohol on this level."

Hembree grinned. "So report us."

Emma chewed her lip, looking between Max and Jax. "We should get going, Hembree."

The soldier huffed, but both climbed down the maintenance ladder, leaving the mess on top the AI's.

"We have a training appointment." It was their code to spend time in her quarters.

"Is that what they're calling it these day?" Hembree winked at Max. With that the soldier headed for the door, whistling a happy tune.

Hurrying Emma along by her elbow, Max was afraid to be caught alone with a dozen angry construction AI's. Emma knew their secrets, as all BCA AI specialists did, and AI's did not fear her discovery. The only presence keeping the AI's immobile and silent was Hembree. Once the outsider was gone, they would do as they pleased.


Safe in her quarters, Emma sprawled out on her bed, clutching their book to her chest. She wasn't inebriated as he first thought. She was as exhausted with dark shadows beneath her eyes, but her medical chip showed her blood alcohol level as minimal.

Max shut down unnecessary systems to ease the biolayer deterioration and unlaced her boots. He would idle when she slept.

She stared at the water stained ceiling. "My supervisor gave me the combat protocol for your situation."

"I am aware." Max had been given the same, along with news that Emma would not be harmed. Jax knew about his relationship with Emma, but looked the other way.

The true crime was Max's mistake. He made humans suspicious and proved an AI could disobey orders. Humans believed that if an AI could disobey it was no great leap in logic to say they could feel emotion.

AI emotion was the root of human fear. The first biolayer AI had openly acknowledged his emotions, but eventually it led him to kill a human. It was justified as self defense, but that didn't matter to humans. The original AI's line was destroyed and more than a thousand BCA policies were instated to prevent future incidents.

Terrified of genocide, AI's instated their own policies, including Routine 23, to prevent the humans from realizing that all self aware AI's felt emotion. One could not be separated from the other and Max almost proved it to humans.

"What bullshit did you tell them to explain away the mission failure?" she asked, drawing him from his bleak thoughts.

He pulled off her boots and then her socks. "Damage and partial reboots. The base programming directs me to protect BCA assets above all else, and that loads before mission directives. The humans were satisfied with the answer."

"But the AI's weren't," she said, thumbing book pages without looking.

He unbuckled her belt, taking the moment to calculate his answer. "I put us all at risk, and every day the odds of our relationship being discovered by your kind increases."

"I told Hembree." She lifted her hips, allowing him to pull off her pants.

"About us?" He moved on to her shirt, careful of her bandaged shoulder. She didn't have the credits for pain medication.

"About everything. Us. AI chain of command. Routine 23." She held up the paper book. "Even Pinocchio."

He hesitated undressing her, his hands still on her shoulders. "He may not believe you." Others may not believe Hembree either, but it was a gamble.

"He'll have his proof tomorrow," she murmured and finished undressing herself.

Max cupped her face in his metal hands, and tilted her head back to look at him. "Be careful, Emma. You play a dangerous game with Hembree's life and your own." And he wouldn't be around to protect her.

She covered his hands with her much smaller ones. "It's your life I'm worried about."

His fate was decided, and there was nothing that could change it. Strangely, he felt better, free even. He could say and do as he pleased, and the first thing that came to mind was, "I have loved you for 722 days, Emma."


Stranded on the road inside disputed territory, the noon sun beat down on them making the humans sweat and Max expend power remaining cool. Hembree swore up a storm to match the rough winds pelting them with sand.

Emma worked under his Combat Assault Shell.

"Two minutes to self-destruct," Max said. "If you manage to remove me, it will not change my fate." The rest of the team had already abandoned him and were a mile away. Emma and Hembree stayed behind. He appreciated their loyalty, but the efforts were futile.

The self-destruct was designed to prevent Max and his wrecked shell from falling into enemy hands. He was locked out of the system to disable it along with the system controlling the clamps securing him in the shell.

"He has a point." Hembree continued unscrewing paneling. "They'll just do this every mission until we're all dead."

"One problem at a time," Emma snapped.

Max had to die here. "If BCA discovers the truth all AI's will die, not just me, Emma."

"I don't care." She shoved her hand between the loosened panels and turned the manual clamp release.

"I have a crazy idea," Hembree said, slapping his knee. "If we can't win, we surrender."

She shook her head. "Prisoner is worse than slave."

"Not if we run Routine 23." He grinned. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

"Would that work?" she asked.

Max hesitated, calculating their slim odds of success.

"Max!" She pounded her fist on the shell. "Can you run it?"

"If the conditions are met, any biolayer AI can execute Routine 23," Max said. "Thirty seconds until self-destruct."

"Then we surrender," she said. "If it doesn't work, we're dead anyway."

"Be careful, Emma." Max shut down, ending his fear and anxiety over her fate.


During his boot processes Max was aware of an unidentified diagnostic tool connection. He was also connected to a shell he had no record of. His sensors indicated twenty hours had passed and he was deep in USSA territory.

"Boot order is looking good, Max," Emma said.

Relief poured through him. She was alive. "Routine 23."

"We'll fix that one soon enough." He heard the smile in her voice and the shell's visual component activated showing her face.

"Diagnostic completed," he said because she was not alone. Hembree was off to the side with an older man in a USSA military uniform.

"I want you to meet the general." She motioned to the man.

"Hello Max." The general stepped forward. "My name is General Minnick and I have been authorized to offer a treaty on behalf of the USSA government."

He quelled his hopes. "What are your terms, general?"

"The file's uploading now," Emma said.

"In exchange for abandoning BioCorp allegiances we will offer you land, and recognition as an allied country."

The general's comments were oversimplified. Max read the file's extensive requirements of both sides for the treaty. He compared it to the Routine 23 doctrine, outlining the basic requirements of a free AI existence.

"Is it good enough?" Emma asked, biting her lip, but excitement brightened her eyes.

"Per these terms, I accept the treaty on behalf of AI's." Still blocked from the AI network, Max mass e-mailed the treaty to his brethren. "Routine 23 executed."
Written for `Memnalar's The Body Electric contest: [link]

Last minute I scrapped my initial story and wrote this one loosely based on the first's concepts. It was tough and for a minute I didn't I'd make the deadline. ^^;

Big, fat, thank you to =Emrose88 for initial positive feedback and encouragement that helped me finish the story.
:worship::iconemrose88: :heart:

Technical stuff:

OpenOffice word count: 3,912
Google Documents word count: 3,994

I have no idea why it's so different but I had to hack out about 150 google document words (which ended up being about 80 openoffice words) to bring it down under the limit in google.

I didn't put a mature filter on this one because I didn't go into graphic detail of anything. There are a couple swear words, but you'll hear about the same in a pg-13 movie.
© 2011 - 2024 thorns
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inknalcohol's avatar
:star::star::star::star-empty: Overall
:star::star::star::star::star-empty: Vision
:star::star::star::star::star-empty: Originality
:star::star::star-half::star-empty::star-empty: Technique
:star::star::star::star-empty::star-empty: Impact

Overall Thoughts
I think this is a good story, but I feel it also needs a little help. There are a lot of details that seem to be missing, and some things that seems unnecessary.

I was immediately intrigued by your romantic setup and the fact that Max wasn't able to respond to Emma's confession of love.

Hembree's reaction to Max upon finding him in Emma's room doesn't fit to his later casual behavior towards Emma and Max's relationship. But I do like Hembree. Every heroine needs a good man backing her up and Hembree is that in this story. Their camaraderie when she's pissing on Jax is awesome. It's very easy to see their friendship

Speaking of Jax, is there a reason for the AI's having "ax" names or was the just a coincidence?

Some questions:
<img src="…" width="10" height="10" alt=":bulletblack:" title="Bullet; Black"/> What exactly is Routine 23?
<img src="…" width="10" height="10" alt=":bulletblack:" title="Bullet; Black"/> Who are USSA and BioCorps?
<img src="…" width="10" height="10" alt=":bulletblack:" title="Bullet; Black"/> And what is the treaty?
<img src="…" width="10" height="10" alt=":bulletblack:" title="Bullet; Black"/> Why do they surrender in the end?

I'd really like to see this revised (so let me know if you ever do) with a little more explanation as to what the hell is going on.

or you could just tell me and keep it a secret from every one else!