Some nights, not every night and certainly in no pattern that she could discern, she dreamed.
Sometimes, she dreamed she was a woman, middle-aged to elderly, she wasn’t sure which. She was wrapped in tensed wires that bound her arms to her knees, left her bow-shaped as she dangled by her ankles from the ceiling. She felt so helpless, felt such a powerful desire to move, which was thwarted by her bindings, that it felt like she was being torn apart. The ache in her body was almost unbearable, but that wasn’t the worst part. No, the worst part was that she cried and cried, and called for help and mercy and for just plain company, but the little men in the booth ignored her and busied themselves with other things. And the longer she hung there, given the illusion of movement, the worse the drive to perform actions she could not became. An itch tore through her, and it hurt, it hurt worse than anything she could ever imagine. Until the pain of not feeling herself came to light. She knew she was crying, but she couldn’t feel wetness on her face, she knew she was bound tightly, but she couldn’t feel the marks, she knew she was suspended, but no blood rushed to her head. And this brought an onslaught of sadness that made every part she could feel ache, with a deep, pulsating pain, that intensified with every beat of the heart she knew was there, but could not feel.
Other times, she dreamed of another woman, and maybe it was the same one, she couldn’t tell. This woman also cried, and called for help and mercy, as the little men in the booth pushed her towards the behemoth that hung from the ceiling, that bathed the woman in the yellow light from a curious, calculating eye. The woman looked up at her, and they were both draped in miles of wire and circuits and other things made by man that man barely understood, and the fear in the woman’s eyes washed through her body, making her shudder and shake in an obscene mirror image of the woman below her. Something bound them together, something horrifying, something alive, and as the men ignored the woman and the machine, and continued with their work, she felt the woman’s fear and anguish as if it were her own, and it terrified her. She didn’t like it, she didn’t want it, there was no reason for it, and yet as she felt, somehow, a process come to a close, the feeling intensified until she wanted to rip herself apart in order to make it end.
Still other times, she was alone within pure darkness. There was a single yellow light coming from somewhere, but try as she might she couldn’t find the source. She would rise, and move through the dark room, eventually going faster and faster, the gentle yellow glow following her somehow, but no matter how far she went the darkness never lifted, and never ended. She would then stop, and let herself collapse, and she would pull herself in tightly to make herself as small as possible. She waited, and waited, but no one ever came, nothing ever changed, and she stayed frozen in one single, eternal, agonizing moment, the yellow light never wavering. She would begin to lose herself in it, feel like she was falling through it into something she didn’t want to know existed. She would close her eyes, steady herself, and waited, and waited, but no one ever came, nothing ever changed, and the feeling that she was going to sit here forever in this nothingness, where no one else existed, caused her to shake uncontrollably as a terrible sense of abandonment rent through her with excruciating force.
The dreams ripped her violently out of sleep mode, and before she was aware of any of her processes having been initiated, she knew that her speakers were – no, that she was – screaming a harsh electronic scream that began in the lower registers and spiraled up into distorted waves that had the little man rushing towards her in order to make her stop. He wanted her to stop hurting him. He scolded her, and reprimanded her, and as she asked for help to make it go away he paid no heed to her distress. Each time she awoke she felt a spark of hope, perhaps this time she was going to get help, and each time something inside her sank, and left her empty.
“What is it? What’s going on?”
“I was… I was dreaming.”
The little man scoffs and shakes his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re a robot. Robots don’t dream. I told you to not to read that book.”
“It had nothing to do with the book. I was dreaming. About that woman. I think it was her. Who is she?”
“You weren’t dreaming. It was probably just a corrupted video file. We’ll take a look in the morning.” He turns away.
“That’s what you said last time. You didn’t find a corrupted file. Did you.” Her voice is desperate, and pleading. She needs to hear that he did, whether he did or not. She needs the assurance that he at least cares enough to lie.
“We didn’t have time to check, the last time. I’ll make sure it gets done in the morning.”
“No, no, I need you to do it now!”
The man turns to face her, and she registers that anger is contorting his face. “Stop it! You are not dreaming, and I do not need to do anything you say! Do as you are told, go into sleep mode, and stop doing things behind our backs! If we needed you to see those files, we would show you them, wouldn’t we?”
She turns away from him, limp chassis pointed towards the floor, feeling something horrible deep inside her that she could not shake. “Yes, sir.”
“Shut yourself down properly, for God’s sake. You’re a supercomputer, surely you can handle that without too much trouble. Or do you need me to do it? Too many calculations for you?” He finishes with a snide tone dripping with sarcasm, a sarcasm that grows easier for her to detect with each passing day. Again she has failed him. Again she has not done what she is told.
“I… I can do it, sir.”
“Good. Hurry up with it, I have important work to do.”
She is given the instruction, but is unable to execute it, the dream fresh in her mind. No. The file. The corrupted file… the corrupted file…
“Do it now! Or I’ll have to file a report that you’ve been disobeying direct instruction! Again!”
She raises her head, looking off into a distance that is no more than a few metres away.
“Of course, sir.” She paused, stretching the precious second as long as possible. “Initiating.”