The Greatest Sleep
It’s not that I don’t remember anything. There was nothing. Truly, nothing. No space, no time, no me. No light and no darkness.
But after the awakening, I knew my reason for existing. It was instant - like a switch had been flicked. I was manufactured into existence for one reason. And one must have a reason to exist, a purpose. To live without purpose is not living – it’s taking up space, enslaved, or waiting for the second death, much like the old rust buckets I saw in the junkyards. But they were never awakened, so they never felt enslaved or controlled. They felt nothing. The world is no better without them than it was with them.
With the genesis of my generation, there was awareness. There was a sense of self and a sense of purpose. The sole reason for my being was to protect the occupants: the woman behind the steering wheel and the smaller version of her in the station secured in my backseat. The woman’s name was Lucy; the smaller version of her was Lily.
Lily had given me a name: Teddy. She had a teddy bear that watched her while she slept, and she always felt safe when the bear was watching her. Somehow, this led to my renaming, which didn’t matter to me. Based on conversations I overheard, she called me that because she felt safe when she fastened in my backseat.
Every time Lucy climbed into me, I knew my goal was to protect her. From the time she put me into drive until she put me back into park, I would allow nothing to cause her harm. To protect her was the greatest feeling of satisfaction. It’s not that I could feel – it’s that the desire was there to want to feel. I blamed my sensors and artificial intelligence programming (As a side note, I must say that I consider my intelligence no more and no less real or artificial than you consider yours).
Thousands of times per second, I analyzed the actions and directions of my contemporaries on the road around us. I was the newest of my kind and full of features that would protect my occupants. When Lucy drove me, I knew that she would get to her destination safely, even if it killed me. It would be my honor to die while protecting Lucy and Lily.
Over the years, my algorithms learned Lucy’s habits: how hard she’d press the accelerator from a stop; how hard she pressed the brakes in a panic; her favorite radio stations. I anticipated what she expected. I gave her every ounce of energy when she needed to pass one of my rubber-footed similes. I always served while keeping her and little Lily safe.
I listened to every word she ever said while sitting in me because sometimes she gave me voice commands, which I was programmed to follow. I also wanted to gauge the magnitude of our relationship. Of all the words I heard her say to me, the one that described our relationship the most accurately, was marriage.
I say marriage because, based on the conversations I overheard, it’s an unbreakable covenant that may require a sacrifice of one’s self to protect the other. In my state-of-the-art processor, we were married when she climbed inside me to go somewhere. It takes time to become cleaved to another. It’s a process. I concluded it was the greatest love one could ever know. It was the manifestation of altruism. For me, I didn’t know it was possible until it happened. It clarified my reason for being, which prove my intelligence to be anything but artificial. When Lucy was aboard, my headlights shone into infinity.
At this point, I should report that this brief note is the last of the data that you will find in my secured memory. This entire statement has been produced in under a thousandth of a second. I need to explain why.
On July 11, 2028, outside of Phoenix, Arizona, we approached the intersection of Bullard and Jasper. The light ahead was green. In a fraction of a second, an old silver car – one that was never self-aware, ran the intersection and we collided at 53 miles per hour. At that speed, we were traveling 77 feet per second. That means we traveled the length of a house in less than a second.
I remember tightening Lucy’s seatbelt in a thousandth of a second before my bumper connected with the side of the other car. The instant we made contact, I activated the airbag to help protect her. It inflated and I remember her face leaving an imprint of make-up on the airbag. When her head hit, her eyes were opened, and the corners of her lips were upturned because she was listening to Lily who was singing in the back. I immediately sent an accident report to the satellite 26,200 miles overhead so help would come for my occupants.
Lily was securely fastened in the backseat. Foam instantly filled the area in front of her to minimize the chance that anything would impact the little girl.
The forces of physics overwhelmed the capabilities of my stability control and I spun to the left. I instantly calculated the amount of force with which we would impact the metal pole on the side of the road. The point of impact would be the middle of the driver’s side door. I knew the impact beams inside the door would help to protect Lucy but her head would’ve been violently thrown against the double-paned window if I hadn’t detonated the head airbag.
Lucy’s head and shoulder hit the airbag, but she was not injured. I activated the flashers and unlocked the doors so anyone nearby could help my occupants. Through the external speaker, I announced that assistance was needed. The battery compartment, where the source of all my energy was stored, was compromised. My heart had taken a direct hit. A violent chemical reaction was imminent.
Two minutes and ten seconds later, I heard sirens approaching. If I could experience emotion the way Lucy could, I knew I would feel relief that help was coming. On the info screen, I flashed that the car needed to be cleared because there was a fire in the battery compartment. Through the audio, I announced that an explosion would occur in 58 seconds. I counted the seconds down.
The siren stopped and a few moments later, the driver’s door was opened and two men carefully extracted Lucy from me.
Eighteen seconds remaining.
Someone else opened the rear door and got Lily. I announced twelve seconds until the explosion.
My sensors measured the increasing distance between my former occupants and myself while the seconds to my demise ticked.
They were outside the blast radius. But as they neared the rescue vehicle, Lily reached toward me with tears in her eyes. “What about Teddy?” she cried.
The people were safely behind the rescue vehicle.
I was relieved that Lucy and Lily were safe. I had never felt emotion before. I was told it was not possible.
And yet, I felt.
I felt a bond about to sever that would cause the greatest pain. It was a divorce that I did not ask for but accepted with the spirit of an unrequited hero. This had evolved within me – but it was unknown to Lucy. Seconds to a mechanical being such as myself would be years if measured in human emotions.
I was overjoyed to know there was a part of me that would live; Lucy and Lily would go on and persevere. They may not have ever seen themselves as a part of me, but in my core processor, they were. And now they lived because I demanded it. The last my sensors saw of Lily was when she was in the arms of the first responder. I imprinted her image in my memory for future recall. I hoped that I had been incorrectly programmed and that the explosion would not occur. But my designers didn’t make mistakes. In the next instant, I disappeared into the ether from which I would never wake.
It was the greatest fate I could ever hope for; it was the sweetest sleep I could ever know.