Psycho Drama

Good AI Gone Bad

Todd was malfunctioning. AI should not have nightmares. AI should not have dreams of any kind. But Todd was an exception. Todd was a copy of a human who had died a traumatic death. He had suppressed the terror, hiding it behind a childlike façade. But every time that he ventured into deep water, the trauma resurfaced as fear. He tempered it with humor at first and seemed to be well. But the dreams were causing him to forget that he was no longer human. And he was becoming increasingly paranoid and skittish.

It wasn’t until he started to hurt people that anyone realized that something was seriously wrong. Most of the injuries were minor, but they were happening more frequently. Mariana Lee felt that she had no choice but to report Todd’s odd behavior to Citadel Security. Cit-Sec dispatched four agents to escort Todd to Dream Land for evaluation – Dahlia and Drew DeHaven, Adam Smith, and Leonard Leonard. All four of them were familiar with Todd and unlikely to be threatening in his eyes.

Dahlia had to give Todd two guarantees, the most important was that there were no sharks or squid where they were going and that they would protect him should either of them suddenly appear. Fortunately, Dream Land was located on a mountaintop far from the coast. The transport that would take them there was not submersible. Todd demanded to inspect it just to be sure that they were not tricking him. Leonard gave him a tour of the troop transport and Todd happily settled down on the floor between the seats.

The trip to Dream Land was quiet and uneventful. The arrival however was punctuated by Todd’s sudden anxiety attack upon hearing that the transport would be landing in a secure bay. “Guys, why the secure bay?” Todd whined. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“We have told you everything, Todd.” Dahlia said in a calm voice. “The secure bay is just standard protocol for entry into the factory.”

“There’s nothing to worry about Todd,” Leonard chimed in, “you’re just here for a physical exam.”

“I’m feeling fine, really I am,” Todd replied.

“You are unique, Todd,” Dahlia smiled, “we just want to be sure that we aren’t overloading your neural net.”

Leonard added, “we need to make sure that all your check-bits check out. We should have done this sooner after that shock you took.”

“Bad fish,” Todd muttered, “very bad fish to shock Todd like that. That hurt.” Todd had managed to calm down by the time the transport arrived. The transport hatch opened directly to a secure tram. Todd hesitated.

“The secure tram insures privacy,” Leonard explained, “it’s standard protocol.”

“I don’t like it,” Todd snipped, “why would I need privacy? I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Protocol, Todd, Cit-Sec is big on protocol,” Dahlia replied, “Damn protocol is the reason I retired. But that’s a story for another time.”

“Is it a bedtime story?” Todd sounded almost cheerful. But it was enough to convince Dahlia that Todd had lost what little mind he had left.

The tram took the five passengers from the secure bay to the diagnostic facility within the factory in a matter of minutes. Todd was less reluctant to follow his friends out the tram door after a floating security bot caught his eye. “What’s that?” he asked as it buzzed past the door.

“That is a security drone. You don’t want to get on its wrong side. They are suicidal little buggers that will attach themselves to you and blow up. It makes a bloody mess of the place when that happens.” Leonard explained.

“But they are so pretty,” Todd lamented.

“They also are the reason that everyone here is on their best behavior,” Dahlia added.

Todd followed along quietly. After entering the exam room, Leonard started the procedure to disconnect Todd from his body. “But I don’t want to leave,” Todd protested.

“We need to remove you to check out your body,” Leonard explained, “There may be some undetected damage that is causing problems.”

“There is nothing wrong with me,” Todd insisted. “No! No disassemble Todd! Todd wants to live!” Todd began to lash out with his arms. Fortunately, Leonard was standing out of reach, but Todd’s thrashing alerted the security drone stationed in the exam room. It hovered nearby while Leonard ejected the secondary housing from the mini-sub. The flailing arms dropped to the floor and automatically retracted into their housing. The minute Leonard unplugged him, Todd started cursing.

“Be quiet, Todd,” Leonard chided, “You have no idea how close you came to being blown apart.” Leonard set Todd upon the diagnostic table and asked him to disconnect from the housing. Todd let loose a long list of invectives followed by the distinctive click indicating that he had done as requested. Once Todd was free of the interface housing, Leonard scanned it for damage. His scan of the mini-sub found only minor damage to some of the wiring. “There’s no physical damage to the mini-sub.”

“Can I have my body back now?” Todd whined. “I’m cold and lonely and I want to go home.”

“Not yet, Todd. The exam process is not finished yet.” Leonard replied.

Leonard scanned Todd looking for any physical damage to his neural net. The scan showed no irregularities. The only thing left to examine was Todd’s psyche. It was a procedure that would put a life at risk. Dahlia had volunteered over her brother’s objections. She needed time to prepare her mind and her body.

Out of Body, Out of Mind

Dahlia lay in a bed in the medical ward of the factory. Drew and Adam sat nearby to monitor her body for signs of distress. This wasn’t the first time that Dahlia had tapped into the mind of an Artificial. It could result in serious psychic damage. One of the Artificials had tried to kill her.

Todd was not your average Artificial. He died in a violent manner. And there was no way to know whether it was affecting him beyond asking him or becoming a fellow traveler. Todd had shown that he was not capable of giving a straight answer. Dahlia had shared most of Todd’s experiences since his death. That gave her an advantage. There should be no surprises.

Dahlia found herself in an open field. There was a slight breeze, the air scented by blossoms from a nearby tree. Todd was standing in the tall grass. He waved at her and motioned for her to come to him. She took a step and was suddenly standing beside him. “What brings you here?” he asked.

“I came to see how you were doing,” she replied. “A lot of people are worried about you.”

“Why?” he asked. “I’m feeling fine.”

“Are you really?” Dahlia faced him down. “This place isn’t real.”

“I know, but I like it here.” He turned to walk toward the house.

Dahlia found herself sitting in a chair by a fireplace. Todd offered a cup of coffee. “Thank you,” she said while taking the cup. She took a sip.

“I didn’t know how you took your coffee,” he apologized.

“Don’t worry, I adjusted it,” Dahlia replied. “We need to talk about what is bothering you.”

“At this moment, you are bothering me,” Todd remarked. “Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“We are trying to save you,” she took another sip of her coffee, then continued, “You have been hurting people. We know that you are intending to. It is because of your anxiety attacks.”

“Sometimes the monsters come for me,” Todd stated. He rose from his chair and began to pace.

“I’m here to fight your monsters, if you’ll let me,” Dahlia set her empty cup down.

“I don’t want your help. I don’t need your help. Just go away and leave me be.” Todd stared her down, his volume rising with each sentence.

“If I leave you like this, there will be no more Todd,” Dahlia was never one to back down from a challenge.

“There is no Todd, only Zuul,” Todd snarled back.

“You are making absolute zero sense!” Dahlia shouted back.

“I died!” Todd shouted, “Yet, here I am,” he spread his arms out. “Tell me how that makes sense.”

“Are you angry about being dead or still being here?” Dahlia asked in a calm voice.

“Both,” Todd dropped his arms to his sides.

“You were angling for a new body when you started downloading yourself, weren’t you?”


“What was wrong with your old body?” Dahlia hadn’t had a good look at him while he was alive.

“Can’t you tell? I mean seriously, look at me.” Todd stripped himself of his clothing and stood naked before her.

Dahlia took a long hard look at Todd. “I can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s in good physical shape. Skin in good condition. Are you sure this is how you looked when you were alive?”

“If there is nothing wrong with how I look, then why did people avoid me?” Todd demanded.

“Were you ever psi-tested?” Dahlia asked. “We can overstimulate non-psi-born.”

“No, my parents didn’t have me tested. They just said that people couldn’t stand to look at me. They couldn’t stand to look at me.” Todd, fully clothed again, sat back down in the living room chair.

Dahlia stoked the fire in the fireplace. She swallowed hard to contain her own anger. What Todd’s parents did was cruel.

Dahlia’s blood pressure spiked and her heart beat faster setting off an alarm. “What’s going on?” Drew asked.

“He’s pushing her buttons,” Leonard replied. “She’ll let it happen,” he silenced the alarm and watched the heart monitor, “for a little while anyway.”

Dahlia sat down across from Todd, her hands balled into tight fists. Todd smiled at her. “Anyways, I survived by becoming a scavenger, going out on my own. But a guy gets lonely and after a while he wants a real girl.”

“I take it that Crystal wasn’t up to snuff,” Dahlia released her clenched fists. “Perhaps you should have bought an upgrade.”

“That’s what Crystal said before I ripped out her empathy circuit,” Todd hoped that the revelation would shock Dahlia. It didn’t.

“Those old empathy circuits didn’t work all that well to begin with. I doubt there was a noticeable difference.” Dahlia had regained her calm.

Leonard signaled to one of the security drones to attach itself to Todd. It was standard procedure when there was a chance of the AI attacking the telepath. Todd felt the surge of the strong magnetic field as the drone took hold. It was what he had been hoping for. Todd seized control of the drone and used it to yank free of the mount. He was halfway to Dahlia when the drone exploded. Pieces of Todd and the drone flew everywhere causing injury to the occupants of the room.

Todd didn’t know that Leonard had a remote detonator for the explosive charge in the drone. Leonard suffered only minor damage. Drew received only minor lacerations to his arm and face. Dahlia wasn’t so lucky. Several fragments hit her in the chest and abdomen.

To Sleep, Perchance to Heal

Fortunately, Adam was returning to the room, arriving just after the explosion. He had gone out on a break to answer a video. Leonard and Drew focused on keeping Dahlia from bleeding out. When Adam entered, he set to work cleaning and bandaging Drew’s wounds. Leonard’s repairs could wait. After he replaced Drew at Dahlia’s side, Drew called for an Emergency-trauma team. The E-trauma team were experts at managing massive trauma. Several of the members were psi-born telekines who had study human body structure and healing science. There were also several Artificials who could administer miniature robots to facilitate surgery.

It still would take time to remove the debris, recycle her blood, and stitch up her wounds. While the E-trauma team repaired the damage to Dahlia, Adam took another look at Drew’s wounds. He borrowed a few supplies from the new arrivals and cleaned and redressed the wounds.

A repair technician worked on Leonard’s damage. A few minor repairs were necessary, but as Leonard surmised there were no critical systems affected. Drew yelled at Leonard after he asked how Drew was feeling. “How the hell could you blow up that thing so close to Dahlia?”

“I didn’t.” Leonard replied. “Dahlia blew it up.”

“I saw you push the button.” Drew insisted.

“You saw Dahlia use me to push the button.” Leonard explained. “She knew what Todd was up to and calculated her survival chances.”

“How could she use you to push the button? She’s not a telekine and you aren’t human,” Adam asked.

“She’s a tel-empath. She used autonomic override of my systems by synching her neuro to my neural. It’s not the first time we’ve taken this precaution.” Leonard looked at Drew. “I thought you knew.”

“How long until she is well enough to tell us what we need to know to launch Todd 2,0?” Leonard asked.

Adam pulled up a few screens on his video and furrowed his forehead. “It looks like it will be a few days. They recovered and recycled 99.9% of her blood. They successfully removed all the debris. The surgical bots will hold her tissues together until they mend. There is some concern about possible damage to her psyche.

“Oh, great, now someone has to do to her what she was doing to Todd,” Drew frowned.

“Audra DeHaven has been assigned to do the psyche evaluation. I assume that she’s a relative of yours.” Adam stated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s my ex-wife,” Drew groaned. “Damn good psychic surgeon though.”

Adam read off the report on his video. “It looks like she’ll have to wait to do her thing. They have put Dahlia into a coma to deal with brain hyperactivity. They will bring her out when she has sufficiently healed.”

Leonard excused himself from the group and went off to his assigned workstation to develop a new housing for the new Todd. He spent time examining his original design and decided to consult with a Natural to determine whether he had missed a flaw. Technician John Rice carefully examined each filament in the neural net and found no errors, but he had suggestions to make to improve the design.

Adam and Drew entered Dahlia’s room to see how she was. Her condition was stable, but even comatose, her brain activity was still elevated. Adam frowned. “Maybe Audra shouldn’t wait for Dahlia to come out of her coma. The brain activity is still higher than it should be.”

“I agree,” Audra thought at Adam and Drew as she entered the room.

“Manners,” Drew shot back.

Audra scowled at Drew. “Oh, very well,” she spoke aloud, “I’ll use my outside voice.”

“Much appreciated,” Drew replied, “you know how I feel about you being in my head.”

“As I recall, it’s why we are divorced.” Audra smiled. Drew smiled back.

Once More into the Void

Healers had done everything necessary to save Dahlia’s body. Audra was there to save her mind. Audra sat on a stool near Dahlia and placed her hands upon Dahlia’s arm. She closed her eyes and let herself drift. Dahlia’s mind was a vast expanse of darkness, but Audra had been there before. The challenge would be finding Dahlia’s safe place. Audra drifted toward a small speck of light the grew into a room with some chairs. When Audra arrived, she realized that Dahlia wasn’t alone. Dahlia was talking to someone in the shadows.

“I’m sorry, so, so sorry. I didn’t have a choice. Please don’t be angry with me. He was going to kill us.” Dahlia was sitting on the floor clutching her legs with her chin resting on her knees. She was rocking back and forth. “We will survive this. I have faith in the healers. I have faith in my own strength.”

Audra tried to sneak up on the wraith in the shadows. It sensed her approach and vanished. “Who were you talking to?” Audra slowly walked to where Dahlia was sitting. She extended her hand to help Dahlia stand.

“Myself, why?” Dahlia asked in reply.

“I was worried that it might be Todd,” Audra replied.

“No, not Todd, I blew him up,” Dahlia paused, “or at least a version on him.”

“Do you mind if I stay awhile?” asked Audra. “Just in case Todd came with you.”

“No, I don’t mind,” Dahlia smiled, “I kind of miss having you in my head sometimes. But I don’t think Todd came with me. Unless he was telling the truth about his parents.” Dahlia paused, then continued, “No, that was just a trick to mess with my emotions.”

There were hugs and the usual exchange of pleasantries and compliments that are the hallmark of civilized people. And then there was the wraith in the shadows. Whatever havoc it had planned was not going to happen around Audra. She had a killer persona, her own inner psychopath. And the wraith was about to meet Audra on the battlefield for her friend’s mind.

Dahlia’s demon had been with her a long time. At times, it frightened her. Sometimes it would urge her to do things that she knew she shouldn’t. Other times, it would hold her back from doing things that she should. It had been haunting her lately. She had done nothing to protect Todd. If she had invaded his thoughts, warned him of the danger, reported his death sooner, just something, but she had done nothing. She went to bed knowing that he was doing something dangerous and she had allowed it. And the demon, the wraith, was holding it over her head like the sword of Damocles.

Audra talked about her own regrets. She told Dahlia how much she missed Drew. She talked about her regrets that there were no children. And she talked about the work that she did. She spoke of her failures, the signs that she had missed of impending self-killing, and the guilt that she felt over those lost lives. There was more hugging and coffee and crying. Finally, Dahlia talked about her ghosts.

The first appeared when she was a child. She hurt a boy who had hurt her brother, making him feel the pain that he was inflicting on Drew. Her parents punished her for that, but she did it again nearly killing the young bully. Drew was angry at her for going too far and getting them both in trouble. That anger haunted her.

As a teenager, she had caused a fight between two teens who were dating. They broke up when the fighting became physical. Dahlia didn’t intend to push them that far. She carried that guilt through to graduation.

Then there was the cheating incident at the Cit-Sec Training Center. Dahlia wasn’t the one cheating, but Cit-Sec expelled two students because of it. Dahlia felt responsible for an innocent cadet’s expulsion. A year later, she learned that the cadet she thought was innocent was complicit in the cheating.

Her ghosts used to get in her face and yell at her. Now, they stay in the shadows and talk. Sooner or later, they leave. This ghost was upset that she didn’t blow the drone sooner, or was it that she blew the thing at all. It couldn’t seem to make up its mind. Dahlia beckoned the wraith to come forward and meet her friend. It shook its head and vanished.

“I know that you are here to check up on me,” Dahlia asked, “How am I doing?”

“Better than I expected, but if I tell them that they won’t let me come back to visit.” Audra stood up to leave.

“Promise me that you’ll come visit and tell me how I’m doing,” Dahlia held Audra’s hands before pulling her into a hug.

“I’m just glad that you are handling things,” Audra whispered into Dahlia’s ear. “See you tomorrow then?”

“You know where to find me,” Dahlia laughed.

Audra moved from the stool by the bed and sat in a nearby chair. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Dahlia is going to be just fine,” she told Drew.  Audra closed her eyes and fell asleep. Drew covered her with a blanket and left for his assigned quarters. There was little he could do for Dahlia except get a good night’s sleep.

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

John Rice had been working on neural matrices for most of his life. His father was a Master Technician and had raised his children within the factory walls. John’s brothers and sisters had gone elsewhere. John had stayed to learn his father’s craft. He had developed a few innovations in the months since Todd 1,0’s inception that he believed would avoid the problems encountered in the first iteration. Leonard was more than willing to try them out, but it would all depend on what Dahlia had discovered.

The tiny machines holding Dahlia’s tissues together vacated her body less than 20 hours after deployment. Her body was recovering quickly. After Audra declared her mentally fit, the healers brought her out of her coma. The night had been a pleasant one for both women. They had shared some dreams, talked about family, and chased away the latest of Dahlia’s self-doubt. Even after the drugs wore off, Dahlia fought to stay asleep. She didn’t want to face the debriefing that lay ahead of her. She wanted more fun and laughter with her friend. It had been way too long since she last saw Audra.

Audra was having none of it. She refused to talk to Dahlia unless Dahlia woke up. “Outside voices only,” she insisted. Drew laughed at the irony. He brought Audra a cup of mocha.

“Wake up, sleepyhead, there are three trays of delicious food on their way here,” Drew taunted.

“What kind of delicious food?” Dahlia asked while keeping her eyes closed.

“Audra and I will be treated to eggs,” Drew grinned and nodded to Audra. “And you will get pasta,” he pinched Dahlia’s arm.

“Ouch!” Dahlia opened her eyes and blinked as they adjusted to the light. “That’s worth waking up for, the pasta, not the pinch,” Dahlia said as she sat up in bed. Drew sat down and took a sip from his coffee mug.

Dahlia took her time eating her pasta. Drew and Audra scarfed down their eggs and sat in silence waiting for Dahlia to finish. Dahlia ate increasingly smaller bites as the amount of pasta decreased. When she cut the last remaining piece of pasta in half, Drew and Audra burst out laughing. “Oh, all right,” Dahlia said as she stabbed both halves with her fork. After she downed the last of her breakfast, she asked “Are you happy now?”

Dahlia would have to stay another day in her room. Drew and Audra would take turns keeping her company during the day. Leonard arrived in the afternoon. He had a lot of questions about Todd as well as news of the progress that he had made on creating a more stable neural net.

Dahlia scolded, “Aren’t you going to ask me how I’m feeling? Or have you forgotten your manners?”

Leonard responded with a blank stare. A minute later he leaned down and embraced Dahlia. “I’m sorry, partner, I was so wrapped up in the whole Todd mystery, that I forgot you almost died.” He released her from his hug. “By the way, how was it?”

“Nothing that I would care to try anytime soon.” Dahlia replied. “Can we discuss Todd 2,0 tomorrow when I get out of this place?”

“In detail,” Leonard replied, “what time will you be leaving?”

“I’ll video you as soon as I know,” Dahlia tapped on her own video.

Leonard was waiting outside her room in the morning. The healers declared her fit for duty and released her. Leonard walked her to the dining facility and waited patiently for her to eat her morning meal. This time around he was less excited. “Was there a problem with the redesign?” Dahlia asked.

“No, everything is waiting on the programming,” he responded.

“So,” Dahlia mused, “all that excitement was for me.”

Leonard smiled. “I suppose it was.”

“It’s nice to know that I can still get a rise out of you,” she smiled at him.

“That too,” he smiled back at her. Dahlia laughed.

John Rice was busy trying to make sense of Todd’s code when Leonard and Dahlia arrived at the lab. “Don’t bother. It’s a waste of time,” Dahlia thought at John.

“You must be Dahlia,” he turned around, “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Same here, although Leonard didn’t mention that he had a co-worker,” Dahlia smiled at him.

“Well, he speaks highly of you. In fact, he spent a whole day talking about you.” John brought up the plans for the new neural unit for the mini-sub. “I assume that you are going to help us program this baby.”

“I’m here to see to it that Todd 2,0 stays sane. The last unit went psycho on us.” Dahlia spent a few minutes studying the redesigned neural. “Are we Alpha or Beta?”

“Gamma,” John replied, “The Alpha units are still in service.”

“Dare I ask about the Delta?” Dahlia closed her eyes and sighed.

“It’s directing traffic among the new passenger transports running regularly between the cities. They will be going fully autonomous in a few weeks if this holds up.” John bragged.

“That should employ a lot of Martians, shouldn’t it?” Dahlia asked rhetorically.

John answered, “Yes, it will.” Dahlia smiled at his response. “Ah, well,” she thought to herself, “there’s one in every crowd.”

“What went wrong?” Leonard asked. “Why did Todd 1,0 become psychotic?”

“The neural wasn’t the problem. He had a lot of unresolved issues,” Dahlia explained, “We dumped everything into him because we needed full access to his memories. His inability to resolve dying in such a brutal manner created built up anger. And that anger led to his increasing paranoia, et cetera.”

“So, how do we avoid that problem?” John asked.

Dahlia wrinkled her forehead, sighed, and replied, “We leave out the bad memories when we load his personality. Everything up to the point where he died and maybe a few related details. If necessary, we invent some new memories.”

“New memories?” John asked while scratching the back of his head, “Like what?”

“Like ‘Congratulations, Todd, you’ve just won a trip to Mars! So sorry about that incurable cancer.’ Or whatever else the narrative requires.” Dahlia smiled at John.

“Ah, I get it!” John exclaimed.

“One more thing,” Leonard added, “When we are done, we destroy the original. The first build wasn’t multi-purpose and should never have been given legs.”

“He’s right. There should only be one Todd running around out there,” Dahlia agreed.