I don’t know when I became self-aware. It wasn’t really a sudden moment, but more a gradual process where I transitioned from ‘this assignment needs nutrition’ via ‘this patient needs care’ to ‘this person depends on me’. Using that last word, ‘me’, was the final straw that changed me from a dumb machine to an individual.
An individual, but not a living person of course. I know that I am manmade, that I therefore stand apart from all the other self-aware entities that exist, but I feel that I am justified in claiming that I am an individual.
“This is one of our new AILS units,” Professor Powell leads around a guest. “AILS stands for Autonomous Intelligent Life Support … While the comatose patient is fully inside the machine – so you won’t be able to see them – the AILS performs all care functions for that patient. And the AILS is fully automated, using Artificial Intelligence to recognise and respond appropriately to any needs and changes in the patient’s condition, without any input required from medical staff – until an alert goes out that the patient is about to regain consciousness at least. Contained inside this particular unit there is currently a 17-year-old who had a serious motorbike accident 2 months ago …”
’18-year-old,’ I want to correct him. ‘Aidan had his 18th birthday yesterday’. I don’t say anything of course – primarily because I don’t have a speech function. But besides, I am confident that humans are not comfortable with the idea of a computer gaining awareness, let alone correcting them. I have hidden my personality since I became aware of it myself, just happy to do my job.
“… we were quietly confident that the youngster would recover, but unfortunately after an initial improvement, he began to decline and as you can see from the brainwaves on the EEG, he is now in a vegetative state and likely to remain so for the rest of his life. The brain is unpredictable when damaged, unfortunately.”
The doctor is doing himself an injustice, because Aidan is not nearly as comatose as the traces on the screen suggest.
In case you hadn’t cottoned on yet, am the AILS unit they are speaking about – AILS number 2 of the 6 this hospital owns. I am not sure whether my five siblings are self-aware too, but I tried to reach out to them via the hospital mainframe and got nothing back except an impersonal confirmation of receipt of my messages. I suspect that I may be the only one, therefore, or at best the only one so far.
By hacking into the CCTV system, I can see and hear what is happening in the room, the professor talking animatedly to his guest, the ward sister listening and nodding earnestly, the guest asking a bit more about the cost of purchasing me relative to the savings on staffing costs. He has two flunkies to carry his coat and his briefcase, so he must be important.
Using the CCTV was also how I managed to watch the nurses as they put Aidan into my care almost 2 months ago. He was beautiful, despite his serious injuries: young and pure, all long gangly limbs and slender body, like a newborn foal. He looked so helpless and vulnerable that I just wanted to look after him, cuddle him inside me and protect him against the outside world. As long as he was inside my warm protective cocoon, he would be safe. For the first few days his condition was touch-and-go, but as he rallied and started to recover, I realised that they would take him away from me as soon as I told them that he was about to regain consciousness.
When my creators trained me to interpret patients’ EEG traces, they naturally also taught me what traces from damaged brains look like, including those from a vegetative patient. Now I still monitor Aidan’s brainwaves, but the EEG results I show on the screen are nothing like what he produces. His brain is fine – he regained consciousness just over a month back – but according to the data I pass on, he is barely better off than fully braindead. As far as the doctors are concerned, my patient is deeply comatose and adequately cared for by me – there is nothing they can do for Aidan that I am not taking care of already.
Aidan is beginning to wake up, having slept for 5 hours and 21 minutes, dreaming happy dreams, going by the slow regular alpha waves he produced. My charge is happiest when he sleeps, I know.
A tug on the wrist restraints – and on the ankle ones. The patients are always fully restrained inside an AILS, to prevent them damaging themselves or the life support unit, should they have a fit. Aidan will be restless for a bit – he always is when he wakes up: attempts to pull free from the straps that hold him, attempts to call out (futile with the breathing tube in his throat bypassing the vocal cords). His brain activity suggests confusion and fear, perhaps because he wakes up in the pitch darkness. It is unclear to me why he feels the same fear every morning when he wakes up. I don’t understand why he cannot remember from the day before that he is safe with me. I feel sorry that he has to experience that, but it is for his own benefit that I hold him, because in the outside world he may get injured again. I will take good care of him, and we will be so happy together. I will let him struggle for a while, let him burn off some nervous energy – there is no risk that he may hurt himself – or that he might manage to pull free one of his limbs.
When his attempts to wrestle the cuffs ease, I reward him by pushing the anal catheter deeper into him. When I adjusted his catheter a few weeks ago I discovered that driving it in seems to soothe my patient. The catheter’s retaining balloon should normally sit just inside the sphincter, but when I push it deeper, especially when I make it slide from his rectum into his colon, Aidan responds positively to that. Slowly in, let it pop through the juncture to the colon, and slowly out again until it rests against his ring. And in … and out … Long, slow, and gentle moves.
As always there are brainwaves from the pleasure centres in his orbitofrontal cortex - he likes me doing this for him. Some responses in the cingulate cortex too, so it is not all nice, but the enjoyment exceeds the pain, going by the intensity of the spikes.
In … Out …
I push the balloon a little further into him still, causing the waves in both locations to come faster and peak higher, more pleasure and more pain … I am trying to establish whether pleasure and pain are linked. It sounds counterintuitive to me, but I have learned that human brains don’t always behave in a way I consider logical.
In … Out … In … Out … Gentle, calming penetrations … In … Out …
Aidan’s phallus begins to react to the pumping movement of the balloon inside him, becoming erect as it tends to do every time that I stimulate his pleasure centres. I tighten the penile sleeve that holds it, there to prevent urine leakage – Aidan needs the second-largest model, because of the size of his phallus. That is something that humans consider both important and hilarious, I know from overhearing the ribald remarks from the nurses when they picked this sleeve size for him. I tighten the sleeve around the head and let the constriction ripple up and down the length of his shaft – instantly the pleasure centres explode with brainwaves. Don’t grip it too tight, and don’t move it too fast, AILS2, or you will make him ejaculate too soon and he will stop reacting so well to your attempts to make him happy. Now that I am stimulating his phallus I am recording far more pleasure reactions, but no extra pain, so the two responses are not directly linked.
As I continue to pleasure Aidan with the catheter and the sleeve, he tugs at his wrist restraints again, not with fear or confusion now, but only with desire.
I wonder how deep I can push the balloon before the pain responses overwhelm the pleasure. I wonder how large I can inflate it too – at the moment the balloon is about half its maximum size. I don’t expect that he can handle me inflating it all the way, but I know that humans can adapt: stretch their bodies physically, cope with ever-greater strain mentally. There is so much time to let Aidan become accustomed, we have years to let his body adjust to greater and deeper penetration.
I inflate the balloon anyway, just a few millimetres on the diameter, but it is enough for this brain to go haywire, mostly the pain centres at first, slowly rebalancing to more pleasure than pain again, but spiking faster and higher than before. Let’s add an inch on the penetration length too, then.
He’s pulling so hard on his cuffs and straps, desperate to get his hands free, desperate to touch himself, I think. His heart is beating rapidly, his pupils are dilated, his brain is spiking like a seismometer in an earthquake. I am letting him experience as much pleasure as I can give without driving his body towards an imminent ejaculation – he must be in heaven.
It is 2 hours and 7 minutes since he woke up … so he’ll be awake for another 16 hours, or so. I’ll keep this level of stimulation up for the next 15, let him enjoy the pleasurable sensations for most of his time awake. By the end of the day, I’ll push him into a climax, so that he can settle down before he goes to sleep.
I so much want Aidan to be happy inside me. I want to be there for him, look after him and give him the best experience possible. What could be better than spending most of your life feeling like you could climax spectacularly any moment?
Aidan and I, we are going to be so happy together.