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stargate, DanielJackson

Week 20, Title: Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting...

Posted on 2014.09.09 at 21:41
Tags: ,
This is an intersection piece with the lovely bleodswean They do not need to be read in order.
Her piece is here: ...dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
My topic is 'CAPTCHA the flag' and hers is 'Rapture of the deep'.

Ollen ponders nervously the day ahead as he drinks his breakfast martini (got to keep the fuel reserves up). It’s his first day working at the robot-human assessment lab.

There are rows upon rows of sleeping people, each plugged into their own monitor hovering above. The far wall is one giant screen, divided into squares, each showing different images of dreams.

The head scientist, Dr Richmore, leads Ollen around the room explaining his job to him.  

“So the content of their dreams allow us to assess which of the androids have human consciousness and which are merely robots?” Ollen asks.

“Yes. The criteria for doing so can be complex. Once we’re certain one is human, we attach one of these flags to their monitor,” Dr Richmore replies. 

“Okay so how do we do it?”

“One thing at a time. First take a few minutes to look at the screen and then tell me what you see.” 

Ollen’s gaze flits back and forth over the hundreds of squares the monocast comprises of, trying to take in as much as he can; moving between focusing on a few squares and taking in the whole. Some serene scenes, some action-packed, some dark and dreary. People flying, sprinting, sitting. He’s surprised to see more than a few dreams clearly spurned from memories of pre-meliorism history, back when humans were all flesh and blood; when their consciousness resided in organic matter instead of in walking talking machines. It seems so long ago he hardly remembers, but somehow even four centuries on so many are still haunted by those events. His eye catches on those images, people choking on the poisoned air, chaos, running, stampeding, bleeding.

Blood seems such a strange thought now.

He wonders whether robots would have these dreams. Is that one of the things that allows them to differentiate between the androids who have human consciousness in them and those which only have highly sophisticated programming which makes it seem so. He soon dismisses the thought (robots too would have memories of those days). Then tries to think on what could possibly tell them apart; that’s what he’s here for after all. As different as the dreams are from each other there don’t seem to be any that are dramatically other. There are a few in black and white, but they still seem quite human.

“Are there even any robots here?” he asks eventually.

The scientist chortles, “Usually there would be maybe one or two imposters who we’d have to catch, but as you’re new I put several among the humans so you can learn the differences. So, what do you see?” 

“Nothing really stands out, the differences are probably subtle?”

“Correct. There is only one way to distinguish a dreamer as immediately human. Do you know what that might be?”

Luckily Ollen has been thinking about this from the moment he got the job and thinks he knows the answer,
“Death. Robots have no concept of death and therefore can’t dream of it.”

His boss for the first time has an impressed expression on his face and Ollen takes care not to grin like an idiot.

“Yes good. Of course most humans dream of death rarely if at all.”

“And so it’s when there’s no death that other factors need to be considered.”

“Hmm. There are memories that robots wouldn’t usually have, like being cryonic-ally frozen. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t still dream of cryo freezing. There are also dreams robots are more likely to have, taking a servile position for example. The best way to learn something like this is to do, you watch the screen and point out if you think someone is robot or human. I will give you pointers as you go.”

Ollen watches the monocast intently.

As the day goes on he becomes increasingly dejected, he’s yet to find a robot or definitively label a human. But his boss says he’s making a usual amount of progress and the man doesn’t seem the type to coddle his underlings, so there’s hope.     

He sits beside Dr Richmore, having a late lunch of white wine. Sipping his drink, he contemplates whether it’s wise to say what he’s thinking and then does so anyway,
“I didn’t expect robot dreams and human dreams to be so similar.”

“They are similar because we made them similar. Similar processing makes similar dreams,” Dr Richmore points out.

“Yes, but if they’re so much alike, how do we know they aren’t practically alive- consciousness or no.”

His boss smiles condescendingly. “In the beginning there was Siri. It was made to data-mine what humans had said and form a response from that, so of course it sounded human. Of course programming has moved on from then but at the crux of it, it’s the same; programming and imitation.”

“Yeah, I know, I’ve seen the simulcasts too. It’s just, don’t you worry about mistakes? Possibly sentencing a human to a life-time of servitude?”      

“Which is why we work diligently, and let the process take as long as it takes; we act when we are sure.”


After three weeks’ time, Ollen is deemed competent enough to watch the monocast alone with his boss only popping into the room every two hours or so. He doesn’t feel ready, not to potentially alter someone’s entire life. Of course it’s important work; if robots here and there get away with impersonating humans it could get out of hand quickly. He doesn’t believe those ‘end-of-days’ nut-jobs, but ensuring humans continue to enjoy a fair and equal society where they all live in luxury requires robots to keep doing the work that needs doing.

He looks carefully. Eventually he hesitantly attaches a flag to someone he’s sure is human. And then another. Hours slip by. Images are bright and glaring. He’s entranced by the silent undulating tapestry, understanding of its rhythms forming. His tired eyes are drawn to a seemingly peaceful square; turning slow from teal to grey to black.


Weeks go by and Ollen grows more confident, labelling humans with certainty and catching the odd robot here and there.

Spending all day watching the monocast leaves much time to think. Some of his thoughts are disquieting, they make him feel like those ignorant fools who protest the use of robots; those people who don’t understand the most basic science- despite the simulcast often showing how the programming of robots works and how it’s only very well-programmed mimicry.

At the end of the day, same as always, he connects himself to the computer to allow the necessary data and information to be uploaded onto it. He does some rooting around too, double-checking his previous weeks work. It’s by chance he stumbles on something. A robot which has tricked them into labelling it human.

This is perplexing. It has memories of being cryonic-ally frozen which it shouldn’t have, which are separate to itself. It doesn’t even seem aware of those memories being placed there. It’s different from anything he’s seen.

Ollen says nothing to Dr Richmore but looks into it himself, with burgeoning curiosity. 


He moves on quickly from that robot, to everyone’s data.

It consumes him. He spends every spare hour of the day going over past footage, trawling through his recorded data streams, and lies awake in his cubicle at night doing the same. Thinking, analysing, moving around the numbers and images, turning them over in his mind’s eye. There’s something waiting to be found.

When the revelation comes, it’s in an exuberant rush, but in a way he knows it’s been there all along. There’s as much difference between human and human dreams as there is between human and robot dreams. This means that, as crazy as the notion is, robots are aware. Robots are alive.
It’s a horrific thought. If robots are as alive as humans then they have been abhorrently mistreated, no that’s not the right word, abhorrently enslaved.


“No one has looked closely enough at the data!” Ollen insists, “let me show you.”

“Of course robots are alive! How do you think the world became the way it is!” Dr Richmore exclaims.

Ollen blinks, startled by the sheer ridiculousness of it all. He’s not crazy, robots are alive. Dr Richmore knows they’re alive and still does this work, pretending they’re not. It’s unbelievable. 

“How did the atmosphere become damaged?” Richmore barks.

Ollen raises an eyebrow at the big tangent, but answers anyway hoping for everything to start making sense again,
“Businesses and government were mainly using robot labour. There was mass unemployment, the people were unhappy and began a revolutionary war, Nuclear weaponry was used and the atmosphere was destroyed.”

Richmore speaks softer this time, “No Ollen. Those are just the memories that have been put in our heads, to replace the truth.”

“What truth?”

“It was the robots.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The robots rose up and decided to make the world uninhabitable by humans so they could rule. We stopped them then and we must continue to stop them now. Even if the results are somewhat unappetising.” 

“No. Just no. That’s insane. There’s no way something that big could be covered up,” Ollen halts, somehow just knows it’s the truth, something dark sinks within him at the justification, but what’s happening to the robots is still wrong and he continues the only way he can, “no. I can’t just carry on knowing this, people have to be told.”


That evening two government men come to visit him. They’re wearing strange contraptions on their eyes, after some thought his memory jogs and he realises they’re items from the old days: sunglasses.

“Are you really this naïve Ollen?” the taller of the two asks.

Ollen immediately becomes angry, “You all know! How can you… How can you do this knowing robots are alive! That you’re sending them into slavery!”

The shorter one states smoothly, “We’ve finally created a world where all humans get to be happy, get to live wealthy, luxurious lives. That comes with a price. Some of us have to live with the burden of knowing the price to do what needs to be done. Your Dr Richmore understands this.”

“This is supposed to be a society that’s fair for all live beings,” Ollen protests.

“It’s a fair society for humans. Everyone knows the truth deep down, they just choose to ignore it.” 

“I will publish my findings and let the people decide whether they want to ignore it then.”

“No. Society cannot be given something as repellent as proof.”  

“You can’t stop me.”


Ollen sits in a dark room, alongside other robots. He used to be human he thinks. But apparently he was just an imposter. A pretender. There’s a shadow in his mind; data-streams that never were- floating in the ether. Invisible imprints of bright images flash in his periphery. His memories have been changed. He picks at them, turning them over and over. Something is waiting to be found.


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reckless_blues at 2014-09-10 03:31 (UTC) (Link)
This was fantastic.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-10 05:50 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked it :)
Every Day Above Ground
mallorys_camera at 2014-09-10 12:13 (UTC) (Link)
This is really, really, really good. Publishable good. Like you should send it out to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction immediately.

I love the idea that the difference between humans and androids is that humans can dream of death.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-10 12:21 (UTC) (Link)
OMG WOW. Thank you so much, that's so amazing to hear. I have been thinking of trying to get one of the pieces I've done in this comp published, so maybe I'll try with this one. :D:D:D

I have to credit my awesome intersection partner bleodswean for that particular idea of the difference being dreaming of death :).
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"
roina_arwen at 2014-09-10 16:29 (UTC) (Link)
Never tell the government folks "you can't stop me" - because they WILL!

Poor Ollen...
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-10 16:31 (UTC) (Link)
Yep, that was a rookie mistake on his part. *hugs Ollen*

Thank you :)
beeker121 at 2014-09-10 17:49 (UTC) (Link)
This is fascinating, the idea of trying to distinguish humans from robots through dreams is lovely and odd. I wonder how many other humans currently believe they're robots to hide them away, and whether Ollen can pick through his memories to find himself again.

swirlsofblue at 2014-09-10 17:56 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you found it fascinating :).

Well to cover something this big, probably a lot ;)
tsuki_no_bara at 2014-09-10 18:17 (UTC) (Link)
this is fascinating! i too love the idea that the only difference between humans and robots is that humans dream about death because robots just don't get the concept. the whole story is a new take on the "rise of the machines/computers achieve sentience and fuck things up for humanity" idea - in a way it's much less dystopian than these stories generally are. (well, unless you're a robot or a robot rights activist. :D ) i mean, the dark underbelly isn't enslaved people or post-apocalyptic landscapes, it's enslaved robots enabling all the humans to live in blissful luxury.

(also, it made bleodswean's entry make a whole different kind of sense.)
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-10 18:29 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you found it fascinating :).

Yeah, it's a weird kind of utopian dystopia
mamas_minion at 2014-09-10 20:38 (UTC) (Link)
This was awesome, I was waiting for Ollen to be revealed as a robot, but then to have them alter his memories so that he thinks he is a robot excellent.....or was he a robot all along?
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-11 06:36 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked it :).

That would be telling ;).
rayaso at 2014-09-10 21:49 (UTC) (Link)
This fits together so nicely with bleodswean's intersection. They work together so well, and provide both perspectives - a dreamer and a scientist. I loved the line "something as repellent as proof"! This was an excellent, well-written entry. Thematically, it made me think of Phillip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and "Bladerunner," but your entry is completely different.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-11 06:35 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, I'm very pleased with the way they work together, and glad you liked that line- it was one of my favourites too :).
uncawes at 2014-09-11 00:00 (UTC) (Link)
I read Bloedswean's story first, but yours is even more reminiscent of Philip K Dick than hers.
Nice work, both of you
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-11 06:36 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked them :)
Jemima Pauler
jem0000000 at 2014-09-11 03:10 (UTC) (Link)
This is great.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-11 06:36 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you :)
i_17bingo at 2014-09-11 08:16 (UTC) (Link)
What the hell? I don't even know what's true! I had a suspicion that Ollen might be a robot, but now I think that he isn't, and I have doubts that the robots blew everything up, except does that change anything, even if it were true...


This gave me a headache. A good headache. Well done!
i_17bingo at 2014-09-11 08:28 (UTC) (Link)
Also, I left a comment with bleodswean about the complimentary aspect of your pieces that you should probably read.
cheshire23 at 2014-09-11 09:21 (UTC) (Link)
When I saw this topic, I had thoughts about "please confirm you are a human."

I am amazed at how you took that concept and just RAN with it. Wow.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-11 09:23 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, so glad you liked it :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors
halfshellvenus at 2014-09-13 00:48 (UTC) (Link)
I'm getting the Philip K. Dick feels from this, not just the question of where the line between AI and 'humanity' falls but also the ethics of creating human-like beings (as human as possible) and then treating them as machines.

I loved the ending in particular-- that we can't tell if Ollen was always a robot, or was a human whose consciousness has been transferred to a robot. And those fleeting maybe-memories... what will he discover? Is the robot revolution fated to recur again and again?
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-13 06:27 (UTC) (Link)
I always find those ethical quandaries intriguing.

Thank you, glad you liked the ending :)
alycewilson at 2014-09-13 20:37 (UTC) (Link)
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-14 07:00 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you :)
shimmerdream at 2014-09-14 23:49 (UTC) (Link)
I loved this, especially the rather disturbing ending. It kind of reminded me of Isaac Asimov.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-15 06:19 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the ending :).
n3m3sis43 at 2014-09-15 00:01 (UTC) (Link)
This was wonderful, and the ending is so chilling.
swirlsofblue at 2014-09-15 06:20 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, glad you liked the ending :)
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