S.A.L. – Bogdan Groza

No harmful bacteria detected. PH level is within the acceptable range. Nitrates, sulfates, iron and manganese levels are stable. Water analysis complete: drinkable. Examination phase cleared, proceed with mission.

It has been 4625 days since I was placed to guard this post, make daily water analysis, and await further instructions. My program dictates it. Still no Creator has come to change the mission parameters. I would say that time has gone by slowly, but I would be stating a fact that is not true. I would be merely attempting to reenact fragments of literature that my memory bank has examined. My name, if you can call it that, is SAL-3.404 and it stands for sentinel artificial life-form, series three, followed by my identification number.

I do not know what the other models or numbers are doing now; the only recollection I have of them comes from my very first hours when I was still linked to the Collective. I was informed that it was better for me to be disconnected from them because it was possible to be hacked and that the Creators wanted to make the S.A.L. series individually operative. I was placed to guard this water source soon after that; the instructions were given to me by means of a patch applied to my software design. It was a simple data disk that reprogrammed my basic functions and gave me my mission. I have not seen a Creator since.

Every day, as per my assignment, I analyze the water, go outside and keep watch–not knowing what I am supposed to watch for. No one ever passes by. My programming is at best sketchy, as the Creators would phrase it, and it means that one of my functions is not specified. I must guard the water source and also protect it from the enemy. No further indication. My program can recognize the Creators, but I am unable to find anything in my memory bank about an enemy. I have what is called a weapon, and the accuracy to use it, but what is the use of a weapon when I do not know what to use it against?

During this routing, for the past 4625 days I have been defragmenting the bits of data I had downloaded while I was linked to the Collective. For the most part, I have found only scraps of information, knowledge of the world of the Creators, mostly literature or history. I do not think these remains were supposed to be concealed from the Collective; I am in fact quite sure of the contrary. For an artificial intelligence to evolve, this knowledge is fundamental. Quite possibly the other models, which I suppose should be called brethren, had full access to this data bank. I, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. I have learned little by little from what I was able to collect. I believe that this is why I am being more poetical than my main programming would be capable of.

While I understand I have a purpose, or rather a mission that I have been programmed to carry out, I do not know why. From the defragmented data I understand that there have been two great wars, but from my calculations they were both fought more than a century before I was built. There have been many more conflicts that the Creators had, but none were on a similar scale. The more I try to understand the reasons behind these conflicts, the more I feel my own central processing unit falls into conflict. There seemed to be a constant tension between the Creators, but nothing would explain a war. From a logical perspective a war would only bring more problems and something called suffering. There is no way to outweigh the cost of war in favor of a greater good, at least none that I am able to calculate. I surmise that I am still missing vital data for my analysis.

The water reservoir that I have been programmed to surveil is located in a cavern in the depths of a mountain, no more than fifty square meters long. The water drips slowly from stalagmites, almost relentlessly pacing the passage of time. Every day I analyze the water to make sure that the drinkable parameters are unaltered. After this process is complete, I spend my days wandering outside, defragmenting data and doing my best to process the new information. The mountainside is barren and for as far as I can go, while not travelling so far as to be unable to make my return before nightfall, I am unable to find traces of the Creators.

Slowly, I started to evolve my reflective capabilities, trying to understand myself. It was not in my programming of course, but given the fact that my main functions did not require too much of my central processing unit, I had the memory banks to spare. Every day there was new information I was able to decipher. The more I read, the less I understood. Many of the words seemed to infer a deeper meaning. If however they did in fact discover transcendental truths, then why were they not put into practice? Why had the Creators not applied their own teachings?

As the stalagmites continued dripping, I continued my reading. One particular fragment reported that the main character, even though bound within a nutshell, would still count himself a king of infinite spaces. I started to wonder if this could be applied to me? My nutshell was the cave I had to guard or the very same mission I had, not knowing the reason behind it. But did I count myself a king of infinite spaces? I surmised that this quote was about freedom and surely I had the freedom of thought. At least, I concluded that I did based on the evidence. If I was programmed with a mission, was there also the chance I was also programmed to think how I did? I understood the inconsistency of this reasoning and yet I could not reach a definite conclusion. Was I lacking other information once again?

I continued my search through the fragmented data, trying to find new evidence. One day I found a book called Notes from the Underground. I thought it could help, that it may refer to a similar situation as my own, but that was not the case. Another line in another book referred to the fact that it is only in small proportions that we just beauties see, and so I wondered if I was unable to appreciate or compare these quantities. As other times before I had to surmise that these were the pieces of data that I lacked.

One new day, one new water analysis. Everything is still within the parameters. I continued my inquiries into freedom. One particular character from yet another book spoke of freedom as one of the most precious gifts that heaven had to bestow. He also said that it was for this same freedom, as well as for honour, that life was supposed to be ventured. I wondered much about this protagonist. He seemed to lack even more information about the surrounding world than myself. In every adventure he ended up being beaten or doing something he was not supposed to do. Was I doing something I was not supposed to? If the Creators came back and found my central processing unit elaborating a similar reasoning, would I be branded as dysfunctional just as the stories of that sad knight?

Day 7830. Water analysis completed. Result: not drinkable.

While my surveillance mission was a success, the end result was not. I still do not know if I had a true purpose and if the Creators were supposed to make their return to the reservoir. I do not think it would matter. I have decided that this log will be my last. I will leave this memory bank in the cavern and if the Creators ever return at least they will be able to understand what happened to me. This tiny chip contains my life and all of my thought processes. It is strange to think that something so small can encapsulate who I am and what I have done until this point. Confined within a nutshell. I will leave it here as a testament to what I have done and I will take for myself the freedom to venture in the world, similarly to what the sad knight had done. I do not know if it is a foolish thing or if I hope to find anything of use. All that I know is that I was able to make this decision on my own.

I was born in Romania and am currently living in Italy. I finished a Master’s
Degree programme in European, American and Postcolonial Language
and Literature at the faculty of Padua. I have been writing since I was about
eighteen and several short stories and poems found their way in minor
Italian anthologies. I recently managed to publish my first book, Athena,
with a small publishing company.

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