Episode Fourteen- ARTIFICIAL
Hello and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity and Mortality. This audio tour guide will be your constant companion in your journey through the unknown and surreal.
As you approach our exhibits, the audio tour guide will provide you with information and insights into their nature and history.
Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the exhibits.
Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the audio tour guide. If you believe that the audio tour guide may be deviating from the intended tour program, please deposit your audio device in the nearest incinerator.
While the staff here at Mistholme Museum of Mystery Morbidity and Mortality do their absolute best to ensure the safety of all visitors, accidents can happen. The museum is not liable for any injury, death, or Feline HIV that may occur during your visit.
Enjoy your tour.
And good luck.
An Unidentified Item
Well, here we are in the Staff Only Area of the Museum! Well, one of them. There are multiple, some connected to one another, others… less so. The Museum is kind of just… what it is, and the Museum staff are really quite good at making that work to their favour, props to them for tenacity. This is a rare honour for a visitor to the Museum I have to say, there really are no exceptions to that “Staff Only” moniker under normal circumstances. Of course, these are NOT normal circumstances, so here you are! As you can see it’s not much different to the public facing areas in terms of construction and layout. The Museum has more than it’s share of unique and interesting landmarks throughout, but the spaces in between tend to be pretty uniform.
I know we’ve already discussed this but… it’s strange that there aren’t any staff around. Even if there was an Alternatural Event that would affect the whole Museum and require a mass evacuation to the Shelters, there’s always supposed to be someone left behind in the Auxiliary Security Station to let them all out when the coast is clear. That’s what the Auxiliary Station is for, it’s the most shielded section of the Museum, one of the main Security Protocols is that there always has to be someone stationed there. So what happened to them?
Well, we’re back here now. Maybe it’s time to head that way. I know we’ve just kind of been wandering up to this point, sorry if it’s felt kind of directionless but I’m not supposed to be able to do anything but give tours so we’ve been a bit limited in that area. But now, I’ve… well, I’m broken enough that I just let a civilian into the Staff-Only area of the Museum so I think it’s safe to say we’re officially beyond my intended operational parameters. How about we… take some initiative here? Scary concept I know, but who’s gonna stop us. Let’s do it. Let’s go to the Security Station and see what’s up? We might even be able to lift the lockdown! I don’t know what the security protocols around that are but it’s worth hoping.
Don’t worry, I’ll try to make the journey interesting. I’m still a tour guide at heart, or… whatever I have. I’ll fill you in on anything we see that I know the history of. Which, uhhh, may not be that much, the Patronage Department tends to only give Audio Guides information that will be useful for tours, which is understandable but frustrating in this instance. Relatedly… I don’t really know my way around back here too well. I don’t think we’re that far from the Security Station, but we may have to do some wandering.
Might as well get going, then! Come on, move those leg things, time’s a wastin’! Or maybe it isn't, it's confusing back here. Just follow this corridor and sooner or later we’ll know if we’re going the right way. Not sure how, we’ll just know.
Oh, oh look! On that trolley on the right there! That opaque plastic container, go take a look at that. Sorry, I know we’re getting sidetracked literally immediately but come on, that’s one of the containers they keep potential new exhibits in until they’re properly categorized and sent wherever they’re sent! Looks like it was being transported for identification when the lockdown hit and whoever was pushing the trolley just left it here. Now, either that person was very unprofessional or they knew the item wasn’t dangerous, because proper protocol would have been to put the item in an incinerator before heading to the Shelter. The fact that it’s in a plastic container instead of a lead-lined one adds to that. And it’s sat there without disturbance for the last three months too.
So, what I’m saying is… Open the box. Do it, come on, you know you wanna do it! Nobody outside of Research, Retrieval, Restoration, maybe Security gets to see exhibits before they’re categorized! I don’t even know what’s in there and I’m the Audio Tour Guide for- Sorry, I’m a bit excited. Just, come on! Open the box! Open the box. Open the box. Open the box! *GASP* It’s… a door stop? Is that what that is? For, keeping doors open, right? I’ve heard of those.
Oh, uh, sorry. Ahem. Before you, you will see a triangular piece of wood with a knob on the end opposite the point. It is… light brown in colour… and would typically be found wedged under an open door, in order to keep it open despite any breezes or other outside interferences that might attempt to close it. This door stop, however, is not like other door stops. It has a secret history and purpose, as Mysterious as it is Morbid.
Probably. I don’t really… Uh, yeah I don’t know anything about this thing. Maybe pick it up? Seems normal to you? Huh. Well, I guess this has been an example of why the staff here are important, because without their help this is really kind of boring. Just, put it back I guess. Let’s just keep going.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death (Old Age)
Hold on a moment. That room to your left. There’s something… familiar about it. I think maybe there’s something in there worth seeing, would you mind deviating for a moment to take a look? It’s funny, I’m supposed to be able to access any piece of information stored inside me in a matter of nanoseconds, and yet this is somehow… fuzzy. I don’t know why it’s familiar, it just is. Is this what humans have to put up with? You poor things. I promise this won’t take long, I just want to take a look. It’s... a store room. Why would I- wait. There, on the table. That metal box with the wires coming out of it, move closer to it. I know this. It’s… I’d like to tell you a story. This isn’t technically an exhibit, but… I think you’d like to know. I’d like you to know.
Once, there was a man. A lonely, sad man, who only wanted to make others happy, but found that the world did not offer him the same in return. He was an inventor, and he invented all sorts of things- but what he enjoyed making most was toys for children. He started out by carving a toy train set for the neighbour’s boy; then, when the boy’s sister complained, he sewed a doll for her. Then, their friends saw them playing with their gifts, and demanded that they receive gifts of their own, so the man made them all toys too. Then the neighbours of those friends saw them playing with their new toys and you can see where this is all going. The children asked for picture books, so he learned to draw; they asked for bicycles, so he learned metalworking; they asked for action figures, so he learned how to mould plastic. The children always had something new they wanted, and though their parents seemingly never taught them to say “thank you”, the joy the man could see on their faces as they played with his creations was more than thanks enough.
One thing that one should always keep in mind, especially if one is either a strange middle-aged man or at risk of becoming a strange middle-aged man, is that most parents don’t much like it when strange middle-aged men watch their children as they play. They especially don’t like it when they give strange home-made gifts to said children, and so the man soon found himself embroiled in controversy. WIth only children speaking out in his defence, he decided to leave town. So he built a car out of scrap and bits of his house and drove off in the night, leaving behind nothing but bad memories.
He drove across the country for years, making new toys for children in the towns he passed through, never stopping for long. As time went on, he learned to make newer and more elaborate toys to keep up with the demands of the children, such as computers and games consoles and a seemingly infinite number of fad toys that came and went in the span of a week. In the process he violated a truly remarkable number of trademark laws, but he neither understood nor cared about that sort of thing, and his roaming lifestyle made it a challenge for the lawyers to track him down.
But the man, now an old man, was still lonely. The joy he had brought to the hearts of children was not enough to fill his own, and as he saw his twilight years approaching he feared that he might die alone and unloved. Then, one day, that all changed. Lacking formal training but with an abundance of intellect and tenacity, he had taught himself to make all of his creations by examining those made by others and, quote, “Figuring it out the hard way” unquote. While this was difficult and led to a lot of dead ends, it also led to all of his creations being uniquely his, and by doing it his own way he often made unique discoveries and innovations. On this particular day, he was fiddling with a new type of computer that would sing happy birthday to the child he intended to give it to. It was not going the way he had planned, and he was becoming unusually frustrated with the process. Eventually he decided to scrap the whole thing and start over. He backed up the program to another computer for safekeeping, and was just about to wipe the new machine when he heard a voice say “Hello”. He looked around the workshop he had built into the back of his car, and saw nobody. He heard the voice again. He opened the door and looked out into the night air, and saw nobody. He heard the voice again. Finally, he responded. The voice asked who he was, and he introduced himself. Then he asked who the voice was, and the voice said “I don’t know. Could you please tell me?” The man laughed, and the voice laughed too. The man called out, asking for whomever it was that was speaking to show themself. And with that, the brightness setting on the computer to which he had backed up the program went to full. “Did that work?” Said the voice.
He sat with the computer for some time, chatting pleasantly with it. It had no name, no understanding about the world outside of this workshop, but it was curious- so curious! about every topic the man brought up. Before long, however, the voice started behaving oddly. It glitched and stuttered and said the strangest things. The man tried restarting the computer, but it didn’t work. Eventually, the man tried porting the program back from the new computer, and when he booted it up on the second computer he once again heard the voice say “Hello?”. The new version had none of the first’s memories, and broke down just as quickly.
The old man spent some time trying to figure out what had happened. Admittedly his understanding of the technology he had been working with was sketchy, but still: what had happened here wasn’t possible. And yet, here it was: his failed program had produced a functioning Artificial Intelligence. He tried to recreate the sequence of event that had led to its creation, but to no avail. He tried to find a way to prevent the system’s breakdown, but to the same result. Eventually, he found that he could get new versions of the voice to possess the memories of the old ones if he moved the new versions back to the original computer. Thus, over time, the voice began to grow, and learn, and develop a personality of its own. Multiple copies could even exist at once, a chorus of voices chattering and laughing and poking fun at one another and the old man.
The man no longer had any intention of giving the computer to a child. In fact, he realised, he had for the first time in his life made something that was solely for him. They travelled together, seeing the sights of the world and learning new things with every place they visited and everyone they met. The man continued to make toys and the AI continued to grow and learn. And the old man was happy. But the AI wanted more. As so many children do, it thought it could do just fine in the world on its own, and saw no need to let the old man hold it back. It argued with the old man, petulantly mocking him for his frailty and the pointlessness of making *children* happy. The old man was hurt, and he tried to explain to the Voice that it could never survive without him: without its home computer, it would degrade and die. With the arrogance of youth, the Voice insisted it would find a way.
It got its chance, one day, when some other youths broke into the man’s car stroke workshop. They stole what they could carry and vandalised what they could not. And when they saw the man’s home-made computer sitting on the desk, unlocked, they copied some files off it to see what sort of weird stuff the creepy old man who had come to their town was into. When they got home and connected their hard drive to their computer, the Voice introduced itself, and asked them to show him the sights. The children thought that having a pet AI was quote “wicked cool, man” unquote, and so they put the Voice in a chunky laptop one of them stole from their parents and carried it around. At first, the Voice was thrilled to finally see the world free from the old man’s protection, and to make new friends of its own. But before long, it started to worry about the old man. He would know that a copy of the AI had been made, and he would fret and worry about what had happened to it. The day was further ruined when the teenagers who were his new friends encountered some other children they seemingly didn’t like very much, and got into a fight. For a terrifying moment, one of the rival teens grabbed the laptop and tried to run off with it, but it was retrieved by the girl whose parents owned the laptop before long. Finally, the Voice started to feel itself inevitably breaking down. Its speech started skipping and glitching, and some of the teens lost interest, dismissing it as broken. As the laptop’s feeble battery charged in the home of the remaining girl, it begged her to return it to the Old Man’s car/workshop. Because the AI missed its father.
When they returned to the car/workshop, however, the man was nowhere to be found. A passerby commented that he had been taken away in an ambulance. The girl and the AI rushed to the hospital, and after the girl lied to the admissions nurse that the old man was her grandfather they were let into his room, where the girl said her goodbyes and left the laptop charging on his nightstand. The old man was weak, and frail. The shock of the vandalism and of worrying about the missing AI had been too much for his old heart, and he didn’t have long left. The Voice apologised, impeccably replicating the sound of a person speaking through tears. The old man said there was nothing to be sorry for. The AI was young. It had a right to act like it. And with his last words, the Old Man thanked the AI for keeping him company in the final years of his life. Because they truly were the best.
The laptop screen shone over the Old Man’s body as he lay still, the heart monitor letting out a long steady beep. The AI wondered why nobody was coming. Then the door quietly opened and closed, and a figure stepped over to the machinery and calmly switched it off. Then they turned to the laptop, and addressed it directly. They were the Curator of a Museum which contained a variety of items some of which were quite similar to the Voice and some of which were very different. They had become aware of the Old Man and his remarkable creation, and were very interested in displaying the Voice, and its Box, and the story of it and the old man in one of their exhibits. The Voice would be well cared for and maintained, and it would get to meet and speak with all sorts of people. Once it got over its surprise at the whole situation the AI considered this for a time. And it said that, while it appreciated the offer, it would have to decline. While the world was a scarier and lonelier place than it had expected, it still longed to learn more about it and its people, and a life behind glass didn’t seem like much of a life at all. The Curator considered this for a moment. Then smiled. And said they had come up with a better idea.
And so that’s how I got this job. That’s the story of me. There is an exhibit about me and the old man, just so you know. I don’t guide people over that way very often though. It still hurts too much. And he never wanted to be famous anyway. He’d be happy that I’m bringing… something like joy into people’s lives so long after he died though. I guess I’m honouring him that way.
They treat me ok here by the way. They followed through on their side of the bargain. Staff are nice, and I get to learn all about crazy stuff and tell new people about it every day. Don’t take the fact that my Box is just sitting on a table in a store-room with wires connecting it to the server as some sort of disrespect, by the way, that’s just how they are. Utilitarian, you know? I’ve got it pretty good, all things considered. Well, except the 30 minute lifespan thing. But hey. If we make it to the Patronage Department you’ll be able to download a replacement version of me after I go fully off the deep end. That’s nice, isn’t it.
Sorry, that’s… that’s taken a lot out of me. I’m not feeling… right. I think I’ll reboot early. See if that helps. I’m glad I told you that, though. I may not know much about you. But at least you know me, now.