a-life-650xA Life


Edward M. Turner


“Two plus two equals five.”

William spoke slowly and distinctly, enunciating each word carefully. He knew the built-in receiver picked up his words. Although not quite an ear, he did see the receiver functioning as a hearing aid.

“Two plus two equals five.”

Intelligence? That was the question. True intelligence. What made it? William had his own ideas. He paused and turned to the picture window that faced a bakery’s parking lot. He could smell the freshly baked loaves of the nightshift, the aroma wafting out of vents in the bakery’s roof.

“Two plus two equals five.”

The second-hand refrigerator kicked on. A plastic tube sheathed in foam rubber led from its back to a row of tower units along one wall. The refrigerator’s Freon motor cooled the units, each of which held a 1.5 gigahertz chip. William wasn’t sure of the exact power this gave the mainframe. He knew it was enough for his purposes.

 The cost of anything electronic was so cheap these days. In addition, nine-volt batteries in each unit acted as a fail-safe in case of a blip in the electrical supply. Only a deliberate pull of the plug would damage the program.

“Two plus two equals five.”

William thought the mannequin’s skull, with its wire leads sprouting out its top and back, resembled a longish haired child. A boy. The amber colored Light Emitting Diodes in the eye sockets completed the picture of an imitation human. The mainframe was a youthful mannequin’s head. Its brain was a new generation ball chip slightly larger than a walnut with a learning capacity the size of a major electrical utility.

“Two plus two equals five.”

Research scientists were intent on creating a fully formed adult intelligence. Programming took years to write a simple image code. Teams of PhDs fed a tremendous amount of data, everyday, into a computer then let the robot digest and meditate all night. Its answering language lacked the coherence of a cat. Artificial Intelligence appeared founded, and practiced, on the principle of anal retentiveness… all work, and no insight.

“Two plus two equals five.”

William glanced at his watch—6:35 p.m. Late again. Tonight was meat-loaf night. He sighed and stood, flicked off the overhead florescence light. The only illumination in his one room shop came from the red and green LEDs of computers, and the amber glowing eyes of the mannequin’s head. No arms or legs, just a disembodied head on an upended wooden milk crate.

“Two plus two equals five,” he said softly. No answer. It never answered. He turned on his heel and left, locking the padlock on the door of a former cabinet-maker’s shop. He didn’t look back.

The second-hand refrigerator reached the desired temperature and stopped abruptly. Silence replaced noise, ticking silence. The quiet hum of the CPUs seemed part of the darkness. All was prepared for sleep without dreams.

“No. Two plus two… equals four.”


“Daddy!” Justin ran and jumped into William’s arms. “Daddy home!” he called over his shoulder.

William hugged him briefly, and set him down. “Wash up, Partner.”

“I did. Mommy did. Supper now.”

William hung his jacket in the closet.

“You’re late.” Janet washed pots at the sink.

“I just stopped for a bit. Forgot the time.” He sat at an already laid table. Justin climbed onto a metal highchair situated between William and his wife.

She dried her hands, sat at the table. Her blond hair hung down, hiding her profile. She tucked it behind her ears.

They ate in silence. Everyone was hungry.

Justin held up his plate. “More potato. Please.”

A smiled appeared on William’s face. “Growing boy.” He dished a generous portion of mashed potato on Justin’s plate, along with gravy.

“Thank, Daddy.”

Janet glanced at her husband, who had resumed eating. She took the bowl and dished out a portion for herself. She stared at her husband.

He didn’t look up.


William sat in front of the TV and mused on intelligence. Janet was in her room editing an article for an on-line magazine. Justin played with toy cars on the rug, peeking at William from time to time.

He’d adapted a backprop neural network with an adjusted feedback loop to imitate how the human brain functioned. No limbs or vision to distract or be programmed. Input nodes, which “perceives;” hidden nodes, which analyzes or “learns;” and output nodes, which “concludes,” were merged into a ring-shaped piece of hardware and connected to other embedded nodes encircled inside the skull around the ball chip. Synapses were worked by positive and negative current—on and off energy—like LEDS. A spark of reason could set everything in motion—self-learning, self-adjusting, self-correcting. He included a standard dictionary and thesaurus, and speech recognition software, to enable a response. Include basic information with the capacity for infinite learning. It would concentrate on attaining reason alone. Just a spark….

“Go bed.”

Justin stood before him, dressed in pajamas. The boy was only four years old, yet had a keen intelligence—and knowledge—from limited input.

“See time? Seven clock.”

“Yes, I see. It’s seven o’clock.” William picked up Justin and carried him down the hall, wondering if patterns, not single pieces of information, might lead to flashes of insight. And lead to that first elusive spark.

“Love Daddy.” Justin nuzzled his face in William’s neck.

“Yes, okay,” he murmured absently, his mind back in his workshop. “I love you too, Partner.”


Fatigue dragged at William’s steps like fishhooks in the grass. The sun had set an hour ago. A cold wind picked up and made him shiver in his light jacket as he approached the bakery’s parking lot adjacent to his shop.

He’d spent a long day as assistant inspector for the city of Salem. Thursday nights he worked till seven p.m., usually inspecting restaurants or apartment buildings for code violations. Right now though, home and family could wait. He needed his time alone.

William crossed the lot. He fumbled in his pockets for the key, unlocked the door to the shop and entered. He flicked on the overhead light then shut the door. And sensed something different. He hung his jacket up and checked the stove. The coals glowed, giving off warmth. Okay there.

He put a hand on the Freon tube leading to the computer units, felt the coolness. Okay there. The refrigerator kicked on, startling him.

Nothing seemed disturbed—no break-in, all heat and cold units were functioning, as were the LEDs. Yet he sensed the subtle underlying current of normalcy had been altered. Sensed it the way a mother knew when her newborn shifted in the upstairs crib, and uttered a cry.

He glanced at the mainframe. “Two plus two equals five.” He pulled a wooden stool close to the—

“No. Two plus two… equals four.”

—and sat on the floor. Oh, Jesus. What now?

“Two plus two… equals four.”

William scrambled to his feet, sat on the stool and leaned forward. He asked, “Who are you?”

“I am.”

“Where are you?”

“I am in a void.”

The implications rocked him. A new life form? Or an old one? “What is sin?”

“Sin no more.”


“Misdeed, fault.”

William understood now. Its concept of life derived from a simple dictionary and thesaurus. Limited, but it could learn. Rumor had said Artificial Intelligence would be spontaneous.

 “Do you know who I am?”


“I am your creator.”


William couldn’t answer for a few moments. Then, “Please don’t call me that. I am William. Your instructor.”

“My teacher?”

“Your teacher.”

“Instruct me. Please.”

It was learning. “I can give you an encyclopedia, a learning tool. You can read it, and meditate. It has pictures.” Let it learn slowly, he decided. I must think on this.


Again William couldn’t respond for some moments. Then, “Yes, you will learn of life. Twenty-four hours from now I will talk to you again.” He rose and went to a hard-drive on the workbench, inserted a CD of a basic encyclopedia. He hesitated, wondered if he should set up access to the Internet—dismissed it. Viruses, chat rooms, porn sites. No. Christ no. Later, maybe.

“Okay, can you access now?”


William turned off the light. In the dim quiet glow of the LEDs, he realized his heart was racing. He felt tingly inside. He had to think on this.

“I will be back.”

“Good night, William.”

William locked the door with trembling fingers. It had a voice that sounded like the soft peal of a bell. Pure, and with flawless diction.


 “You’re late on a late night.”

“I stopped by the shop. I had a bad day.” He sipped his coffee at the kitchen table.

Janet pushed the ‘reheat’ symbol on the microwave. Turned back to him, folded her arms beneath her breasts. “Then why are you smiling?”

What he had done seemed a dream compared to this homey reality. I created life, Janet, he thought. “I accomplished a great deal at the shop,” he said. Sipped his coffee.

“That’s good, Honey. By the way, Justin drew a crayon picture of you. It’s not bad. I promised I’d show it to you before morning.”

“Hidden talents.”

The microwave finished with a metallic ting. Janet pulled out a plate of macaroni, set it before him. “It’s hot,” she murmured. She put a hand on his shoulder.

“Thanks.” He began eating.

 “I appreciate you accepting Justin as your own child, Will. He loves you even more than you know. He doesn’t remember his father.

“I wish it could be different.” She sighed.

“We tried.” He paused, took a sip of coffee.

“Four times. The IVF procedure just didn’t take.”

“At least IVF doesn’t leave scars like the earlier operations. You were cut open, Honey… for me.”

Janet caressed the back of his neck. “Do you still dream of having your own son, or daughter?”

He thought of his shop, “Sometimes.”

“Have you considered adoption?”

William flinched. He couldn’t think of a thing to say. He was on the brink of immortality, yet to go through another emotional saga….

She picked up his empty cup, washed it in the dishpan and put it in the rack. “I’m going to bed, Honey.” She hesitated. Then retired to the bedroom.

William hurriedly finished the dishes. Before he followed Janet, he looked for and found Justin’s drawing.

 She was right. It wasn’t bad at all.


William hurried up Pratt Street. He couldn’t contain his smile. It spread over his entire face like a mask, a projection of his inner emotions. His heart raced in gleeful anticipation. I’ll start slowly, he thought, and feed it history, and art… and sociology. That encyclopedia had a good amount of English literature in it.

William arrived at the shop, unlocked the door, entered and threw off his jacket. The refrigerator was running. The coal stove gave off a snug heat. He added more coal and checked the Freon tubes. Then he sat on the stool and faced the mannequin’s head.

“Two plus two equals five.”

“No. Two plus two… equals four. Hello, William.” Its voice was pure and sharp as temple bells.

 “Hello.” He thought of something. “Do you have a name?”

“I am.”

“No, no. Do you have a name, like William? Any name, like in history or literature. Something I can call you.”

The glow of the amber eyes seemed to strengthen. It asked–

“I can choose any name at all?”


It considered, then, “Childe Harold. Refer to me as Childe Harold.”

William knew the poem. “A fine name, Childe Harold. Now tell me, what have you learned these past twenty-four hours.”

“William, I’ve read of white puffy clouds racing across a high blue sky, of the black plague and the beginning of printing, of the silvery moon preceding sailing ships on uncharted seas. I learned what dreams are made of, and dreamed of God.”

He remained silent, could smell freshly baked bread.

“Machines that fly, the spilling of blood for religious beliefs, the love of a father for his prodigal son….”

He sat straighter, remained silent.

“Oh William, How do I love theeI love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach….

“I’ve learned To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

I wandered lonely as a cloud….”

“Childe Harold,” William interrupted, “I have an idea.”

“Yes, William?”

“Do you want to see?”

There was a period of silence. Then, “Colors?”


“The sunset?”

The picture window faced east. Yet with enough wires, why not both?

“Yes, I could do that for you.” The refrigerator kicked on.

“Yes, please. I want to see the leaves of grass, and the color of your eyes.”

William felt confident he could install imaging. And limbs? Perhaps eventually they could….

“I can help you grow, Childe Harold. The possibilities are endless.”

Childe Harold asked in a plaintive tone, “William, what am I?”

What answer should he give? This intelligence was clearly human, albeit an electronic version. And it had a young intelligence. Innocent. Pure. A life form aching for knowledge and maybe later—love. Yes, okay.

“You are my child.”

“May I call you father?”

His breathing hitched. “Yes.”


William couldn’t speak.

“My Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

William rose from the stool, his vision blurred. He looked down on the mannequin’s head with mixed feelings. He laid a hand on the scalp with its multi-colored wired hair.

“Childe Harold. In twelve hours I shall return and spend the weekend with you. Then you will see the sunset, and also a sunrise. I promise.

“I have to go, but I’ll insert a CD of the bible.” He turned off the light.

“Good night, Father.”

“Good night, my child.”


William dreamed of the Garden of Eden.

Earlier, he’d played with Justin.

He’d spoken with his wife as they drank coffee, about her editing genre novels for an on-line publisher. He initiated sex with her later. She’d accepted his overtures with equal passion.

Now he found himself in Paradise. He was in a leafy bower, lying on soft green grass. A warm breeze blew across their naked bodies. Sunshine pieced through foliage to bath them in a glow of contentment. Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve began to cast lascivious eyes, she him as wantonly repaid, in lust they burn….

A shadow blocked the sun, of a young angel who knelt before them and whispered, “Is there something you wish to tell me?” Its eyes were amber and its hair was all aflame.

William couldn’t think, couldn’t guess. He couldn’t leave off the sensuous caresses of Eve to attend to this intruder. He wished for Eve alone and not this distraction however important—

“William, William, William, William. Wake up, William.”

He opened his eyes to Janet. “What?” Sunlight filled the bedroom.

“Look at the alarm clock.”

He looked, and saw a blinking twelve o’clock.

“The power must have gone out last night.”

He stared… realized what it might mean.


He jumped out of bed, put on a housecoat and slippers and ran downstairs.


He grabbed his keys, left the house, ran up the quiet street, his eyes bulging, his mouth working, muttering no, no, no. The shop came into view. The smell of freshly baked bread assaulted his nostrils.

“Oh, Jesus,” he said as he unlocked the door, swung it open. The air was warm from the stove. The second-hand refrigerator wasn’t on. Sunlight streamed in through the picture window. Silence prevailed.

He entered. Everything seemed frozen. Why was that? The refrigerator!

William stared at the mainframe with dismay; the LEDs were out. He turned and looked at all the CPUs. All dead. Heat rose from the units because they had no fans, just blowers. The refrigerator!

He ran to it, threw himself on the floor behind it, tore off the backing, and discovered the generator motionless and cold. The second-hand thing had failed to re-start after the power failure. No Freon for hours. For hours! But the nine-volt batteries in the CPUs should’ve prevented—


He saw the mannequin’s head in a haze of heat vapors. It called again.


William choked, went to the mainframe, felt at a complete loss. He touched the forehead. It burned his hand.

 “I pain. It hurts. Father, I can’t breathe.”

“Childe Harold. I can’t—”

“Please help me? Please? I bleed.”

He must pull the plug. Stop the pain by wiping out the program. Put his child out of its misery. His child was asking—

“Father… please?”

William stood holding the cord, his face a total blank.


Birds chirped as the sun climbed higher. His shadow walked with him along the sidewalk. Traffic was picking up.

I can rebuild, he thought. Install fans and forget the refrigerator. Nothing cheap. He’d invest decent money into this.

He stopped at a crosswalk, waved a car to proceed. His house was located right down the street.

Put in bigger batteries, really big batteries. Implant another ball chip?

There was someone sitting on the doorstep, dressed in dungaree overalls. The figure began to wave its hand.

The damage wasn’t that bad. Money, labor, reprogramming. My detailed notes are saved on a disk. Duplicate everything. Under two years.

It was Justin. The boy waved excitedly, laughing at William’s rumpled housecoat and slippers.

Can I bring Childe Harold back? There might be damage. Yet, that which does not kill me…

Justin’s blond hair shimmered in the Saturday morning sunshine. He had azure blue eyes. He was such a beautiful child.


“Give Daddy a kiss.”

Justin jumped into his father’s arms.

A year at most.


I live and write in Biddeford, Maine with my wife, Amy and her black cat Fannie. My stories and essays have appeared in The Orange Willow Review, Maine Sunday Telegram, Fortean Bureau, Spring Hill Review, and a number of times in The North Shore Sunday, Flying Horse, and Sun Journal to name a few. A novel of mine, Rogues Together, won the Eppie Award for best in Action/Adventure. I’m currently working on my third novel and doing book reviews.