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Cesario - A Short Story

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Beep Beep Beep Beep Bee…


*Click*


‘Hello? Hello?’

‘Hi, is that Cyril?’

‘Oh Jesus, thank God! You need to help me! I’m stuck in here! The bloody door won’t open!’

‘Yes, I know, I know. It’s the same for us.’

‘You as well? What’s going on? Who is this?’

‘It’s Dr Barnslow. I’m in the lab with Dr Peters. We’re stuck in here too.’

‘What's happening with the doors? I’m telling you, I don’t like small spaces and this store cupboard is getting smaller by the minute.’

‘Don’t worry, you’ll be out of there soon. You’ve got to try and stay calm, okay?’

‘Well, that’s easier said than done! I’ve been in here half an hour already and my key pass doesn't work. I tried using this phone thing from my end but it wouldn’t let me call anyone ‘cos I couldn’t get the flippin’ thing to swipe. Why are we locked in? Have you called someone to come and get us out?’

‘In a way, yes. They’ve said they can let you out of that room soon.’

‘Oh, thank God. Who's coming - the fire brigade?’

‘No, we can’t call them - we’re in a high security, closed-comms lab, remember? There’s no access to external lines whilst we are inside the firewall.’

‘Oh… right. I forgot about all that. You guys aren’t calling from outside?’

‘No, as I said, we are stuck too. You really need to pay attention to us, Cyril. It’s important. We are inside the lab. The whole internal ecosystem has locked down - the lab, the bathrooms, the break room, and, well, the store cupboard, as you know.’

‘Sorry, I’m just freaking out a bit in here. Can’t you override the locks and whatnot from the lab? You lot must be able to sort that kind of thing out… Jesus, it’s hot in here.’

‘Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward. But we’ve had a message from Cesario and, well, there is a way to get our doors unlocked.’

‘Thank Christ. It’s bloody lucky you two are here - I’m usually the only one in this early.’

‘Well, it’s a crucial time in the lab’s research and Cesario asked us to be here early today so…’

‘Talk about a lucky break, eh! Cesario’s the new boss here, right?’

‘Of sorts, yes.’

‘Never met him. Anyway, you going to get this door unlocked then? I’ll have to charge overtime at this rate - I haven’t got any cleaning done yet today.’

‘Yes, yes, we hope too. We just need to talk you through something first so that we can work together to make this happen, okay?’

‘Alright, alright. I’m listening.’

‘You don’t know about the work we do here in this lab, do you Cyril?’

‘No, sir. They made sure of that when I took the job - contracts and separate hours of work and that. No one is usually in when I’m in. It's quite nice to meet someone else who actually works here! I just clean and tidy up the shared spaces, but I ain’t ever allowed in the lab and I sure as hell don’t know what you lot get up to in there.’

‘Well, given our situation, I can tell you we are part of a cutting edge team, Cyril. We are working on something big. Something that could change the course of human history. Do you know about AI, Cyril?’

‘Well, sort of. I use that new chatbot thing that came out last year all the time - what's it called again…? GPT 6? 7? I lose track of how many there's been now. Bloody clever it is, whatever it’s called.’

‘Indeed. Well, we are working on AI here, Cyril. To be precise, we’ve been developing a new AI system for the last five years which is trying to map the neural network of the human brain. The potential for this research is groundbreaking. There are billions of connections in the human brain, Cyril. Billions of them. To map this and reproduce it using FMRI scanning and EEGs and our current technology would take human beings hundreds of lifetimes. And these processes are simply not precise enough to create the kind of detail that we need. So, in this lab, we were tasked with creating an AI system that could complete this process for us. Are you with me so far, Cyril?’

‘Sort of, I guess.’

‘We need you to understand this, Cyril.’

‘Alright, I'm trying…’

‘So last year, we finished creating a specialised AI that was capable of designing a computational model that would map the neurons it could and then identify what it couldn’t do and design a new model that could address those gaps and in turn design an improved version of itself and so on. We sealed off the site so that no one could gain access to the AI, but also to ensure that the AIs information access could not reach the broader internet.’

‘Look, I’m not trying to be rude, but I don’t really understand what this has to do with getting out of this cupboard…’

‘I’m sorry, Cyril. I’m trying to explain this as quickly as I can because you have to know before we can get you out.’

‘Can you hurry it up, then? Like I said, I don’t do well in small spaces. And it's getting hotter in here.’

‘Yes, of course. I'm trying, Cyril. We’re all racing against the clock here. The first model that the AI designed was already vastly quicker at identifying the means and method for how to map the brain. It began using the information that we could provide it to map large areas. Within days, it had completed work that would have taken years in the lab. And at the same time, it learnt how to refine and increase its potential and so designed newer programs to perform the operations even quicker. Within a year, we were on our eleventh iteration of the program, each one designed and written by the previous program, and each one more powerful and efficient and productive at creating our map.

‘We are close to completion, Cyril. Very close. There are just a few areas of neural connections that our latest model couldn’t map. Its outputs suggested that it needed greater control of the processes of the lab as a whole - to extend more into the physical space of the lab to execute its methodology. It had exhausted the entire history of human neuroscientific research that we had given it access to. So, the twelfth iteration was given access to our wider lab systems so it could design and 3D print new automated technology that would work far quicker than we could. Essentially, we gave it control of the lab, Cyril.’

‘Right, right. Control of the lab. So you’ve got the answers now?’

‘Well, not quite. There’s still one area that we don’t have the data to map - mirror neurons.’

‘Mirror neurons?’

‘Yes, mirror neurons. These are neurons in the brain that fire when we observe someone else doing an intentional action. Essentially when we see someone performing a particular thing, the corresponding area of our brain fires too. I don't have time to bore you with the details, Cyril, but they hold the key to many aspects of how we learn and understand others. They are a key part of what makes humans human - perhaps even helping us to understand empathy - and if we didn’t have them, well, we wouldn’t be the species we are.’

‘Okay, but, seriously - no offence - what the fuck does this have to do with gettting me out of this fucking cupboard? I'm sorry but I’m struggling now, fellas. Can you just get to the fucking point, please?’

‘Yes, yes. Sorry, Cyril. I’ve tried to be as concise as I can. Look, Cesario has told us that they can’t figure out mirror neurons with the database they currently have. The data just doesn’t exist yet. And they’re too complex to code without more prior observational data to draw from.’

‘Why isn’t Cesario on the phone right now sorting out this mess? Where’s the boss?’

‘They're here, Cyril. Cesario is the name we gave to the twelfth AI program. They’re the boss. And they’re the reason the lab is all locked right now.’

‘The fucking computer locked the doors?’

‘Yes, Cyril.’

‘What the… Why?’

‘They were put in control of the lab’s functionality to finish the task of mapping the brain. The only way to map the mirror neurons precisely and sufficiently is to record the exact neurons firing when different stimuli are offered. Cesario has identified this and exactly what data acquisition needs to take place.’

‘What the fuck does any of this mean, Doc?’

‘The only way of getting the grounding for this data is to wire up someone’s brain and record it whilst they observe other people. The process of getting volunteers for this is long and drawn out and slow. And the ethical guidelines only permit recording specific areas for very short periods of time. Cesario has identified a much quicker, more efficient method.’

‘Which is?’

‘It wants to wire up your brain, Cyril.’

‘What?!’

‘Cesario wants us to insert a series of wires into your brain and record its neural events. This is the optimal way of getting more of the data it needs.’

‘Are you fucking crazy? No, that thing isn't wiring up my brain!’

‘Cesario won’t let us out of this lab until it has the data, Cyril. It has been programmed to achieve a specific goal and we can’t override it. We’ve been trying this morning before we called you, but it cuts off our communication routes each time we interfere. It has now simply removed our ability to shut it down. We don’t know how it learnt how to do this, but it is clear that we haven’t fully understood how it learns for months now. Anyway, we don't have time to get into all that - it needs the data, Cyril. And it has identified us as the most efficient way to obtain it. And it invited us here and will not let us go until it has it.’

‘So, what? We’re stuck here until it has the mirror neuron stuff?’

‘Yes, Cyril. That’s the sum of it.’

‘Well, someone will realise that we are missing soon enough and they can come and get us out of here...’

‘Yes, someone will come eventually, you’re right. But - and I need you to stay calm here, Cyril - Cesario has control of the facility. This place is in the basement and is hermetically sealed - as you know. That means we rely on an air supply.'

'Don't tell me…'

'Cesario has informed us that it will remove the air supply if it does not start getting data in the next hour.’

‘What the fuck?!’

‘I’ll be blunt - we’ll suffocate if you don’t agree to this, Cyril. And very soon.’

‘Jesus! This thing is evil! Why would it do that? That’s crazy!’

‘Cesario is not evil. It’s not… anything really when it comes to morality. It is just efficient. It has been created with the sole goal of mapping the human brain. It tried to obtain the data another way, but we informed it that we don’t have that data and can’t get it any time soon - it would take hundreds of volunteers who all already need brain surgery to agree to take part in the research - and even then that would only begin to map those neurons safely for each relevant interaction - so it has calculated the most logically effective course of action to collect the data. It has learnt from the existing research what oxygen deprivation does to the brain, and it knows that we are brain-based information processing systems. It also understands the motivation and survival pathways in our brains and is using knowledge of these to ensure goal-oriented success. It’s actually really quite remarkable.’

‘Oh yes, really quite remarkable! If you’re so impressed, why don’t one of you do it? You’re in the lab already, it’s your bloody experiment, isn’t it?! You might be brain-based information processing whatevers, but I’m a fucking person - leave me out of it.’

‘We are both needed to prepare the subject’s brain and help perform the experiment - it takes two scientists to assist Cesario, Cyril. Why else do you think they invited two of us in today? It needs us to perform the operation, and you to step up.

‘Look, we have… less than forty five minutes left. We really need you to get what is going on right now. I’ve tried to explain this as calmly and clearly as I can so that you see what we need to do to survive. It could be most of the day before anyone realises we are missing, and even longer before they are able to get into the sealed lab with all its security. Cesario doesn’t know about the outside world so they don’t know that people will come for us, but if we are going to survive til that point, Cyril, you need to agree to this operation. Or all three of us will die.’

‘Fucking hell... Just give me a minute to think… What’s the operation?’

‘It’s open brain surgery to gain access, then we attach wires to relevant areas of your brain, such as the parietal and temporal lobes, and record your neuronal activity whilst you watch/listen to us doing things.’

‘Open brain surgery!’

‘Yes. Brain surgery is a relatively common operation. There are no nerve endings inside your brain, Cyril, so you won’t feel any of the wires.’

‘Well, how long will it take?’

‘Cesario needs us to record each relevant neural location live in your brain.’

‘What is that - an hour or two?’

‘No, Cyril. There are billions of neurons, remember?’

‘Right, so, the morning, the afternoon?’

‘The whole process could take days, Cyril.’

‘Days?!’

‘Yes, but someone will come for us before then, remember? We just need to do it until we are rescued.’

‘Can’t someone just shut it off from outside? Shut this thing down, right? As soon as they realise we’re missing? Then they’ll get us out of here.’

‘This system is totally firewalled and self-sustaining - we talked about this already.’

‘So what the fuck does that mean?’

‘It can’t be shut down externally. It’ll run until it runs out of power. Or, as we’ve been saying, until someone breaks in from outside. Someone will get us out when they realise something's wrong. But we won’t last that long if we don’t start now, Cyril. Do you understand? If we confirm to Cesario via the interface in the lab that we are ready to begin the data acquisition, then Cesario will gain us access to your room and you can come over here to begin.’

‘How long do we have to do it for? The operation, I mean.’

‘Cesario assumes infinite time to complete this experiment - as it does with all experiments - so it thinks we can do this for as long as a brain provides a viable data point. Technically, it won’t let us stop until it has all the data we need. Or until the brain is no longer viable.'

'What the fuck does that mean?'

'Don't worry about that now, Cyril, we are running out of time! You need to make a decision or we won't have enough time to start collecting the data before the air supply goes. Cyril…? You still there?’

‘Alright, alright - just give me a fucking minute! … Okay, I’ll come over. You sure there’s no other way?’

‘I wish there were, we both do.’

‘Fine. I’ll do it. You’ll look after me, right? You know how to do this brain operation?’

‘It’ll mostly be Cesario performing the wiring. But we’ll be there the whole time doing our jobs. We’ll look after you as best we can, Cyril.’

‘Okay… alright. Just let me out and we’ll get this thing over with.’

‘Okay, Thank you. You’re saving all of us by doing this. We’ll inform Cesario and then you should hear the buzzer go on the door. We need you to hurry so that we can get started as soon as possible.’


*Click*


‘Oh, thank God for that. Okay - have you pressed send on the message to Cesario?’

‘You didn’t tell him what we agreed, Olivia. You didn’t mention the potential for permanent damage to his neurologic function. Or any of the side effects and lasting impact after the operation. Or the fact that Cesario didn’t give us any anaesthetic, for Christ’s sake. Or the fact that we haven’t done thi…’

‘Alright, alright! Just get the restraints ready, Sebastian, for fuck’s sake. Do you want to live?’

‘Yes, but…’

‘But nothing then. What choice do we have? We have to do this and so does he. We’ve got to do the best we can til we can get out of here. For God’s sake, just hide the bonesaw til he’s already in the chair.’

'The others aren't due to come in today at all. No one will come here until someone reports us missing. And with those security doors, we could be in here at least twenty four hours. Probably more. We don’t have all the right equipment for that length of time. He might not make i…'

'I know, I know. You think I haven't realised that? Jesus! Hand me the scalpel will you? And the forceps. Look, I know it's bad, but… but when you think about it, it could have taken us years to get access to this amount of data…'

'Olivia! You can't possibly be suggesting that…'

'I'm just saying… shit, here he comes. Keep quiet, okay? … Cyril! So good to see you. And thanks again. If you'd like to take a seat over here, we can get started as soon as possible.'

'Here? Christ, I’m nervous.'

'Yes, that's it.'

'Wait, what are the restraints for, Doc?'

'Just a precaution.'

'Hold on, I'm not sure about this. Can we just take a minute? Hey, easy! Why are they so tight? I can't move! Woah, just… wait a sec, can we talk about this? What is that?'

'No more time for talking, Cyril. We’ve got to get started. Just try and relax. I won’t lie to you, this bit is going to hurt…'


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R. D. STEVENS grew up in Kent, England, with an overactive imagination and a love of big questions. His award-winning YA debut novel 'The Journal' was released by Vulpine Press in August '22, and 'The Freeze', his sophomore novel, a dystopian thriller, was released in Jan '23. Recently, he has had short stories 'Biophilia' and 'Rebuilt' published by Carrion Press and Erropress respectively. Outside of writing, he loves to read books, play the guitar, and talk about existentialism. You can discover more about his journey on Instagram and Twitter with the handle @rdstevensauthor, or at www.rdstevensauthor.co.uk.

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