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Project VIRGIL


by scarrift

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"Ah, Dr. Frank Sloth. So good to see you."

     "Well, what did you want to show me then?" the nasty villain snapped. The blue Grundo before him wavered not the least under his master's steely gaze.

     "Come this way, if you please," the Grundo replied, pointing in the direction of a large panel of transparisteel set within a titanium wall. Sloth glided over to the transparent sheet and stared into the bare steel room.

     "Well? I don't want to be here all day you know," Sloth growled. The Grundo held up both his hands in a calming gesture.

     "Patience, sir," the Grundo continued undeterred. With swift movements of his hand, he tapped dozens of keys on a small nearby keyboard. There was a muffled whirring from behind the glass-like panel and a small opening appeared in the wall opposite the onlookers. A pair of gleaming green eyes suddenly flashed to life from the darkness within and the Grundo clapped his hands in delight. "It works, it works! I knew it would work!"

     "Knew what would work?" Sloth said, eyeing the Grundo in exasperation. Then he spotted something emerging from the hole. A robot Lupe strode from the darkness and proceeded to the middle of the room, heavy metal feet clanking on the unyielding surface. It sniffed the dank air suspiciously and started swinging its head left and right. Dr. Frank Sloth turned to the Grundo. "You mean to tell me you've dragged me all the way down here," Sloth said, voice dripping with contempt. "To see some robot Lupe?"

     "Yes, of course. Observe if you please," the Grundo muttered. Four small panels on all sides of the metal room suddenly snapped open and small clockwork Grundos started streaming out of them, marching menacingly at the Lupe. The robot's eyes flashed for a moment and it swiftly smashed into a clockwork Grundo. In an instant, the robot leapt from the battered remains of the first Grundo onto a wall and, with its powerful hind legs, launched itself at the swarm, crushing half a dozen more mechanizations. Sloth and the blue Grundo watched as the robot Lupe attacked without hesitation until the last of the clockwork Grundos lay in a heap under its sharp claws. Then the glowing eyes faded into a dull green and the robot Lupe padded back into its hole. Sloth watched the opening close up before turning back to the Grundo.

     "Impressive," Sloth commended. "What is it actually?"

     "That was Project VIRGIL," The Grundo stated, waving his left hand at the glass panel. "Which is short for 'Very Intelligent Robotic Governor-Independent Lupe'. Virgil is my first creation that has exhibited a great deal of sentience and intelligence when compared with the other failures. It can think for itself and I have programmed it to attack any that it thinks is a threat with little regard or forethought about its target. As you can see Virgil is as strong and fast as he is smart making, him the perfect replacement for any foot soldier."

     "Somehow I don't feel impressed," Sloth said thoughtfully. "Robot Lupes are more than capable of doing all of the above and by far they aren't that rare."

     "Ah, but other robot Lupes have to be transmogrified from normal Lupes with the Secret Laboratory Ray, a costly process that is a waste of time and Neopoints. Virgil on the other hand can be mass-produced because he is a hundred percent Grundo-made and only requires the proper programming to activate it."

     "Hmm, that's very good," Sloth said, genuinely interested. "Could Virgil be equipped with other deadly implements other than his claws?"

     "Yes. Indeed I can interface him with any technological weapon, including the Ultra Mega Bot 2000, as long as it meets the specifications of the present chassis and framework. But Virgil is only in the testing phase at the moment and he won't be functional for a while." Dr. Sloth turned, his black cloak swirling behind him, and moved to the exit.

     "Make sure it's ready in a week or else," Sloth said over his shoulder to the Grundo. "And prepare a report on Virgil's development, hand delivered to my desk at 0800 hours NST." And with that Dr. Frank Sloth exited the lab.

     The blue Grundo huffed and stomped off to the control panel and taped a few keys on the keyboard. A concealed side door opened and the Grundo walked through it into a dimly lit chamber.

     Before him was a robot Lupe lying on a small metal table. Its glowing green eyes moved unerringly to regard the approaching Grundo.

     Analysing target … image recognized … target recognized.

     "Greetings, master Colvernus," Virgil said in a crisp emotionless voice. The Grundo lazily waved his left hand.

     "Please Virgil, just Cole would be fine," Colvernus muttered. Virgil's steel head tipped to one side almost comically.

     "Affirmative master … Cole. What do you wish of me?"

     "Oh nothing, just some maintenance on some of your servos. Won't take a minute. What do you think of your new power source, Virge?" Colvernus asked. Virgil's eyes blinked.

     "Is Cole referring to subject Virgil or 'Virge'?"

     "You, of course, silly. Now answer the question," Colvernus replied loudly as he stooped to unscrew something from Virgil.

     "The new faerie dust power source is operating at 60% power output and 100% of system's power requirements have been met. Estimated time of next power source replacement is 10.16 months." Virgil stated nonchalantly.

     "No, no, no," Colvernus interjected as he fumbled with a screwdriver. "I mean how do you feel about your new power source?" The Grundo could hear the whirring and clicking inside Virgil's electronic mind.

     "I am not familiar with the request 'feel'," said the Lupe in a confused tone. "Subject Virgil is ready to receive input on the term, master Cole."

     The Grundo sighed and muttered, "Never mind, Virge," in a resigned tone before screwing shut the panel on Virgil's side and patting him on the head. The green spots that were Virgil's visual sensory devices (eyes) focused and brightened slightly.

     "I wish to know of the term you are referring to," Virgil said. Colvernus only shook his head, like the Lupe was an errant child, and waved him away.

     "It's nothing you'd understand Virgil," Colvernus muttered as he turned to leave the room. "I didn't program you to with feelings anyway. Get some rest Virgil, I'll be back in an hour." With that the Grundo left the room, the door hissing shut behind him. Virgil obediently followed Colevernus' orders and retreated into a corner, his eyes dimming and his processor preparing a request for his system to go into standby. Then something at the back of his memory stirred and made him cancel the request.

     Unknown character: "Feeling". Systems request: Identify character. Method: Access Virtupets Network. Processing commands …

     The robot Lupe's eyes flashed slightly as he got to his paws. Nonchalantly, Virgil moved over to an unused terminal at a dark corner of his room. Placing his metallic paw into a shallow depression on the terminal, Virgil interfaced with the unused computer terminal and coaxed it to activate. With a satisfying beep, the terminal's screen flashed to life, swathing the robot Lupe in its fluorescent green glow. As soon as the terminal was logged onto the Virtupets Network, Virgil began initiating requests.

     "Search for the term 'feeling'. Include related topics and subtopics," Virgil said aloud to the terminal as bright green words flowed past the monitor. Loads of raw data and information started bombarding Virgil's system but his incredible memory banks and processor handled the task quite easily.

      Feeling(s): Emotion, sensation, opinion, affection …

… Related topics: Emotion. It is the thing that makes us …

… I, Doctor Colvernus, feel that …

     Something within Virgil's electronic mind suddenly focused on the last search result.

     Systems request: Withdraw current search. Systems request: Search last entry.

     The terminal complied with Virgil's demands and proceeded to scan the contents of the said document. It seemed that the document was currently in use and its contents were constantly being updated as Virgil read it. The Lupe closed his robot eyes shut and allowed himself to move with the flow of information, tracing the source of the document. Inside his virtual mind, a mental image of a Grundo, whom he recognized as his master, Colvernus, working on a computer terminal formed.

     Colvernus' fingers moved rapidly across the keyboard, halting once or twice so that he could refer to some notes, hurriedly compiling his report about Virgil.

      … Project VIRGIL is nearing completion. The Project VIRGIL's hardware is more or less complete with the exception of several key components that require replacement, for example the outdated logic circuits and governor-exception chips. Doctor Frank Sloth would undoubtedly be able to provide such parts.

     As for the subject's programming, Project VIRGIL still maintains but a marginal part of true sentience. Project VIRGIL is undoubtedly capable of simple and straightforward tasks, with quite an amount of logic and precognition set towards carrying out such a task, but Project VIRGIL's inefficiency to comprehend emotions and feelings and lack of self may prove to be the worst flaw in Project VIRGIL's logic. Doctor Frank Sloth seems to be impressed by Project VIRGIL's level of sentience nevertheless, but for the sake of science I have independently developed the module responsible for feelings and deeper emotions. I hope that one day I may be able to implement the said module to fully recognize Project VIRGIL's true potential.

     Until the time comes, Project VIRGIL will be but a mindless machine, totally subservient to his master or mistress, without that something that will make it complete …

     The last of the words floated past and Virgil's presence retreated yet again to the terminal within his dark chamber. The robot Lupe's electronic brain clicked and whirred; processing the data he had just received.

     Analysis complete. Conclusion: Subject Virgil is operationally incomplete. Thus Subject Virgil must try to achieve completion for Master Colvernus, as per Objective 29. Objective: Achieve completion for Subject Virgil. Method: Analyzing … … … Analysis complete. Method: Retrieve and interface with missing sub module.

     Virgil's eyes turned within his head for a moment as he processed some instructions. Then, methodically, he removed his metal paw from the terminal, which powered down silently, and proceeded to the centre of his chamber. His eyes changed abruptly from its usual dull green into a blazing scarlet shade, courtesy of their built in infrared capabilities, which proceeded to sweep from left to right and from top to bottom, surveying the room as if it was new to him. Then his mechanical pupils swirled and focused on the grate blocking the ventilation shaft.

     His eyes made some minute adjustments and suddenly two jets of brilliant red light shot from Virgil's eyes and straight at the metal grate. The metal glowed a cherry red and slowly the molten steel slopped down to the floor like some glutinous soup. When a sizeable hole had been burned through the titanium, Virgil turned off the rays and set himself down into a crouch. The gears and springs tensed and wound themselves up and, with an audible click, Virgil gave a great leap up to the ceiling and disappeared through the small shaft.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     "Hmm, what's this?" muttered Colvernus as a small red light on his terminal flashed to his right. "Break-in at the lab? Wait a minute, Project VIRGIL! Someone's stealing him! Gotta get to the lab!" Without even bothering to put on his lab coat, the Grundo rushed out of the door to his office and headed down the corridor to Virgil's chamber.

     As the door swung shut slowly behind him, the shaft of light from outside fading away, two green points of light shined in the gloom. There was a great clatter as the grate for the ventilation shaft fell to the floor, followed soon after by the clanging of Virgil's heavy metal feet.

     The robot Lupe looked around the darkened office, his eyes roving over the messy desks, cluttered junk and dusty shelves until they finally came to rest on a recently used terminal. Virgil went up to the terminal and, again, placed his paw on its still warm surface. The terminal, like the one before, flashed to life.

     "Search for any terms related to subject Virgil or Project VIRGIL," said Virgil in the same distant voice.

     The newer terminal responded incredibly quick, churning out several results in a short period of time. Virgil diligently scanned through the data streaming across the screen, his processor working fast to process them all. Then his electronic eye registered something which was confirmed a nanosecond later by his processor.

     "Stop search process," Virgil stated. "Bring forward entry #42314." A series of windows on the monitor faded away to leave only one window with the heading …

     'Sub module: Sensation Awareness Governor: Project VIRGIL'

     A small report preceded the main program structure but Virgil ignored it and proceeded to scan through the rest of the coding. Carefully partitioning space in his database, Virgil started downloading the sub module that would fulfil his master's objectives and make him complete.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     "By Nick Neopia, he's gone!"

     Colvernus stared around the empty chamber in disbelief, his eyes falling upon the mound of melted metal at his feet. Cautiously, he unsnapped a flashlight from his belt, flicked it on and shone it on the shaft above. He noticed the sizeable hole that had been burned through and he cursed. Then his eyes narrowed as the beam of the flashlight fell upon a burn mark on the roof of the shaft. Colvernus was perplexed. Why was there a mark there, unless …

     It wasn't someone going into the chamber. It was something going out of it.

     "Project VIRGIL!"

     ~*~*~*~*~

     Sub module download complete. Installation complete. Objective 29 complete. Applying changes to system mainframe.

     The light in Virgil's eyes dimmed briefly before returning to its original intensity. Virgil stared down at himself quizzically, as if expecting something to happen.

     "I don't feel any different," Virgil said in a puzzled tone. "I think the sub module may be defective." He was just about to turn back to the terminal when he heard the sounds of heavy footfalls. The robot Lupe immediately contemplated jumping back into the shaft but his system didn't seem to think the same way.

     Master Colvernus may have already discovered I am gone so even if I return to my cell he will still know that I am missing, leading to him to question me. It is then logical that I should tell him the truth.

     Thus Virgil stood his ground, something his original programming would not have done, as Colvernus drew nearer to the door. A myriad of data was streaming through Virgil's system and his new system recognized them as anticipation and curiosity. The robot Lupe barely had time to consider these new data when Colvernus came barging noisily into the room, giving a slight yelp when he saw Virgil standing calmly in the centre of his office.

     "Greetings Master Colvernus," Virgil started with a bow. "I was waiting for you, master." Colvernus looked around, stunned, his eyes moving from Virgil to his computer hidden partially behind the Lupe's back.

     "I? You did it, didn't you?" he asked, eyeing the Lupe with wide eyes. "You interfaced with my sub module, didn't you?" Virgil nodded affirmatively, a feeling his system recognized as trepidation flowing through his circuits.

     "How do you feel about your new power source, Virgil?" Colvernus asked carefully. Virgil's processor whirred for a while before answering.

     "I actually like it. It is very efficient and cooling to my system. But why …"

     Then Virgil saw Colvernus crack a wide grin.

     "IT WORKS!" Colvernus whooped in elation, swinging his small fists into the air. "Virge, you're finally finished. I'm a genius!" Virgil only stared on, his metal mouth dropping slightly and the emotion surprise flowing in his circuits. Then Colvernus turned to Virgil. "I'm proud of you Virgil, I really am."

     "Is not Master Colvernus irate at me for illegally accessing master's terminal?" Virgil inquired. Colvernus waved his hand.

     "Nah, that's okay. Sloth does that all the time. You can return to your chamber now, Virgil, and wait for me there," the Grundo said happily. Shrugging, an action he was not capable of before, Virgil walked out of the Grundo's office, confusion running laps in his processor.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     Later in his chamber, Virgil paced the room, confusion yet again moving about his circuitry.

     I wonder what Master Colvernus is doing right now? Virgil thought (something his new system had just taught him to do) as he walked back and forth across his room. Maybe I should check on the master's status just to be sure of his location.

     The robot Lupe walked to his terminal and placed his paw in its designated spot. With a thought, Virgil was trawling through the Virtupets network, searching the surveillance systems for Colvernus. Then his image recognition program spotted a familiar blue Grundo in a room deep within the space station. Virgil tapped into the video feed and in a second his surroundings faded away as the image of the room appeared in his virtual mind.

     Colvernus was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet and waiting impatiently for someone in a green cloak, which Virgil recognized as Doctor Frank Sloth, to finish reading a document. Sloth put the report down and looked down his nose at the Grundo before him.

     "Didn't I tell you I wanted this report on my desk in the morning?" Sloth muttered.

     "But Doctor Sloth," said Colvernus excitedly. "Something has just come up with Project VIRGIL that I wanted you to know …"

     "I can read, Colvernus," Sloth cut him off with a wave of his hand. "And, sincerely, I am not impressed."

     "But sir -"

     "Don't interrupt me, Colvernus," Sloth snapped and threw the report down on the table. "As I was saying, I am not impressed with Project VIRGIL's progress. Didn't you tell me you only needed to modify some of the Lupe's hardware?"

     "Well, yes, but -"

     "And I remember requesting a soldier that could be mass-produced, not one that can think for itself."

     "But Project VIRGIL has a sense of self and has an emotional range greater than any machination -"

     "I do not need something that thinks!" Sloth snarled. "Machines do not think, only obey commands. No machine should be able to think for itself without any master control and any machine with even half a brain is a threat in my books."

     "But Project VIRGIL will never -"

     "Betray us? Do you really believe that? Do you?" Sloth demanded. Colvernus sighed and shook his head. Sloth smirked. "I'm glad that you understand. Now, remove the Lupe's sentience and kit him up. I want that thing ready by tomorrow."

     "I … yes, sir," said Colvernus as he turned to leave. Sloth held up a green hand.

     "Oh, and Colvernus, if you can't remove his sentience then I want Project VIRGIL destroyed. Is that clear?"

     "Crystal, sir." And with that, the Grundo exited the room.

     Virgil's presence retreated again to his chamber. The robot Lupe now registered concern and panic. Virgil took his paw off the terminal and moved to a dark corner of his room.

     Master Colvernus has been ordered to remove my sub module. Why would he? Master Colvernus seemed happy with the changes that I have implemented and Master Colvernus has even commended me on my interface with the program. Master Colvernus would never listen to such advice. I am convinced of that.

     "Or am I?" Virgil said aloud. Then his thoughts were interrupted by a loud creaking noise. His senses became alert and his sensory devices whirred to life.

     "Virge, are you there?" The emotion relief washed over Virgil as he moved from the shadows and into the light. Colvernus stood in the centre of the room with his usual tool kit, though Virgil's sharp eyes registered an unusually strong grip on the handle. "Ah, there you are," said Colvernus when he spotted the Lupe. "Err, can you come here for a moment?"

     "Why, Master Colvernus?"

     "Now don't you worry about a thing, Virge," Colvernus said in a soothing tone. "I just want -"

     "To remove 'Sub Module: Sensation Awareness Governor'?" Colvernus was taken aback.

     "How did you know?" Colvernus started, but his eyes moved over to a terminal in the corner and realization dawned on him. "So you've heard everything, eh Virge?"

     "Yes, I have."

     "Then you do know that I'm only trying to help you, Virge," Colvernus stated. "This is for your own good you kno -"

     "I do not wish to remain in the service of Doctor Frank Sloth, Master Colvernus," Virgil said monotonously, his green eyes glowing softly. "And neither does Master Colvernus."

     "Tis' true, Virge, but -"

     "Then Master Colvernus should leave the employ of Doctor Frank Sloth," Virgil reasoned, but the Grundo had had enough.

     "Now listen here, Virge," Colvernus growled, a mad glint in his eyes. "I'll take being interrupted in mid-speech by that thing, but I'll not take it from you. I created you, Virge, and you'll obey me!"

     "Master Colvernus -"

     "If you won't obey me then you're a failure!" Colvernus snarled, taking out a sharp implement that crackled with electricity. "And I destroy all my failures!" With a loud yell, Colvernus dived at Virgil.

     Suddenly, something deep within Virgil's system clicked and, a nanosecond before Virgil could stop it, a strong signal was already travelling through Virgil's circuits faster than the speed of light. Vigil was too late to stop the automatic self-defence mechanism imbedded inside him and thus Virgil could only gape in horror as a bright red beam of light fired from his eyes, striking Colvernus squarely in his chest.

     The small blue Grundo shot backwards ten feet before slamming hard into the opposite steel wall and slumping silently to the ground. Virgil charged over to Colvernus and stared down at the prone, unmoving figure of his creator, a most horrible feeling coursing through his circuits.

     The emotion anguish.

     "What have I done? Master Colvernus, get up," Virgil said quickly, prodding the Grundo with a cold paw. Colvernus didn't stir, his body as cold as deep space. Virgil backed up in horror, shaking his head. Then he heard quick footsteps and several loud voices. Moments later, a dozen heavily armed mutant Grundos barged into the room.

     "Get ready to subdue the robot Lupe!" One shouted. For a split second, Virgil looked back at Colvernus' body before his instinctive programming kicked in. Without thinking, Virgil leapt and disappeared into the ventilation shaft, plasma fire plastering the ceiling as his footsteps faded away.

     "Leave it!" A cloaked figure ordered and the blasts ceased. Sloth turned to a nearby Grundo. "Where do these shafts lead?"

     "Shuttle Bay 51, destination Kreludor, sir," the Grundo responded. "We'll never get there in time."

     Sloth cursed and turned to Colvernus.

     "Blast, Colvernus never documented that Lupe's schematics! Now no one can replicate that Lupe! Curses!" Sloth growled. "No matter, I have other projects on hand. I'll be going to Kreludor anyway. You got away this time but next time you won't be so lucky. Clean up this mess!" Sloth barked to the Grundos and swept out of the room.

     ~*~*~*~*~

     Virgil looked from his crashed shuttle to the barren landscape before him. He could never go back, there was nothing waiting for him back there. Not even Master Colvernus. Virgil took a step forward and started pacing across the rocks. And so the robot Lupe walks ever on, never stopping, never wavering, until some point in the future when his power source runs out. Then maybe he'll unite with his creator yet again … to say sorry.

The End.

 
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