Dean, Part 1
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There are many ways in which humanity can perish. Climate change, nuclear wars, killer viruses, self-propagating memes, the disappearance of Earth, the possibilities are endless. In numerous timelines, humanity was ended by nanomachines.
In some, however, she left something behind to pick up the pieces.
Humanoid robots, androids, tasked with destroying the nanomachines and bringing back the humans. They were good at researching, managing and creating things, but their task seemed impossible. The nanomachines resisted everything that was thrown at them.
Until some came up with the idea that perhaps the ultimate directive could be interpreted differently.
The Initiative for the Restoration of Humanity was formed. Among them, the Society of Humachines, out to perfectly mimic humans in order to replace them.
But that, too, was not going to succeed.
Until Washington came on the scene. He believed that classical androids could not possibly replace humans because they had not gone through their development process.
So, together with his followers in the icy north of Canada, he created a new form of android. With a new intelligence.
The principle was quite old, previously discarded as inefficient and tedious, once an AI had been obtained with it. After all, you could copy it as many times as you wanted.
In principle, the trick was to create an android that knew nothing. Could do nothing. One that had to learn all these things. Which developed.
From this arose the first problem.
Every creature was not born completely blank. There were certain skills that newborns had to bring with them if they wanted to survive.
But what exactly were these things? And what exactly should an android experience after its "birth" in order to learn?
Numerous series of experiments were run on this. One with worse results than the other.
Washington, a research android with the appearance of a Spaniard with rubber instead of skin, ruffled his artificial hair. He wore scrubs, a blue shirt and very battered jeans and sneakers.
In front of him, in a small white room with nothing but a closet-like computer, was a bare multifunction unit with worn, white exterior trim. You could roughly imagine a human being that had been covered in white plastic, then you knew roughly what this thing looked like. The newest test subject. It had just completed initiation training connected to the computer behind it and learned to walk. Too fast… But he took it upon himself to follow through. New data would emerge, perhaps.
"Dean," he said, pointing his finger at the android.
He had just pulled the name from his ass. The first experiment had been called Genesis, before it had started displaying fascist tendencies, and after a while he had gotten tired of giving highfalutin names.
With clumsy movements Dean mimicked the gesture and pointed at himself.
"Deeeaaan?"
"Yeah, you're Dean," Washington said, annoyed.
The android's facial expression turned sad and he took a step backward, hunched over.
Washington forced himself to calm down.
"Come with me, Dean."
He held out his hand.
Dean hesitantly stepped toward him and grasped his hand. That this always had to take so long….
The physical contact seemed to cheer the stupid machine up a bit. It willingly followed Washington out of the initiation room.
The rest of the facility was even less inviting by human standards than the monochrome room. It was an old factory building near a village that had been left to decay by the Foundation. The plaster had already crumbled away in many places.
Dean looked around curiously. Some TCUs, very robotic-looking combat androids used for guarding, eyed him disparagingly.
Their destination was another building. A female-looking android was waiting for them in a room that had once been an office. She already looked more like a human, like a woman of European descent. Her skin was already cracked in some places, though. But the fake brown hair was exemplary and tied into a ponytail. The room also had a television, a computer and numerous worn toys.
"Elsa, this is number 129, the name this time is Dean. Standard program."
Elsa nodded. Washington turned abruptly and left the two alone.

Dean looked after him in confusion and pointed questioningly at the door that Washington had closed behind him.
"Oh, he'll be back, later," Elsa tried to reassure him.
The problem was that Dean didn't understand her. He had no idea of language and understood only rudimentary gestures. He went to open the door and was astonished and shocked to find that it was locked.
He would have been close to tears had he possessed the ability to cry.
Elsa took him in her arms.
"It's all right, Dean. I'm here."
Dean seemed to calm down again.
A fully human AI. Androids had emotions and the ability to learn. But they learned differently than humans. They didn't forget easily, they learned with purpose, and they didn't know laziness or boredom. Dean was different. He, like all his predecessors, were programmed with additional routines. His older siblings, however, had fallen victim to their software bugs. Some had become lethargic, others had begun to give free rein to their impulses. Two had committed suicide.
Elsa knew by now how to deal with these androids. She had read up on human babies and children, and this approach seemed to yield good results.
She picked up a yellow rubber chicken from a shelf and made it squeak.
This piqued Dean's interest. He reached for the chicken Elsa handed him and squeezed.
First important lesson. The relationship between cause and effect.
The test subject seemed to find it fun and shook the toy.
"This is a chicken, Dean," Elsa explained to him with a smile.
"Chicken?" asked Dean, looking alternately at the rubber animal and the care android.
Then the realization seemed to snap into place.
"Chicken! Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!" he cheered, continuing to shake the chicken.

Teaching a baby android anything required a lot of patience. While it eliminated some of the tedious actions required of human children, such as changing diapers or feeding them, you try , for example, making it clear to a creature with no natural sense of pain, that tearing oneself apart out of curiosity was a stupid idea. Dean had yet to learn what the warning signals meant that arose in him if he, for example, banged his knee or overloaded his servo motors. That usually required quite a few spares, but Dean could tell when someone was mad. And he tried to avoid that condition with other people as much as possible.
The AI was developing faster than a child's mind, so after only two days of gentle coaxing by Elsa, Dean began to mimic her speech and movements with concentration. He began to babble.
To train his mind, they had found some old DVDs of children's shows like Sesame Street, which Dean watched with Elsa. Well, Dean did. Elsa sat next to him and watched Dean's reactions for record. She knew the movies by heart, after all.
"Mom?" asked Dean during an episode of The Meighborhood of Mr. Rogers. "Why don't people look like Dean?"
He had begun to think of Elsa as his mother, thanks to some children's shows. Elsa had been prepared for that.
"They're people, Dean. They built us. We were made in their image, but we're not like them. That's why they couldn't make us look like them."
"Humans?" wondered Dean. "But you look like a human."
"I'm far from it, Dean," Elsa said with a smile. "Or do you think I look like Mr. Rogers?"
"You're a woman after all, Mama," Dean retorted with a laugh.
"Off the mark again, Dean," Elsa declared. "I'm an android, just like you. We don't have genders."
It was important that Dean understood the difference between himself and real people. The earliest models had been fooled into thinking they were actually human. Identity crises had been the result.
"But then why was Dean built? And where are the humans?" asked Dean.
"They don't exist anymore, Dean," Elsa countered. "They've disappeared. But they created us so that we could replace them. And for that, we created you."
Dean made a sound of childlike wonder.
"Does that mean I can become human?"
"That's right, Dean. That's what you were created for."

The room had no windows to prevent unwanted influences. Dean spent the first month of his existence only here. He learned different languages and what one had to be able to do in order to function as an android for as long as possible. Elsa was extremely patient with him.
Dean learned most things by playing. His favorite toy here was a small xylophone.
Maybe, Elsa hoped, it would awaken his creativity.
But things should happen differently.
One day the door opened abruptly.
Washington was standing inside.
Obviously, he wanted to pick up Dean.
But he wasn't ready yet.
"Uh, Washington, I don't think that," Elsa began, but her supervisor cut her off with a gesture.
"He shouldn't just be in here getting experience. If he doesn't see anything of the world, he's nothing more than a machine."
Dean made it clear with an expression on his face that he didn't understand any of it.
"Understanding will come later," Washington promised with a roll of his eyes. "Elsa, Dean, I have something to show you.

"A patrol picked this one up as it approached our perimeter," Washington explained as they walked through the ruins. Dean looked all around curiously. Under a hole in the roof, he stopped briefly to look at the clouds drifting across them in the blue sky.
He had never seen clouds in real life. The sky was a completely new experience for him. Unfortunately, it didn't last long as Washington dragged him on.
"What kind of specimen, sir?" asked Elsa, confused.
"A real human," was the almost awestruck reply from the research android.
"Whoa, really?" asked Dean in childlike amazement. "Can I take a look at him?"
"Much better," Washington replied. "We'll let you talk to him."
"Whoa!"
Now Dean was all excited. A real person. Elsa had told him there were none left, so he'd given up hope of meeting one. He would try really hard to look at the human so he could become one, too.
But what was waiting for him in a large hall, tied to a chair, threw him into confusion. He knew humans as radiant, friendly beings.
This woman, as Dean recognized by the long blond hair and the bumps on her chest, looked more like what was left of a human being after he had been put into a chimney for ten weeks. At least, that's what Dean believed. He had no idea what chimneys did, specifically.
The hair was matted and almost dirtier than the human's skin and clothes. She was wearing what must have once been a sturdy, black plastic combat outfit, before it had become acquainted with a lawnmower.

The blue eyes of the human were dead. If there had once been a spark of life in them, it was extinguished.
The woman looked skeptically at Dean.
"What are you doing?" she asked in a low, cold voice. "Are you going to put me in there, now that you've peppered me with questions?"
"No, human," Washington denied. "You're way too valuable for us to try to take you apart. We want you to show Dean here what it means to be human."
The woman tilted her head.
"You were trying to program a toddler, weren't you?"
"Uh, yeah."
She sighed.
"What the hell, you guys won't let me leave here anyway…. Hey, tin can, grab a chair and sit with auntie…"
Dean didn't quite know what to do, but Elsa led him forward and sat him in a chair across from the woman.
"Now would you kindly remove my restraints, I need my hands free."
She had been bound with two cable ties, which Washington cut after some deliberation. Then he and Elsa walked at a distance.
Young Dean had no idea how to act. Wait a minute. Elsa had taught him that the first thing you did was introduce yourself to new people.
"My name is Dean, and what's yours?"
The woman looked at him skeptically for a moment before sighing again.
"I'm Elli."

Next time on Nexus:
Dean, Part 2

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