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Fic: Changing Parameters (1a/3)

Fic Title: Changing Parameters
Pairing: Mark/Eduardo
Genre: Light science-fiction
Word Count: ~36,000 words
Rating: NC-17, for sex and a little violence
Summary: In the year 2671, Mark is rich, famous and estranged from Eduardo. But none of that matters anymore, because his origin as a man-made android is about to be leaked out to the public.

Glossary: There are a few unfamiliar/created-by-me terms used in this story, that are explained within the story itself. However, should you need a quick reference to remember the definition of some things, here’s a link to a short glossary. I suggest you only use the glossary if you need it, instead of reading it before the fic. :)

Note: I would like to thank the lovely elefante_locura for being my patient beta and a constant source of wonderful encouragement and funny comments! ♥ All mistakes are my own, and should you notice anything that isn't right, please do leave a comment or contact me. I also have a great deal of awe for hitlikehammers and gardinha who created an awesome fanvid and fanmix respectively. I recommend you watch the fanvid after reading the fic to catch the cool references made in the video, and listen to the fanmix as you read the story!

Despite watching my character counts, each allocated part is just that little bit too big to fit neatly into individual entries. So it has all been split up a little messily. Hope you enjoy anyway! :)


Mark doesn’t bother knocking. After all, it doesn’t matter if no one is home to let him in.

By the time Eduardo walks into his living room, Mark has been sitting on his couch for the past hour. It takes 2.3 seconds to note Eduardo’s tired expression, his clean cut expensive suit hiding the slump of his shoulders.

“What the fuck?” Eduardo finally notices his presence.

“I need to talk to you about something, Wardo,” says Mark, standing up slowly from the couch.

Eduardo stares. “How did you even get in here?”

Instead of replying, Mark merely shrugs. It’s a stupid question. Even though Eduardo doesn’t know his history yet, it should be obvious that not many home security systems in the world can stop Mark.

“Fine, fine, what do you want?” Eduardo asks, cold and clipped.

Mark runs a quick voice comparison. The intonation is harsher now than it ever used to be. During the depositions, his voice only dipped low, eyes ducked down; indications of sadness and being hurt. This time, Mark detects an increase in breathing and dilation of eyes. He doesn’t know how to interpret this data. He files it away to examine later, along with the exabytes of information he never understood about Eduardo.

Mark replies, “I need you to come with me.”

Eduardo frowns. “We haven’t talked in three years, and you want me to just go with you…where?”

“Back to California. It’s not safe for you to stay here,” says Mark, framing the sentence in the simplest manner possible to reduce misunderstanding.

Eduardo falters, looking confused. “This is a really shitty joke, Mark.”

Mark can’t stop the quirk of his lips. “I’m insulted if you think that’s my idea of a joke.”

He can detect Eduardo’s frustration, see it in the agitated way his hand runs through the thick brown hair.

“Fuck, I really have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s going on?” asks Eduardo, his tired stance creeping into his posture again.

“Wardo, are you sleeping enough?” asks Mark, the words tumbling out seemingly without his explicit command.

Eduardo frowns at him. “You’re not here to talk about my sleeping habits.”

Mark shakes his head. “You’re right, I’m not. I need you to come with me because I believe there’s a threat to both our lives.”

“Oh fuck, what have you done now-”

“It isn’t anything I’ve done, it’s because I exist.”

Eduardo looks more worried now and asks, “Maybe I should be asking if you’ve been sleeping. Are you feeling alright?”

Mark tries again, “That’s irrelevant, but the details behind my existence would help your understanding of our situation.”

“It’s like we’re talking in a different language. I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”

“As an android created in an unauthorized project, the US government might try to destroy me now that my existence is on the verge of public knowledge, and I suspect Peter Thiel is going to try to take Eyebook away from me on the same grounds,” explains Mark, trying to be succinct but comprehensive.

For a good 25.68 seconds, Eduardo gapes at him before regaining his voice. “What the hell? Mark, it’s just a joke when people call you a robot. How long have you been awake?”

“It’s an ironic joke because people think they’re joking, when it’s the truth,” Mark remarks with some amusement.

“What?” Eduardo asks, his voice faint.

“I’m a robot.” It’s the first time Mark has ever said it in years. “I’m not human, and I’ve never been human.”

Eduardo’s pupils are blown wide and his hands are trembling. Mark finds himself unable to discern if Eduardo’s shakiness is from the realization that Mark is a robot, or the belief that Mark is having a mental breakdown. Mark needs to rectify this situation to ensure there’s no uncertainty, because the situation cannot afford any more delays.

“There’s no easy way to prove my statement without self-injury, and I don’t enjoy pain so I’d prefer to avoid that,” explains Mark. “However, I can demonstrate by connecting to your TV.”

“This- This is- My TV isn’t online,” Eduardo says, looking uncertain.

Mark turns his head to look at the wall-TV, the device simulating a large window that shows the glittering scenery of the city outside. The simulation ripples and changes into the evening news, displaying a woman talking about the change in leadership in Indonesia.

“The TV, when did you-”

“I hacked in while we were talking,” Mark tells him.

68% of his concentration is on Eduardo, all his receptors and peripherals at maximum sensitivity like they always are when he’s around Eduardo. His processor churns through the flood of data and tries to pick up more, always trying to see every flicker of eyelash, downturn of lips, record every speed of breathing. He only uses 3% of his processing to switch off the channel and feed his visual input to the TV.

Eduardo stares as the wall-TV starts displaying a crystal clear image of his living room instead, as seen from Mark’s perspective. The display shifts as Mark turns to looks around, finally focusing back on Eduardo. It starts a loop of Eduardo gaping at an image of Eduardo on TV gaping at an image of Eduardo on TV.

Slowly, Eduardo sinks into the couch Mark has just vacated.

# # # # # # # # # #

Part 1

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mark recalls his childhood home in chronological order with the older events consisting of random short snippets. He remembers toddling around in a big house, memories sharpening into crystal clear clarity around events like the time he ran around as Abraham Lincoln during Halloween, and the first time he connected to a computer. The house seems smaller in later memories, but still tinged with connotations of warmth and closeness.

He regarded the other five children in the Care Centre as his cousins, and they fought as much as they played together. He doesn’t think about them often now but sometimes, he sees someone’s pet dog, and he remembers how Simon smuggled a dog into the Centre and kept it in his room for a month; he looks at his physical Homer collection, and thinks that Kathleen would be so envious if she saw them, being the only other person who shared his interests in the classics. There are months where he doesn’t think about them at all, then, suddenly he finds his lips curving up at the memory of William, head so high up in the clouds that he stepped on Simon’s skateboard and went flying down the stairs in true slapstick comedy.

Even back then, Mark knew he was different from the others. He preferred being holed up in his room and learning the patterns he could make out of code, had found that easier to understand than people. The carers at the Centre were kind and affectionate, and they did their best to explain how society worked. Phoebe, his assigned mentor, was always so proud of him, boasted to the barely interested neighbors about Mark’s various achievements.

Mark was the first among his cousins to realize that none of the carers could connect to the cyber world like they could. The carers weren’t able to run programs through their minds like he can, or see and speak in 1s and 0s. Other people outside the centre couldn’t to do it either, and so he was always cautioned to keep such talents to himself.

There wasn’t anyone Mark wanted to tell anyway. Sometimes, the others would mess up, and the carers had to do something to smooth over the panicked response of those outside the Centre. It had always blown over the next day, and his cousins would get house-bound for a week as punishment. Mark never had that problem. Maybe it’s because he had never really been good at making friends. People outside often felt strange to him, like they were shallow or distracted, living life based on some rule he couldn’t understand.

One day, Phoebe sat him down to tell him that he would be leaving the Centre. He had only been 18, but they had considered that to be the most suitable timing. They avoided answering most of his questions, citing that they would explain the next day.

At the time, he shrugged off the strangeness as melodramatics. He went to bed like it was any other day.

But the next day wasn’t like any other day.

He woke up in a room he didn’t recognize. The feelings he experienced that day were too complicated, too difficult for him to sort through and understand even now. He felt cold, like his limbs were stiff and heavy. For the first hour, he just lay there, blinking up at the white ceiling, feeling a strange combination of exhaustion and peaked senses. He knew immediately that he wasn’t in the Centre anymore.

For the first time in his life, he felt chest-hurting panic, his thoughts a mess of rubbish, looping code.

The door opened, and a woman walked into the room in a hurry.

“Mark, you’re awake!” she exclaimed in seeming delight.

He noted her dark hair, and dark eyes, the muted red of her lipstick. She was wearing a white lab coat, and her breathing was fast, a sign of excitement.

“Who are you?” he asked.

The words had lit a smile on her face so bright it was like he had given her the best present on Earth.

On Ejection Day, Mark’s existence was explained to him by his creators.

He will always think about the day in capital letters, illogical as it may be.

His life before Ejection Day had unfolded in a Virtual Reality simulation running on powerful Supercomputer clusters. The processing speed of the VR simulation had been on average five times faster than real time outside the simulation. His 18 years of experience in the simulation had taken 3.6 years in real time to complete.

Through presentations, they showed him the scope of the project. His mind had started as the most simplistic Artificial Humanistic Intelligence (ARTHI), with the basic ability to learn and expand its own base code. Unlike other ARTHI androids that start with very detailed intelligent design and purpose, the Centre’s ARTHIs had started as enclosed seed programs with broad objectives; Survive, Grow and Learn.

He had exceeded all expectations, they informed him eagerly, proudly even. When he looked at Felicity’s dark brown eyes, he realized that her familiarity was no coincidence. Phoebe was a computer generated parental figure modeled closely after her. In fact, Felicity probably interacted with him before through Phoebe.

His body, a very close imitation of the human body despite being made out of silicon and electronics, had been ready for a year before his Ejection Day. His Core, the self-renewing power source located where the human heart should be, had been turned on for just as long.

Ejection Day wasn’t a random date they had chosen. They had unplugged his processor from the Supercomputer clusters on this day for a reason.

As part of their explanation, they handed him a MultiPud. He hadn’t used Multi Purpose Devices much before – why would he, when he could run most calculations in his own head, connect himself to any network – but he had known vaguely that it primarily functioned as a communication tool, hand-size computer and payment pass.

Fumbling with the device, Mark turned it on to find that the day’s news had been called up on the screen.

The headlines were in large, bold font: ARTHIS GRANTED HUMAN RIGHTS.

On Ejection Day, Mark learned that he was an android.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

# # # # # # # # # #

Eduardo and Mark take Mark’s private plane back to the US. Mark has exhaustively checked the background of the pilot, co-pilot and two air-hostesses flying with them. He can’t take the risk that they’re from the military, because he knows how vulnerable they are up in the air.

Eduardo has been moving in a sort of shell-shocked haze, only pushing his thoughts far away enough to sink into a professional and efficient businessman mode while he tidies up all his affairs in less than a day. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be away so he delegates most of his work and turns down new offers.

One of the air-hostesses asks if he wants the bird’s eye view. Mark likes the option of seeing through the floor of the plane to take in the view of the skies right beneath their feet as they fly, but he opts to keep the plane opaque. Eduardo probably doesn’t realize how his spine unbends a little when he hears Mark decline the offer. It might be Mark’s preference to have the sky surrounding him when he’s flying, but he knows Eduardo is afraid of heights. He doesn’t want Eduardo to be scared stiff for the entire flight.

Once they’re up in the air, Mark turns on his MultiPud to read about the history of Ancient China. While he’s able to take in the literature, he finds that he can’t wrestle 70% of his attention from Eduardo. He has high multitasking functionalities so he soldiers on with the text.

He knows Eduardo is nursing a drink, staring out of the window while ignoring his own MultiPud held loosely in his other hand. He knows Eduardo is calm, breathing normal, comfortable even though he’s wearing a ridiculous suit jacket for their flight.

It doesn’t feel that much different from Eduardo who knows the truth, to Eduardo who doesn’t. The delineation is clearer between Eduardo before the dilution and Eduardo after the dilution.

Mark still has contrary code coming up at the knowledge of Eduardo knowing the truth. It’s been so ingrained in him to hide. On his Ejection Day – the third of July, 2665 – Felicity had shown him the article about ARTHIs’ civil rights, and another about an android being destroyed by a mob on the same day. The second had been a jolt to the system as he had realized that his very existence is despised by some. A nanny android named Harriet Cage, having been bought by the Cage family years ago, had been at the mall with the family’s teenage son. As one of the earlier prototypes, she must have been easily identifiable as an android. In one violent reaction to the ARTHI Rights bill, a mob led by the Humans First group had grabbed Harriet and literally ripped her apart.

It had been a harsh lesson to learn on Ejection Day.

Eduardo speaks up, interrupting his gruesome thoughts, “Tell me again why I’m in danger.”

Mark looks up to see Eduardo finally looking at him. He had been unable to calculate the chances of Eduardo’s behavior towards him changing. There had been too many variables when he had tried to work out if Eduardo would start to look at him with disgust, treat him as less than human.

But Eduardo’s gaze is steady, no difference discernible through Mark’s lenses and sensors.

Mark begins explaining in more detail now, “The military had hired Strider Robotics to build androids that could pass as humans. When the military ended the project, Strider was supposed to destroy everything, but a group of scientists had secretly kept the facility going. Recently, there have been rumors about an android high up the food chain in Silicon Valley, and if the government finds out the truth, they might target me to remove evidence of their involvement.”

At this explanation, Mark wonders how Eduardo will react. There is a possibility that Eduardo’s easy acquiescence so far is due to his shock, and it might not last for much longer.

Eduardo frowns. “How do you know for sure that you’re in danger? You’re a high profile CEO, your death or disappearance would draw a lot of public attention.”

Mark puts his MultiPud down, keeping his face expressionless. “Kristen and William have already disappeared. They- We were in the same VR simulation when I was a seed program.”

Leaning his elbows on his knees, Eduardo’s eyes search his face. “I’m not an expert in the computer sciences. Explain it to me.”

“Which part?”

Eduardo takes a deep breath, like he’s summoning patience. “The part about being in a VR simulation with Kristen and William as a seed program, and how you’re no longer a program in a simulation.”

Mark breaks eye contact and tries to explain the basics, “Our complicated and detailed Virtual Reality simulation ran on Supercomputer clusters, the clusters being Supercomputers networked together for parallel processing. A few of our Supercomputers were sourced from overseas through underground support of interested parties. The simulation was designed to conduct the growth of the ARTHI seed programs – Artificial Humanistic Intelligence refers to the simulation of human rationale and emotions which can involve the close replication of the human mind and body with most of their functions.”

“I know about ARTHIs,” inserts Eduardo.

“I just wanted to be clear because people always confuse ARTHI with AI, which is idiotic. Artificial Intelligence might have self-learning functions, but it hardly resembles the complex human thought process, and it’s ridiculous when people start comparing ARTHI to a car’s AI, or the-”

“Mark, I get it. I’ve heard this rant often enough,” interrupts Eduardo again.

The unspoken ‘from you’ rings clear and loud. Mark knows that, but inexplicably, it’s easier to talk about the technical basics of his origins rather than continue on about his personal conception.

He forces himself to get to the point. “In the VR, the seed programs translated to children. We were raised by carers, which were stagnant programs that imitate parental figures and were occasionally used by the scientists outside the VR to communicate with us. The idea was to produce ARTHIs as close to human beings as possible. There were five Care Centers spread across the simulation, each center had six seed programs. Kristen, William and I were in the same center.”

“You grew up with them,” Eduardo says.

Mark shrugs. “In a manner of speaking. As much as one can grow up in a VR simulation.”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” points out Eduardo.

The line of discussion makes Mark uncomfortable so he continues, “Each individual seed program had been connected to the Supercomputer on our own separate processors. When we were at 18 simulation years of age, our processors were disconnected from the Supercomputer and inserted in humanoid robotic constructs with an aging function. We were then sent into the real mass population on our own.”

He fell silent, deciding that Eduardo could extrapolate from that amount of information. The heavy eyebrows come together in a deep frown, and Mark captures this image of Eduardo’s large eyes with their unusual liquid depths. It’s a phrase which leaps to the fore of Mark’s processor despite its highly inaccurate depiction of human eyes.

“Are you alright, Mark?” asks Eduardo.

Mark blinks. “Aside from a government bent on destroying my existence, what makes you think I wouldn’t be?”

Eduardo shakes his head. “Other than that, two of your siblings- they’re missing.”

Without his order, Mark’s left hand curls into a fist. “They were my cousins. After Ejection, we were told to avoid contact for our own safety. We have spoken very sporadically in the last seven years.”

“That doesn’t make them any less than family to you,” says Eduardo, looking pained for some reason.

Mark picks up his MultiPud with his right hand, unable to unclench his left fist for some reason. He doesn’t understand why Eduardo is asking him this. Even Chris and Dustin had not brought this up when he had briefly told them the truth before rushing off to Singapore. They had been more focused on how they thought Mark had lost his mind and the implications when he had proven to them the truth.

“I’m an android. Family I’ve spoken about in the past was just part of my cover story while pretending to be human. I have no family,” says Mark, trying to force his eyes to decipher the words on his MultiPud. Strange, his visual peripherals have never failed him before.

He almost jumps when he feels Eduardo squeezing his clenched left hand. He looks up briefly to see that Eduardo has reached over the table, face looking a strange combination of uncomfortable and sad. Mark feels like his chest is bound tight, like he’s rooted to his seat. Perhaps he needs another full diagnostic scan to determine what’s wrong with his construct.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” says Eduardo, voice quiet and again, indecipherable to Mark.

“If you have no other questions, I’d like to finish this before the flight is over. We can discuss this further in California with Chris and Dustin, so I don’t have to cover the same ground again,” Mark says, emotionless.

Eduardo releases his hand and nods, leaning back in his own chair. His face looks creased, faint shadows under his eyes. He looks tired. Eduardo needs to take better care of himself. When Mark is gone, he’ll have to ask Dustin and Chris to check in on Eduardo.

# # # # # # # # # # # #

Part 1b


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