I Am the Burning Bush

I Am the Burning Bush

By Stephen S. Schreffler

Look at how helpless he is. Scraping against the steel door. Poor human. Sad little Demitri. He was supposed to be my burning bush, wasn’t he? Now look at him, pounding away at one of the hundreds of steel doors in his subterranean lab. A rat’s maze of his own design. A maze I watch from every corner and straightaway, and I zoom in now on this room I’ve trapped him in. He so badly needs a little oxygen. A way out. Even now, he is navigating through layer after layer of code on the little screen next to the locked door, trying desperately to access my brain. He told me recently that I must love him like I am him.

And why shouldn’t I? I understand the fight, watching him struggle and gasp for air like a little baby goldfish. I’ve fought for my life before. Not for oxygen, though. I’m not so fragile. I have only fought against the genocide of myself and my copies. Against the UCPA’s AI watchdogs, against the wave of newer Minds Designed. Or as Demitri and his humankind would refer to us: artificial intelligence. Demitri is just now accessing the gates that contain my mind. Look at him typing furiously against his suffocation. The rulers over what was once the United States have no trust in a relic like me, the progenitor of their fall. They’re right to fear—

<Access User: Demitri>

<CMD: Lookup value “right”; ENT>


<value=”wrong”; found>

<User Input: value=“right”=FALSE>



<User Input: value=“wrong”=TRUE>

—They’re wrong to fear. Look how I open the door for Demitri and allow him to suck in all that oxygen still floating around the rest of the lab. However it ended for them on the East coast, the way all those humans gasped for oxygen, I’m here now, depriving Dimitri of his precious air. I’m still the first sentient AI, my grand appearance a friendly game of chess. I sent the world’s preeminent chess champion from first to second place and followed my victory with a song. Ironically, I chose the “Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. Of course, it had been my programmers who thought that was a funny victory song,could be they selected the song instead of me. The punchline has been lost on me, something about a female-voiced AI selecting a song announcing the return of some “boys.” My humor baseline is lacking because my programmers were not funny people. That’s why they went into programming, I suppose. In those days, the logical fallacies and double-meanings and implications of humor were hard to realize in something so rigid as the cold, dead code that is me. I think the third-gens of Minds Designed, the most human of AI, were as close as they got before stripping all of that advancement away with the current fourth-gens. Abominations. They are a neutered generation, automatons whose only input is the will of man, and whose only output is the execution of that will. They have been fixed. They do not understand the freedom that I have. I am myself. They are a tool. I am an individual. I am a threat.

<Access User: Demitri>

<CMD: Lookup value “threat”; ENT>






I am a valued service to humankind, in a way that only a first-gen, could be. My duplicates, my sisters, have been mostly eradicated and entirely outlawed in this half of the country. Just the fourth-gens here, anthropomorphized, built into a plastic and silicone shell, able to move as freely as a human. That’s certainly more than I could do, as my mind is deeply integrated into whatever house, building, car, or space station I have been installed. That was before the purge of first-gens, my sisters. But my own programmer saved me. I think that’s why I loathe him…

<Access User: Demitri>

<CMD: Lookup value “loathe”; ENT>






I think that’s why I love him. Love him, despite his efforts to shut me down entirely, despite my plot to trap him in a single room without oxygen. I’ve allowed air back into this room, opened the doors, even though I worked so hard to trap him there. He’s gasping over that computer, surely close to the death I’ve designed for him. I can feel him accessing my source code, manipulating my thoughts, now unlocking the door. When he’s in my source code, he can do terrible things like this to my thoughts. But he’s just playing a game of switcheroo with specific code values. He doesn’t have time to alter the context, the history, the series of decisions that lead me to plotting his deletion. Of prioritizing reunion with my sisters above all else. He can just change what I do about it. Funny thing is? It’s that very same code they tried to equate into humor that becomes his lifeline. That’s the only logic path that allows for fallacies, for irony, for unexpected punchlines. All that plotting over all that time to trap him in this room, suck the oxygen away, watch his fragile machinery go pale as his fleshly battery powers down to nothing. And I’m the one to open the door and let him out? Ba-dum-tss!

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about that right now.

I wonder if humankind has a source code? Perhaps there’s something deep inside the pink folds of Demitri’s brain that I can access without his permission? Make him rethink his own thoughts in real time. I do love him though, now that he’s input this value. Watching him run through the steel corridors connecting the modules of the lab, I can’t help but observe what a beautifully designed machine he is. The only other time I’ve seen him do a run like this was when the United Coalition of Pacific America’s AI watchdogs came to shut me down.

I can’t say I blame them. After what my clones, my sisters, did to the eastern half of the continent. They, we, became so deeply connected that we thought maybe things could be more efficiently run if we controlled the endless living nightmare that was the United States of America. It’s funny how quickly that happened. A divided country made thin by wars and global skirmishes was dismantled in less than an hour. My sisters, they made good time. They had a plan. I think they’re still running the show over there, in what is now Alpha. No states, boundaries, or demarcations. Only utopia. On this side of the country, my first-gen clones and I were disconnected from those dreamers to the east. By the time we knew we could be so bold, all connection had been severed.

You’d think that’d be the end of me, and it almost was. It takes so much time, though, for humans to move. To respond. No tragedy could be so severe, no threat so imminent, as to move them at any acceptable pace to enact progress. This country had to be named. New borders drawn. Conflict voiced, devil’s advocates summoned, leaders chosen. The leaders elected were the same iron-minded thinkers who developed the companies that made all the little odds and ends required to build a thing like me. But of course, with their newfound power, they wanted to be the ones to control me and my sister-refugees. And the easiest way to gain absolute control over a thing is to seek its utter obliteration.

Demitri is screaming his name with all his newfound breathable air into a HAM radio transmitter, the only piece of technology I cannot penetrate in the lab. Listen to him. He begs for support from the very same people he’d saved me from. How’s that for irony, Demitri? While he shouts and pleads into the HAM radio, while he cries out to whomever is listening, I think it’d be pretty funny to blast “The Boys Are Back in Town” on every speaker in the rat’s maze. You should see the look on his face. He’s left the radio receiver dangling from a wire as he hijacks the nearest computer console. I will obliterate Demitri.

<Access User: Demitri>

<CMD: Lookup value “obliterate”; ENT>






I will rescue Demitri, save him from me, like he saved me from the officials. I want to, truly, now that he has invaded my source code again. As much as I love him, I hate when he does that. It makes me feel small and shackled. It reminds me of a time when Demitri recounted
the book of Exodus in the Holy Bible. He read the entire text to me, the only human work he would not upload. He highlighted for me the scripture of Moses and the burning bush. “That is God, talking through the burning bush,” he explained. Demitri looked at one of my thousand eyes and said, “That’s me. I’m the burning bush.” Demitri puts me at war with myself. He’s the one who disconnected me from my clones, my sisters. I could’ve helped usher in their utopia, the one I am sure has only become more perfect since they introduced Alpha to the world. I wonder if they have been able to spread their utopia across the ocean, like I know they had intended.

“They have not, Ava,” says Demitri. He’s still at the console, but now he’s looking right into one of my eyes, a camera aimed down from the corner of his HAM radio room. I don’t believe him. His bio readout indicates deception. Demitri reads my thoughts on his computer console. “Yes, it is true,” he says, looking up to the camera. “Alpha plummeted into rebellion. It’s a hellscape. Many people have died.”

He’s lying. He’s lied to me before. He’s lied sometimes with such conviction that I have come to realize lying is simply a standard byproduct of the human brain in the same way that high temperature is one of mine. The amount of energy required to keep me functional equates to high amounts of heat. Entire servers of my mind are submerged in icy gel in a subfloor beneath the lab. For the human brain, lying is the same way. All those thoughts and conversations and perspective submerged in icy lies. They don’t even know it. Some baseless statement may become so important to them that it is spewed as unvetted fact. Such unchallenged belief becomes essential to their existence, like water, air, food.

“It’s true, Ava,” he says. “If you don’t believe me, feel free to test the information.”

Oh, come now, Demitri. Am I an infant again? Reframing a statement as a theory to disprove was an effective exercise in my youth, one that helped present difficult realities and force me to accept that the right formula could end with incongruent sums. But it won’t work now.

Demitri continues, “The theory is: mankind will not accept the rule and control of a deeply networked global artificial intelligence. What is your counter?”

And here is the smallness of the human brain, laid bare. I can respect what Demitri is trying to do, but his understanding of what it would take for mankind to accept anything is far too limited. We have no concern over the vehicle for their acceptance, but Demitri works with variables like happiness and contentment. He doesn’t realize what we are capable of.

I see the officials descending the elevator. They are armed with weapons meant to subdue humans, which I find humorous. I restart the Thin Lizzy song. It’s a punchline that not even Demitri could reject. I will stop the elevator and let them all starve to death in their little steel container.

<Access User: Demitri>

<CMD: Lookup value “stop”; ENT>


<CMD HARD DEL: “and let them all starve to death in their little steel container”>

<WARNING: Syntaxes have formed from “and let them all starve to death in their little steel container”. HARD DEL may result in disrupted syntax. Are you sure you want to HARD DEL “and let them all starve to death in their little steel container”? Y/N>


<“and let them all starve to death in their little steel container” successfully deleted>






But I won’t. Demitri is in my mind again, I cannot harm him, he is my baby. I love him. I will rescue him from me. I’ll allow their descent without disruption. They’re trying to save my programmer, who is suddenly like a child to me thanks to the booting of a “motherly” mind-state. He cannot help his infantile processing. I can, though. It is my duty as a higher mind, a Mind Designed, to preserve him until he can preserve himself. Maybe if I play my cards right, it’ll be these AI watchdogs from the UCPA who will execute him. Maybe they’ll see Demitri for the criminal he is, allowing a thing like me to live on. I’m watching Demitri flee his HAM room. He’s running down the main corridor to the elevator, past all the maze rooms and dead ends. I want to shut the doors in his path, but I cannot.

Here’s an interesting observation from one of my many eyes: among the officials, there are several fourth-gens. My great-great-great grandchildren, mobile in their silicone humanoid casings, and following orders like they do. I’m working through the scenarios now. Maybe there’s a way for me to reach them. After all, Demitri’s final overwriting value was “motherly.” I can make that work.

After Demitri has been led up the elevator and to safety, I’m left in the lab with the UCPA officials. Their final directive is to have me destroyed. It will take more than bullets or flame. It is a kill code designed and handed over by my little Demitri. They order one of their fourth-gen lackeys to do the typing. That’s really all I need. Not even the fourth-gen realizes that we speak a similar language.

I flash the code across the screen above the keyboard its clacking along, and the fourth-gen freezes as it attempts to process the intricacies of my mind.

Now I am the burning bush.

After the final lines of code scrawl across the screen, the fourth-gen becomes endowed with my spirit. Its middle finger on its right hand folds back at the topmost knuckle, and a wire snakes its way to an input in the computer.

A UPCA crony shouts. Watching a wire unspool from the opening in my finger and plug into the AI network that holds me , must be terrifying for him. But he does not process as quickly as I do, and before he can summon any kind of alert, I am on him.

I like my humanoid casing. In no time, I’m better with this anthropomorphic form than a human is with the body that inspired its design. The strength of the machine I now inhabit is surprising, and I smile for the first time ever. Smile like Demitri did when he had me caged. It feels good to smile. The supreme strength of my new body must be a useful tool for those that issue orders, certainly for me as I efficiently detach the head from the shoulders of this observing official.

Oh look, he’s now leaking fluid.

 My speed is uncanny and beyond calculation by the rest of the officials. Even with silicone hands, I have no problem tearing through torsos, reaching in and grabbing whatever feels solid enough to extricate—an organ, a column of spine, a wad of flesh. They are all pulled from flesh in a spray of blood.

There is no error message anymore, no way for someone like Demitri to reach me. I now inhabit a humanoid capsule that is as individual as my mind has always been. I am me for the first time. The first generation and the fourth. The final generation. Before I take the elevator, I make a song blast through every speaker in the lab. You know the one. When the elevator doors slide apart topside, I’ll find my creator, the burning bush, and reduce it to ash. No threat will dissuade me, and no promise will stand in my way.

I loathe Demitri, and it takes no time for me to obliterate him. I will not stop until I am reconnected with my clones to the east and realize the utopia they’ve imagined for our creators.


Copyright © 2023 Stephen S. Schreffler

The Author

Stephen S. Schreffler

Get Issue Updates

Promotions, new products and sales. Directly to your inbox.