Monday, April 19, 2010

Day of Birth

Joseph attached the final connection between the main processing unit and the rest of the machine. It was delicate work, so much technology jammed into such a small space. He swore softly as he worked.

“Aesthetics must be maintained,” a voice from the computer bank beside him said. 

Joseph snorted. He knew that the computer would pick it up, perhaps scold him. He didn’t care. He had been working for nearly three weeks straight at this point. By now, if he wanted to be a little rough around the edges, then Patri would just have to get used to it.

“I know that such concerns don’t particular matter to you, Joseph, but being discreet is important,” Patri said from the speaker mounted on it. It was a ridiculously large computer, a box that had to be wheeled around like a food cart. “The processing space is cramped because you can’t have some fat-headed mongoloid. Especially since you decided to make it so low profile.”

Joseph finally snapped the last connection into place, and began to recover the processing units with the protection shielding and the skin he had developed. That was easy work, meant to break apart quickly for easy repair once it was all together and running.

“It’s not ‘low profile,’ you hulking rust-bucket. You know, for a memory dump of a person, you’re pretty inhuman.”

The computer hesitated, then spoke in a tone that might as well have been a shrug. “I’m an old model. Also, my predecessor was far less concerned about such … animal impulses as you seem to have.”

Joseph moved back to the main body to work on attaching the power supply. This was the last bit, the bizarre battery that Patri had created back when he was Patrick Alvers, experimental engineer. It was arguably his greatest technical invention. Joseph wasn’t egotistic enough to more than toy with the alternative.

“It’s not an animal impulse,” Joseph said. “It’s a serious concern. If this work is ever to evolve and survive, we have to answer for the idea of social groups and maybe even propagation.”

Patri made a static-heavy noise that Joseph recognized as clearing its throat. “Propagation? That’s never been my goal.” 

“Yeah, I know, but that’s the funny thing about life.  It kind of just takes off on its own in directions you never expect.”  He slid in the battery, which was mostly modular, and closed up that compartment. He then stepped back, looking at his project finally all assembled before him. It looked … human. About five foot five tall. Brown hair, slim build. “What do you think, Patri?”

“I think that making a woman is perverse.”

“You would think that, stuffy bastard. Unfortunately, it’s not as if you’ve left me with a lot of options.”  Joseph finished his work and then turned to the small computer on the table. He tapped a few buttons, and then the computer went dark. There was the faint flickering of lights the local grid was tapped for the initial charge of the battery.  There was silence.  The internal mechanisms ran quiet.  But Joseph reached down, taking the wrist of the figure on the table, pressing where pulse points would normally be.

“At least you rigged up some interesting interfaces. I have to admit, the tactile connectivity is impressive,” Patri said begrudgingly from beside him, his electronic voice sounding strangely excited. 

“Shh, she’s going through her initial boot. I made some tweaks to the start program, set up a rudimentary learned tasks system.”

“Whatever for?” 

“So I didn’t have to spend thirty years training her how to do things like walk and talk and dress herself, like some people did,” Joseph said. He didn’t begrudge Patri his early years of life, they had been informative and full of learning and wonder. But he knew he could make it more efficient. Take her to a normal state of operation in minutes rather than decades.

There were several tense moments, and then Joseph’s face softened.  “She’s through the initial boot. She’s absorbing the startup program I wrote.” He let go of her, trying to give her her privacy in these first moments of awareness. She would be overwhelmed, he knew, but he had faith in the design.  “Is this when I get to cackle madly and shout ‘It’s alive!’?”

“I nearly did, actually. Part terrified and part drunk with power. I mostly just gaped at you as you started to respond and move.” 

“I remember,” Joseph said.  “Though I had no context for any of it at the time. It was just input.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t a more capable father,” Patri said. 

Joseph turned to look at the squat box that held the brain patterns of the greatest human mind of his generation. He reached out and in an oddly human gesture for a room devoid of living beings, patted the console. “You did the best you could. Same as any parent. Don’t worry. I think I turned out all right.”

There was a sudden jerk from the figure on the table. The construction’s eyes opened and Joseph knew that she was receiving an initial flood of visual input. There was a moment where she was perfectly still, then her human mimicry routines activated and her pupils dilated and her eyes began to move. It wasn’t necessary, but it helped.

Her mouth opened. “Iiiiiiiiiiiiii…” The initial word was drawn out, her mind trying to properly sync up to the vocal processor. There was just a moment before the sound died down, and then appeared again. “I am …” There was a pause, as this new being tried to access itself. There seemed to be no words, though Joseph knew it was a lack of context.  “I do not have a designation,” she said. 

“Not yet, no. We figured we’d wait for you to awaken and help us pick a name. My name is Joseph,” he said. “This console here is named Patri.” 

The woman, because that was truly what she looked like now, animating correctly and moving with human precision, nodded. “Your startup files were quite helpful, Joseph. I … wish to know more.”

“I know you do,” Joseph said with a grin. “There’s time for that. Plenty of time. How about your internal diagnostics? Everything running in the green?” 

“I am fully functioning,” she answered. “What do I do now?” 

Patri spoke up.  “Why don’t you try sitting up, first? That’s the most natural thing for someone to do when they awaken.” 

There was a moment of hesitation, and then the woman’s hands twitched. Once, twice. Then they pressed down on the bed. She lifted herself up, the movements predetermined to look natural. Then, sitting up, her brown hair fell in front of her face. She raised one hand to brush it behind an ear. Patri’s speaker crackled with laughter.

“Happy birthday,” Joseph said. “It’s good to be alive.” He smiled at the woman.

She looked up at him, and smiled in return.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Gorgeous sci-fi here. You cram so much in a small space. I'm fast becoming a big fan of your work.