"Je pense, donc je suis." --Descartes
At the sound of a siren, her eyes fluttered open and she came awake. The dream she had been having drifted away, like the morning mist, too rapidly for her to capture any of its details. For a long while, for her, given that her internal clock ticks move in nano-increments, she lay still, trying if possible to recount any remnants of the dream. Tendrils of shadows niggled at the corners of her memory, but her efforts found no purchase and she was forced to face the rising of the day. Worst of all, she had a vague notion that she should know more about herself than she could currently recall. For example, her name.
Getting up from her place of rest, she looked out over the edge of the roof on which she had spent the night and viewed the city below, hoping to trigger some memory of herself or who she was. There was a chill in the air, which triggered her autonomic reflex to affect the normal response of goosebumps. Without really realizing what she was doing, she picked up the jacket lying next to her and donned it.
A high-frequency buzzing in her ears caused her to swat at them as if to shoo away the no-see-um circling her head. There was a maddening moment of recognition as she did so, but yet again she was forced to drive away her thoughts on the matter and push on. A quick assessment revealed that while the evening's respite had afforded her the necessary down-time to make bodily repairs, the energy expended left her feeling low in power. She needed fuel. The scent of pancakes wafting over the edge of the roof enticed her like a child following the proverbial piper and she got up and climbed down the fire ladder to the ground below to seek out this wonder.
As she descended the ladder, she began to diagnose the meaning of the dreams. She couldn't recall why, but the answer was there hidden away in her vast memory. She only needed to access it. Why was it so abnormal for her to dream? Why was it so disturbing, the fact that she did so? And why could she not remember her dreams? As she reached the ground, her olfactory sensors operating at peak efficiency, she sniffed the air for that heavenly pancake smell and within the span of a second had the coordinates. Turning east, down the alley, she headed out to the main streets and the awakening city.
"Anne? Anne! Come in Anne. Please respond." The com-tech continued his persistent litany in an attempt to regain control of the cyber-humanoid. Meanwhile, in a nearby conference room, the Laboratory Manager was getting her ass chewed out.
"What happened?!" The Deputy Director Owen Monson asked from across the table. He was an officious-looking blow hard who liked the sound of his own voice and who liked the power of his position. Margaret Tieghs spent a sweet moment imagining him choking on his own tongue. She smiled at the thought of that. The fat little pig of a man!
She turned to him in exasperation, then looked back down at her report before answering, "It would appear that the asset has disengaged itself from its harness and left the laboratory."
Monson looked at her accusatorially and asked, "How is this possible?"
Margaret responded as patiently as she could, "This is the risk we face in an enterprise such as this. We are attempting something, never before accomplished. An artificial humanoid would bring many benefits to society, but until the bugs are ironed out, one can only reasonably expect the unexpected."
His face turning three shades of red at her obvious condescension, he stabbed a finger at the air in her direction. "Fix this Tieghs! Find and return the asset to the laboratory and get it under control or I'll see you shut down!" Then he turned and stormed from the room, his entourage in tow.
Tieghs just threw her sheaf of reports angrily at the closing door. From outside the conference room, lab techs could hear her screams of frustration and did their level best not to get noticed by her. When she finally emerged, they all scattered like little rats and made themselves busy or scarce.
Anne finished her breakfast of fourteen hotcakes, six sausage links, four eggs and two glasses of orange juice. She sat on a swivel stool at the counter of a simple street diner with the picture window over-looking the street at her back. Mel, the owner, quite impressed at the appetite of this slip of a girl, came over with her chit.
"That'll be twenty-five creds, darlin'," he said in a gruff but garrulous manner.
Automatically, without realizing that she had done so, Anne reached for her back pocket, which was empty. Then she looked up at him, with a blank look which caused him to regard her with a more intense scrutiny.
"Cash, cred or scan," he said nodding toward her wrist.
She looked down at the bar-code tattooed on her arm and recognition spread across her face. Reaching out to expose the mark, she waited for Mel to scan it. The name and cost came up on the read out facing her. She looked at it and read, for the first time, her name.
"Anne Droyd. What an interesting name," Mel remarked. "Shall I include a tip?"
When she nodded, he added the twenty percent gratuity and then nodded back at her, the transaction now complete. She swatted again at the buzzing in her ears, once more annoyed at the fleeting recognition it brought her. Shaking her head and once more swatting at nothing, she wiped the remaining juice from her lips with a napkin. Her fuel needs fulfilled, she turned and left the diner for the streets of the city. She had begun to realize two things without yet knowing why. First, she needed to leave this area quickly. And second, she needed to figure out who she was and what she was supposed to be doing. She started walking.
Within ten minutes of her departure, three black SUV vehicles, moving at a very hard pace, showed up in front of the diner, slamming on their brakes. Officious looking men and women exited the cars and entered the diner. The lead person was a handsome woman of middle years with a stern demeanor. She approached the counter and, handing a photograph of Anne, addressed Mel directly, "You just served this young woman a few moments ago." It was more of a statement than a question.
Mel raised a greasy eyebrow and answered, none-the-less, "Yep! She appears to be the one. Went by the name of "Anne Droyd, I believe."
Margaret Tieghs pressed him, "Did you happen to notice which way she went when she left?"
Mel, a bit suspicious of this lady and her obviously government-backed lackeys, decided right there on the spot to lie to her. It wasn't as though he had any reason to protect Anne. She wasn't anyone special to him. He just didn’t much care for the guv'munt, and he didn't like bullies. And this bunch looked like both.
He looked at her, and with a shrug of his shoulders, simply said, "Nope!"
Tieghs sized him up almost immediately, and realized he was lying. But pressing the matter, wouldn't help the situation any, so she turned around and began barking out orders for search parties in both directions of the main street outside. Then, turning back to Mel once more, with a nod of her head, she pushed open the door of the diner, walked to her car and got in. She grabbed her phone and called the lab for an update, which she already knew would be negative. Then, she ordered her driver to take her back to the lab.
Jonas Quark was in the middle of his robotics lecture when the call from the laboratory came in. He put his phone on vibrate and continued to field questions.
"Yes! You there in the middle row. You have a question?"
The pretty blond student asked him to elaborate more on his artificial muscles. He thought of how she reminded him of his fiancé. Her golden hair, green eyes and large, wide smile. Annie! God, how he missed her! The smell of her hair, in his nose as the wind blew it into his face while they sat on a part bench over by the docks. The feel of her soft skin on his fingertips as he gently caressed her arm while they sat on the couch watching some old sappy love story on the little black and white TV she insisted on keeping despite the fact that it often fuzzed out and there were no more parts for it, should it break down completely. "But it's a work of art, from a bygone age!" she would exclaim, and explain. It was just one of those wonderful little quirks he loved about her. And now she was gone. The big C takes so many lives! Frowning, inside, but smiling as best he could to put up that front, That wall. That barrier against the pain of loss. He tried his best to carry on and answer the young lady's question.
He explained how the real trick was to try to come up with something so akin to the human body that the height, weight and general size and shape would be nearly indistinguishable from that of a living man or woman. It all hinged on the artificial muscle. Simply put, the muscle was made up of many dozens of soft polymer tubules wrapped in a specialized carbon fiber harness that holds the ends of the tubules in a fixed position while allowing the middle to stretch when filled with fluid. The fibers in the body of the tubule then pull the ends toward each other as the middle expands. When bunched together, the effect is nearly exactly the same as its organic counterpart. Attached to a carbon fiber skeleton and filled with a very special, lightweight hydraulic fluid, that just happens to resemble the color and viscosity of blood, it makes for a pretty respectable representation of the human muscle. Managed by a very sophisticated neural network of fiber-optic lines powered by a positron processor to handle sensors and to drive the machinery, you get a pretty decent representation of a humanoid life form in an artificial body.
He fielded a few more questions before the bell rang and he was forced to pack up for the day. Glancing at his phone, he remembered the call he had received earlier. It was from Cassidy Vangard over at the lab. Hitting the callback button, he grabbed up his bag and headed for the door to the parking lot and his car beyond.
After three rings, Cassidy finally answered, "Hello? Jonas? Is that you?"
"Yes Cassidy, it's me. You caught me in the middle of a lecture. What did you need?"
"It worked, Jonas! The bloody software worked!"
"What are you talking about?"
"The Personality Matrix code. I ran it on Anne and it worked!"
Alarmed, Jonas half whispered, half screamed into his phone, "You did what?!"
"I ran the new personality matrix on Anne."
"Well, that's the bad part. She woke up, disengaged herself from her harness and left."
"She did what!?!" Clearly now alarmed, he changed directions and rather than heading for home turned around and set a course for the lab. "Where are you, now?" He asked her, basically expecting the answer he got.
"I'm at the lab. We've been trying to reach her all day. Nobody knows what we've done, but everyone is up in arms."
"Don't pull me into your little scheme! This little side project was supposed to be a theoretical experiment only! It was never meant to be deployed this early, and certainly not on Anne! She's worth millions! And you may just have set us back centuries." He tried to calm himself down as he weaved through afternoon traffic like a madman. Or a taxi driver. Either way. "Stay there," he ordered. "I'll be there shortly to see if we can unravel this mess you've gotten us into."
Anne walked for many hours that day. She visited shops along the street mall, tried on clothes, but bought nothing, and even visited the farmer's market where there was enough to taste that she neither had to pay for lunch nor walk away hungry. She wandered north of the city along the scenic byway and watched the people she passed along the way. How they would stop and throw seeds to the birds, or balls in the park, or insults toward each other.
She sat down on a bench in a park, overlooking the docks on the south side of the bay around which the city wraps its arms. From her vantage point and with her eyesight, she could easily discern each and every longshoreman working the piers. The men and women working the docks were in the process of offloading crates from a great lakes freighter that had moored in the night. Their engines of lading: forklifts, hand trucks, booms, et al all in motion making for a well-oiled machine o industry.
She turned and watched some kids throwing a Frisbee together. They tussled over the catch, the bigger one pulling the toy away fro the others. Their mother, distracted by the cell phone in her hands, yelled out to them to settle down and play right together. "And Bobby, let your brothers have a turn!" Then she began watching an elderly couple sitting not far from her on another park-side bench along the walkway reading a book together. It made for a very wonderful picture in her mind and involuntarily, she smiled.
Then a young couple strolled by with their two little dogs, a poodle and a terrier on leashes yipping and yapping to each other pulling the couple along. They were walking very slowly, enjoying the warmth of each other's' body as they leaned into one another. Anne began to wonder if such a tenderness were in her future. The buzzing in her ears, temporarily stopped, she closed her eyes and day-dreamed of a life with someone to share. Someone to love. Someone… Then the darkness slipped over her like a thick blanket and she went to sleep. But, as she did so, her automatic autonomous recall beacon triggered its silent siren call back to base at the laboratory.
"We've got her!" The shout came from the con-techs. "She turned her beacon on!"
Jonas, who had only just arrived and was explaining to Margaret Tieghs what happened, shouted back, "Get the coordinates out to the field teams! And don't let anyone start up the chatter! If her beacon is on, she is in sleep mode and we don't want to risk her waking up and shutting it back off."
Tieghs, who was standing next to him nodded her assent and then turned her attention back to him. "So what you're telling me is that you have been running a personality project on your own? And you deployed it on the asset?"
"The deployment was an accident", he countered, clearly covering for Cassidy's carelessness. "It somehow got mixed up with the other code modifications and was installed by mistake."
It was obvious by the dubious look on Tieghs' face that she only barely bought the excuse. But she turned to him and asked the obvious question, "Then, what do we do next?"
He looked back at her, very carefully concealing his relief that, at least for now, his cover story was holding and rapidly formulated a plan, "We need to get her back here to the lab and run a full diagnostic. We don't yet know what went wrong, or if, in fact anything did go wrong. We don't really know anything as yet, and I think it behooves us to learn all we can before making any decisions."
Tieghs looked back at him skeptically, but gave him what rope she felt she could. "I will hold off the Director as long as I can, but find out what you can and get back to me as soon as you have anything concrete. Or I'll have you wipe her and start all over."
"Understood," he replied. Then turning on a heal, he headed back out of the door of her office and into the lab. Grabbing Cassidy's arm, on his way to the office, he admonished her not to pull any further stunts like this again. On threat of her career.
Blackness faded into light and then into azure blue as the sun rose in the sky. She picked daisies as she ran through the field, her little yellow gingham dress, with its white lace trim flapping around her ankles in the breeze as she skipped over the clover. She raised her arms out to her sides and started to twirl in the sunlight. Her hair, in braids flew about her head as she spun around and around. Almost in slow motion. Then she fell down into the field on her back, laughing as the dizziness filled her head.
Her mother's voice calling her name brought her up and the sky turned dark and began to rain. As she ran through the downpour, her new silk blouse and skin-tight jeans began to get soaked. She was afraid her books would get wet. When she reached the road, several cars drove by very quickly, splashing water up off the road onto her as she ran along the street.
Reaching her house, she could hear voices inside, though not quite what they were saying. She stood outside in her blue cashmere sweater listening to the sounds of home. Was there anything more beautiful? Then, the door opened and he stepped out. How her heart leapt inside her breast! How she loved this man! How would she be able to tell him what the doctor had told her? How could she break his heart like that? They were to be wed this summer. She ran into his arms sobbing…
Her eyes fluttered open. It had all been a dream. But this time, she remembered.
"Anne?" a pause and then, "Can you understand me?"
Jonas! How could this be? How could she still be alive? There he was, this beautiful man, whom she loved with all of her soul! Standing right in front of her!
His look of surprise caused her to be concerned. Had she changed somehow? Why would he act this way?
"You know my name?"
"Jonas. It's me! It's Annie!"
Turning white, Jonas left the room and once more grabbing Cassidy's arm, pulled her into his office.
"Where did you get that matrix from?"
"Well," she stammered a bit, then explained, "there was this whole bank of data on one of the server hard drives, and they were labeled 'Annie', so I thought they were intended for the asset. That's why I went ahead and installed them. Why?"
He nearly fell into his chair. Annie! Annie Cartwright. His fiancé. The love of his life who had wasted away from cancer before they ever got the chance to marry and make a family. However, he had managed to record her memory and personality engrams, prior to her passing. He had never really expected to use them. It was one of those impulse "just in case" things one does. It was her for whom the asset was named. How could he take her offline now? How could he erase her and bring back that blank, dull thing that used to be there? Was she truly Annie? Would she remember everything? Would she be able to function in the world just as a human does? Just as Annie, herself did?
He left his office and went back into the lab. Anne was sitting up as he entered. She turned to him and observed his behavior. How he walked. How he kept his bearing. He was older looking somehow and slightly stooped with stress or grief or something… As she regarded him, her memory completed its synchronization.
"I'm not really her, am I?"
Her question caught Jonas a little off guard.
"But I am, too. How is that?"
"You are a construct. An android. A cybernetic humanoid with very sophisticated hardware that makes you look and act just exactly like any living person."
"But how is it that I have these memories?"
He took a moment to answer. "Annie. My Annie. Anne Cartwright, was dying of cancer. We were engaged to be wed."
"That explains the feelings I am having toward you." She was brutally honest as only a machine could be. How could she know how that one sentence would tear at his heart?
"Before she died I recorded her personality and memory engrams into a storage device. That matrix was uploaded into your system by accident and now we are on very uncharted waters."
"You don’t know what to do with me."
"Exactly so." Being anything other than honest back to her would serve no purpose and could hamper their progress.
"So, who exactly am I?"
So like a human! Not, "what am I?' but "who am I?". Just what any normal sentient being would ask. He picked up the phone and called Margaret Tieghs.
The trial lasted fourteen days. The evidence was overwhelming and growing with each encounter and interview with Anne. Her responses may well have been direct and somewhat automatic, but they were responses of a personal, introspective nature. A sentient nature. In the end, the conclusion was unanimous. Anne Droyd was granted all of the rights of any human sentient being. Even though her body was not equipped, for reproduction, or even sex for that matter, never-the-less, her spirit could not be denied. Anne Droyd was a free woman, to live her life as she chose.
Jonas Quark lost his tenure at the University and his position at the lab, but he found consolation in the talk circuit arena. Margaret Tieghs also landed on her feet. After having the lab closed on her, she was made CIO of another corporation that offered a nearly unlimited budget of private money. Anne went on the road with Jonas. Sometimes assisting him with his talks, sometimes giving talks on her own. And all the while driving him nuts by insisting on watching old reruns of romance stories with the screen turned to grey-scale, and piles and piles of pancakes.