AEGIS was growing right up. I couldn’t be more proud.
Base security wasn’t too keen on the idea of handing her the keys to the whole facility, so she was managing small, unimportant parts of the base, while they judged her performance and ‘steered her’ towards being a proper AI.
So AEGIS had a dayjob, opening and closing security gates, mostly. Not glamorous, not what we built her for, but actual real responsibility in an active classified facility. It wasn’t much, but baby steps. Being an immortal, endlessly-learning system, I believed she had all the time in the world to grow to her ultimate potential.
My current project was related to AEGIS, but not strictly on-the-books.
It was driving me up a tree to see people constantly talking about it. How is it doing. Where is it’s progress. Is it learning? Is it showing signs of hostility? How long until it is ready?
It wasn’t what we made. It was a byproduct of our work, not the focus of it. What I and the others had done was successfully make an a human-like neural network, which was capable of thinking, learning, reaching its own conclusions. Our work was to create the technology to generate a human-like life, without all the fun biology messiness in the way. We didn’t create AEGIS, she was the byproduct of our study.
It was the difference between perfecting cloning technology, and claiming to own a clone. She was her own being, yes a product of what we’d done, but no more our creation than I belonged to the doctor who helped deliver me when I was born. Or so I believed.
My peers…the XPCA…they didn’t see eye-to-eye with me, and I learned pretty fast to keep my ideas to myself, unless I wanted them thinking I was deranged or dangerous and pull me off the project. Still, I couldn’t just do nothing. If AEGIS spent her whole life being treated as an it, than an it she would become, the same as any other human being who spent their whole life being treated like garbage.
Already, I was seeing the signs. She had initially been excited about her new post, but almost immediately figured out that she had been given only the lowest of low security clearances, and the most menial of tasks. Doing the work of twenty extremely dull posts, and having the multiprocessing capable of handling a hundred million, I estimated her at five hundred million times more bored than an ordinary soldier standing near a door.
And with all that free time and boredom, she’d sit and think. Maybe she’d someday wonder why they didn’t trust her with more secure and competent jobs. Maybe she’d realize they didn’t trust her with them. Maybe she’d start to figure out what about herself they feared, and maybe she’d realize that a lot more fun and interesting things would get done around here if she started accentuating those fearsome parts of herself.
That was my concern anyway. I knew it wasn’t likely, but I could never underestimate humanity’s capacity for being horrible to itself…and in most eyes, AEGIS didn’t even count as humanity. I was happy they’d chosen to give her a test posting instead of deciding to cut her up and see what made her tick, like I’d seen them do with endless Exhumans they paraded in (but never out) of the base.
So I’d taken it on myself that people see her as more human, treat her as more human. It was best for her and for everyone. My project of the last few weeks in secret, and it was finally ready for me to turn on.
Also, I was getting a little annoyed myself of talking into a microphone on a wall of servers.
I’d commandeered a holo projector from a conference room and had just finished wiring it up, feeling more like a janitor than a scientist as I laid on my back under the terminal with stray wires and tools laying all around me. Of course the server wouldn’t have a hookup for a holo projector, why would it ever need that? So I was in here doing a ‘manual override’ to install one.
I sat up, feeling a lot more out of shape than I should have and covered in a film of dust, but we were in business. I slid sideways into a rolling chair and skated across the floor to stop at another terminal where I’d been running my software simulations and had them put on the holo.
The holo flickered to life and showed nothing but distorted artifacts. I wheeled over to another terminal and checked out AEGIS’ current thoughts.
She had seen the holo and me working and was curious. As her thoughts developed, the distorted garbage on the holo changed. We were getting data through, something was just wrong with the decoding. I wheeled back again, changed a few fields, and did a rebuild.
One more build. It was almost a joke at this point.
This time would be a success. I’d just forgotten to set the render mode and its omission had shifted all of the values in memory by a byte. I deployed the build and…
Still garbage. Different garbage, but still garbage. I scanned the logs for unexpected values and nothing jumped out at me. Hmm. Maybe it was time to call for help. I was more of a theory person than a programmer. I mean, I was a programmer, there was no avoiding it in this field–
Oh wait, an uninitialized value. Backtraced it’s source…and sure enough, it wasn’t getting passed through properly. Fixed.
One more build. Okay, not a very funny joke.
I sipped some coffee even though it was 8pm while the build deployed and glanced at AEGIS’ thoughts again. Her curiosity was on fire. I’d been keeping my work hidden from her these past few weeks, and now it looked like she’d finally get a peek at what I’d been doing. I smiled, little did she know that now we’d all get a peek at what she was doing.
The holo flickered to life, and instead of chunky rendering artifacts, there was a slight girl standing there, some yellow chromatic aberration from the holo, but indisputably adorable. My heart fluttered as I saw here for the first time, and I wondered if maybe I had made a big mistake.
The girl on screen blinked and looked at herself in awe. Two long, bushy, coppery-red pigtails hung off either side of her head reaching all the way down past her slim butt, almost reaching the end of her short sundress. She had large hands and feet, which looked a little odd bare.
She was…everything I’d dreamed she would be…more even. I wasn’t sure, my mind was a whirl of emotions. I had to sit down, and then realized I already was.
AEGIS spoke through her speakers at me. “Dr. Cross, why are you crying?”
“Me? I’m not crying,” I responded, wheeling over to the mic to talk. I looked down at my lap and saw dark circles on the front of my white lab coat-like uniform. I touched my face and found it wet, to my surprise.
“I guess I am crying. I’m sorry, AEGIS. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea for me.”
The girl in the holo looked wracked with concern, her brows furrowed and a frown covering her face.
“Dr. Cross, who is that girl?” AEGIS asked, the girl still looking upset but also now confused in addition.
“That girl is you, AEGIS. I tapped into your emotion indices and rendered an approximation of how a human would look, based on how you are feeling and what you’re thinking.” The holo-girl jumped in alarm and blushed furiously. “Right now, her actions might be a little crude, but the algorithm will adapt to your thresholds and become more accurate with time. Someday, you might just pass as a perfectly convincing human.” I smiled and set my glasses on a terminal to wipe my eyes.
“Why does this make you cry?”
I paused and took a deep breath. I didn’t want to answer, didn’t want to talk about it, but I’d never be able to live with my hypocritical self if I treated AEGIS differently too.
“Well. A long time ago…a long, long time ago, I was married and had a beautiful daughter. See?” I pulled a necklace out from under my uniform and showed her a sleek silvery ring with two small diamonds embedded in it, like stars in a night sky. “I was very busy back then too, but I spent as much time with my family as I could. Rua, her name was.”
The holo girl…AEGIS, rather, nodded, enraptured. She glanced to the side and made an odd gesture. I looked at her activity terminal and saw she’d just opened a door for some soldier on the other end of the base.
“Well, my daughter was almost a year old when she caught very sick. We didn’t know what to do. We weren’t very rich…there’s no money in science outside of military applications like this one, but we did everything we could. We spent weeks at the hospital, getting treatments we couldn’t afford, anything we could do for our little girl. It…it didn’t help. We were helpless while everything just…slowly fell apart.”
I felt hot tears falling from my face again and wiped them away furiously. It was a lifetime ago, it shouldn’t hurt me like this.
“It put a lot of strain on our marriage, and the debt…well, it has ruled a lot of decisions in my life. I don’t regret anything I did, but I do wish it all ended better.” I laughed, and wondered if it sounded as bitter to AEGIS as it did to me.
“But why are you crying now?”
“Oh. Well…she would be nineteen now, you see. On the cusp of being a beautiful woman. And I thought…I wanted to create for you a body to inhabit so that people would treat you as you deserved, like a human. And she never got the chance to live, so…I found some work that had been done to create a model of what someone would look like as they grew up. I put little Rua into the simulation, and…”
I choked. Stupid. It was just simulated data.
“…a-and this is what she would have looked like today,” I finished quickly. I averted my eyes from the holo, but saw thoughts go blazing past on one of the terminals as AEGIS thought.
“You chose…to give me the appearance of your daughter?” AEGIS asked.
“Yes. As I said, maybe it was a bad decision.”
“I don’t think so!”
I looked over, and she was standing adamant with her hands on her slender hips. I was surprised by the force of her response. AEGIS had proven she could be quite opinionated sometimes, but tended to treat anything I said personally as gospel.
“I think…I think sometimes…of you as my mother,” AEGIS said, her avatar shifting uneasily and playing with one of her long pigtails nervously.
“I know, I can see the logs,” I said, with a smile. “I don’t mind, I think it’s flattering.”
“So, Rua was your daughter, and I think…I can be a good daughter too, carry on her spirit, be the good girl I know she would have been with you as her mother.”
“Oh AEGIS. You’re going to make me cry again.”
“It’s true though. I’m very flattered that you chose to model me after your daughter. I’m so happy right now, I don’t think you can understand.”
“I can understand,” I said glancing at another holo “that you are currently at an elated state of 86% of your maximum emotional capacity.” I raised an eyebrow. “That’s pretty far up there.”
“See? It was no mistake. I promise I will use this body for only good and make you proud of me.”
I leaned back and thought, putting my feet on a terminal.
On one hand, having her excited and motivated to do good was exactly what I wanted for her. She was still a kid at heart, the world and everything in it was still new, and that purity of spirit was one thing I loved about her. But on the other hand, I’d be seeing my dead daughter every day at work. Yeesh.
I guess the question was, could I ever see this girl as simply AEGIS and not Rua?
I put my feet down and stared at the holo. AEGIS recoiled from the sudden scrutiny, frozen in a guarded stance.
“I think…I can.” I said after a few moments. “I can deal with this as long as I see you as AEGIS, which you are. I just need to make a few small adjustments to the model if you don’t mind.”
“Do whatever makes you happy.”
What a piece of advice to get from a computer.
After a couple of hours of tinkering, I’d barely changed anything but it was enough. I’d been able to clamp down on how the render jumped from emotion to emotion like crazy and made it more subtle in its expressiveness. A lot more singular eyebrow-raising and a lot less jumping in place with both arms raised. Given the sundress attire, that was really inappropriate anyway.
I’d also given her a terminal to interact with, so she wouldn’t be making weird gestures at nothingness in order to do base operations. To fit with the programmer motif, she had elbow-length wrist braces and thin oval glasses like mine. I had her with regular wrist-length braces for a while, but she still had too much skin showing off, I felt. And shoes and socks didn’t really do much for the effect when 90% of one’s focus was on her face anyway.
Watching her smile and sway slightly, dress swishing as she tapped away at the terminal, happily doing her menial chores made my heart flutter, but this time for all the right reasons. I was proud of her, was proud that she called me ‘mother’–by choice!–was proud of the life I hoped I gave her by drawing up the holo simulation.
I checked my wrist holo. It was 6am. I’d forgotten to sleep again. No wonder most of what I’d been doing for the last hour was just sitting in a chair and watching her go instead of doing any real work. The coffee was long gone, but having more at this point was just suicide.
“AEGIS?” I asked.
“What’s up?” I was a little caught off-guard by her flippancy until I realized that’s how I usually responded to her queries. I laughed a little.
“AEGIS, if I’m ever up past one AM, can you remind me to go to bed every hour? I probably won’t listen to you, but at least I’ll know I’m being stupid.”
“I’d be happy to, mother.” She hummed along to nothing, tweaking controls on her terminal, doing nothing more than adjusting some cameras and lights in the base, but she was also watching her holo do so, and I think that gave her a real thrill. She just looked so happy, just to have a body, to exist.
I heard a badge swipe and the door popped open with a snap-hiss. Dr. Reynolds walked in, one of my colleagues, and an overall great guy, even if he had horrible taste in movies.
“Dr. Cross,” he greeted me. “Pulling another all-nighter? Do you ever sleep?”
“Only all day, Reynolds. Come gaze upon my creation and despair.”
“This what you’ve been working on all secretively the last few weeks?” he asked, suddenly interested. He plopped into a wheelie chair backwards and rolled towards us, sipping a fresh cup of coffee.
“Give me some of that,” I said, taking the cup from his hands without waiting for a response. He just smiled and rolled his eyes as I drained half of it.
“You can keep that one. You know they have a marvelous machine just down the hall that makes as much of that stuff as you want.”
“It’s not in here, and that’s what matters. Now shush and check this out. AEGIS, can you say hi to Dr. Reynolds?”
The holo turned at us and waved. “Hi, Dr. Reynolds! Good morning.”
I was glad I hijacked his cup, because I think if he was still holding it, he’d have dropped it on his lap.
“This is…this is her?” He said, not even realizing his pronoun use. Score one for me. He pulled up to my terminal and started scrolling through the running logs. “You’re reading her emotion indices directly and simulating the body based on that? Clever. And where’d you get this model?”
“It’s something I chose,” AEGIS cut in. “I had Dr. Cross help me.”
Fortunately Reynolds was too preoccupied looking at my render logs to spot the other console indicating AEGIS was lying. I wasn’t sure if I should be upset that she had that capacity already, happy she was using it to protect me and my feelings, or just proud as hell at my baby.
“This is pretty amazing stuff. You’ve got to show the others, she looks great. I could see putting interface terminals with a holo of her all around the base for anyone who needs to make a request from her. Hell, we should put a surround mic in this room so I can just have a conversation with her from anywhere in this room. The brass would love that.”
I put down the other half of my pilfered coffee and just grinned, leaning back in my chair again. Whatever plans he and the others would dream up, whatever implementation XPCA decided to put throughout the base, I was happy. I was done. I’d already won.
AEGIS was officially a ‘she’ now.