“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 2

PLEASE REMAIN CALM.

Darren Higgs had very little reason to remain calm at that moment, however. He had just been bathed in blinding light, frozen half to death, nearly boiled in his own skin, bombarded by a stream of colored dots, dashes, circles, triangles, and things he couldn’t even recognize, kept in absolute darkness for nearly 15 minutes, stripped naked by invisible hands, and then misted from head to toe in something that smelled faintly like orange zest. He had very littlereason to remain calm whatsoever, but he was still managing it, because of the statement directly below the 6 foot high glowing red letters on the wall.

AN ASSOCIATE WILL BE WITH YOU IN A MOMENT.

There was something impossibly comforting about the banality of that statement, something so bland, uninteresting, and halfhearted about it that made being abducted by a flying saucer and experimented on for hours seem like a mild nuisance that he’d be able to complain about to his buddies on the job site tomorrow. Like going to the DMV, or there only being one register open at Wal-Mart.

He shivered, naked, citrus smelling and afraid, and thoroughly inconvenienced.

– – –

Cas smiled gently at her reflection in the polished steel wall panel, and dipped her head slightly to simulate a polite nod – or at least she did on the hard light avatar she was projecting. She averaged together the human morphological archive she had on hand, only consisting of about 200 subjects, and then tweaked a few aspects of it to better suit her personality. Selecting for non-threatening traits she decided that the close cropped haircut and slight, feminine-presenting build were optimal in quickly establishing a rapport. By presenting a youthful, and likely vulnerable appearance, she might effectively trigger a nurturing or protection response in the creature.

Cycling through smiling, giggling, blushing, scowling, pouting, frowning, and sighing exasperatedly, she detected no tearing along the hard light projection she was using as a “body”. The only thing left to do was clothe it. Well, that and rig up a believable walk cycle. She T-posed her way across the small office to her requisition hamper, awaiting the Centaurian jumpsuit she’d called for. It was a close enough size match, so having a custom one 3D printed would have been inefficient. After about 25 seconds of waiting, it dropped into the small hamper labeled “Inbox” with a quiet thump. Putting the thing on was an interesting puzzle in passing a three dimensional inflexible object through a 2 dimensional warped plane. The office itself was small and cramped to begin with, and now that it was packed with unused furniture and odd bits that no one else had a place for, it had become doubly so.

Cas enjoyed the challenge it presented, however, and on her third attempt to get dressed, began incorporating the various obstacles in her office into her solution attempts. Her legs were too long for the jumpsuit, which was frustrating. It was far too tight around the midsection, and getting the zipper to go up all the way required her to change the topography of her virtual chest, but in the end she triumped and managed to get into the ill fitting, greyish-blue garb. Her desk was stacked with chairs to make room for the stacks of data storage crystals that, per regulation had to be kept but no one had reviewed in the entire time Cas had been online. None of that really bothered her, but what did bother her were the results of the human’s ‘Reason Exam.’

Reason was the hallmark of intelligence. Cas, of course, considered herself a true intelligence. The ability to feel, on the other hand, was the hallmark of sentience. The Earthling was, technically speaking, capable of feeling things.

So was the the small, non-vocal feline that accompanied him.

Cas browsed their results, and consistently returned the emotion ‘grim resolve’. She would integrate these ‘TechnicallySentient’ creatures, as it was her function. Neither of them could see beyond the 300 – 700 nm wavelength, and the human couldn’t even see all of that. Hearing was the same story again, with the human being less sensitive to lower amplitude sounds, and having smaller range. The feline seemed to respond to the extreme changes in magnetic fields, while the Earthling couldn’t – or just chose not to. When it came to the mathematics testing portion of the exam, they fared about as well. Neither of them made any attempt at resolving the prime number sequences, neither recognized symbolic proofs of the fundamentals of mathematics, and the cat technically scored higher than the human in that it at least attempted to pursue the hard light geometric shapes to rearrange them into their proper sequences, even if the specifics of sequencing were wrong. The cat scored higher on innate spatial processing, but the human did well on spatial reasoning, indicating it had a stronger sense of object permanence than the cat did. All in all . . . she concluded that neither of them constituted true intelligences.

According to the tests, the cat was at least closer . . . but the human possessed complex language, which meant he could be communicated with, at least on a rudimentary level. That expanded his list of potential occupations to a full 3 options. “Mechanical Portal Operation Regulation Associate, Medium Scale Durable Goods Kinetic Manipulation Technician, and Oxygen-to-Water Processing Bioreactor.”

She listed him as a ‘MSDGKM Tech’, and posted it to the ‘net. It was ambitious, but she was sure she could find a translation unit in storage that would be durable enough to withstand his misuse. Cas would find him work, she self affirmed – She was obligated to in her core processing constraints, after all. But before she scheduled any interviews she was going to give him a citrus fragrance spray to cover the Earth smell . . .- – – –

She ‘walked’ to testing chamber a few minutes later, fresh jumpsuit in one hand, Brute-Alizer 9000 in the other. The Brute-Alizer was the only brand of universal translator that she believed would resist the ‘rigors’ of the Earthling’s… bumbling. Between his calcium ion rich internal skeleton and higher than average gravity home world, his body was a bit more durable than some of the sleeker, more subtle designs there were on hand. In form, the Brute-Alizer was a large collar device that went around the subject’s neck; the actual translation processor was embedded in several layers of impact foam wrapped in carbon fiber mesh in a lightweight alloy shell.

Of course . . . durability, cost, and performance were a ‘pick 2’ game. The lesser used languages were . . . inelegant when translated with this piece of technology, but functional. She’d even tested it out on her way. “Hello world.” She intoned softly, bulky device around her slender neck beeping softly as it struggled to find the correct language. “[Hello, world.]” It intoned back, in Universal Basic. She practiced smiling with pleasure. “Perfect.” There was a long pause. “[Good.]” A frown that came fairly instinctively after all her practice reading the human’s testing scores crossed her face. “Best?” A pause. “[Best.]” She shrugged, a sign that was commonly a gesture of indifferent resignation in bipeds with only four limbs. “Close enough.” She flicked it off, and entered the testing room.

– – –

The first meeting with the Earthling was not going well. Introductory pleasantries were surprisingly strained, with him using the cat as a physical shield to cover his reproductive organs, the cat becoming agitated by this, inflicting what appeared to be non-permanent damage to the Earthling, and a great deal of shouting what she believed to be profanity. She waited for this all to settle down before she attempted to speak.

“Hello! My name is C.A.S.I.I. and I’m here to help!” Her tone was chipper, her posture non-threatening, and her smile was wide, but not too wide as to exceed the parameters of her face.

“H-hey . . . I-Im Darren. Darren Higgs . . . uhh . . . where am I?” He was still clutching at what she assumed were his reproductive organs with both hands, and looking very flighty.

“Space!” She continued to beam, as she handed him the custom fitted jumpsuit.

He frowned, refusing to make eye to hard light simalcrum of an eye contact while hastily pulling on clothes. “Yeah, I mean . . . I knew I got abducted by something . . . I wasn’t sure if it was aliens or angels but . . . but where in space?”Cas, still smiling, pointedly ignored his question. “Please put on the collar.” She extended one of her arms to him, holding out the translator.

“Why? Who are you?” He backed up a few paces defensively.

Stepping forward to match the distance between them, she continued to smile in what she calculated to be a disarming fashion. “I am your Career and Social Integration Intelligence.” She leaned forward, and used one of her exasperated sighs, abandoning her attempts at generating a friendly rapport. “And this is a very durable translator, so you don’t have to worry about breaking it.” She activated a condescending smile. “As a technically sentient being, capable of emotions and limited reason, you have a right to live in this society. Without burdening you of the details of ‘how society functions’ and ‘what a society is’ you put on the collar, you do a job, you get to stay warm, and fed, and have lots of air to breathe. All of these are good for you, okay?” She began nodding, trying to coax the Earthling into mimicking her motions.

“O-oh . . . so where are we again? I mean, where in space are we?”

Cas gritted her virtual teeth in an unprompted expression of emotion. Maybe Mechanical Portal Operation Associate would be more his speed.

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  1. Don’t think I don’t hear that dogwhistle. Love the whole story, keep it up. Waiting for the next delicacy is pain. “Cas gritted her virtual teeth in an unprompted expression of emotion. Maybe Mechanical Portal Operation Associate would be more his speed.”