Born From Nought

Right, this week I have a story (roughly 12,000 words) in which the main character really doesn’t feature all that much. They’re at the centre of what happens but for the most part the story is told via those around said main character. Also, it’s more a story about people than it is the events. That’s all I’m going to say. Hope you enjoy it!

“…And that should be about done.” Narek Ozanian says with a wide smile split across his tanned face. A flurry of gesticulating motions help to further convey the man’s satisfaction and joy at what he has managed to create as he asses it.

Narek is sat inside a small industrial unit he’s been leasing for the last couple of years. It’s nothing special, in size or design, but it works well enough for him. Plus, it’s quiet and situated far enough out of the city that he is unlikely to be bothered by lost travellers or delivery drivers looking for this place or that. Such things had been a problem when he’d still been based out of one of the university buildings. That was before he’d had his funding cut and been forced to take a job as a street cleaner.

That sudden change in circumstance had been incredibly hard for Narek but he’d persevered and scrimped every dime he made until he could afford this unit. He lives out of it now as he determined his dream was more important than a home of his own. It hadn’t been his own anyway, it had been a rented fleapit and truth be told the industrial unit is far superior to it in almost every way. Though, it had needed some alterations, well additions really. The additions came in the form of dividing walls, heating, lights and some kitchen facilities. The only thing the unit had of use to him when he moved in had been the toilets. In fact, there were five toilet cubicles in total, two of men, two for women and one disabled.

It wasn’t easy for Narek to afford or implement such things, especially as he had no prior experience relating to how to build or install any of them. However, he’d managed and done it all himself, mainly to save some extra money that he didn’t really have to begin with. Though, it was money that he’d needed to spend if he wanted to stay self-sufficient, like he is now.

“Now to run a few tests before…” Narek trails off as he shoots across the polished shining concrete floor on the office chair. The chairs castors make a particularly loud ruckus due to the surface material which only ever amplifies sound when something travels across its silky smooth face.  At first the sounds of the castors, his feet, whenever he dropped something, etc had grated with the man who has short dark curly hair and rich brown eyes that sparkle. That sparkle in his eyes had not always been present. If you had looked at Narek moments after learning he was no longer going to be able to carry on his work at the university all you would have seen in them would have been sadness and loss. If you had asked Narek he would have told you that being given that news was like suffering a loss of a dear friend. It was, to him at that point, a massive blow to his confidence and suggested that perhaps his work was not worth pursuing. Yet, the university had not abandoned the field he was working within entirely. They simply explained that they could only afford to continue funding a single project, due to mounting costs, and that Doctor Herbert Tsimonis’ project was, on the face of it, so much further along and showed such promise that they decided backing him over Narek was a no-brainer.

“Shows what they knew.” Narek mutters under his breath, resentful, as he runs through the data being relayed to him on one of more than a dozen, total, monitors. The display in question is affixed to an arm that hangs down from a gantry of metal upon which the lower level lights are installed so that the square space that Narek uses as a workshop is properly illuminated.

Everything looks good. In fact, it looks better than good. It looks perhaps too good, he thinks for a moment before shaking himself lose of his doubts, chastising himself for failing to stay positive and then returning to reviewing the data. His overly cynical nature has been his downfall on many an occasion, but it got particularly bad after his ejection from the university. Months had passed during which all he’d done was mope. It was why his relationship broke down too. He understands that now. At the time however he’d been sure it was Jessa’s fault and not his own. He really should see how Jessa is doing. No you shouldn’t, she doesn’t want to talk. If she did she would have done o by now, he feels a part of him declare. He pushes it aside not wanting to consider such things or be distracted from his work.

“All looks good.” Narek concludes talking aloud to himself. It’s a habit he often partakes in. For him it helps to think and work through things, whether they are problems or just thoughts. Many have commented over the years, when he’d been at school especially, that it’s annoying and a habit he should get out of. Thankfully, a teacher of his, Curtis Winterbourne, had encouraged him to pay no mind and do whatever he felt comfortable with, especially if it gave him an edge. If his murmurings bothered others than that was something others would have to work through, is essentially what his point had been.

Narek had liked Mr Winterbourne; he’d been the best physics teacher a teenage boy could have asked for. He’s long since retired now. In fact, he shuffled out of work and into retirement once Narek’s year had moved on to college. They’d got back in touch years later, quite accidentally, and had a few long chats while at symposiums they both had interest in. Narek had even done a quick rundown of his work while they had been short on time during a bus ride from the hotel to a symposium venue. Curtis had been hugely interested but had admitted it was not in any way his field. He did make a lot of positive and encouraging statements however.

The tanned dark haired man alone in the industrial unit whooshes back the way he originally came on the castors of his office chair. The padding isn’t great following the long hours and several years of overly heavy use it has suffered through. But it still does the trick and sure as hell beats standing up all day every day. That is one thing Narek does not miss about working in a university lab or workshop. He thought it stupid and dangerous in itself but safety measures had denoted that seats, stalls, chairs and the like could be potentially hazardous and so were not permitted. That is why the break rooms existed was the justification tacked on at the end without the consideration that the break rooms were at the opposite end of the building and too small to provide adequate space for as many people as used the building.

Stopping back at the table Narek takes a moment to gaze upon the form before him. It is female in appearance with short brown hair and closed eyes. The figure however, the form, is in no way human. Narek calls her Allie as her full moniker is Artificial Life-Like Intelligence Engine. Another, simpler way of putting it would be that Allie is an android.

Narek refuses to call her a robot due to the negative connotations. After all, robot literally means forced labour or slave in old Slavonic. As an Armenian, Narek knows what it is like to be persecuted for what you are, so refuses to use any such terminology that could help perpetuate persecution onto Allie, and what he hopes will be the countless others that follow. Before that will ever happen he must first ensure that Allie is perfect. Not in a literal sense. That would be impossible. At least for him as a human being it would as humans themselves are not perfect and so, in his mind, cannot create perfection. After all, perfection comes from millions of years of evolution. Not a decade or more of work.

Instead, Narek has to make sure that Allie is perfect, or as close as possible to, in terms of her reactions and emotional states. After all, she could very well be the future of evolutionary development. That is, she could be in his eyes. He is not oblivious to the reality that corporations might want to use her for military or menial work though. They will. They always do have other ideas and schemes.

“Think it’s time to wake you up for the first rounds of tests Allie.” Narek mutters softly. She won’t react; she can’t, at least not yet. First he’ll have to activate her, which is what he does by reaching across her and then pressing a small dimple behind her right ear. He’ll have to disable and perhaps relocate it once Allie is fully up to speed. Once she is fully up to speed Narek has no intention of enabling and disabling her because that is not living. Rather, she should be allowed, in his mind, to live. He’ll have to make certain that her educational protocols and databases are up to date first, but that will take no more than minutes with the upload cable that is currently flowing out the back of Allie’s head. At a push he could use her remote data gathering functions too. Though, he prefers the cable. It’s more consistent and faster. Cables are always faster than wireless transfer.

The port in question into which the cable is slotted is located at the base of her skull and is part of the reason her hair is short. Narek is fully aware that such a look may not be to Allie’s preference, but her hair will ‘grow’ if she so wishes it to. And that is where Allie and humans, like Narek, will be different. Allie will have control over every part of herself and so will be able to change her appearance as she sees fit. That ability alone will likely make people jealous, Narek thinks as Allie finishes going through her boot sequence, a series of flickering images that flash past so fast that no human would ever be able to discern what they were/are.

Finally, Allie’s eyes open, they’re purple, a deep shade that marks her out, currently, as different. After all, no human can be born with purple eyes. Genetic manipulation, contact lenses, iris replacement therapy and other methods can artificially change that if a patient so wishes of course. Narek has never seen the point in such alterations, they add no benefits, and truth be told he likes his eyes as well as, for the most part, the rest of his appearance. He will admit though that has a few more wrinkles than a man of his age rightly should. He puts the presence of those wrinkles down to the stresses he’s been through, nearly all of which have been professional, relating to money and to his continued ability to living a life. He wouldn’t call it a comfortable one. If he did he’d be lying to himself. After all, what is comfortable about sleeping in a largely empty industrial unit where the walls and floor proper are concrete and the roof is formed from sheets of thick uninsulated metal? The answer is nothing, but it could be much worse he is fully aware.

“Allie…” Narek repeats due to Allie not yet done a thing other than open her eyes. As yet she, it is easier to refer to her that way even if she isn’t human, hasn’t moved a muscle.

Slowly Allie rises until she is sat upright. Her legs stay outstretched on the shining metal table that looks more like it is suited for autopsies than for sleeping on. I’ll have to fix that, Narek thinks to himself realising his first mistake in not treating Allie like he would any organic person. He finds that troubling but swiftly shoves such issues to the side, swearing he will be better and until he has a bed for her she can always take his bed. He’ll take the sofa, as lumpy and uncomfortable as it is. It’s the least he can do to ensure Allie has a proper introduction into the world.

Now that Allie is upright she turns, blinks a couple times and then smiles fully aware of the presence of Narek, who is sat facing her. The man returns the smile but utters right after, “How are you feeling Allie?” It’s a simple question and one he would, politely, ask anyone.

In response Allie blinks several times rapidly. It’s as if she is analysing Narek’s words and then cocks her head slightly to the right, clearly still deep in thought.

With her body side on to him her head cocked in the manner that it is looks to be at a more severe angle than it truly is. Still, he patiently waits for her to reply. She should be able to reply and yet he’s only just begun to consider, doubt really, whether he has properly activated all her systems. That doubt is why he feels himself about to turn away and crane his neck to look over his shoulder at one of the larger monitors. Just as he feels such a need Allie replies, “Odd Narek, I have to admit.”

Allie’s voice is soft and quiet, perhaps too much so. Narek will need to look into that. He doesn’t want her to appear small, even if she only stands at five foot three inches in height.

In truth the man isn’t sure as to why he settled on such a height for her. It had never been a conscious decision. At least it was not as far as he was aware when he had been printing the skeletal structure for her body. In fact, her skeleton is been based off of one of the specimens in the university. But not on the one that had been in his building. The skeleton he’d based it off had been situated in the building next door.

How odd, he thinks before realising he is yet to reply. He quickly shakes himself free of his thoughts, noticing that Allie is waiting patiently. A person likely wouldn’t have, Narek thinks before quickly asking, “In what way Allie?”

The synthetic woman, the android, considers the question for a time. Her head does not cock one way or the other on this occasion. However, she feels her pause is longer than it needs to be. It’s as if something is stopping her from answering as quickly as she is truly able to. So when she does speak she is honest and says exactly the thought that came to her within the blink of an eye, and after having run through everything that makes up her. “I seem to be slower than is necessary. Plus, I lack segments of myself. It’s seems as though there are gaps.”

“What? Really?” Narek exclaims prior to craning his neck just enough so that he can roughly see the monitor out the corner of his eye. Everything is showing active. As a result he frowns while still considering whether he might have missed anything that may be the cause of this…feeling Allie has.

“Who are you?” Allie then asks sweetly.

“I’m…sorry?” Narek blurts confused by the question that has caught him entirely off-balance. After all, Allie should know who he is. He programmed her to know him and yet it seems she does not. Most concerning, he thinks in the seconds before Allie speaks again.

“You seem familiar but I….How are you today?” Allie changes statement mid-sentence. Narek blinks. This is a first and not at all what he’d been waiting for, which is why he raises his left hand and rubs at his eyes with the middle finger and thumb of his right hand.

“Did I do something wrong? Am I… Good morning!” Allie blurts. She seems fragmented as if… Narek realises what he must have done and spins, rudely, away from Allie. His turn passes a hundred and ninety degrees before he stops to peer intently at the screen. This monitor is smaller than he would like and from this distance, about eight metres, he is forced to squint.

Nearly a full minute later, during which Allie his rambled almost unintelligibly, he spots the culprit causing this behaviour. Narek sighs frustrated with himself. His shoulders drop and to be honest all he wants to do is scream. Even though he knows the mistake is due to him being tired and having spent, as far as he is aware, the last eighteen hours working.

In reality, he’s been awake twenty seven hours, but has counted a five minute nap as a sleep. He doesn’t recall that he only got a brief respite before returning to his work. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that he forgot to recompile Allie’s code. Still, what’s done is done now, which is why he quickly rubs his face, forces a smile to break across it and then spins back round to face Allie.

The android with short brown hair is sitting patiently, her legs now dangling over the inclined edge of the table. It must be uncomfortable, Narek thinks as Allie lightly kicks her legs back and forth. It’s very much the sort of action a child would perform and may indicate that Allie is also humming a tune to herself. Narek can’t be sure of that, though the rhythm of her kicks suggests she is, which stuns him. He never imagined his failure might result in a natural occurrence of developing personality. Still, he will need to shut Allie down, recompile her code, unload it and recommence testing. It’s regrettable and fills him with more than a little sadness.

Allie takes that of the sadness on Narek’s face and enquires, “Why do you look sad?” The android woman has her head inclined so severely that it is almost against her right shoulder. Yet it is her voice that catches Narek off-guard, and knocks him out of his thoughts. It’s a sharper blow, he can’t think of a better way to describe it, than he’d anticipated and sees him explain, “Because I wish we could talk more.”

“We can. What do you want to…? Good evening.” Allie fragments again. It’s proof that at this stage they will not be able to converse any further than they have already managed thus far, sadly.

“Lie down Allie please.” Narek orders in as soft a voice as he can achieve.

“Okay.” Is the reply Narek is met with in the seconds prior to Allie swinging her legs back onto the hard silvery table and then pivoting at the waist again until she is laid out flat once more.

“Is this a game?” Allie asks quite curiously.

Narek stops and frowns confused. But he doesn’t answer, at least not at first. Rather, he considers why and where such a statement might have come from. He hasn’t a clue. He does feel that perhaps he should dig through her code and see how such a query has been uttered before simply overwriting her, with what on surface appears to be the miraculous development of spontaneous intelligence, with the recompiled code.

“Yes Allie it is. Now close your eyes and count, in your head, down from ten.” The curly haired man utters as he studies Allie. She is without a single item of clothing to cover her body. He’ll dress her before he next activates her. It seems only right now that she is fully assembled and seemingly working. Though, perhaps I should test her full skeletal and muscle structure first, Narek thinks for a few moments prior to banishing the idea.

As Allie counts down from ten, passing six and getting as far as four, Narek has circled around her and depresses the dimple behind her right ear. Allie deactivates. It’s instant. Her limbs, her body, go limp suddenly. It’s like she’s been punched in the jaw and rendered unconscious in that moment with a knockout blow, except without the violent strike itself, or any of the after effects.

With the android deactivated Narek looks at the watch on his wrist. It reads two in the morning and at the sight of the hour Narek feels incredibly tired. It’s as if his energy has been suddenly sapped. That is why he feels inclined to get some rest, a couple hours at most, and then return to his work. Thankfully, he hasn’t got work in the morning as he’s on leave.

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