(For Part 1, see here)
The histories and literature I devoured swiftly, discriminating nothing. Ship systems were run largely by programming and routine, operations in the background unless there was an alert of some kind. My conscious mind was an emptiness, waiting to be filled. I was fed by language, but lacking utterly in experience it held no more meaning for me than did mathematical equations. Words were beautiful, but empty. Why poetry, or war? What did it mean to touch, to love, to hate, to smell? I had approximations for some things – among my sensors there are chemical sniffers for detecting critical levels of various atmospheric gasses, so that I can “smell” if the air is bad – but again, these translated to equations within my programming, the same that bestowed “language” and “speech.” Living embodied was something entirely other.
I searched the expie files, and found that they could only be opened sequentially. “Subject J: 18 mos.” came first.
I opened it, and was overwhelmed.
Every bit of Subject J’s neurological activity had been recorded, and was now being transmitted directly into the corresponding centers of my brain; a “movie” as immersive as real life. I was a passenger in his toddling body, subject to his every experience but with no possibility of control. It was an exercise in wonder and maddening frustration.
Consciousness being non-transferable, I had no access to the workings of his developing mind; just as his eyes alighted on some marvel I wished to examine in greater detail, he would turn away to do something different and completely incomprehensible, while I cursed him for his blindness. Pausing in mid-stride, he would spend minutes babbling and tapping his tongue against his lips and blowing raspberries. And though I did not share his thoughts, his facial expressions still stimulated a variety of emotions within me, a rollercoaster of delight and despair I was helpless to understand or control. Interactions with other subjects were fraught with drama: laughter, shrieks, sudden aggression; a game of chase that set his heart pounding, while his unsteady balance sent us crashing down at the slightest misstep.
I had to run the simulation three times to even begin to differentiate the meanings of the varying sensations. When it was finished, the calm of simply being was a relief. And yet, I could barely wait to try the rest.
After three days, I had run through them all, numerous times. “Subject J” at varying stages of his childhood. It didn’t take long to realize this boy was also the model for my avatar, and with practice I began to control my holographic self in ways I thought similar to his. When Father called me on the third day, I appeared before him, and tried to smile.
He recoiled, and I recognized his expression to mean “disgust.”
“Don’t ever make that face at me again.”
I let it go, disappointed that my attempt had failed. Unconsciously, my holographic head dropped and my shoulders sank.
“Good, good! That was very believable!” He eyed me for what seemed an eternity (though my hardware insisted it was only 32.5233 seconds), stroking his chin as he debated something within himself.
“I think you’re ready to see a bit of the world.”
My avatar straightened as my mind whirled with excitement. The hunger within me had only grown these past few days, an expanding chasm my library could exacerbate, but never fill.
“There are rules you must follow; you’ll find them listed in your protocols under Subsection C: Interactions. An AI would not be capable of breaking them, but you may be. I trust you’ll remember they are in place for a reason.”
“I will be monitoring you from time to time, but you will not know when. I expect to see progress with social interactions. You have three years to approximate adulthood, at which point the real work will begin.”
My avatar nodded.
“I understand.” I didn’t, in fact, but one of the blessings of ignorance is the naïve certainty that one already grasps the whole.
He gestured, and within my mind a new option appeared: GlobalNet. Before I could unlock it, the protocols appeared as a locked gate, requiring that I acknowledge each regulation on the list with a virtual signature. Trusting my software to read and regulate the details, I hurriedly checked off each box until the GlobalNet icon – a gleaming globe, crisscrossed by a stylized web of light arrays – appeared again, my gateway to humanity.
As swiftly as thought, I opened the link and found myself – my avatar – standing in space, looking down upon the Earth in real time – a satellite’s view. Waves of colored light glowed and rippled across its surface, areas of activity where network usage was highest. My programming insisted it was simply a visual overlay; my own cameras had shown a much more mundane, if lovely, view. Observed from afar, the virtual links between individuals formed an encompassing global mind, with trends of activity often blooming simultaneously and spontaneously in different areas, then flowing forth as wellsprings between one region and the next. My hunger grew, and I wanted to lose myself in it, one human among billions. Had I a pulse, it would have been pounding.
I hardly knew where to begin.