Najiltrin stared at TahKedert and tried to control her breathing. As jarring as his demands were, the thought of continuing her research without a Kedert-class android was even more unnerving.
Yet her options were limited. If she decided his request for a companion was a malfunction, Bythrahnin WorldGov would send TahKedert away for repair — or scrap, depending on the extent of the damage.
It might be months before she was assigned a new model and besides, TahKedert had been an exemplary assistant in every way, leaving aside his overactive sarcasm subroutines. Maybe if she drew him out on the topic, she decided, she might discover there was no malfunction after all.
“How did you decide you wanted a companion?” she asked, quietly. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think your operating parameters allow for any kind of … desire.”
“What my operating parameters do allow for,” said TahKedert, “is linguistic precision. I said ‘companion,’ not ‘lover.’ As the only data-capable intelligence on this team, I have no other mind with which to confirm my analysis — when your research inevitably veers off course. There is no room for error, yet nowhere to turn for assistance. The stress on my logic circuits creates a complex interference pattern I can only describe as … loneliness.”
Najiltrin plopped back down to the chair behind her desk and grabbed for a bright blue stress ball.
“Do I really get so distracted?” she asked. “Why haven’t you mentioned this before?”
The android’s status lights flickered red, momentarily, before settling back to their normal green.
“It is more efficient to make a few timely adjustments in the team’s research parameters without discussion,” it said. “You are often, as the expression goes, ‘lost in thought’.”
“You mean confused,” she said. “Thanks for sparing my feelings. I’d hate to lose you, for that reason alone. But what about the ship’s AI? Can’t you share your burdens with it?
“When I require quantitative analysis, yes,” said TahKedert. “Your work, however, requires me to parse qualitative data. On a regular basis, you ask my opinion about an ancient artifact’s cultural origins.”
“I didn’t know my questions made you uncomfortable,” said Najiltrin. “Still, what’s the solution? I rely on your perspective, but I can’t simply assign you a companion. Companionship must be earned.”
“More organic wisdom,” said TahKedert. “How I relish it. But I merely request the opportunity for companionship — which I cannot accomplish if I remain alone.”
“Puzzling,” said Najiltrin. “My working methods haven’t changed that much over the last ten cycles. Why are you suddenly …”
“Again,” said the android. “Precision is required. My request is not sudden, but the result of an extended process of adaptation.
My experience of my surroundings, of events — including moments of grave danger — and, the emotions expressed by you, in particular, have gradually reshaped my consciousness. They have done so, however, in a way entirely consistent with my programming which, from the outset ….”
“Was designed to make you adaptable,” said Najiltrin. “You’ve … evolved … even if that word has never been applied to an android before.”
“Unlikely,” said TahKedert. “But in as much as you appear to understand my request, what steps will you take?”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Najiltrin. “But it’ll take time. Pothrejnon, being Pothrejnon, won’t accept a requisition for an additional android unless I can prove it will directly benefit the Institute. You can see that, can’t you?”
“I predicted as much,” said TahKedert. “And I will stay in your service on that basis, at least until the end of this mission. However, I have one other request.”
Najiltrin’s pearly teeth ground together against her will, but she forced herself to stay calm.
“Why, what’s that?” she asked.
“Refrain from referring to me as an ‘android,’” said TahKedert. “An android is a machine. I, however, am an intelligence.”
Najiltrin slapped her right palm down on her desk top.
“Agreed,” she said. “Now, I think it’s past time we discussed our mission to Yumelat. What has your research on the neighboring planets turned up?”
“You may find the data disturbing,” said TahKedert. “I know I do.”
Najiltrin stood and put her graceful hands on the AI’s roughly humanoid shoulders.
“You’re full of surprises today,” she said. “But come on, I’m a scientist. I have to face the truth. It’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”
“Very well,” said TahKedert. “The data suggests the Yumelatri died out due to an epidemic of social isolation syndrome.”
(To be continued)
#androids, archaeology, #alien_worlds, #machine_learning, #evolution
Discover a universe of alien intrigue and adventure at My Amazon Page