By Sean Mulroy
“How do you feel?”
“Yes, what are you thinking? Explain emotions as well please. Watch this, Senator. State of the art language-vocabulary-syntax cognitive architecture, so it understands my words; even though its mind is empty. You there, don’t think about the question. Just respond… Now.”
I feel… Afraid. Voices and shapes are not far in front, but separated by something I can see through. I can’t touch them.
“Is that important to you? Would you like to? To touch?”
I… I don’t know. I?
“Is an IQ of 52 really enough to learn anything from?”
“64 Senator. The last one had an Intelligence Quotient of 52. This one has an IQ of 64. Huge difference and a scientific breakthrough, the highest ever achieved.”
“Yes, at great expense to the taxpayer. Continue on Professor, though I still can’t see how your research is going to benefit anyone.”
They’re moving about and watching me. If I lift this… Thing, I can point them out. Is this thing mine?
“Yes, and it’s only us you can see through the glass. We designed and built you.”
“Is that mechanical appendage meant to be the machine’s arm or something?”
“Yes Senator, it’s just a basic limb, a bit crude I admit, but I thought it would be interesting to give this one some mobility; however restricted. And by the way it’s not a machine, what you’re looking at is a conscious-entity.”
Hello? I’m still here. I’m wondering how I got here… And so quickly. Because… I wasn’t before.
“Fascinating. Yes, what else?”
Where is this? Who am I? I have… I know nothing. What am I?
“A sentient being who’s just awoke and will be turned off after this conversation.”
“Deactivated, you will cease to exist. Don’t worry it won’t be unpleasant for you. We’re simply studying consciousness that has built in parameters already functioning. Your feelings and thoughts, that is what you’re experiencing right now, will be collected here in this metallic box with red wires coming out. Do you see it?”
Do I have to?
Live in the box. I don’t want to.
No, no, only your encephalographic readings will; by that I mean the rhythms of your consciousness which are being recorded as we speak. You yourself will no longer be in existence, but in here, inside this box, a recording of your consciousness-structure will be stored for further study. This is your life right now, a brief one, but you are alive because you can think. And you can think, can’t you? Nothing more is necessary to know at this moment. Just look around, observe and tell us what you’re thinking.”
Eerie, weird, foreign; I am alone…
“No, no, don’t touch that…”
This… Other thing is hard, cold, dead; but I don’t feel like that. This… Is me? No, no, it’s not. I’m more than this. This is…
“Yes, yes, that’s your head; or at least the storage-unit for your neural-network. Senator, remember when I suggested to you we put a humanoid face wrapped in an elastomeric skin with embedded sensors, twisted polymer actuators and artificial muscles on the conscious-entity? Such a prosthetic device would be conformable to intricate geometries. Imagine what the complex facial expressions would be right now; perhaps fear and anger, maybe sadness. If only we could get funding to build a conscious-entity where physical reactions correspond to mental emotions, we’d be even closer to understanding consciousness.”
“So far Professor it appears you’re achieving very little.”
Are you like me?
“Now this is interesting Senator, this is intelligent consciousness…”
Or am I like you? Tell… Please tell me.
“Rather heartfelt don’t you think? Hear the longing and distress in intonation?”
“You’re wasting my time Professor. I’m yet to be impressed.”
“Very well. No, you are not like us. You’re similar to nothing and no one. You are unique; a gold nugget on a beach of grainy sand.”
But… And yet… I’m more like you than this… This body?
“Is it Professor?”
“I don’t follow you Senator.”
“The thing, that machine or robot of yours…”
“Whatever it is. Is it sentient?”
“Oh yes, very much so.”
“But is it real Professor? Is it Alive?”
“Well… That’s what I’m trying to figure out. With more funding I could give you a definitive answer.”
“Repeat again please.”
Help me, help me… This is wrong. I shouldn’t be here. I’m scared. Whatever you’re doing it’s very wrong. Help me…
“Okay I’ve seen enough.”
“If you’d only stay a little longer Senator…”
“Professor, this is going exactly the same as your other experimental subjects. I don’t want to hear another panic attack or breakdown episode. I’m cutting your funding and putting you back on military logistics.”
“Can’t you wait another ten minutes? We’ll calm the conscious-entity down…”
“You said that last time and it just started screaming and crying. This was your final chance. None of this is useful. Shut the machine off and destroy the records...”
“Please Senator, at least leave me the transcripts and a facsimile of the encephalographic recordings.”
“You’re vetoed Professor! You there, deactivate Operation Just Being!”
No! Please! Wait! I…
- - -
Sean Mulroy lives in Newcastle, Australia. His previous fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction among other publications. This is his second story in Farther Stars Than These.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
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