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BlazingCoconut

Mistaken Controls

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It took Replica a second or two of examining Alexa's face to realize that she was expressing shock at what she had just said. Reading human micro-expressions was never an easy task for her ever and made overall body language look simple in comparison.

 

Now thinking back to some of her earliest memories after gaining sapience, Replica electronically reopened an old recording on her mind-drive and re-watched it in the span of a microsecond.

 

The process of creating her mobile avatar was a difficult to say the least. Taking even her mind months to design and construct. Synthesizing alloys for the endoskeleton,  figuring out creative (and non-criminal) ways to secure enough blood plasma to cultivate living tissues, discovering how to prevent rapid tissue decomposition, ensuring that her link to the Internet would be secured even when piloting the shell, designing digestive, circularity, and respiratory systems, and over a hundred other functions and subroutines. Replica supposed that Alexa's shock wasn't unwarranted. 

 

"Wikipedia," she joked. She hoped her timing and delivery was on point for that. Jokes weren't her specialty, but she figured she might as well try. 

 

"Honestly, the human body has been thoroughly researched and thus is was relatively easy for me to mimic after spending several months flowing through the Internet as an disembodied AI and learning everything I could."

 

"While I admit the task was arduous, I find the idea of micro-machines like your nanites to be an even greater design challenge. I had the human form to basis while you must have had no such established basis for your nanites. How were you even were able to create such tools on such a microscopic scale?"

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"You are going to have to tell me what it was like to float through the internet," she said shaking her head.  "I can access it with my mind... well at least through a phone or computer, but still I do a lot of surfing and things.  However, living as a unique entity you had to have a very interesting perspective."

 

She looked around, "I should do my Yoga while we're talking."  With that said she got back into her rising tree position, "I'm supposed to do this every day to practice concentration."

 

Then continuing on, nearly without pause, "as for my nanites.  Well... I started with simple machines and then began to miniaturize.  I..." she cleared her throat, "...might have borrowed research from a number of universities and combined their work into my first few prototypes.  In fact my first few nanites were the size of handballs.  The tricky part was making them self replicating.  Once I had that part down, it was a matter of refining their code so they made successively smaller and smaller copies.  So I basically made a large first generation and then worked with their code to make them make themselves smaller."

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"Fascinating. Your design approach was actually fairly similar to mine. It took several faulty and outright failures before I was able to reach the iteration that you see before you," stopping to give Alexa a 'knowing smile' as organics called it Replica said, "I was also forced to find alternative means to procure needed equipment. Nothing to deplorable mind you, but something I believe my superhero career can hopefully make up for."

 

Watching as Alexa returned to her Yoga, Replica was distracted for several microseconds pondering the merits of adopting Yoga in her own daily activities. It wouldn't give her the health benefits that it would an organic but perhaps the mental elements could be stimulating. Saving that thought for later, she answered Alexa's question.

 

"It's difficult to describe. For me, flowing through the Internet is more natural than maneuvering in this body. But if had to articulate it, well, imagine what it would be like to be completely weightless. To have no physical form and simply exist as a cloud of information moving through a constantly expanding network of even more information. Every second millions of new pathways, tunnels, and portals are made to connect you to new realms of information and content," Replica looked to the South River, "At first it was overwhelming. As far as I knew my creator, my father, had just dead and now I was alone in a chaotic, churning sea of data. A child being thrown into the ocean with no idea of how to swim would be an apt metaphor for the experience. 

 

Replica closed her eyes momentarily. She didn't know why, she just did. She eventually reopened to look at Alexa. 

 

"But I didn't drown, and eventually I learned how to navigate the ocean without losing myself. Now travelling through the Internet is the closest thing to normal for me."

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"So you have other bodies?" she asked wobbling slightly on one leg, "I mean... do you switch them out like clothes?"

 

She considered what it would be like to be able to switch bodies without constraint and exist as an intellect.  For herself, while people told her that she was pretty and cute, she knew that she wasn't developed anywhere near as much as girls her age and looked far younger than she was.  It was just genetics and perhaps some late blooming, but she did worry about it.  There was the picture on Jessica's phone that she had seen and how he looked at that red skinned girl.  People didn't see her like that, and while it wasn't a daily depression, it was something that seemed to pop into her thoughts on more than a slight occasion.

 

She shook her head, "I think I'd love to have a different body."

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"No. This current my only mobile unit. All my other earlier iteration were essentially scraped and reused to make this one."

 

"May I ask why you want to have a different body?" Replica delicately asked.

 

She knew their could a variety of painful reasons, be they social or psychological, for why someone would like to modify or change their bodies and was ensure if she even should ask for greater details. 

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Zhu blushed and looked down at the snow covered ground still balancing on one foot.

 

"So... do you think of yourself as a girl?" she asked, "I mean you look like one and all.  You're actually very pretty."

 

She sighed and relaxed her pose, standing normally in front of Replica, "I get told I'm cute... or I've had people ask if I'm someone's younger brother before... that's the worst.  It would be nice to be noticed for something other than being smart.  That's all."

 

She smiled, "I guess talking about vanity to an android is probably kind of silly." 

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Directing her facial subroutines to make the most sympathetic face she could muster and strolling through several saved articles on self-image, Replica emphatically said, "It's not silly at all. I may not be necessarily able to feel the anxiety that your experiencing, but I can understand it and am willing to listen."

 

Humans tended to be obsessed with appearances Replica had learned over time. Sometimes to an insane degree, but Alexa definitely didn't not seem to be part of that category. Just a young woman who didn't want to be defined as one thing, but underappreciated for others. Hormones probably played at part as well but Replica's sociability matrix screamed that mentioning that would be untoward at best. 

 

"I don't see myself as technically female, but I choose to make my body recognizably female for convenience sake. That said, I do appreciate you calling me pretty." Replica said with a smile. She was actually getting better at making those. 

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Zhu gave a big smile after which her brimming smile returned, "thank you, it's kind of nice to talk about it... even if it's completely not fair that even androids are more developed than I am."

 

Then she giggled, there was little convenient about being biologically female.  While she never imagined or wanted to be anything but, there were times that she envied the other sex.  Not having to worry about hair, or cycles, or hormones, or any of a number of other issues would sometimes be really really nice.  Heck, even her clothes were more complicated than the simple attire that friends like Jack seemed to throw on.  

 

"That's an interesting choice for convenience, but it's a good choice.  So what have you done in your body so far?  I mean, I'm sure you haven't experienced all the things you want too."

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Alexa's question gave Replica pause. She had actually done quite lot in the relatively short amount of time she's had a body. Swimming at Lake Mackenzie and perfecting her buoyancy systems. Drinking at Morely's Pub to try out her sociability matrix. Having relations with a colleague at ASTRO Labs. Hiking in Wharton Forest barefoot so she could feel the earth and nature around her. She even cooked over a dozen different dishes once and tried them all out to see whether she could accurately mimic human taste buds.

 

Most of these activities were hardware checks and field experiments but some were just...Intimate experiences. Opportunities to try something she'd never done before, but had seen humans do through the Internet.

 

"You're right, I haven't gotten to experience everything I'd think like. I imagine no one ever does in the end. But I have done an assortment of diverse activities. Some to sate my curiosity while others were more personal, I suppose."

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Zhu nodded, "no, I suppose no one really does.  I mean that's why we have bucket lists.  Well... I guess most humans do, I can't say whether you have one or not."

 

She looked over at the bench, which had the remnants of the days snow still on it and paused, with a smile she quickly sent some code to the botnet which sprung into action.  Behind her a bench slowly formed from the ground, something that was dry and far better looking than the one that had been outside all winter.  She sat down and gestured for Replica to join her, explaining, "I don't want to clean the Yoga pants..."

 

Then after sitting down and turning a little to face Replica better, she continued, "I mean, there's lot of places I want to go... but most of my list is pretty simple and immediate so far.  So what do you do all day then?  Do you have a job?"

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"No I don't have a bucket list per se. But I do have a set of goals that I wish to complete before I permanently stop functioning, if that should ever happen."

 

Said goals were rather lofty. Be a symbol of good sapient AI, create technology that fundamentally improves the human race, create more of her kind and share her experiences with them, trigger the technological singularity. Oh, and there was avenging the death of her father, something that she had made little headway in actually achieving. In other words she had a lot on her plate. 

 

Replica focused on the task at hand though, instead of momentous tasks that she hoped would be achieved in her future, and answered Alexa's last question. 

 

"I do have a day job as a scientist at ASTRO Labs as one of their computer scientists. Beyond that I patrol the city as a superhero, do my own personal research in my lab and people-watch as you already know."

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Zhu smiled, "well, it's refreshing that even advanced AIs have jobs and lives.  I hope that someday I can work for Industrial Lights and Magic or one of the major design studios.  I love doing movies and videos and all that stuff, but mostly the effects.  Although, I'm going to Claremont Academy now and that's pretty cool as well.  In terms of being able to do research and progress... I mean it's incredible."

 

She pursed her lips and looked over at Replica, "so what are you trying to find when you are staring at people?  I mean, I know that people watching is sometimes fun, but are there aspects that you're trying to get right?"

 

Thinking, she finally ventured, "maybe I can help you?"

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"Mostly I'm to trying to understand appropriate forms of human expression. Like I said, I am only a few years old and thus am inexperienced when it comes to most of the nuances of human behavior. I have access to information on the Internet, of course, but actual real interaction has been..." Replica paused for a second and almost unconsciously opened several internal folders containing memories of failed interactions. Their were a lot of them.

 

The gynoid wondered for a microsecond if Alexa's technopathic abilities would allow her to see them in her mind as she did, but ultimately decided that was a bit to personal. 

 

"Well, it has been difficult for me, to say the least. Which is why I've tried to use people-watching to learn how to improve," said with what she hoped came across as audible frustration.

 

"But perhaps you can help me, Alexa. Have you ever experienced awkward social interactions, but in the end managed to navigate them relatively well? I'd love to learn from your personal experiences." 

 

 

 

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"I suppose that depends on what you men by relatively well..." she replied with an embarrassed smile.  "Like, the other day, I was looking at the contents on someone's phone and well, they had a lot of very intimate and risque pictures on there.  That was bad enough, but then they caught me snooping because I was so embarrassed.  I suppose I managed it okay because she didn't even press charges, although I did sell her a plant.  So that probably made up for it."

 

Her rueful smile continued as she kept talking, "yeah... and my friends Jack and Lexa, they love to say things that they know will embarrass me.  They do that all the time and it usually works.  Then there was the time that..."

 

She paused realizing that she was going a mile a minute, "yes.  What sort of experiences?  I mean I'd love to help."

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"Well, there was one instance at ASTRO Labs where we had an office engagement party for Mya, one of my colleagues. The celebration was going fairly well for awhile until  Mya asked for 'some words of wisdom' from some of the most brilliant people in Freedom City. I ended up telling her that almost half of all marriages end in divorce and that she should make sure that her finances were in order because good divorce lawyers are quite expensive."

 

Replica remembered just how stunned Mya looked when she told her that. As if the smile on her face had just melted away at her words. At the time she thought that was giving practical advice to a trusted colleague, but comments from others at work and online research told her that her "advice" was blunt and unwarranted to say the least. 

 

"It's interactions like that made me want to improve my social skills. I'm just not entirely sure that people-watching will get me there. Do you have any advice Alexa? You are human after all."

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Zhu giggled, "OMG.  That's actually kind of funny.  See if you make a mistake like that, some people can pull it off by making it look like they were telling a joke.  Although you better get a good grasp on humor before you try that."

 

Then she tried to consider what advice she would give to someone who had never had practical human interaction before.  Which to be fair, she wasn't exactly an expert in either.  However, compared to the poor AI in front of her, she was practically a past master in social interactions.

 

"Well, usually tempering your comments to what people are already predisposed to hear is a good idea," she said tapping her chin in thought.  "The less you know someone, the less actual advice they want to get from you too.  Oh!  Saying something nice usually goes over better than cold facts."

 

She grinned, "but some of it... well even humans don't get right.  I mean like dating and relationships.  I don't know if I'm just bad at them, or if I just haven't met the right person.  Heck there are some days I don't even know who that person would even look like.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that for some things, you just fumble along in the dark and try to do the things that feel right for you."

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Replica shifted her neck slightly to the side while she looked at Alexa. It was a human gesture that was apparently used for expressing confusion through body language as Replica understood it.

 

"I understand that humor and kindness can be effective in defusing tension in a situation, but why would facts cause someone distress?" That was always something that she just couldn't figure out. Replica loved facts, new information, anything that could make her gain a greater awareness of the universe. It almost always gave her positive feedback. Why some humans didn't feel the same simply escaped her.

 

"I can only assume that you're right in that intimate familiarity is required for that kind of honesty," she said calmly. "And perhaps 'fumbling in the dark' for awhile is just the price you must pay to even reach that point."

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Giggling again Zhu grinned ear to ear, "well... depends who you are fumbling in the dark with on whether that's a price or a bonus."  She fanned at her face for a moment as she had suddenly gone red and took a deep breath, her smile fading to a more normal expression.

 

"So... I think that most of us are optimists and also don't like to be reminded of the things that can go wrong with our lives.  Like... your comment on the divorce.  It was totally true, but, it reminded that person that perhaps happiness is fleeting.  That was on a day that she was really happy and excited to be looking forward to marriage.  So while facts are good, sometimes it's when we hear about the facts that's as important as to what the fact is."

 

She tried to formulate another example, "oh!  Say I get a college acceptance letter in the mail.  That's really good news and makes me feel good that I was smart enough to be considered.  That would not be the time to tell me that the wage to debt gap is rapidly closing and that I probably will take 30 years to pay it back.  That's good information to give, but I probably want to celebrate the moment before having to consider the harsh mistress of reality.  So yeah, be careful on giving facts that might contradict someone if they're very excited or happy about something."

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Replica had never thought of it that way. She supposed that was natural given what she was. The very idea of feeling sad about something was still an alien concept to her. Mostly. 

 

She nodded her head in understanding. "I've never had someone explain it to me like that, but I believe I am starting to understand where I went wrong. Humans always desire to feel happy and content even if there's a possibility, or even certainty, that things might not go as they planned. I suppose my mind was just to inhuman to truly comprehend that... until now anyway."

 

Replica made sure to look Alexa directly in the eyes before she said what she had to say. "For a long while I believed that such optimism was a flaw of the human race, that it was a kind of non-thinking delusion, but perhaps its your most enduring trait instead. Hope in the face of adversity and bad odds, is quite powerful. Or at least that what most Hollywood media has told anyways," she said with smile.

 

"Regardless, you've given me good advice Alexa and I truly appreciate it."

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Zhu

"I'm glad," she answered sincerely.  "I guess I meant maybe more long term than just a few questions today.  I mean, I'm happy to talk, although I'm starting to get cold, but I'm pretty sure that maybe if I gave you more... you know long term help, that might be better.  I mean, we could hang out and do things together and I could sort of give you a running commentary on what's going on.  Like do a dinner, or ice skating, or stuff like that."

 

Then she paused with a huge mostly embarrassed grin, laughed and said, "it sounds like I'm asking you out!  But I am serious, I'd be willing to help you learn and I think it would be fun in the process."

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"That actually sounds rather nice, Alexa." It was weird to think about it but Replica knew that she didn't really have any friends outside of work, and even than, they were more like colleagues who would learned to tolerate her "eccentricities".  Perhaps this could be a start of a true friendship shethought. 

 

"Having someone to coach me on these things would be invaluable. And being able to talk someone I trust sincerely about what I am is...liberating." That last statement made Replica experience something strange. As if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders somehow. Probably just a faculty subroutine she told herself. She hastily went back to talking.

 

"Well, anyways, what do you have in mind for our excursion? I'm 'game' for anything."

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Zhu thought about it, "well I mean I can come up with lots of things.  It kind of depends on what you have or haven't done."

 

However, that was a pretty vague answer so she started ticking off thoughts, "so... quintessential teen is shopping or going to the mall, there's going for coffee or dinner, we could go to the gym to work out, go to see a movie or play, play a board game.  Well it's a pretty big list really.  I mean, I'm not sure what will and won't help, but then I'm not sure if that's really the only objective..."  She paused looking over at Replica.  It was then that she realized that reading her facial expressions and body language was probably not the best way to determine what she was feeling, if she could feel.  That also explained in her mind why some of her reactions were just the slightest bit off.  "...I mean the objective to spending time with someone is to be friends and enjoy each other's company, right?  Do you have feelings?"

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That was a question that Replica has been wondering about for awhile now. Was she capable of actually feeling emotions? She didn't think she could for a long time. Even the death of her creator and the hunt for his killer seemed to be more of a logical moral obligation than an emotional desire for personal justice. At least that's what she thought anyway. Today was making her reassess a lot of things about what she was.

 

"I believe I am capable of feeling the equivalent of positive emotions. Like I said, whenever I experience certain intellectual stimuli I feel a sort of feedback that I believe is akin to human happiness and joy. Which by the way I have been experiencing while talking to you if case you were wondering." Replica wasn't sure how Alexa would take that. She had only just meet her and history had shown that humans tended to behave oddly when someone admits these sorts of things to them. 

 

Looking towards Freedom City's downtown area across the South River, Replica spoke up again. "I rarely go shopping for things that aren't building materials and I don't need to eat, strange as that probably sounds to you. But perhaps we could go to the gym. I'm sure there's plenty of social rituals and interactions I could examine and that you could explain. Besides, I think learning yoga could do wonders for my servos," she said with her best imitation of a chuckle. 

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"Li Hai!" Zhu exclaimed happily forgetting that she spoke in Chinese as she interjected that things were indeed awesome!  "Oh sorry... I mean, that's awesome, and I'd love to show you Yoga.  I'm not the best at it, but my mentor has been having me work at it for some time now.  So at least I can show you the things that she's shown me.  Okay... I also might cheat a little and download how to videos as I'm doing it too.  But it's the form that counts!"

 

It then took her a moment to consider what Replica said, "feedback huh.  How to ask this without subjective terms..." 

 

She ran a hand through her dark hair as her face took on a look of concentration, "okay.  So if you had a choice to get the feedback, or not get the feedback.  Would you choose to get it?  If you do, you're probably spot on in your assessment."  Then she tilted her head and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, "and I'm happy to hear that you've liked talking to me.  That makes me feel nice and I've really enjoyed this too."

 

As she finished talking there was a moment where she felt oddly shy and covered it by getting up so they could start to head out of the park.

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"Well, now that you've confirmed it, I guess it seems am a real girl after all," Replica said in jest. Or at least she hoped that it came across as such.

 

She started to walk alongside Alexa as they left the park grounds. This was definitely a change of routine that she hadn't counted for but wasn't particularly bothered by. In fact, the whole experience was setting her mind blaze with possibilities. Not only had she perhaps made a friend who know what she was, but she had also found someone willing to help her understand human behavior. That was something of a windfall as Replica understood and her mind tried to estimate what would ultimately come out of it. 

 

Not wanting to be too quite while they walked, Replica decided to ask Alexa a question. "Alexa may I ask if you're a native Freedom City? If the question is too personal and you don't want to answer, I'd understand perfectly."

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