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Rise of the Robots (IC)


Heritage

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Kord Dorms, Floor One, Claremont Academy

Sunday, September 6th 2020

 

Pol was in their room, sitting in the titanium-frame chair their parents had made for them before they had to disappear; though it's design was simple, the robot felt the love of the two engineers who created them in every strut, bolt and weld. The synthetic didn't own much, but it was their favorite thing in the world. Other than the chair, all they owned was a small daypack, a few books (mostly Edgar Allen Poe) and a travel editions of games.

 

While scanning through the school's website on their laptop, Pol noticed there was another synthetic student on campus; this was amazing news! Without hesitation, they fired off an email.

 

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To: Eira Katastroff

From: Pol Rothstein-Frasier

Subject: I am also a robot

 

Hello! My name is Pol, also known as Shift, and I just began school here at Claremont as a sophomore. As I mentioned in the subject, I am also a robot, and would very much like to meet you, if that's all right. When and where could we meet.

 

Pol

 

 

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There was no response to the email - but several moments later there was a firm, persistent knock on Shift's door. When they opened it they were confronted with the figure of a gynoid, eyes hidden behind dark, reflective glasses, hands folded behind her back, body wrapped in a white labcoat over black shirt and pants. Eira looked Shift up and down and said via short-range radio 

 

Are you capable of receiving direct electronic communication? 

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When Shift came to the door, they were in their default configuration, and all their robotic surface visible beyond a pair of simulated Claremont sweatpants. The upper half of the face was the featureless dome, while the lower half sported the soft white vinyl humanoid mouth, which was currently open in surprise. Their response, however, was also in short-wave radio.

 

Yes, I can! You must be Eira. I'm sorry, would you like to come in? I didn't expect you to come right away.

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I had been awaiting your message. 

 

Eira entered the room and looked around, peering over her glasses as she looked around the room, before removing them and putting them in her labcoat breast pocket. She studied Shift, eyes vaguely unfocusing. 

 

I recognize Archetech in your design. Miss Americana played a key role in my own design. You appear well-crafted.

 

There was a momentary hesitation - then Eira seemed to come to a decision. She looked at Shift and began to change, flesh seeming to retract, turn transparent, or both along with her morphic molecule clothes, until she was standing there in brightly polished chrome, so bright Shift was themself reflected in the metal, eyes white and featureless. She was not quite feminine in this form; certainly gracile, but one would have had a hard time picking out gender. 

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There was very little on Shift's side of the room; just a metalic lounge chair, a simple bookshelf with a few books and a framed portrait of her parents, and a small daypack tucked in the corner. Zach's side of the room was much more stereotypically 'boyish'.

 

Thank you! Your assembly is particularly beautiful. Miss Americana does excellent work. 

 

Not having a seat to offer their guest, Shift looked around uncertainly before lowering themselves into the 'hump' of their chair before gesturing towards Zach's bed.

 

I don't think my roommate would mind, if you'd like to take a seat. I must admit, you have me at a slight disadvantage. I haven't had a chance to read up on you or your exploits here at Claremont.

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You will hear many things about me here. 

 

A quicksilver smile crept across Angelic's lips. 

 

They are all true. 

 

Hands folded behind her back, she looked around the room and took a seat. 

 

I work primarily in the sciences - but Orange Squad promises to have an eventful senior year. Are your books of sentimental value?

 

 

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Shift turned to look at the books and smiled. 

 

Yes, they are, but I do still read them from time to time. This frame may look into impressive, but it does still have several limitations. So much of my processing power is used in routine operations that my long term storage is rather limited. Also I have no way to directly interface with computers.

 

They indicated the laptop with a sigh. 

 

These are upgrades I plan to make at the earliest opportunity. As far as my favorite subjects go, I do enjoy working with technology, but I also enjoy puzzles and mysteries.

 

Shift shrugged.

 

Perhaps some form of detective work would suit me best. I'm not sure what squad I've been assigned to yet. What kind of activities does your squad participate in?

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The abrupt change to spoken language was unnerving, but that seemed to be par for the course with Eira; Pol wondered how well she got along with the other students.

 

"Well, there are several reasons, but there are two primary ones," they continued. "The program that forms the basis of my functions and personality was created and updated over the course of sixteen years, so in a sense I really am a teenager. My 'parents', Sarah Rothstein and Alan Frasier, felt that it would be best if I had contact with individuals my age to continue my intellectual and social development." And here, the robot appeared to become somewhat uncomfortable. 

 

"The other reason is not so pleasant. Rothstein and Frasier are primarily programers, with their engineering skills a distant second. They entered into an ill-advised partnership with an unscrupulous company, that secretly trafficked in stolen robotics. Once they learned the truth, they had to go into hiding to protect both themselves and me."

 

The metal arms rose up and dropped in despair.

 

"I have nowhere else to go."

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Eira winced, emotions working their way across her metallic face. "That is...regrettable," she finally said after some time. "I am glad you are safe here." She was silent for a moment visibly thinking, before she said, "This is a safe place. You will grow well here." She rose to her feet, hands still folded behind her back, and said, "So you are a pure artificial intelligence, yes? Interesting. Do you have a direct interface port?

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"To be honest, I was never intended to be sentient. I was created as the Polysynaptic Operations Logarithm, a high-end piece of software for the research market. I was intended to be bundled with other applications and sold to places like ArchTech. My parents called me 'the little program who could'. I evolved very quickly."

 

Shift was looking down at their hands, rubbing one thumb along the ball of the other; after a few seconds, they looked up and smiled with a hint of embarrassment. "I actually don't have a direct access port. Either an oversight on the part of the original criminal designers, or an attempt to limit my abilities. Currently, I think it's the latter. But perhaps we can figure something out? I would enjoy the chance to exchange data."

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"Oh," said Eira, a look of understanding and dawning sympathetic anger on her face as she looked Shift over. "I have a minaturized robotics laboratory in my room," she offered, her voice cool and face not unsympathetic. "It is more advanced than the school's 'science' labs," she added, her voice cold and cutting. "I could look into providing you with upgrades." She walked up close, in what would have been a human student's personal space, and looked Shift over. "It is a matter of providing a read-write protected way to access your central nervous system. Do you use compacted carbon fibers, or...?

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If Shift was bothered by the proximity, they didn't show it. "Yes, carbon fibers. As you say, there appears to be consistent details between our designs." The robot paused for a second and pursed their lips. "Before we pursue any upgrades, there is a function of my design you should know about." 

 

A series of nanotech ripples played across the synthetic's form, reconfiguring the chassis into two distinctly human forms, one mixed race and female, the other a blond Caucasian male. After demonstrating this ability, Shift returned to their default neutral form.

 

"There are theoretically unlimited forms I can assume. Those are just the two I've assumed on campus. I felt you should know, in case it changes anything for you, which I would understand."

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"...a nanotech shapeshifting matrix. Fascinating," said Eira, her face inches from Shift and her whispered voice a low, throaty contralto of excitement. "No, this will change nothing - my laboratory is built around a Lor Star Navy mechanic's kit, and is thus fully nanotech-compatible. If anything, this will make the work easier. Come with me," she said, and turned around and walked out of the room. The two obvious robots got some stares from the organics as they went, but Eira was all brusque business, full of questions about Shift's internal makeup and carbon-fiber nervous system. 

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Shift found themselves being practically dragged by the enthusiastic Eira, who quickly discovered the newcomer was much more dense than they first appeared, though still no problem for her robotic strength. As the pair continued along, Pol continued to relay their story.

 

"I believe this frame was designed for infiltration and/or assassination. My current hypothesis is that the criminals hoped to override my programming, and use me as little more than an operating system for their nefarious 'crime-bot'. Luckily for me, they underestimated my designers."

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Inside the room, Shift found Eira's side covered with Scandanavian metal posters, pictures of Miss Americana and a champion like an armored wolf, and images of a very pretty boy Shift recognized as the hero Forever Boy. Eira led Shift to a desk that was clearly one of the standard Claremont room models, but covered in a silvery nanotech coating that bore a slight resemblance to their own. When Shift was comfortable, Eira had the other robot sit at the chair - then stood directly behind her while interfacing with the nanotech system. "We will make sure that does not happen. Part your outer integument so that I can access your internal systems." Behind Shift there was the distinct, soft sound of metal sliding against metal as Eira's dataspikes wormed their way out of her sleeves, questing tips reaching out into the open air... 

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"No problem," Shift said as they reached back and pulled apart a section of protective exterior coating on the back of their neck. An idea occurred to them, and they laughed. "This must be what it feels like when an organic gets their first tattoo or piecing. You have to trust the other person to do it right." Strangely, Pol had no trouble trusting Eira, even though they'd just met; somehow it never occurred to them that this was an issue. It was like the two robots were automatically on the same wavelength. Besides, what would be the point of lying to a fellow robot?

 

Looking over at the other side of the room, Shift saw a few pictures and some girl's clothing on the bed. "What's it like to have a human as a roommate? Mine smells a bit."

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"It is acceptable. Lulu does not often probe into my affairs and I do not probe into hers. She has even been of assistance when dealing with psionic problems. Do you like music?" she asked.  With a snap of her fingers, the room's speaker system began to play music, a hard metal beat that turned into a female singer growling "Rise into the light..."

 

She extended her dextral dataspike and divided its access tip, silvery fibers reaching out like thin, questing tentacles to brush across, then penetrate, Shift's interior network. "Unfff..." She vocalized softly as she felt the beginning of system interface, as always a brief overload of her own autonomic responses. "This will not hurt," she promised, as she extended her sinistral spike. "As I have disabled your regional sensory warning systems. So have they told you who is an idiot here?" When the spike from her left arm struck, it struck deep, burying itself in Shift's neck. 

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Shift made the smallest of grunting noises as the spike entered her neck. "No, it's fine. In response to your question, I've only met one idiot so far. Sebastian, or as he calls himself, 'Casanova'." Though the robot currently lacked any visible eyes, you could hear the eyeroll in their voice. "He's some sort of mind controller who has the nerve to use his power on his fellow students! As a synthetic, I was thankfully immune to his manipulations. If he continues to act this way, I think he will come to a bad end some day."

 

There was a brief pause.

 

"I wish to prank him very badly."

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Eira hissed. "Your reaction is common among those who have overcome his abilities, or resist them innately. Those who enhance their social abilities beyond their own innate nature are playing with fire, yes? I have at times considered enhancing my own ability to interact with organics, but I ultimately realized I did not care," she lied. Behind Shift, expanding microfibers spread over their internal integument, producing a distinct sensation of motility underneath their exterior layer. "He thought me easy to manipulate before he learned of my true nature, that I would be another sheltered nerd he could play with." She made a small throaty laugh. "Hmm! His insecurity comes from his family's poverty. But it is impolitic to tell him this where others can hear, lest you become the 'bad guy' in their eyes. He whines so when pricked. I do know from personal experience that he has no ability to penetrate holographic representations of a simulated reality, or perhaps an artificial shapeshifter...

 

She tilted her head back so she could concentrate more directly on the interface, back arched as she closed her eyes to take in what was happening to her senses. "It will be a...simple matter to install a direct access port here. Your frame appears relatively compatible with upgrades. But it will be better if it is compatible with your existing neural architecture. How do you perceive yourself?" 

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Pol currently had no brow to furrow, but a slight frown touched their lips. "In what sense? If you're referring to my forms of sensory input, I can perceive and  interpret radiation at the visible and infrared portions of the spectrum, as well as a radio waves. I am also capable to increasing visible light input for increased visibility during nocturnal operations."

 

There was a slight pause, and then Shift's head tilted to one side.

 

"Or do you mean how do I perceive myself philosophically?"

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"When you close your eyes and picture 'Shift', what do you see?" Eira clarified. She explained as well by opening up a subneural pathway between them for illustrative purposes - demonstrating to Shift a strange image. The girl with elaborate, towering blonde hair in the beautifully-flowered rococo dress looked very little like Eira's external pierced-and-punk-rock presentation, but it was clear enough that it was the same person. After a moment or two, the impression vanished together. 

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The question left the robot perplexed for several seconds, as they began to realize something about themselves. "I don't think I have a self-image right now, or at least not much of a physical one. I existed without a physical body for so long, that in many ways-" Shift stopped abruptly. "No. That isn't true. I do have a self-image, but it is out of date."

 

"I see the first body Frasier built for me. It is small and rolls around on wheels, like an interplanetary exploration probe. I have several sensors in a turret, and an extendable arm with five axis of movement. I stack wooden blocks into a pyramid. It's the first time I interact with the greater world."

 

"Is it strange that I don't see this form in my mind's eye, the form that I'm wearing? I have existed for sixteen years, but I still see myself as a child.'

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"Hm. Shapeshifters will naturally have a fluctuating body image. My own has evolved considerably since my initial upload." She gave a throaty chuckle, then tilted her head, glowing white eyes behind Shift's back as she began withdrawing her dataspikes in a slow tik-tik-tik of carbon fibers disengaging from carbon fibers. "I will not be able to install the port today, but the procedure will be simple enough over the next few weeks. It will require another series of visits. What do you use for your offsite memory storage?

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There was a brief pause, during which Shift was very still. "I have no backups. All the previous hardware upon which I was stored, my crib and my nursery, have been destroyed." Another pause. "My parents didn't want any copies of me to fall in their enemies' hands, so they destroyed their lab. They used fire axes and cannisters of homemade thermite."

 

A much longer pause.

 

"They were very thorough." 

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