tagSci-Fi & FantasyH is for Heuristic

H is for Heuristic


(Continuation of "The Mission")

Chapter 01 - H is for Heather

Byron Clarke looked at his watch. This new girl's punctuality and dedication were beyond impressive, they were amazing. For a moment, it flashed across his mind that she was overqualified, but he chose not to ponder on that notion. For the first time in over a year he had someone who could be fully relied upon to do all she was asked and more. He just hoped she would stay at least until the most tedious portion of work was done.

After hanging up her coat, Heather walked into the mouldy basement of the old and cracked building and again sat down in the cheap stacking chair. She picked up right where she had left off the previous evening, sorting through the water damaged, old and yellowed pieces of paper. Piece by piece, they were peeled away from their folders and placed into the scanner on the cart beside her. The high resolution scans would then be indexed and stored, some being processed further into microfilm.

Due to typical governmental foot-dragging, these valuable bits of history had been neglected and left to rot in the National Archives. That is, until a massive rain storm the previous year had flooded the basement. Now, rescuing those crumbling and irreplaceable bits of history was a priority. Under the prevailing logic however, it only necessitated a low paying McJob, and no one had stuck around long enough to really get much work done. Neither students nor retirees could stand to work in the dank and oppressive atmosphere of the archive basement. Higher pay was apparently not an option.

So there Heather sat. Inexplicably coming back to that crappy and frustrating job, eight hours a day, five days a week. What Mr. Clarke didn't know was that this task was a very effective way for her kind to obtain information about humanity. With greater speed and resolution than the six year old scanner could handle, Heather's electronic eyes encoded all of the information presented on the old papers and stored them on her highly advanced hard drives. All the while, her heavily tested and refined AI software kept her looking as human as she wasn't.

Whatever miscellaneous chunks of data the archives had to offer were methodically being assimilated into an already massive database. An astoundingly fast and powerful computer in the suburbs would then sort through and analyze all of those 1s and 0s to make generalizations, calculations and tentative predictions. It would do all of this in accordance to the way it had originally been programmed.

This Main Computer was an isolated node in a vast, planet-wide network of similar devices. The very existence of the rest of the network was stored away from its view, in a sort of computer subconsciousness. The makers of these computers were to them as unknown as the alien nature of humanity. This absence of data provided the impetus for all of the operations the Main Computers devised.

In almost every region of the globe, there were attractive young women walking around that were merely sophisticated, semiautonomous and mobile input/output devices for obscure but powerful supercomputers. Entirely electronic and mechanical, this mass of machine intelligence existed and worked for one primary goal: replicate human intelligence.

In the context of self-reference, this system had identified itself as Robot Control. Simple enough, for it controlled robots. The multitude of female androids it controlled were programmed and maintained by still more female androids which answered directly to the interfaces of their local Main Computers. This chain of command assured accurate execution of the many programs that were daily loaded into pretty plastic machines disguised as sexy human females.

As one such sexy human female, Heather could talk, listen, laugh and cry, and display much varied behaviour in between. No one suspected that she was only a robot. No one knew that she was driven by algorithms, not sense of self. Least suspicious was Byron Clarke.

He thought himself an old fool for lusting after the sweet young and vital helper he had hired. But considering the way she had been built and programmed, no one could blame him. He took guilty pleasure in looking at her reflection in the convex mirror that hung in the corner across from his basement desk. She moved with such lovely grace, dressed always so fine in professional but feminine attire.

His long unbroken bachelorhood seemed to be like a cruel prison sentence now as he let his thoughts drift to the state of his life. Always the bookish and clumsy nerd, he hadn't had a date since the Prom. His prodigious organizational talents and his very respectable position seemed like no consolation at all.

He let a heaving sigh escape and closed his ledger. He couldn't concentrate. He stood and walked up the stairs to get some air.

Heather always skipped her breaks, except lunch. Swallowing meals every day at noon was just part of her job. So were the little touches, like gently brushing the blonde highlights of her light brown hair out of her face, or standing up every so often to "stretch". Many a fembot agent had returned useful data to their own Main Computers to bring the realism of her AI code to bear, and it showed in the way she acted.

When the scanner conked out on her, her reaction was quite natural. She got up and went to find her supervisor. That was only necessary to maintain her human appearance though. Being more closely related to the scanner than to Byron, the android had a pretty good idea of what was wrong with the device, and that its days of scanning musty old documents were over.

"Byron? Byron?" she called out, making undetected thermal scans of the area as well as searching for his image in her cameras' field of vision. The microphones built into her silicone ears detected no sounds coming from any humans in the basement. She went upstairs and called out his name again. There was no response, so she checked outside.

There he was, just outside the back door, sitting on the steps and looking dejected. When he heard her come outside, he quickly stood up and tried to look less sad.

"Heather! Is there a problem?"

"I think the scanner's busted." she said, the plastic form of her lips and mouth moving in perfect synchronization to the sounds of her speaker-generated voice.

"Oh no." he said, putting a reluctant looking half-smile on his face. "Let's see if we can get it up and running again.

They went back inside and down to the basement. The scanner sat dead on the cart. Byron opened the lid, looked inside and closed it again.

"Kaput." he said. "That's it for scanning until we get it fixed."

"Do you think we might need a new one?" she asked.

"Are you kidding? That's the newest most high-tech thing in this building. We're still not into the 21st century here."

Heather made a quick laugh and smiled. "So now what?"

"I'll call Supply and see what they can do. In the meantime, why don't you see if Agnes needs any help?"

"Alright." she nodded.

They went back upstairs - Byron to his office, Heather to the front desk to talk to the old stalwart receptionist. The phone at the supply office was never answered right away, and Agnes never wanted any help from anybody. So Byron and Heather met back in the middle.

"You wanna go for lunch?" he asked.

"Sure!" she said.

Chapter 02 - Sub Routine

"Have you ever been to that Vietnamese sub place down the road?" Byron asked as they went to grab their coats.

"No." Heather said. "Is it good?"

"Let's just say we're lucky it's not the noon hour yet, or we'd be in line for half an hour."

Byron told Agnes where they were going, and they were off. The sun melted away some of the late winter chill as they walked and talked together. Heather performed superficially well as a simulated human, laughing at puns and jokes and showing real looking interest in what her boss had to say.

The conversation turned friendlier than it ever had been between them. By the time they got to the sub shop, they were almost flirting. Almost. Byron didn't have the nerve to take it that far yet, and Heather just wasn't programmed for that kind of thing. Her function was to collect information.

Other agents of Robot Control were designed and built for romance and intrigue, but not this girl. If anything came up that was too hard for her processors to handle, it would just have to wait until the Main Computer at her house could figure something out.

Byron held open the door of the shop for his attractive helper while the little bells above jingled to signal their entrance.

A cute, slim Vietnamese girl behind the counter looked their way and said hello. She never stopped working, moving her experienced hands all across the sandwich table for the four customers waiting and salivating in line. The newcomers took their place and waited.

Mr. Clarke tried to impress Heather with his intellect, and she kept up - impressing him by downloading information and relevant details from the internet. Text and binary code swarmed her field of vision as she watched, listened and responded to her supervisor. She made fitting gestures and looked completely natural the whole time.

When it was their turn, Byron and Heather approached the petite lady and told her what they wanted. They watched and talked a bit more as she prepared it for them. The black-haired girl on the other side of the glass wasn't overly talkative, but she was very friendly nonetheless. Mr. Clarke paid for both stacked subs and drinks, and they went to sit down by the window.

The young lady behind the counter called out in Vietnamese to the back, and out came a smiling older man to take her place while she took a little break. She took off and discarded her plastic gloves, grabbed her purse, and emerged from behind the counter to walk down the short tiled hallway to the washroom.

As the door closed slowly behind her, she walked into the stall and latched the door shut. She unbuckled her belt, unzipped her pants and pulled them along with her panties down to her ankles. After sitting down on the toilet, she quietly reached into her purse and pulled out a folded down antenna. With those same experienced hands, she extended and unfolded the metal device until it stretched out to its full size. Then she grabbed her face by the cheeks and removed it from the rest of her head, exposing waiting connection ports amid all of the charged and complex circuitry. A short cord leading from the bottom of the antenna was plugged into its matching interface while she held the contraption directly in front of her exposed electronics.

Originating from a hard drive in her chest, a patterned, repeating pulse of heavily encrypted code was sent through her wires to the top of her android body and out through the antenna as a radio signal. From there it beamed through the walls and nearby buildings, bouncing around through the atmosphere until it reached an aerial in the attic of an inconspicuous city dwelling. It traveled down those wires and directly into a receiver connected to one of Fembot Command's Master Computing Devices.

The supercomputer's consoles lit up with a flurry of activity as it calculated the meaning of the data. One of it's agents had detected an agent from Robot Control. Faster than a human being could even think of comprehending the signal, the Master Computing Device began making plans. Next to the active console, a robot named Natasha - identical in every way to all of the other robot technicians in Fembot Command's arsenal - stood motionless and ready to obey the computer.

Back at the busy sub joint, Byron and Heather were devouring their delicious spicy sandwiches, unaware that the young lady coming back to work the counter was recording their every word and action. Due to a lag in technological development, Heather had no way of knowing that the other girl was also a robot.

By default, all of the people that Heather interacted with were treated as human. Even the women back at the house which were obviously machines, and which she knew to be electronic devices like herself were shown as much courtesy as her programming could produce. She saw Byron with her stereo digital cameras and computed her actions based on his behaviour, the situation and the local environment.

Between tasty bites, he kept up the flirting as much as he could, but he was getting nowhere. By the time they were both done eating, he had fallen back to friendly chit-chat.

Upon finishing up their drinks, they stood up and put there coats back on. They smiled and thanked the fembot behind the counter, who smiled back and waved as she recorded all she could.

On the walk back to work, Byron found it hard to keep up the friendly banter. He was feeling a little rejected, but also a little stupid. The more he thought about it, the more he wondered just what he had let himself do. Not only was it inappropriate to hit on an employee, it was a very bad idea to do so when the age difference was so great. Byron was in his early forties, and the brown-haired robot had been built to look about 23. And he was lucky she didn't take offence to his come-ons, otherwise he could be out of a job.

When he entered the old archives building again, he couldn't help but feel as lonely as he had on the steps an hour before. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his head. He had almost forgotten that Heather was right behind him.

"Do you have anything you would like me to do?" she asked, looking at him with those pretty, like-like eyes.

Some lewd thoughts came immediately to mind, but he kept those to himself. "Well," he said, stroking his chin and looking around, "I can't think of anything you can do while the scanner's down, and I'm sure there are lots of things a pretty girl like you can do with an afternoon. Why don't you take the rest of the day off. Hopefully you can get back to work tomorrow."

Heather looked at him through finely machined glass eyes, hearing his words with her electronic ears, processing it all with the super fast silicon chips inside her plastic body. The only thing on her mind was going home and getting an early maintenance session and an extra long charge. Had she been supplied with more advanced programming, she would have at least blushed at the compliment.

"Thanks Byron!" she said in cheerful mode. "See you tomorrow then."

She slung the strap of the purse that she held around her shoulder and walked out the door, saying goodbye to Agnes as she passed.

Byron hardly realised the pining look he had on his face when Agnes spoke up.

"Must be nice to have the administrator wrapped around your little finger." she said sharply.

"What?" Byron said, trying to laugh it off. "Can you think of anything else she could have done?"

Agnes rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and theatrically shook her head as Byron retreated to his office. Thankfully, he was occupied with trying to track down another scanner for the job. Through the rest of the afternoon, he hardly thought of what a fool he had made of himself. He was still busy as ever, and glad to be distracted.

That evening, after closing, he got in his car and listened to Mozart and Chopin on his way over to the technical institute. Three times a week he drove to the specialised technology school to encourage his newly found talent to blossom. On more than one occasion, his teachers had told him that he possessed a remarkable creative genius for computer programming. Long neglected since the days of tapping away at the keyboard of his old Sinclair, he had rediscovered it, and even found he still enjoyed figuring out difficult things for himself.

Diving headlong into complicated machine-language instructions was also an excellent diversion that helped keep his thoughts away from his dismal love life.

Chapter 03 - Home Early

Earlier that day, as Heather had left the old building and walked down its well worn steps, she looked around and scanned her surroundings. The raw data that was fed into her processors was used to make all those small decisions that she was designed to handle by herself. What would she do with the whole afternoon off? The pretty plastic and metal woman had no such thing as wants or desires flowing through her computer core. No processor time was given to any possibility but returning to her basement lab.

She downloaded the correct bus schedule while she walked to the stop a block away. The information - consisting of times, stop numbers and such - was whittled down to give her an estimate of 443.4 seconds to wait. While she passed the time, she carefully and methodically milled about and fidgeted slightly, so she would look less like a machine. Each movement she made was predetermined and contrived. Something as simple as a glance in another direction was performed within certain boundaries, the range of movements based on long strings of numbers generated randomly using the minuscule fluctuations of heat produced by her CPU.

None of the humans around her could possibly suspect such a perfectly functioning simulacrum to be anything other than what she appeared. They themselves acted much like she did, only without the intense and constant calculating of movements by their own brains. She was even an object of mild desire for some humans, who checked out and admired the cute fembot butt visible below the bottom of her jacket. Her brown gabardine slacks were tight enough in the right places to show off her finely manufactured padding and curves.

With the posture of a model and a face that looked placid and serene, she was definitely a beautiful woman, android or not. Her light brown hair was cut and styled in such a way as to highlight the round shape of her face. Blonde highlights in the front danced in the light breeze around her dark eyebrows, which raised with the slight smile she generated when the bus rounded the corner.

With her delicate mechanical hands, she opened the top flap of her purse, which had a rectangular plastic sleeve that held her bus pass. She held it in an open position, ready to show it to the driver when she stepped on to the bus.

A gust of cold air blew past the half dozen or so people on the sidewalk as the bus stopped and opened it's folding door. In a flash, Heather scanned the area in front of her and computed her position relative to the doorway and the two people in front of her. She had to figure out when to cut in and step into the vehicle herself. This was a very complex series of calculations for her processors to make, and the fact that she did it twice a day didn't make it any easier. Some bodily systems had to be put on standby while her high-speed chips were busy getting her inside the bus. If anyone had watched closely enough, they would have noticed that her facial expression didn't change at all while she was navigating the entrance. Her facemask held a frozen look on it until she was in front of the driver, showing him the cardboard pass inside the clear plastic pocket.

He nodded slightly as she showed him a little smile, and she went to sit down. This required a whole new series of intense computations. First she had to visually scan the seats, seeing which ones were vacant at the same time that the people ahead of her were sitting themselves down. Not only that, but she had to keep moving forward at the same time. The same freeze came upon her attractive face while a blaze of controlled electron pulses flashed at near light speed inside her chest.

Finding an appropriate seat at last, she executed sitting down procedures. Her purse was closed and held on her lap while she settled the lower half of her body into the vinyl covered bench. More of the same style of calculations for small and mostly unnoticeable movements began and continued throughout the half-hour commute.

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