Honest Impulses 11: Machine Language
Anar, Yavar 08, 03262
“I’m so glad you could accept my invitation, Miss Ffanci. What did you think of the ballet?”
Misuko looked up from the menu to regard Governor The Honorable Geroma Moor, her most senior officer at the University. She gathered her thoughts as best she could and said, “I’m afraid I’ve never given the ballet much attention. It’s not an art form I’m that familiar with. The dancers are certainly talented.” And gorgeous, she gently reminded herself. The costumes, the bodies, the sheer physicality of it had been a useful distraction from the story.
And a useful distraction from her host. She’d been nervous when she accepted the invitation. At least during the ballet there hadn’t been a reason to talk. When the show had ended, they had crossed the street to dine and Linia had been agog at the idea of eating at The Bell, one of the five best restaurants on the entire planet.
Moor said, “Yes, well. Our school of physical arts does do its best to keep the ancient traditions alive. We’re no University of Discovery at Brahms, but our teachers are among the best.” He stroked his chin with one hand. “I should know. I hired them. I have to agree with you. I’m not much for the classical ballet stories. Contemporary dance always has much more interesting things to say. But Gazelle suggested this one, and I thought it would be a delightful outing.”
Misuko glanced over at Gazelle, who sat beside the governor, as calm and collected as any bodyguard, and then toward Linia, who was also looking at Gazelle. She had chosen this ballet? “Do you suggest outings to the governor frequently, Miss ap Moor?” Misuko said.
Gazelle shrugged slightly, but seemed happy to be addressed. “When he needs to relax, I do. The best I seem to manage is to mix it with business. Such as meeting a new hire. Two new hires.”
“Oh, yes!” Moor said, as if reminded. “Miss Hunda. It’s not ‘ap Ffanci,’ is it?”
“No, sir, it most adamantly is not.”
“Yes, I understand. Second hand.” Misuko fought a scowl. It wasn’t that Linia was “second hand” that made her Linia Hunda and not Linia ap Ffanci, it was that Misuko had been horrified that she could lay claim to the whole of Linia’s life and existence. “I know much about Miss Ffanci’s career arc. After all, it happened right here. You, on the other hand, were a surprise when Provost Culpepper brought your name to my attention, and it has turned out to be quite a positive surprise. Your students and peers have mostly good things to say about you.”
Linia blushed. Misuko loved it when she did. “Thank you, sir. It’s hard to say bad things about people who feed you, though.”
He nodded. “Indeed. I am pleased you both came together, however. It makes my assigned task of meeting with new hires that much easier.”
The dinner arrived. A flurry of human servants appeared at the table, refilling wine glasses, placing plates in front of the four of them. Linia leaned forward slightly and took a deep breath of the meal in front of her, smiled with satisfaction and nodded toward Misuko.
As the dinner progressed, Moor said, “But I’m curious, Miss Hunda. Second hand as you are, you and Misuko have established a, ah, purposed pair?”
“To the extent that this century understand it, yes,” Linia said. Misuko smiled.
“Then why did you want to teach?”
Misuko looked at Linia. Linia had been delighted to take the job. Misuko had at first ascribed Linia’s willingness to work to Linia’s desire to be independent, to prove to Misuko that she had a life separate from Misuko’s. She suspected there was something else to it, something she didn’t quite understand.
Linia said, “As a first-hand, I always knew my place and my role. It was mechanistic and simple, but underneath it there was one objective: to help my Master be the best person he could be. I was limited by the strictures of our relationship. Misuko, on the other hand, refuses to impose those strictures. I don’t think she would even know how. She wants me to be a person and to act like one, with my own will, my own interests. Misuko is so strong-willed that she doesn’t need more than a quarter of my time to help her be the best her she can be.”
Misuko didn’t think of herself as strong-willed. She was just herself. Doing what she wanted. Without hesitation, but that was part of wanting to be the best self possible, wasn’t it?
Linia said, “If I’m going to be the kind of person Misuko expects of her partner, then I’m going to use my best skills even when I’m not around her. Teaching a practical art is a wonderful way to express myself: I help students become the best themselves they could possibly be by exposing them to an art form they can master, one that feeds their bodies and their souls. It’s very satisfying. Already I can see which ones will go on and continue cooking, for their own well-being as well as that of others. Sharing food is a deep, deep human need, and I’m so pleased to be able to help students committed to their baseline existence find the inherent pleasures of such a fundamental baseline activity.”
Moor regarded her, his fingers stroking his chin in thought. “You are a most peculiar companion.”
Linia’s smile blazed. “I have heard that a lot recently.”
“Governor,” Misuko said, still smiling herself at Linia’s impassioned speech– so like her, so utterly adorably wonderful– “If you’re making an effort to meet all of your new hires, have you met with Raij Mertum yet?”
“Ah?” Moor said. “Yes. A far more mundane meeting. I had him visit me at my home.” He waved as if to dismiss the entire event. “Gazelle made dinner.”
“I’ve asked Professor Mertum to assess students for me to drive the remotes for my next expedition to Indigo 161-4. I was wondering if you had any impression of him that I might find useful?”
Moor shrugged. “He seems as competent as any man in his position. Certainly he’s an excellent driver. I was with the lTP Defense Force for quite a while in my youth, and I’ve seen his records. He was skilled with drones and remotes. Still, I don’t understand why a man with two doctorates, one in AI Hermeneutics and one in Robot Neuropsychology, would take a job teaching driving, of all things.”
“Perhaps it is as Linia said,” Gazelle said. “He wants to do something that forces students to grow. After all, a class in hermeneutics or psychology ends the same way it begins, with a record of achievement. There’s no guarantee that anything the student learned will have any real world consequence. On the other hand, teaching driving and remotes operation has highly visible real world consequences.”
“Perhaps,” said Moor, who looked slightly pained. He looked from Linia to Gazelle. “Peculiar indeed. I had not expected this line of thought to come from, well, robots.”
Misuko frowned. “Isn’t that why you contracted to have Gazelle built, Governor? To help you be the best you that you can be?”
“Oh, dear, no, no, no!” Moor laughed with a kind of relief, as if Misuko had skipped right past the hard part of the conversation. “I mean, perhaps in some sense you might think that. I contracted to have Gazelle built to do the sorts of things I couldn’t ask a human woman: to be my reliably secret secretary, a secure security, and an organized organizer.” Misuko heard rehearsal in that patter. “As for the best me I can be? I’m not even sure what that means.”
“You seem to be doing very well. The school is thriving,” Linia said.
“Thank you, you’re very kind.” He let out a bit of a sigh. “I have always been forward-looking in my skills as an administrator. A bit of the reason I left the lTP. It was… dull.”
Gazelle stiffened, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a small black comm. She handed it to Moor, who examined the front. “Excuse me a moment,” he said. “There is something I need to deal with.” He strode out of the room.
“Are you all right with that?” Misuko asked Gazelle directly.
“He is a handful,” Gazelle said.
“But… He’s hardly said a word to you the entire night!”
“He said much more in the beginning. You know how it is.” She cocked her head for a moment, thinking. “No, you wouldn’t, would you?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m what he needs me to be. I’m what’s best for him, a sheepdog for a shepherd.” Misuko hunted for a trace of sadness or regret in that statement and could find none. Gazelle was satisfied with her lot in life and if there were any characteristics that disturbed her, her own nature wasn’t among them. On Abi, Misuko had often disdained the men and women who merely accepted their lot in life. There had to be a middle somewhere, a way to be passionate about the world without surrendering to the temptations of power, posthumanism, or perishing.
“But you chose the ballet.”
“I did,” Gazelle said. “I thought you and Linia would be amused by Coppelia. It is a very old play. It debuted in 1870 of the Second Terran Common Era.”
Misuko stared at her. As a historian, she knew a lot about that time period. “Right in the middle of the Anthropocene Inflection?” Gazelle nodded. The Anthropocene Inflection was the fifty-year period between 1850 and 1900 when humanity had taken control of Terra’s ecology directly. Germ theory, the transition to electric lighting and a perpetual night life, the transition from soporifics like alcohol and opium to stimulants like caffeine and amphetamine, had all contributed to the unleashing of a vast human talent and the rise of H. sapiens as the true dominant life form on Earth.
“I never realized that the desire to mechanize away the awkward aspects of men’s attraction to women went back that far,” Misuko said. “Fah.” The ballet had been about a watchmaker who had created a human sized robot dance partner, and how the village idiot had fallen for her, and how an organic woman had to save her idiot boyfriend from the allure of a robotic one.
“Dance partner” had clearly been a euphemism, especially at a time when bodies, especially women’s bodies, were so fiercely policed by the culture, while at the same time ballet as an art form clearly made a show of youthful, powerful women’s bodies. Literally the moment mankind had machines that seemed to move on their own, by steam or spring or analog electromagnetics, men had started to write about the coming time when the ‘awkward’ parts of their sexuality could be satisfied by a fully realized woman-shaped object who didn’t have a will of her own. Coppelia had been a critique of that attitude, but it wouldn’t have existed to suggest its critique if it didn’t also feed the attitude as well with its phalanx of young women’s bodies maneuvering with mechanical precision.
Moor returned, cutting the conversation short. Gazelle had been sending a message with this choice of ballet but Misuko couldn’t figure out who among them was the intended recipient. “Forgive me,” he said. “The needs of the university never cease.” He sighed heavily as he sat back down.
Dessert arrived and Misuko was grateful for it none too soon. She needed to go think. She needed to go read. She needed to write about it. Moor leaned toward Gazelle and discussed something with her, quietly, then turned toward Misuko. “Miss Ffanci? Would you be interested in attending the lTP review and demonstration next week?”
“Next Wednesday, in the desert. The lTP Defense Force is currently in orbit.” He pointed upwards. His expression darkened. “Along with two other ships. In any event, they’ve asked if they could use our deserts for a landing and maneuvering exercise, and have graciously provided viewing stands for an audience. I understand the finale will include two Spider Tanks along with the usual behemoths and armor charges. It will be very exciting.”
Misuko smiled and shook her head. “That’s a very kind offer, sir. I’m afraid my interest is in the past and unlike many historians I’m actually quite interested in the periods between wars. The 26th century Second TCE was a relatively quiet time in Terra’s history.”
“Ah, well. It was a thought.”
“Sir?” Linia said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like two passes to the event.”
“Yes, sir. I think it would be interesting and I have a friend currently enrolled in the in the Drones and Remotes Program. I think it would be beneficial to her.”
“You and… a friend?” He looked over at Misuko. “Have you considered having a robopsychologist run a diagnostic on your companion?”
“Linia,” Misuko said, repeating what she’d said to Mertum, “is fine. More than fine. She’s been acknowledged as fully Encompassed multiple times. Linia is a complete individual in her own right. She has her own interests and her own friends. I couldn’t ask her for less than that.”
“Understood, understood,” Moor said. “Still, very peculiar. Very well, Miss Hunda. Gazelle, see to it that Instructor Linia Hunda and one guest are invited to the presentation.” He paused, then grinned. “Well, that will be interesting, won’t it? I hope your friend is comfortable with your nature, Miss Hunda, as she’s going to be surrounded. Professor Pikna, Professor Mertum, and myself will have our own duties and responsibilities during the presentation, which means that your friend will be the only organic in our corner of the viewing box, along with Gazelle, Brom ap Pikna, and Saia ap Mertum.” His grin grew wider. “Won’t that be interesting?”