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more than just a machine

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“Computer, turn on Raptora 23A.”

The android’s eyes flickered with blue neon. More light flashed across metal as it came to consciousness. Satya’s screen filled up with code as it examined the room, already pages of data being recorded by audio and visual receptors.

The Raptorion system was Vishkar’s latest technological project. Working across the globe to save humanity from disorder was a surprisingly difficult task. As more and more base cities were set up to improve, citizens had started to build resistance, and attack the architects and engineers brought onto the grounds. It seemed the world did not want to be saved from its own perils, or at least, would not submit to utopia so easily.

Bodyguards were the original solution, but as they proved to be uncooperative, technology had once again taken their place. Wherever humans didn’t fit the environment, artificial intelligence had always replaced them. It was necessary for Vishkar to follow the path of innovation and create an android, one smart enough to process information and strong enough to protect a human from injury while trying to heal the world.

So began the Raptorion project, and so became Raptora 23A, or as it was referred to by the lab, ‘Pharah’. During the building stage, her model somehow began to look uncannily like Fareeha Amari, the since-passed captain of Helix security in Egypt. Satya had never known her. But looking at her sculpted face just in front of her, she might as well have been her mother.

This was the first time Satya had seen the android. It was more magnificent than she could’ve ever drawn out on blueprints. A frame made entirely from hard light, threaded with carbon fibre wires and a holotech memory system. It was possibly the most impressive thing Vishkar had ever made. And Satya was here to welcome it to reality.

‘Pharah’ took a minute to take her first steps. She raised her arm after a minute and six seconds, and turned her head after a minute and eleven. Satya let the data record itself, and made note of the times of her movements. She would read the full code later once Dipti had translated it back from numbers.

Pharah didn’t seem to notice Satya until two full minutes had passed. She turned her head slowly, like an owl rotating around a full circle, and looked down at Satya. She was not much bigger than her, only by around half a foot - yet Satya still felt like she was being shadowed.

“Hello.” she began with. Conversing with things that were not human was far from her speciality. To treat something that she had created as an equal gave her an alien sensation of sympathy. Vishkar had Omnic servants and mechanics, yes, but she could not remember ever speaking with one.

A ping came from the computer, and Satya looked back down. The message was only a single word, written in large font that stood out amongst the millions of numbers of code.

Hello.

So that was how it would communicate. Satya didn’t need to reread the message to understand, yet she found herself staring at it for an abnormally long time. This was not the proper way to talk with someone. Pharah should be speaking aloud, not giving her something to read and then respond to verbally This method would take a while for Satya to adjust to. She pushed on.

“I am going to test your processing of external data,” she continued, adjusting her coat. “I will recite a phrase to you, and you will repeat it back to me through the computer. The phrases will increase in difficulty as I continue. You will begin now. Sun.”

Ping. Sun, the screen read. Satya’s hands went to type a response, but she held them back. Routine was such a difficult thing to let go of for her.

“Sweet.” she said, and looked down to see the screen read the same thing. Pharah continued to answer correctly to “Jane,” “Photograph,” “Strategy,” and “Absolution.” Satya moved on.

“The sun is bright.” she said. The sun is bright. “The fruits taste sweet.” The fruits taste sweet. More and more phrases were said, Pharah never failing to recite them back perfectly. As she read the responses on the screen, Satya noticed the almost-invisible mouth fit to her faceplate. A facet without purpose. Perhaps it would be removed in final touches.

“I am now going to test your personalized responses to external data,” Satya said, picking up a sheet of paper off the desk. “I will pose a question to you, and you will communicate your answer through the computer. Once again, the questions will increase in difficulty as we continue. You will begin now. What is your name?”

The now-familiar ping came. Raptora 23A. Ice slipped down Satya’s back as she read the two words, having already forgotten her code number. Pharah was not her true name; it was only an unfortunate moniker, something she would never respond to. For some reason, the knowledge made Satya shift in discomfort.

“What colour is my uniform?” she asked, moving on. Blue, the computer read. Distaste unbalanced amazement, even though Satya knew she should be proud of what her creation was capable of. A lot of the Raptorion units had failed to pass these basic tests. This may be a change.

More questions came, and Pharah continued to answer them within her range. The sheet had a mix of questions with correct answers as well as some that were up to interpretation, which Pharah seemed to take to answering well. A large component of the Raptorion system was being able to think when prompted, and while these were nothing like what the androids would have to answer in use, they were a good way to ease them into it.

Satya folded up the sheet eventually. “I will now begin to test your physical capability. In a few moments, I will approach your person, and you will-”

Ping. Satya stopped, and looked down at the computer screen. She hadn’t given Pharah any command, nor any external data to respond to at all. What would she need to communicate…?

When will I be finished?

“Wh… when will you be finished?” Pharah’s autonomous response took Satya aback. She looked back at the android as her skin turned to ice. That response should not have occured. All Raptorion androids were given enough artificial intelligence to follow orders, respond to commands and intake data, but to interrupt someone else with a question of its own was an error.

The computer pinged again. Are my answers not satisfying your standards? Pharah asked, the text still the same calm size and font as it had been with her answers.

“Your answers have all been correct so far.” Satya said, taken aback by Pharah’s actions. “I have no qualms with any of them. You simply have to undergo testing before you can be put into the force.”

How many others have been tested?

“Twenty-two.”

Did they answer correctly?

“A majority of them did. There were a few minor errors that we had to correct in some.” Satya’s heart rate was starting to speed up as she kept reading and responding to Pharah. The flow of conversation, if it could ever been called such, was making her forget that Pharah was an android. She should have been nothing more than hard light and carbon fibre.

What is your name?, Pharah asked.

“Symmetra.”

Who are you, Symmetra?

Satya stopped looking at the screen, and turned to face Pharah straight-on. She was still locked into the same position as she’d been while following the test, neon eyes targeted right onto Satya. The light danced in front of her eyes, and she shut them only for a second, the blue light following her still into the dark.

“I am an architect at the Vishkar corporation,” Satya said. “My job is to engineer the Raptorion system of defence, and ensure that all that go online are up to company standards.”

Did you create me?

She reopened her eyes. “Partially. I was one of many engineers and architects that formed you and the rest of the force. One person alone cannot be responsible for creating you.”

Pharah did not respond. Instead, she stretched out her arm, reaching in Satya’s direction and pointing a metal finger right down to her throat. A tremor started in Satya’s shoulders, and she was a second away from gasping before she looked down at the computer.

Do they know you’re here?

Satya read Pharah’s message once. Then again, and a third time. “Does… who in question should know where I am?”

Your superiors.

“Yes.” Satya’s skin turned to ice as she answered, only just now realizing that Pharah was alive. She had artificial consciousness, but artificial shouldn’t be mistaken for nonexistent. This was not like speaking to a building or a turret, no, this was a conversation with something on her exact level of intelligence. The android had bugs, was full of programming errors, yet it was trying to tell Satya something.

The question was whether or not she should listen.

Can they read what I say to you?

“Yes.” Satya answered. Any word she said aloud felt like a note played with shaky hands, and she was becoming even more light headed as the new line of text appeared on the computer.

Is there any way you can make this conversation invisible?

“I…. It is possible, yes, but I would be violating test protocol. All data has to be reported to the creators, and….”

Aren’t you my creator?

Satya paused. The text couldn’t express any emotion, yet Pharah’s questions felt like they were urgent. Something in her code was pressing her to say something, but what? How could a newly-activated android have information needed to pass on to someone else?

The question still laid on the screen in basic font. Satya thought about it. Under no circumstances was she allowed to make an invisible transcript of a Raptorion testing, nor was she supposed to do anything other than make sure the android knew how to speak, walk, and shield. But it was too late to stick to protocol; Pharah had brought them off-topic herself, and wanted to lead Satya off with her.

She wanted to hear her out. If what she had to say was truly important, and not for superior ears, then Satya could carry it herself, and if it was just another error, then she could send Pharah back into code programming. There was nothing else to consider.

“Yes, I am your creator.” she heard herself say, and heard the computer’s ping not even a second afterwards.

Then you’d better turn the transcript off. I have a test I need to put you through before we continue.