Stories, writing

Short Story: Choices

For the third or fourth time in the last half hour, Illumae reached out to tug on Rizia’s sleeve. Rizia only turned her head slightly to look at the motions Illumae used to ask a question.

‘What if none of them like me?’

Rizia smiled. “At least one of them will like you well enough to bond with you. All of them have already looked over your base scores and determined if they could work with and match with you. They like you just fine already.”

That only earned her a nod and Rizia smiled a little as they began their descent. IBOT’s central panel lit up as he spoke.

“We will be received momentarily. Restraint systems engaging.”

The belts slid over her lap and Illumae sat back, letting IBOT lower the sturdier bars he prefered to use for her smaller form.

“I promise,” Rizia said. “At least one of them will want to be your partner.”

IBOT beeped and sent a message to Rizia’s helmet, speaking directly to her ear. “I have detected an increased heartrate in our child,” IBOT said. “Is it necessary to log concern?”

Rizia smiled, clicking the switch on the interface on her arm, turning her helmet’s mic to private. “She’s nervous, that’s all. She’s worried none of the Sentients will want to bond with her.”

IBOT beeped. “All Sentients who have agreed to speak with her to pass her testing want to bond. The reasoning for her nervousness is invalidated.”

“It’s not logical reasoning, it’s emotional,” Rizia said. “That’s harder to invalidate, and I’m not going to try.”

Another beep, but IBOT offered no other comments as he touched down finally. “We have arrived,” he said simply and lifted the restraints before opening the outer covering and letting Illumae out.

Rizia took a moment longer, unplugging the interface and carefully opening the helmet again. IBOT beeped twice before his own side of the locks disengaged, letting her get out. Most of the helmet remained behind, save for the mic, part of the visor and the one side of the earpiece, which had been surgically implanted.

“Are you ready?” Rizia asked and Illumae hesitated before she nodded.

“I will await your decision here,” IBOT said. “And undertake the necessary grocery and essentials shopping once you have begun the bonding process.”

Rizia wasn’t sure it helped Illumae any, but at least Illumae smiled before she reached up, putting a hand to IBOT’s cylindrical side for a moment.

The Core had the hall set up in a specific manner. Rizia knew she wouldn’t be allowed to influence Illumae’s decision at all, only to provide a steadying presence in what was a difficult task. All the same, as they entered and one of the other Core members turned, Rizia knew Illumae’s nervousness was showing.

Rizia could remember all too well the same nervousness when she’d first come here, now almost twenty years ago. She knew how the entire process would go, and could only hope that once Illumae had chosen a Sentient to bond with, that the transition period would go smoothly.

Although Rizia and IBOT hadn’t had any serious problems, she’d heard the stories of bonded partners who had.

“Hello. What can we help you with?” The voice came from one of the humans staffed at the core, though as he spoke, the monitor he sat next to turned, revealing itself to be one of the Sentient Machines native to the Gaia planets.  

Illumae’s hands trembled as they came up to make the signs. ‘Illumae Nyx. I’m here for choosing.’

“Welcome, Illumae Nyx.” The simple greeting set several doors to opening and Rizia felt someone tug on her sleeve and turned to see it was one of the members of the Alpha Core. He motioned her to follow him silently.

No one could influence Illumae’s choice, and that meant she had to make it alone.  

“You’ll be taken to the choosing room now to meet with each of the Sentients who have determined your native abilities potentially a good match for their skills.”

Illumae turned her head to look at Rizia, who only smiled. Illumae hesitated a moment longer before she inclined her head and started forward. Rizia’s smile faded as the doors closed behind her.

“This way. We can watch from the top row.” The Core member’s voice was gentle. He’d done this dozens of times, Rizia knew. His job was only to keep her from trying to interfere.

In the elevator, Rizia had to exhale slowly and heard the soft, if somewhat mechanical laugh. “It’s nerve wracking for both parents and children, isn’t it?”

“She’s had a rough start,” Rizia said.

“Yes. Adopted by a solitary member of the Core and their Sentient.” The walls around them lit up, showing Illumae’s test scores and the like. “She excels in math and science, but there have been notations that she struggles to get along with classmates.”

“She can’t speak,” Rizia said.

“Alto C-1 deformity. Also noted. Her vocal chords don’t vibrate, rendering her incapable of more than a whisper at best.”

It seemed so cold then, to try and boil everything Illumae was down to scores, to documentable facts. Much as she knew the same thing happened to everyone else capable of and agreeable to bonding to with a Sentient, she wanted to scream about how wrong it was.

How could she justify letting them boil her clever Illumae down? How could she let them tell her what test scores were ‘excelling’ at certain subjects while the necessary human socialization was deemed ‘struggling’?

“I know what she can and can’t do,” Rizia said tightly.

The elevator stopped, the walls clearing, and the doors opened. From here, Rizia knew she could watch, see the information each Sentient was beaming as Illumae met with them.

“There is a note, that she was left in an orphanage until the age of ten.”

Rizia had to nod. She could still remember how defeated Illumae had looked, sitting in the headmistress’s office with her modified glider.

A glider she’d accidentally crashed into IBOT after making her own modifications based on basic flight books. Illumae’s cleverness and love for building things had gotten her into trouble before and she’d fully expected this to be another cause of trouble.

Instead it had proven to be what she’d needed to get a family.

The screen lit up, letting Rizia see Illumae as she approached the first Sentient. She was used to the way the Sentient added information—IBOT did the same thing. Illumae was within a healthy range of height and weight for her age. Her expression however, seemed concerned and she was tipping her face up.

“Greetings. I am Engineering Mech. I have found your base scores potentially suitable for my purposes.”

An engineering mech would be perfect for Illumae, Rizia realized. Already Illumae had a love and an aptitude for building and fixing things. Tinkering, as she liked to refer to it. The glider that had introduced them so long ago was only one of the many little building projects she voluntarily took on.

And yet, Illumae’s hands made signs Rizia knew. ‘What is potentially suitable?’

“Hand sign analysis not within my database. Please use keypad for communications.”

The same keypad Illumae had gotten so used to using for schooling popped up and she sighed before shaking her head and turning away.

Of course. The one thing Illumae wanted. She already had a way to communicate. Her hand signals could convey everything from her mood to relaying information she’d learned at school. IBOT had learned most of them, using a small camera to view them and sometimes having to ask Illumae to repeat herself when she was over excited.

She would need a partner who could do the same, separating themselves from her enough to view the only means she had to communicate.

The screen changed over as Illumae approached the next sentient. “I am Terrain Based Transport. Based on scores, your capabilities make you a candidate for transportation and cargo management.”

Illumae leaned forward, intrigued. ‘Which scores?’

A pause. “Apologies, second hand sign not recognized. Please repeat.”

That made Illumae as she remade her gestures. ‘Which scores?’

“Both your mathematics and logic are higher than average. Mathematics is used primarily for travel time and weight distribution.”

Illumae considered it. ‘Do you have functions for math and logic?’

“Math and logic are my primary functions.”

‘Can you make inferences?’

A pause. “Apologies. Hand sign not recognized. Please repeat.’

‘Can you make inferences?’ Illumae took time, slowing down her signs.

Another pause, this one longer. ‘Apologies. Hand sign not within database. Please use another.’

‘Can you perform extrapolations on your data?’

“Negative. Data provided must be concrete.”

Illumae turned away and Rizia admitted some surprise as Illumae moved on. What was Illumae looking for?

 The next two Sentients were much the same. Illumae gave them only a few moments before moving on and Rizia worried that while these Sentients had agreed they might be suitable for Illumae, Illumae hadn’t been clear on what she wanted from a Sentient.

The next stream of information however, surprised Rizia. “Greetings. I am Analytical Intelligence Unit. You may refer to me as AI. Based on your high scores in logic and math I have presented myself as a potential partner.”

“An intelligence unit?” Rizia asked. IBOT beeped in her ear.

“Intelligence units can perform many functions and may only require a basic form with which to work.”

She knew that. That was one of IBOT’s jobs—Intelligence Based Operations Transporter. He could transport both people and data safely and work around unexpected obstacles.

But an analytical unit was the most basic unit for intelligence. They were data gatherers and scholars.

‘Why?’

“You have the requisite intelligence needed to safely allow me to better understand some of the ‘human’ traits which Sentients cannot yet measure. Further, records show you have participated in gymnastics, rendering you more dexterous and flexible than the base human. Based on this information I believe you will be capable of aiding me in gathering further information to complete core objective: analyze and define non-measurable human traits.”

Illumae frowned, and AI’s stream indicated he was checking her expression against his database.

“Based on my current information of facial expressions, you are displeased with my answer.”

The speed he’d used to make that theory made Illumae straighten, her hands coming up. ‘All the other sentients here are engineers and transporters.’

“Correct. However, I believe you are capable of handling either scientific engineering, mechanical work, or potentially organic based healthcare should you choose a profession based on your quantifiable intelligence. My databases can be used to aid you with more information in addition to completing my own objectives. Should you choose a profession based on your physical skills, my smaller form should pose no additional problems to completing the requirements of your work objectives.”

It was logical, but Illumae looked hesitant.

‘I don’t have a voice.’

“Which I have concluded is solvable. My only acceptable answer is to opt either for some form of additional sensors to allow me to process your hand signs, or to include a keypad on my main interface.”

 That would be the deal breaker. She hated being stuck constantly changing how she could communicate with everyone else based on their needs, rather than her own.

And yet, Illumae smiled and took a step closer. ‘I think we can work together.’

That surprised Rizia and she looked towards the member of the Alpha Core. “Can I get a visual on AI?”

The screen shifted, moving to show her exactly what AI looked like. He was little more than a screen, attached to a longer rod. Rizia knew exactly what he was. Sentients called them Analyis Units in general.

The humans who had colonized Gaia and her moons called them Watchers. They had observed people for the first years, and when humans had begun to make their home among the wreckage of their ships, they had been the first to attempt understanding the human languages.

Rizia smiled.

A Watcher. One who could observe and learn from Illumae.

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