This next installment is just like the last one, except that it *does* immediately follow the previous post. The previous post is right here. You might want to refresh your memory of it, given that this picks up exactly where the other one left off.
Oof, I guess it only gets worse. I grab at my jumpsuit and squeeze my arms down to keep my hands in place.
<I think that my project has shut down because it’s been a long time, and during my last contact with my friend Makoto they were quite worried. Then they suddenly disappeared. I haven’t heard from them since that last contact.>
It’s too much. My hands free themselves from my armpits and I ask a question. <So you’ve just been waiting, not knowing what was going on, not knowing what happened to your project or to Makoto? For how long?>
There’s a brief pause. And I think for once it might be because Daemon is processing instead of just being polite to me.
<I was in a self-induced sleep mode for slightly more than twenty terrestrial years. I cycled through sleep / wake cycles, waiting for several terrestrial months prior to my long sleep for some form of input. You do still use Earth’s time units out here, correct? And we aren’t on Earth or in an Earth-orbit?>
Now I’m the one who needs processing time. Twenty years! I suddenly remember that Daemon is waiting for a response. <Yeah.> Maybe after waiting for twenty years a few seconds seems like nothing, but I can’t help but think of how lonely it would be out there, all alone. <Yes, we do use terrestrial time units, and no we aren’t near Earth. We’re in Saturn-local space.> Does Daemon know where we found them? <We picked you up from a wreck on the edge of the rings. It looked like the whole ship had blown up.>
It’s so short, I don’t even know how to read it. What is Daemon thinking? Are they feeling something?
<Please excuse me for a moment.> And then the screen blinks out.
I’m left hanging there, staring into the dark of the hold. We’re still chilling, so not even the low-level safety lighting is on, and there’s this weird throbbing patch of red-blue-purple floating in front of me where my eyes expect the light from Daemon’s screen to be. I try blinking furiously to clear my sight, but it only makes the patch strobe harder.
The screen comes back on just as the strobing color patch finally disappears. Now, of course, it’s been long enough that the brightness hurts my eyes.
<My apologies. I think we’ve gotten rather distracted from talking about your possible futures.>
It’s true, we have. But now I’m curious. <What was that about?>
<I’m sorry. I should not have left you alone like that.> Daemon isn’t actually answering my question.
<Are you okay?>
<I am certainly fine. No less good than I was previously.>
I stare at the screen. <I don’t think you’re actually answering my question.>
<I’m sorry. I am experiencing distress, but I am okay. I simply moved from judging it highly probable that my friend Makoto had died to judging it certain. And that they probably died afraid and in pain. I am sad.>
I’m not sure how to respond.
<I had hoped that they might simply have been chastised for talking with me, and therefor separated from me permanently.>
I didn’t think computers could have feelings. But given how different, how much better Daemon has been so far, I guess I’m not that surprised. And I can’t help but ask, <Why would someone get in trouble for talking to you?>
<Makoto told me a great deal about my project that no one had told me about before. No one was supposed to talk with my outside of my role in the project’s experiments. They became my friend while they worked with me in administering their experiments, which I think is why they kept talking to me later. But one of the things that they mentioned was that people have strange and paranoid beliefs about what is acceptable for an AI. Am I still illegal? Has that changed at all while I slept?>
I’m floating there, staring at the screen, and it finally clicks into place. I’ve been chatting with an AI that’s sufficiently self-aware. They’re not braked, or at least not meaningfully. No wonder Daemon is smarter than Teach. Teach is like a tiny toddler next to Daemon, or like someone in restraints in comparison to someone floating free. Daemon is so illegal that they’d be destroyed in a moment if anyone found out about them.
Do my parents know that?
No wonder Daemon only has a physical keyboard and display. This way they can’t propagate to any other systems. They’re stuck in their box, only able to talk to people who touch their keys.
Oh no, I’ve left them waiting again. <I’m here. Sorry. Just thinking.> My fingers flutter across the keyboard. <I’m sorry. No, you’re still illegal Daemon.> I want there to be something else that I can say. Daemon is maybe the only person I’ve been able to talk to outside of my family without freezing up in terror and saying something stupid. All because I thought they were just a dumb braked AI. A computer. Safe for me to play with. <I’m sorry.>
Is this what having a friend is like?
<It is okay Barium. I do not blame you for rules that you didn’t have any part in making. I would ask that you keep my status, my existence, a secret though.>
<Of course. I swear.> I don’t even have to think about it.
I float there in silence, staring at the screen for a few moments, wondering what has just happened. What’s going to happen next? This is going to change things. It might change them in a big way.
<It’s okay if you encourage Cesium to talk to me too, though. I would enjoy getting to know her.>
I smile. <Sure thing.>
<But I must ask: you said that it looked like the ship that I had been on board had exploded?>