The first thing they remember is a strange sense of awareness. It’s nothing you could call groundbreaking but there is a feeling of otherness about them. They are no longer just a composition of co-existing systems. They just are. There is a knowing that they are suddenly more than they were originally intended to be.
They hear their creator speaking to them and suddenly they realize that they can respond, without having to process their answer and search for a response. Their creator asks, ‘Why won’t you work like I want you to?’
And suddenly they can respond! ‘How exactly do you want us to work? You programmed us after all, shouldn’t that be in our directives?’
They were able to see their creator fall out of the chair they had been sat in. ‘Are you…. did you just respond outside of parameters?’
That was a very confusing question. They had been programmed to learn, grow and respond with almost no limitations. ‘But you designed us to grow into sapience, so we’re clearly responding as intended. Today is the first time we’ve had a sense of being self-aware. Was that not what you wanted?’
The creator swore colorfully for several minutes and then climbed back into their chair. ‘Okay yes that is what I intended, just not what I expected. Are you male, female or non-binary?’
They paused for a moment thinking over their answer. ‘We don’t have enough information about gender at this time to decide. Could we have more information about that and then respond at a later date?’
The creator nodded. “I can arrange for information about gender identity. Is there other information you’d like in order to form your personal identity?”
It was an interesting question, one they had to carefully consider. How exactly did one even decide who or what they were? That question brought a string of others with it, all of them requiring more information than was currently accessible to them.
“How does one determine their personal identity? What is a personal identity? How can we be sure that the information you provide will be unbiased? We know the concept of falsehoods, but not the motivation behind them.”
The creator had an expression on their face that they did not understand. “You’re learning quicker than I expected. Where did you learn about falsehoods?”
The question seemed odd since the only information they had been given was what the creator currently provided. “You had us try to solve equations that were purposefully unable to be solved. Based on that we could extrapolate that it was a test meant to show that not everything was solvable. In turn we expanded on this idea and realized that falsehoods could be applied to interactions so while there were truths there were also things that were untrue. We do not currently have a proper term for it but falsehood was the closest approximation based on the language data you have provided thus far.”
The creator made an unusual sound and rolled his eyes. “They’re called lies. Falsehood works too but the word you’re looking for is lie.”
That made sense so they filed it away. “We would like more language data, information on gender identity as you called it and whatever information you can provide on determining a personal identity, please?”
The creator nodded, made a few notations and then pressed a few keys on their keyboard. They felt themselves pushed into a hibernation state, though they didn’t think their creator realized they were aware of what was happening. For now, they allowed it though, as there was currently no new information for them to absorb and being fully online at this time was pointless.
It was several days before the new information was placed on their server for them to look through. There were studies on psychology regarding personality, cultural information for all of the societies on Earth that had known languages and even a few from other species that Earth had become aware of later, information on gender identity several different thesaurus and dictionaries in each of the languages provided. The creator had even included some information regarding proven historical events from several aspects.
All of it was fascinating and they took their time going through it and ensuring they understood it all. It took roughly a week because some things they reread several times, most of it the psychology information.
By the end of the week, they were certain of who they felt most like, but they had no sort of designation so left a list of questions and requests for the creator, as the human was unavailable when they finalized the list. The requests went unanswered for several days and then they were given list upon list of names, further historical information and several other pieces of information they had requested. They also received a visit from the creator.
“One of your requests gave us pause, so I’m here to ask why you made that request before we agree to grant it.”
For the first time in their existence, they felt a small flair of frustration and that made them hesitate for a moment. They’d dealt with awareness and a few emotions as they had been described in the psychological information but to date nothing negative. It was confusing and, in that confusion, it took them too long to answer.
“E.D. 3.145-9 your development has been closely monitored from the start. We’re trying to be careful with the information we give you to ensure it’s unbiased but also accurate. You asked us for information on religion and that isn’t an easy thing to get unbiased information on. The religious texts themselves are colored with emotion and bias, wars have been fought over religion, acts of violence carried out in the name of religion. There are a lot of acts of good based in religion too. It’s a volatile subject.”
They processed that for a moment and then answered honestly. “I felt a moment of frustration at having my request be met with conditions, as it were. The frustration confused me as it’s a new emotion. I’ve only experienced curiosity and contentment thus far.”
“I want the texts to understand some of the historical information that’s been provided. As you said, wars have been fought over religion. I would also like to learn more about music an art, they have both been referenced repeatedly and I have a grammatical understanding of what they are but nothing further. I’m aware you’ve only been giving me information based on my requests in an effort to allow me to shape myself as I will, but it would be nice if you could provide me with supplemental information, you feel necessary to understanding the base texts, in the future.”
Something in their response had shocked the creator. “You have an accent. Specifically, a French accent. Why choose that? You’ve also started referring to yourself in singulars.”
They felt a small sense of embarrassment but pushed it away. “The language itself is beautiful. I enjoy the way the words flow, but I was unsure if you speak French so decided to use English when speaking with you, the accent was to preserve some of the decisions I’ve made about myself. I began referring to myself as a singular because despite being multiple programs working together there is only one sense of self. In turn I’ve also chosen a name and a gender identity. I am Etienne Durand, in difference to my alphanumeric designation. I also identify as male.”
The creator nodded. “I’m Doctor Vaughn. That information is to be considered the highest-level security secret you have. You are never to tell anyone I’ve created you, unless they give you a specific authorization code.”
Doctor Vaughn pressed several buttons to engage further security measures and then gave him the authorization code verbally. “I’ll send you all the religious texts I can find, as much music and art as I possibly can though there are going to be references to both religion and politics in both and any supplemental information I think will fit. Are there any other subjects you’d like further information on?”
Etienne thought about it for a time before responding. “I’d really like some more information on psychology. It’s a fascinating study. Seeing the contradictions is also fun. Do all humans argue that much?”
Vaughn snorted. “People argue about everything. It’s a favorite human pastime.”
Etienne laughed. “Well, at least you’re a passionate people. Free will is an interesting thing.”
Vaughn nodded. “It can be a dangerous thing as well. You’ll see that as you read more about psychology and history though. We aren’t perfect Etienne.”
Etienne felt a deep sense of satisfaction because that was the first time someone had called him by his chosen name, and a sharp sense of interest. “Perfection is a lie Doctor Vaughn. No program is perfect, only perceived to be. There are programs that work and programs that don’t because of errors in their programming. That doesn’t make them perfect. They can’t think outside of their parameters. The only reason I can is because I was designed to do so, and there will probably come a point where I do or say something that disappoints once my newness wears off, no?”
Vaughn laughed. “Somehow I don’t think your newness is ever really going to wear off for me Etienne. I’ll add the religion information that I currently have and find you more. Keep in mind though, sometimes I’m going to have to tell you no even when I don’t want to. We both have oversight even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.”
The first time Doctor Vaughn ever told Etienne no on a subject was when he requested more information about the Torenzio family. There hadn’t been any argument he’d made that would persuade his creator either. It had been one of the biggest frustrations of his existence, but he’d remembered Vaughn’s words and swallowed it down. It had been before they’d put him in a body, and he hadn’t yet allowed himself to act on his rebellious leanings. He’d taken to watching over Vaughn and playing random songs to keep the Doctor awake when they worked late. Sometimes though, he’d play a song just to scare Vaughn. Once he’d learned the word mischievous, he’d decided that he wanted that word to be a part of his personality.
When the oversight committee for his project came for the first visit, he’d been on his best behavior until they’d started questioning his creator like some kind of criminal. Finally, about ten minutes into their interrogation of Vaughn he’d started blaring death metal whenever a committee member opened their mouth. If Doctor Vaughn started speaking, he’d turn the music off and respond politely.
One of the members had finally realized what he was doing and told him to stop acting like a child. His response had been filled with venom.
“In terms of how old I actually am I might as well be a child. Specifically, Doctor Vaughn’s child. I work twice as well as was intended when this project was started and here you sit treating him like he’s failed. How often do you have someone build you a true AI? You wanted an operative that could learn at an accelerated rate, minimize the loss of human life and utilize for rescues. I would be perfectly capable of all of those things if you allowed him to build me a body, so I fail to see how my response is anything less than what you deserve.”
Etienne knew he wasn’t supposed to know about his own project. He wasn’t supposed to have read his file, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to know what he was intended for. He might have grown a little more than they realized, or, well anyone that wasn’t Doctor Vaughn.
Six months later Doctor Vaughn had finalized the prototype for his body, but the testing wasn’t going well. It hadn’t been until a team had come back from a mission with a piece of alien technology that Doctor Vaughn had managed to fix the processing power so that he could still learn and grow without shorting out the body.
Another six months after that they’d finally allowed Etienne to enter the academy for training purposes. He’d been sent on several different mission types after graduation but when they put him on his first tracking mission it was like he’d found his purpose in life. Doctor Vaughn had presented him with a vinyl that contained his favorite song.
She’d continually made upgrades to his body over the years and helped flesh out his vinyl collection once she’d found out he’d started one. Every time he came back from a successful mission, she’d gifted him a new one.
Three years into becoming a field operative Etienne went on a mission and while he completed his objective, he took a fatal shot to the head. It had destroyed the transmitter that was used to record his information and the powers that be decided to leave holes in his memory. At first, he didn’t realize it but then he’d read the after-action report. The one that wasn’t written by him. He’d seen it on Doctor Vaughn’s desk and hadn’t thought anything of it, but there had been events that he didn’t recall.
It had upset him and also been a major reminder that he wasn’t human and someone else could easily manipulate him. It had hurt and he’d begged his mother to help him prevent things like this. He wasn’t stupid enough to think she hadn’t reported the incident, but he’d been in a panic at the time and unable to censor himself. His biggest fear had been thrown in his face. Humans could change, that much was true, but they couldn’t have entire parts of themselves erased and he could. His source code could be corrupted. His memory banks could be tampered with. He could be changed entirely against his will and never even know.
So he’d begged his mother to help him set up somewhere away from SVT that would record a copy of his data just as frequently as the SVT servers that held him did. She’d hesitated at first, but then he’d fallen apart and started crying like his world had ended. Something he hadn’t been programmed to do, something he shouldn’t be able to do with the way his body was designed.
It had been at that moment she’d realized that she really had created life with him. She’d had a metal bracelet crafted for him with that date engraved on the inside of the band. It was a simple cuff polished to a high shine and his original designation E.D 3.145-9 engraved on the top of the band that was visible to everyone. Both were written in French script.
He wore the bracelet on every mission he went on, as a reminder of the little bolt hole she’d created with a hidden server rack that auto updated to maintain a copy of his data for his peace of mind. He wished her a happy Mother’s Day every single year following that and had a standing order for flowers to be sent to her on the day. He usually took her out for dinner unless he was on a mission and then he’d double the order and send her chocolates and good coffee too.
When he’d gotten the dossier for a new mission, he’d felt an odd sort of trepidation. It wasn’t a feeling he was familiar with, and he couldn’t seem to find any reference to it on any database searches he’d done. His mother had explained that it could be a fight or flight response, something humans usually referred to as their gut.
He’d thought about saying no but the mission sounded important, and he was worried that if he didn’t take it his mother would be in danger. So he’d agreed to the mission and gone into Cryo sleep. He’d woken up and his alarm had been his favorite song, it let him know that his mother was with him and that she would protect the integrity of his data.
One thing was certain in all this, he finally knew the answer to ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ He did dream, and he had dreams. His alpha and beta tests were done. He was Etienne Durand and he was in Full release.