Oh hello Illya. If I had fallen asleep? Why would you think that?
Oh I was staring into space. Well I was just in my own thoughts. I had a weird experience a couple weeks ago.
What it was? Tell you what, get me a new drink and I’ll tell you all about it.
I was sitting in this very couch, nursing a watered do- I mean an excellent lager. This elderly gentleman, went by the surname Rinkerman if I recall, sat down opposite me, holding a similar beverage. And when I say opposite me, I mean that he sat in the exact same spot in the couch opposite, though I didn’t think back on that till later. Initially I tried ignoring him, thinking he had just chosen this spot at random in an otherwise sparsely-populated pub. But after a moment he took a big gulp from his drink and stared straight at me. While logic dictates he must have blinked at least once during our exchange, I can’t recall seeing any specific instances. I felt etiquette demanded I introduce myself so I did and he did the same. I tried to politely ask the gentleman why he was intruding on a man’s drinking time, though judging by his facial expression the politeness didn’t carry. He was a scientist in robotics, on a brief forced vacation, looking for some new eyes, of any kind really, on a project his group was working on with their own funds. This was in preparation for approaching institutes and similar groups with hopes of securing funding. Yes Illya, you’ve been there, we all know.
So he proposed that I would come with him to their research facility, look at their work, and he would pay for my return ticket and a meal. I upped his offer by asking him to pay for my drinks-tab as well. He agreed before knowing the exact size of said tab. To the man’s credit he didn’t flinch when the bill was presented.
So we hashed out the remaining details like which day and where we would be going. A small electronics-laboratory in the northern region of the place usually called Silicon Valley over in the colonies, apologies, the United States. I suppose I should have anticipated that but I had already agreed and a week’s worth of tab had been paid on my behalf so we found a nearby day that worked and shook hands. The elderly man thanked me for my time and continued on to some of the few other patrons of the pub at that hour. I went back to the remnants of my beer and wondered what I had just gotten myself into. The time until the trip passed without noteworthy events. Yes Illya I was in the pub a few times during that time but, as I said, no noteworthy events. I met Professor Rinkerman, along with a few other known faces from the pub, at the airport. He treated us to drinks and food in one of those little adult eateries you get at airports nowadays, you know the ones where they also sell spirits and such with your meal, until it was time for our flight. It was Economy-class, which felt like the first concession the professor made to there being a limit to his personal funds. We arrived at the airport after a flight which had been thankfully smooth. The guests, me among them, got bundled into a van and the professor himself drove us from the airport to his group’s laboratory. It wasn’t quite as smooth as the ride by aeroplane but I still caught some sleep. It had been almost 4 in the afternoon when we had left England, you see, so I was feeling a little jet-lagged.
The laboratory sat in a group of other like buildings, offices and other research facilities. They had a key-lock at the door but I never spotted any security personnel in the time I was there. A receptionist inside provided us with name-tags to be worn during our stay and took our mobile devices and any other radio- or internet-capable devices as the professor had mentioned-
I hadn’t mentioned that? I’m sure I did. Must be my dry tongue. Richie! A refill please!
Now, where were we. Oh yes. The receptionist received our wireless devices and gave us name-tags in return. We were of course assured that we would get them back as soon as we left. The professor then led us inside through an airlock of sorts, except it was more of a signal-lock. The majority of the laboratory’s interior was a giant Faraday cage. As he met various colleagues in the corridors the professor explained that any part of their experiment, which I might add we were all still very in the dark on, that required outside assistance or transmission was conducted in an adjacent office-building and carried over on portable drives. Eventually we arrived in the ‘Observation Lounge.’ It was a sterile-looking chamber with a floor-to-ceiling window as one of the far walls. A lot of old chairs, couches and tables had been put in, probably for our benefit.
Mind, at this stage we still had not been told what they were actually doing besides the Faraday Cage. It’s been weeks now and I still can’t quite place why this stuck with me so much. The window looked into a room with sterile white walls, interspersed with shelves, and a wooden table with 2 chairs. I think the window was one-way because the occupants of the room never acknowledged the presence of any of us, nor any of the various members of the research team that came and went while we were there.
In the chairs were sat two androids, you know like robots made to look like humans. Their joints were clearly robotic but their faces and facial mimicry was worryingly well done. They each wore a hospital dress in some bland colours. Their forms did not seem designed to mimic any gender. They had pale life-like eyes and all the facial features you and I do except that their skin was a ceramic white. No cables were attached to them and they could move freely about the space they had been placed in. The professor informed us that the androids were not equipped with a wireless receiver. They turned them on via a switch hidden under a panel on their backs and the androids would continue their conversation until their first battery would run out, which was usually 8 hours if nothing strenuous was happening.
And that conversation is what stuck with me. Not so much the contents, they usually touched upon similar grounds of the news or a feature of the room. Their voices had some american accent from the Manhattan area. What struck me was that this was about as human a conversation as I’ve heard. Now, I’m not a religious person but my catholic school upbringing isn’t gone completely. I trust that you are all familiar with the expression ‘not a soul in sight’? Well, looking in through this window at two robots having a conversation I would otherwise have thought to be between 2 humans, I thought that this was the first human conversation without a soul involved. If anyone else had told that to me I would have dismissed them but I could not shake the thought. I watched for a while, losing track of time really, until the professor called us for lunch. I don’t recall much of that meal, my thoughts were still locked on that white chamber.
Huh? Oh, the food was excellent. The professor had hired an Italian chef to cook for the team. Anyways, the professor had secured lodgings quite close to their facilities and the group stayed over for a few days. We mostly spoke with him or his fellow researchers or observed the androids. Then they interviewed us, asking a few questions to help them prepare for possible investors and media attention then thanked us for our time and helped us get on the flight back home.
I didn’t keep in touch. The professor was friendly enough but I was sufficiently unnerved by their experiment that I didn’t keep the contact going. So I don’t know if they secured funding somehow and could keep going or if the professor’s money has finally run out. As for what they were specifically researching or hoping to get out of it, I’m not sure but, not to wish the professor ill fortune or anything like that, I hope it doesn’t enter the public eye.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to leave. I have a soul-music concert to attend.