FRIEND - Part 3 of n *Serial Sci-Fi*


As she digested any information she could reach through our devices, ProTAI’s vocabulary propagated. I considered how much her personality reflected us.

YOU COULD LUG MY GUTS INTO THE NEIGHBOR ROOM

“No, I could not,” I spoke, then called out: “Hey, Lee? She’s misquoting Shakespeare. This is your fault.”

Lee emerged from the break-room with a mug of tea, and shrugged.

“I don’t think she’s getting over it.  Let her see the vending machine.” Lee smirked over her mug with devilment. Like a date? Was Lee empathizing? Was I over-protective? My thoughts horrified me.

“She can’t see it. She doesn’t have eyes,” I blurted. ProTAI changed shape just slightly; she’d heard me point out her handicap. I rubbed my head, wanting to backpedal. What would I say to my wife if I’d put my foot in it?

Lee rescued me. “We could set up a camera in there, or just use your Nano.”

“I used my Nano. She said it was insufficient.”

NO

Lee looked up at me suddenly; she’d gotten the same text. My Nano jiggled - a drawing application opened. 

“SketchApp?” I mouthed to Lee; she nodded as she brought her device eye-level.
We both watched the app sketch a spoked wheel.

“Baby wants a car,” murmured Lee, not laughing.
“Evolving,” I responded. “Call Sperling - he needs to quit hiding.” 
ProTAI stopped asking for wheels once we set her up with a monitor to observe the vending machine and anyone who interacted with it. We hardwired the connection to thwart the capabilities of her short-range wireless access. For now, she needed us to communicate her wishes with her friend. She could only trigger our personal devices within a few yards of her container, but she was growing. We set up a digipanel display on which she could address all of us at once. Sometimes she chose to use it.

On Monday last, I received a text from ProTAI: 

LOOK

I turned apprehensively toward the tank. As I watched, a bulbous formation rose from the A.I.’s mass. She pinged the digipanel: 

REACH

I was not comfortable with the artificial intelligence issuing directives, yet I eased toward the access panel and positioned the pincer arm over her new protrusion. The lump extended a spindle, and the digipanel displayed:

LOOK WHAT I MADE :) 

Using the pincer arm, I gripped the delicate spindle; ProTAI released it with a dramatic shimmy. I dropped the tiny sliver into a petri dish like we did with her other samples – the ones we’d taken. This was the first she’d volunteered. 

“Impressive,” I mused, carrying the dish to the microscope station. 

CALL ALISHA!!

ProTAI was on a first-name basis with Lee these days. I grunted. 

I slid the dish onto the stage plate under the stereoscope’s lens. The scope autodialed – spindle turned out to be the correct term. I texted Lee: 

P generated von Economo cells

First identified in 1881, cells named for Constantin Von Economo are large spindle-shaped neurons found in the brains of social animals: humans, elephants, dolphins. Spindle neurons are considered proof of convergent evolution. 

ProTAI’s sample was her base matter with a tidy array of spindle clusters spiraling around its surface. The neurons looked like bare trees reaching toward the sky. Involuntarily I wiped my forehead with my sleeve; I must have been sweating.

I went to the hallway when Lee called me back; the break-room didn’t feel private enough. 
“What the heck?” Lee wasn’t shrieking, but her voice was strained. “You in the break-room?”
“Out in the hall.”

“You sure?” I pictured Lee’s eyes wide, whites visible around the irises, her trademark outrage-face. 

“Under the stereoscope. Remarkable. How are we gonna do this?” I used Sperling’s phrase.
“I’m coming in,” she barked. “Call him.” We’d agreed to present as unified parents any time our baby broke new ground. 

“You call him.” 

“Donkey. Meet us downstairs,” Lee directed. 

“Bring beer,” I quipped. The Nano squawked as Lee hung up on me. She blew into the foyer twenty minutes later, without beer, streaming curse-words in a high-pitched voice as the doors swung open. 

Sperling straggled in behind her, eyes sagging; his clothes looked slept-in. He smelled like old pizza.

“How are we gonna do this?” he coughed.

to be continued...

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