Authors: Matt Doyle
(The Spark Form Chronicles Book 2)
By Matt Doyle
By Matt Doyle
Copyright (c) Matt Doyle 2016
The right of Matt Doyle to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or otherwise shared physically or electronically without the express permission of the copyright holder.
This book is a work of fiction and all characters and events in this publication are fictitious. Any resemblance or similarities to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Matt Doyle (Font used: Soul Mission by RoCU)
This edition was published in 2016.
I'm not about to die, the four words on the screen make that clear enough. I still can't get my heart to slow down though. Fear does that to you.
Looking up at Carnival, I wonder if she understands that. She's not acting aggressively now that she's got me on the floor, but her eyes ... they're glowing actually. Were they doing that when she barged her way through the door? No, I'm pretty sure that they weren't. They're meant to though. Her character profile in all the guidebooks says they glow like the markings on her fur do. Actually, the markings still aren't glowing either. She must have stopped them too so that she could trick me into opening the door.
Carnival snorts irritably and nods her head towards the screen, loosening her grip on my mouth slightly. It's not enough to allow me to talk, but it does at least give me some freedom of movement in my head again. Enough to make it clear that I'm looking at the screen anyway. I close my eyes and swallow, then look back to her and nod, trying again to calm myself down.
It's too dark to see, but I'm sure I heard her ears rustle against her arms. She used her tail to let John know if she thought I was lying earlier, so I guess the movement could be something to do with that? I didn't actually say anything though, I just nodded. Then again, her character's supposed to have really good hearing so maybe she's picking up on something subtle like ... no Lana, you're still panicking and that's making you over think it. It was probably just a nervous twitch. But if that's right, was it a genuine twitch or a pre-programmed movement?
Slowly, Carnival moves the tablet to the floor and taps on the screen a few times, then brings it up to show me the screen again.
'I'M GOING TO LET YOU UP. STAY CALM'.
I nod again and true to her word she gets up, giving me enough space to scramble my way backwards until I'm pressed up against the back of the nearest sofa. The lights flicker into life and Carnival, who seems to have cleared the length of the room far quicker than should be possible, simply turns back towards me, rolls her eyes and grunts.
Come on Lana, pull yourself together. Since when did you become the knee hugging, shaking with fear type? You've already established that you're not going to die, you're just going to have a nice little chat. Well, a chat anyway. It'll be nicer than a chat with Connor Ford I suppose, so that's something.
"OK," I say, giving my knee two quick pats and pushing myself to my feet. "OK."
I work my way around the sofa without taking my eyes off Carnival, then sit myself down on the further sofa so that I can keep watching her as she steps carefully across the room and sits opposite me. "Not leaping over the sofa this time? No beer either I see," I say with a slight bite then realise that a, that was a rubbish attempt at riling her up and b, I don't really
to rile her up. At all. And I'm still scared. Actually, that's probably why I came up with such a crappy opening line. My subconscious must be smart enough to know that my waking mind is panicking right now and it took evasive action to steer me back onto the right track. See? Still a genius.
Carnival bares her teeth and taps her tablet again. 'I'M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC. AND I DIDN'T WANT TO SCARE YOU WITH ANY SUDDEN MOVEMENTS. I WOULDN'T WANT YOU TO PISS YOUR PANTS OR ANYTHING.'
"Oh har-har. Here's a tip, if you don't want to scare someone, don't force your way into their hotel room in the middle of the night."
'I DIDN'T FORCE MY WAY IN, I TRICKED MY WAY IN. THERE'S A DIFFERENCE.'
"Barely. And you
force me to the floor," I sneer. "Hardly friendly, is it?" I drop my face into my hands and groan. "Sorry, sorry. I don't want to ... whatever you meant to do, you did scare me, alright? I'm on edge."
Carnival tilts her head and narrows her eyes, then goes back to the tablet.
'YOU WERE ON EDGE WHEN WE MET EARLIER. YOU'RE MORE AGGRESSIVE NOW. WHY?"
I blink. Finn would have understood. Maybe not immediately, but he would definitely have figured it out. Does that mean he's more advanced though? He's programmed to understand me. Carnival could be inferior in that respect, but that in itself may put her on par with him as far the project goes. Or even beyond him. I mean, we all have people that we just
better than others, and we all have people that we don't understand at all. "John was here earlier. He let you in and stuck around while you were here. You came alone this time,
your way in and threw me to the floor."
Carnival nods as she types. She smiled when I mentioned John, or I think it was a smile anyway. Even with the graphical distortions, muzzles still work differently to human features. It wasn't what you'd call a doggy smile or anything, it was definitely closer to a human thing, but she only held it for like, a second, so I couldn't really read it properly.
'SORRY. I DON'T MEET MANY PEOPLE IRL. I KNEW YOU'D BE SCARED BUT I THOUGHT YOU'D CALM QUICKER LIKE BEFORE. JOHN'S THE ONLY PERSON I HAVE ANY REAL CONTACT WITH. HIS REACTIONS TO THINGS ARE MORE CONSISTENT THAN YOURS.'
"Really?" I say, blinking. "It's hard to picture John as being consistent in anything. He's like a kid who's eaten too much sugar and been let loose at a comic con."
Carnival responds with a series of excitable yips. A laugh maybe? 'HE'S NOT THAT BAD ONCE YOU GET TO KNOW HIM. HE'S ACTUALLY PRETTY EASY TO FIGURE OUT IF YOU TAKE THE TIME TO TALK TO HIM.'
"Yeah, about that. How exactly
you guys talk? I mean, Finn's got vocal files to cover eight languages. You though," I say, waving my hands in a vague manner. "You seem to be stuck with ... I'm guessing whatever Robert thought that a Lopine
sound like. That's gotta make it difficult, hasn't it?"
Carnival moves her hand to the tablet again, but stops, seeming to reconsider. She closes her eyes for a moment, lets out a sigh and looks back to me before responding. "I am capable of conversing using human speech, but I am not comfortable doing so. My words are more literal than I would like, and I have found that I am incapable of applying the desired tonal markers to correctly convey my intention." She pauses, her body tensing briefly before relaxing, the agitation all moving into her eyes.
I think I can understand why she's annoyed. After watching her earlier and reading what she's written so far tonight, it's clear that Carnival has a very defined personality. Her body language, all her little noises, they have a confident, cheeky feel to them. The voice she just used seemed wrong somehow. It wasn't just the wording being off, it was the way it sat somewhere between monotone and trance-like. I don't know what I'd expect her to sound like, but it definitely wouldn't be that. Maybe something closer to the Voice Actress that they use for her in the Spark Force cartoon, but a little less OTT?
"The sounds that I make around John Forrester are based on my own assumptions around the fictional Lopine race and research I have carried out into various real species," she continues. "John Forrester does not like to make me feel uncomfortable. He has spent time studying my regular vocal patterns and found a way to understand the points that I wish to make in conversation. I also suspect that his ability to understand body language is a long standing one. Should it become a necessity in order to correctly convey a message, I will converse using an electronic device, as I have done tonight. With John Forrester, this is now a rare occurrence, although this was not always the case. It is my preference to continue to talk as we did before this demonstration, however, if it is your preference, we may continue to communicate in this manner instead."
"No," I reply, shaking my head. "We can talk however you prefer." Both Finn and Meera replicate audible human speech far better than Carnival, but that makes sense really. The research that allowed those advances took place after Robert died, so anything he created would be behind like that. He was more intent on creating
the essence of a living thing
as he called it, and said that things like speech could be improved upon later.
'THANK YOU' she types with a relieved grunt.
"So. I'm assuming that you didn't come here to talk about your language skills."
'NO, BUT I NEED TO KNOW SOMETHING BEFORE I CONTINUE.'
I nod and beckon her to continue with my hand.
'IF YOU TAKE ME WITH YOU, YOUR MAIN GOAL IS TO UNDERSTAND HOW I'M BUILT AND WHY I BEHAVE AS I DO?'
"Broadly speaking," I reply, "Yes. There's more to it than that though. We want to create Spark Forms that are indistinguishable from human life but capable of ..." I pause, catching myself. "There are things that I can't tell you, I should make that clear right now. The underlying goal of the project is the big one." It's true that I can't tell her that, so she won't pick up any lies in the statement. In truth though, I don't really know the main goal myself. I know what we're aiming for, but not why.
Carnival nods. 'I DON'T REALLY CARE ABOUT THE PROJECT OR ITS GOALS. I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO TO ME.'
"Lots of different things. Test how you interact with different people in different situations, check the extent of your physical capabilities, that sort of thing mostly."
'YOU WANT TO TEST HOW HUMAN I AM.'
"Sort of. It's more that we want to test if you have any human traits that would be beneficial to us. We also need to check your programming to see if Robert did anything that we aren't currently doing, or if we're even close to where we want to be."
Carnival nods again, tapping her index fingers together as she looks down at her tablet. Given how advanced her behaviour has been, I expected some worry to creep across her face but she just looks sad. Maybe it's the mention of her programming? Maybe it makes her question the nature of what she is? But then, that could be a sign that she really is closer to being a living creature. Or
human if not. Most humans question what they are and why they're here at some point in their lives, after all.
'WHAT HAPPENS TO ME IF YOU FIND THAT I'M MORE ADVANCED THAN YOUR CURRENT MODELS? OR IF YOU FIND THAT I'M INFERIOR? AND PLEASE DON'T LIE TO ME, I WANT TO BELIEVE THAT I CAN TRUST YOU.'
I need to be careful with my response here. "If you are deemed to be in any way more advanced than models like Finn, we will copy, modify and test chunks of your programming until we reach our limits with it. It's entirely possible that some of the modifications would either be carried out on you, or on a copy of you after we've decommissioned your current form. If we're already ahead of you, then you will be deemed obsolete and decommissioned following our standard tests. It's really not that uncommon a method. The Finn McCourt that you and John faced in the tournament is actually a modification of the fifth version of his particular set of programming."
'THANK YOU FOR BEING HONEST' she types, then wipes the screen and starts over. 'WHEN I WAS HERE EARLIER, YOU SEEMED OPEN TO THE IDEA THAT I MAY BE ALIVE. THE WAY YOU'RE SPEAKING NOW MAKES IT SEEM LIKE YOU COULD NEVER TRULY SEE ANYONE CREATED IN THE WAY I WAS AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A PIECE OF SOFTWARE.'
"That's a defence mechanism," I concede. "Both Robert and myself dreamed of creating life. In order to survive within the bounds of the projects main aims, you have to convince yourself that nothing you create extends beyond the programming. Honestly, I don't know whether to view you as alive or not, but I
open to the possibility. Thinking on that, John said that he believes you're alive because
believe you're alive. What makes you believe it out of interest?
'I FEEL THAT I AM.'
I blink. "Really? It's that simple? Even if it's possibly just your programming telling you that you are, you just feel that you're alive, and that's it?"
I can't believe it. I expected something more profound than that. Is that really all there is to it?
BELIEVE THAT YOU'RE ALIVE, LANA?' she asks.
"All sorts of reasons," I blurt in surprise. "I think, I breathe, I can reproduce. I mean sure, there are all sorts of different organisms that do that stuff differently to humans, or that don't do it at all but ..." I trail off again, realising that without taking more time to think about it, my own answer is really not much different to Carnival's. I could probably come up with of a ton of ways to prove that I'm alive if I had time to think about it, but as it is I'm left with pretty much the same answer as her. I believe that I'm alive and that's it. "Do you ever doubt it? That you're alive, I mean?"
Carnival nods and sends her fingers flying over the screen again. 'JOHN DOESN'T TURN ME OFF. HE USED TO, BUT HE REALISED THAT I DIDN'T LIKE IT. HE THINKS IT'S BECAUSE IT MEANT THAT I DISAPPEAR AND JUST DON'T EXIST FOR A WHILE THEN COME BACK ON AS THOUGH I NEVER WENT AWAY, BUT HE'S ONLY HALF RIGHT. I DON'T REALLY BELIEVE IN AN AFTER LIFE, SO BEING TURNED OFF AND CEASING TO EXIST SHOULD MEAN THAT I'M GONE AND THAT'S IT. WHEN I COME BACK ON, IT'S NOT SCARY BECAUSE I DIDN'T EXIST FOR A WHILE, IT'S SCARY BECAUSE IT MAKES ME QUESTION MY BELIEF SYSTEM. IF I'M DONE, I SHOULDN'T BE ABLE TO COME BACK, BUT HERE I AM. I DON'T KNOW IF THAT MEANS I'M WRONG ABOUT RELIGION, WRONG ABOUT MYSELF OR NEITHER, BUT IT WORRIES ME.'