Gadgets & People
Part III: Intelligence
The next day, as we finished up science class, Yougen wheeled herself to the side counter where a cage had been placed. Inside was the class’ new if unusual pet; a tiny robotic crab thing Stanko had created and accidentally let loose in a battery stealing rampage.
“Who’s a good little robo-crab?” She said, speaking in baby speak. “Do you want the battery? Yes you do.”
She held up an AAA battery and dropped it in the cage, the robot jumping on it. Somehow it feed on battery juice. After quickly devouring its snack, the little robot let out a musical series of happy beeps. Why it was programmed to do that, I had no idea and Stanko didn’t even remember building the thing either…
“You need a better name than robo-crab. How about Zhan? In my home language it means cog. That’s a good name for you, isn’t it?”
“Yougen, we’ll be late for History class if we don’t go soon.” I called her.
She turned herself around and said bye to Zhan.
“You really seem to like the little thing.” I said once she reached us.
“Why wouldn’t I? Robots are cool.”
“Well, there’s robots are cool kind of like and then there’s using the cutesy baby voice with a robot, kind of liking.”
“Zhan’s more than just a machine, it’s smart. Maybe not human-level smart but there’s definitely some real AI in there; it learns it adapts and grows. We never had that on my world, even before the earthfall.” She said, clearly excited by the prospect of artificial intelligence.“You’re the smart guy here, have you ever worked on AIs?”
“Not really, the European Union has some pretty tight anti-AI laws. So work on artificial intelligence is pretty radioactive, it’s not something you get into if you want a long prosperous career. You weren’t here yet, but there’s this nutbag of an AI called HYPERION — in all capital letters mind you — that’s been responsible for several terrorist acts. He’s very skynet-ish.”
Nobody was quite sure where it had come from or who had made it but in the eleven years since it had first appeared, HYPERION had proven itself resilient and above all else determined to fight ‘the enemies of the Nation’ as its broadcast had declared. It wasn’t a surprise that AIs had quickly come under heavy legal restrictions thanks to panic and hysteria.
“Right, other world. It’s from an old famous movie; Terminator. An AI goes crazy and try to destroy humanity.”
“Guess I’ll add it to my list.” She said, taking out a notepad and writing it down. I could see dozens of movies, bands, plays and tv shows written on it. “By the looks of it, I’ll be caught up with Alephi pop culture in never.”
“Do you like it here at least?”
“I do, I’m a bit worried about how my family’s doing, but it’s nice not always struggling to put food on the table or getting worried about infected raids. Did I mention the food here is like amazing? There’s so many spices and different produces available. I swear I’ll be happy if I never see another potato or sauerkraut ever again.”
“You mentioned infecteds.”
“People like me who’ve completely succumbed to the black blood. One of them attacked me, it’s how I got stuck in a chair and became like it…”
“It’s alright. I’m fine!” She said, trying to be cheerful, but I felt like there was something she wasn’t telling me. But I didn’t press her for more answers.
Not that I had the time to if I wanted to as we reached Ja’Nael’s history class. Unlike Professor Apex who taught us about the world of parahuman, she was concerned with the mundane things.
Once class was over, I jogged over to Jaeger’s side as we all walked home.
“You weren’t at dinner last night.” I noted out loud.
“I snuck out again,” he shrugged.
“Again?” I asked, raising a brow. I hadn’t heard of a first time. “And what do you mean by sneak out?”
“Ah, right. The Raven is a bit sensitive about me going off the school grounds for, er, some reason,” he laughed awkwardly. “I made a friend,” he added.
“That’s nice I guess. Did you get into trouble?”
“Nothing that broke the law.”
“Good to know, I guess.” I added with a chuckle. “I made dinner last night, saved some for you in the fridge. Just look for the foiled-up bowl with your name.”
“Oh,” he blinked, looking taken aback. “T-thanks,” he murmured.
That night after class Caroline kept her promise of vegetarian delights, having made tofu tacos, which had been quite delicious and pure torture for Charlie, but other than that and Charlie finally getting her revenge on Jaeger by spicing his favorite biscuits with habanero extract — something I’d missed, being in my lab at the time — that Thursday went by fairly quietly.
Every Friday afternoon a bunch of us students would claim one of the gymnasium for a friendly game of no-powers football, which put us at a friendly rivalry with the paraball club next door as to who could get more members. Paraball was kind of like football except crazy; you could use your hands and superpowers too except to hurt other players.
From our class, only Jaeger had joined the football club but in the three weeks he’d been in, he’d stayed on the bench, just watching and keeping game scores as the rest of us played.
“You know, you could join us.” I said, coming up to him and taking a water bottle and drinking a shot before wiping my chest clean of sweat. Even in September, it could get pretty hot in the gym so most of us had ditched our shirts.
“I’m fine just keeping scores and watching.” He said with a shrug.
“You sure?” I asked, probably for the thousandth time since he’d joined.
“Very sure.” He said, his eyes quickly darting down to my abs before coming back up. “And no way I can pull off the shirtless look.”
“Because of the wings or the scars?” He bit his lip and looked away at the question. “But you know it’s not mandatory.”
“Both, people tend to stare rather than focus on the game.”
Our conversation was cut short as Jaeger’s ID began beeping. He took it out and saw a message scrolling on the electronic band;
‘RETURN TO DORM ASAP’
“Is yours doing that too?”
“I left mine in the locker. Better safe than sorry.” I said with a shrug.
We left the gym, and I found out my ID was also displaying the message but nobody else’s in the building were so we got going. When we came back to the house, the others were bunched up together, equally clueless so we joined them, waiting to see what would happen. To my surprise Charlie came to my side.
“I’m sorry.” She said in a low tone. “I was moody and difficult with you about your cooking. I didn’t really like it, but I should’ve just gotten something else instead of expecting you to cater to my taste.”
“Did Caroline make you apologize?”
“Yes and no…” She mumbled. “She wanted me to but she was right about my attitude.”
Admittedly I hadn’t expected her to be honest about Caroline making her apologize, but that counted for something I reckoned. As she finished apologizing, Mr. Martin came in for a surprise inspection which went fairly well. However once he was done, he opened the door of the house and let a flood of people come in.
Out of the crowd, I quickly spotted Sana, Vani and my step-mom Amrita, the three of them coming my way, with Vani holding onto her mom like a little monkey.