“I heard you had to go to medical yesterday.” PQ12 said as TO entered the lab. They were deeply focused on something they were working on at the lab’s computer console, but glanced over them and saw the new addition to their uniform; the plastic goggles that were now resting on their face. “I see.” they said, “Eye strain.”
“I didn’t think it was reported.” TO said, their ears suddenly twitching with anxiety.
“It wasn’t, not officially. We were sent word that our trainee went to medical with a migraine caused by eye strain, and were informed that we must provide goggles from this point on.” They frowned as they looked back to their work, “We were also told that all of us should be using them.”
“That’s what the medical officer said.” TO replied, “But I can still work! I still want to work, I-“
PQ12 cut them off, “The eye strain is something you’d get used to if you were assigned to Synth production long term.” they said, “PQ03 and I no longer use the goggles. We’re used to the light, and it’s easier to work on finer, more detailed things without them.” a grimace passed over their face as they continued typing “Also, sometimes when you’re working with something that’s delicate, the googles slip down on your snout and you can’t push them up right away… It’s irritating.” They glanced up briefly from their work and gave TO a hard stare, “And I assure you, that’s not just because of my snout.”
TO could only stare as PQ12 spoke to them; they hadn’t said much since TO had been brought to production. Now that they were alone it seemed like they were allowing themselves to fall into what could be considered needless conversation.
“You...” TO hesistated, their ears flicking down in fear. “You’re a little… Different. Aren’t you.” They finally said. They took a step back, almost as though they were expecting to be shouted at, or even struck.
PQ12 stopped typing, leaned back, and looked over to TO. “So are you.”
There was silence between them as TO’s mind raced. PQ12 was strange. Moreover, they had admitted it.
“Do you…” They looked around quickly as though someone might be listening in, then said, “IsPQ03 different as well?”
PQ12 pressed their lips together, and then said in a soft voice, “PQ03 is passionate about their work; more than anyone I’ve ever met. However…” They trailed off, and then turned back to their work, “When I started, I irritated them. I talked too much.”
“Me too!” TO said, “I mean, not when I started here, I mean when I was in training-“
PQ12 nodded, but didn’t look up from their work. “It’s generally better to keep to oneself.” they said, “I slip up sometimes but I work well, so PQ03 doesn’t ask for a replacement and doesn’t complain about me.” They looked up at TO. “I recommend that, in fact. No matter where you end up. It wouldn’t look good on you if you were to be bounced around from section to section when your training is complete.”
Ears flicking down, TO looked aside, “I’d be corrected then.”
PQ12’s ears twitched, “Corrected. Put into combat. Sent on a one-way exploratory mission.” They shrugged. “It’s better to be here. We can serve King Decon most effectively from population hubs.”
“... May I ask a question.” TO asked. “Something that’s been bugging me. Something you might know.”
PQ12 looked up from their work, “Shall I assume that both your question, and my answer if I choose to give one will be a matter of strictest confidence?”
“Go ahead then.”
“... Why are we strange?”
PQ12’s ears flicked again, their lips pressing together. They waved at the tanks with the embryos inside. “A question to your question.” they said. “Why do we exist?”
“Think about it.” They looked to the tanks, “Why create us? Wouldn’t it be easier to manufacture robots with complex AI’s?”
“I… I suppose?” TO said as their ears flicked out in confusion.
“King Decon was asked that once, back when I was a trainee. He had taken over a new planet– one that had been undiscovered up until that point.” They smirked, “Would you believe that they actually wished for a marriage to solidify their alliance with His kingdom?”
“With King Decon?”
“With a synth.” they said with an unmistakable tone of disdain. “They wanted a higher ranking Synth to marry a higher ranking royal of their planet.” They shook their head. “Such primative people. I suppose they thought that King Decon’s ambassadors and negotiators were high ranking, respected people”
“So... What did King Decon do?” TO asked, “Did he really let a higher ranking synth marry?” Their mind spun, unsure if it would have been more embarrassing for the synth or the royal. What would a synth even do in a marriage? They were not made for relationships. Why would anyone want to marry one of them? TO had read funny reports from other planets that spoke of people wishing to be in a relationship with A.Is or computers, or even high end intimacy droids. The articles were always written in a way that was clearly supposed to be humorous, and were often full of contempt. Wouldn’t a high ranking royal have more pride than to demand a marriage with a synth?
“Oh no. King Decon’s higher ranked synths have far better things to do than to waste their lives like that. He appointed a normal synth— unspecialized, with minimum training— to be the representative of the planet. They married, and I think they’re still there. They take their orders from another synth on King Decon’s palace ship” They shook their head. “He warned them that they wouldn’t get children from the union, that the synth wasn’t like them, that the synths were-“
PQ12 nodded. “Exactly.” they said. “They didn’t care though, the marriage went through. King Decon was later asked the same question I just asked you; why bother making synths? Why not use robots with advanced A.Is?”
“And what did he say?” TO asked. They hadn’t realized that they had taken several steps forward, and that they were holding their breath in anticipation for the answer.
“Well. First, many people and planets don’t take robots and A.Is very seriously. A living being, regardless of their actual status is more well regarded than that.”
“I don’t see how marrying a synth is much better than a robot.”
“Civilians have a strange fixation with creatures that they consider to be biological and organic. They have a much higher regard for them than they do robots. If a robot was sent to negotiate with a planet, or was sent to oversee one, It’d be deemed an insult. It’d be like saying ‘you people aren’t worth an actual living creature. Have a robot.’”
“So… It’s just for respectability?” TO asked. “It seemed like a lot of work just for that.”
”Not quite.” PQ12 said, “In King Decon’s wisdom, He has determined that variety in the line of command— particularly in the minds of his higher officers— is the greatest advantage a living being has over an A.I.”
“How?” TO asked, “An A.I wouldn’t be strange. He wouldn’t have to worry about finding broken synths if He used A.Is!”
“An A.I’s thought process is limited depending on their programming and how they’re developed. As actual, sentient beings, we have greater capacity for imagination, and more independence of thought. Well...” They shrugged, “To a point. There’s also lots of faults that can occur with natural minds, but that can be fixed.” They leaned back, looking off into nothing as they collected their thoughts. “Consider for a moment the minds of the young synths. They are the raw materials and must be sculpted and shaped to perfection. The computers that the bab-” They seemed to catch themselves, their ears flicked down and flushing as they suddenly straightened up and focused on their computer. “that the synths are hooked up to deal with that.”
PQ12 had been about to say babies. TO was so stunned by not only their verbal trip-up but also by their reaction to it that they nearly missed what they had said.
“Raw materials?” they said. “The computers...What do you mean they fix it?”
“Just what I said.” They tilted their head at TO. “Do you recall anything from your time in the tank?”
TO’s heart nearly stopped. It had been so long since they risked talking about being in the tank, about the dreams that they lived before. It was such a taboo subject among the other synths. Even among DH and GiDi there was one big problem with speaking about the time before– they couldn’t properly remember it.
“Not really.” They admitted. “I… I have feelings, sometimes? Like memories that I can’t quite see.”
PQ12 nodded. “Before you woke up, you had a simulated life.” they said. “You’re meant to forget it. “
“To develop your mind, of course” they said, “We don’t have time or resources to raise children, to teach the basic life skills and languages that you need just to survive. The simulation teaches you all that and basically puts your brain into a test run.” They gestured to the computer, “The computers… It’s complicated, but they basically read your mind, and adjust your experience based on what you need to learn, and how you need to act. If more major problems need to be fixed, then the lasers attached to the computers make the necessary adjustments while the brain is still developing.”
“But shouldn’t that make us all the same then?” TO asked, “If it works like that, why would there be strange synths, like me?”
“I wouldn’t call you strange.” PQ12 said as they looked towards TO, “You’re different. That’s important. That’s what King Decon wants...To a point. Robots with imagination.” They shook their head, “I don’t work with the programming for the computers that deal with this; higher ups in programming do. However, I imagine that if King Decon wanted that variety of thinking, if He wanted to preserve the imagination of his tools so that they’d be more effective?” They shrugged, “Then I have no doubt that there’s some mechanism to allow for such variation in the system.”
“I see.” TO said.
“Unless there was a fault in the system.” PQ12 said, then quickly turned back to their computer, “Not that there would be.”
TO was about to ask what they meant but before they could get the words out the door to the lab opened, and PQ03 stepped in. Remembering what PQ12 had said about keeping to themselves, they fell silent and stood to attention.
“Ah. You’re here.” they said. They looked them over, their eyes lingering on the goggles. “I can assume that, despite your visit to medical, you’re ready for work today?”
“Very good.” they said. “We’ll be checking for faults in the older specimens.” They looked at PQ12, “Will you be accompanying me?”
“I have reports to follow up on.” they said simply as their ears drooped down.
“No matter. If there’s a problem, it’ll be brought back here.”
“I know.” they said, their voice subdued and quiet. PQ03 didn’t notice it because they were already heading to the door, but TO caught PQ12’s tone, and saw their ears.
“I’m sure we will return before I have to leave for the day.” TO said before chasing after PQ03. TO thought that maybe PQ12 would miss the chance for conversation, and that made their ears droop so much; that made them sound so sad.
Oddly, their promise to return didn’t seem to cheer them.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell