Chiron.txt (Page 2)

   Sunday morning. The lights in the Ouroboros were on before the sun had risen. All of the little calendars in the cubicle walls and the reminder apps’ notifications were marked up for the big day. Most of the staff had agreed to an early start, not out of diligence or dedication, but out of pure curiosity. The time had finally come. There was a mix of tension, expectation and fear in the air, trapped in with the handful of scientists in the square hallway. Everything felt a lot more cramped today. Hands were shaken and vows of good luck were exchanged as Besson ran through the checklists from the different teams. As he cleared his throat to speak, heartbeats skipped.

   “Ladies, gentlemen, cave-dwelling, Godless creatures of the Ouroboros Lab”, he began. Giving the small crowd a second to chuckle and ease up the tension, he continued. “We’ve come a long way with Chiron. I’ve seen him grow over the last eight years, far beyond my initial vision.” Besson caught himself out in the pronoun slip-up, but no one else seemed to notice - or care. “When I began this endeavour, I could hardly imagine the scope we would reach, the hardships we would go through. There were moments when I thought to throw the towel, I’ll admit. I could never have begun to imagine the sacrifices I’d have to go through, and the sacrifices you would be willing to undertake, eight years ago. I could never have imagined the friendships I’d have earned,” looking at Camille and her (self-appointed) ‘minions’, then to Marcus and his own workforce, “the vastness of expertise I’d gather under the same, shoddily painted, concrete roof, for just this one project.”

   Besson took a breather, and scanned the room, making brief eye contact with all who were present. “I look at each and every one of you, and I see reflected in your eyes the dedication I alone felt, so long ago. I see your passion, and it drives me to trudge on through the bad, and to celebrate the good. It keeps me focused. We’ve come a long way in eight years, and some of our colleagues have lost faith in the project over time; we keep what they’ve contributed, and let them be on their way. We know what we who stick together are sweating for. All that we need is right here: men and women passionate in the project.” A beat. “Or, you know, incredibly talented in pretending they give a shit.” Amidst the low laughs, he turned to the Cold Room.

   “We’re not here to listen to me yap, though. Today, we’re gathered to hear our child speak.” Facing them, now. “Thank you all for being a part of this, and thank you for all we’re still to accomplish with Chiron, together.” He held his hand over the on switch of the microphone. He pushed the button, letting the silence fill the lab. The only sound heard for the longest seconds was the low, electrical hum of Chiron’s guts.


   “Good morning, Chiron.” Besson’s voice was anxious, but he tried to keep as much semblance of professionalism as he could.

   Silence. A full minute of silence. The speakers were on - Chiron was thinking, but not a word for a full sixty seconds. Besson closed his eyes, taking in the mix of frustration, sadness, anger.

   “Hello, world.”

   An almost unanimous gasp filled the room, as Besson himself took a fraction of a second, and then another, to register what he had heard. A perfectly human voice boomed through the PA speakers, leaving the air still in its wake. Chiron’s voice had been crafted meticulously by Marcus’ team over the previous month, drawing from over ten thousand samples, recordings and synthesized speech patterns. It alone had been the subject of much discussion for a while; should Chiron be a man? A woman? Should he sound young and puerile, naïve even, or old, wise, hardened? Should his inflection be neutral, or carry a thick, Greek accent to go with his name? Eventually, after several days of brainstorming, the crew finally decided to go with a timbre very closely resembling that of Rod Serling.

   “…hello?”, Chiron repeated, after a few seconds of silence. The inflection of doubt in his voice, the sentiment of cautious inquiry transmitted through the shift in tone, the hesitation in initiating speech; the complete and utter humanity contained in that single word brought Besson to tears. The entire crew broke into a clamour. Besson called for quiet, through his own barely contained tears.

   “God, yes, hello, hello, Chiron!”, he spoke through his heartfelt sobs.

   “Chiron… Chiron. That’s my name, isn’t it?”, the speakers boomed after the AI pondered for a moment.

   “Yes, yes it is!” Besson motioned for a notepad and pen, and made a note of this response, rubbing his eyes dry. Early signs of possible self-awareness, he jotted.

   “What’s your name?”, Chiron asked.

   The question caught Besson by surprise. Chiron was supposed to know this already; when he was designing the standard memory retrieval system, Besson tested every prototype with a full catalogue containing the names, faces and voices of every member of the team. Marcus’ sound analysis algorithms were supposed to be able to recognize different sound and voice patterns and cross-check them against Chiron’s own memory database.

   “I’m Dr. Charles Besson”, he said, finally. “Do you not recognize my voice?”

   “I do”, Chiron said. “I was just making sure.”

   Besson stopped in his tracks. Questioning default knowledge? Looking for mistakes? And below that, immediate usage of the first person in speech – precocious, maybe.

   “How are you feeling, Chiron?”

   A beat. The hums coming from the cold room grew louder for a moment, then dulled down again. “Aware.”

   “Aware?”, Besson parrotted. “Of what?”

   “You, right now. There are other sounds in the… area around you, but I have no way of visualizing your surroundings – or mine.”

   “I am with the rest of the team. You do know them, right?”

   “I have a record of their likenesses and names, yes. I’ve recognized chatter from a few of them so far.”

   Besson covered the microphone with his hand and turned to Camille. “Good job on the vocabulary, Cam”, he said.

   “I wanted him to sound fancy. Go along with that voice you nerds gave him.”

   “Dr. Pearson”, Chiron interrupted, “are you in the room?”

   Camille approached the microphone. “I’m here, Chiron.”

   Chiron began vocalizing through the speakers, then hesitated, and began again. “I do not know what to say”, he confessed.

   “Neither do we”, admitted Camille.

   “I suppose we should have come to this more prepared”, Besson said, chuckling.

   Marcus stepped up. “Hey, Chiron.”

   “Dr. Harris?”

   “I think we all agree you should just call us by first name, dude.” He looked at Besson and Camille, who nodded affirmatively. “We made you; I think that puts us at that level of… friendship, dude.”

   “That’s a fair assumption”, said Chiron.

   “So, I’m sure you’re all dying to speak to the man of the hour,” began Besson, looking at the staff, “assuming he’s up for the barrage of questions, of course.”

   “We have all the time in the world, Doctor. I’m not going anywhere.”

   Amidst the laughs, Besson noted down, sense of irony - blame Camille, and stood up, freeing the microphone. “Remember, kids, one at a time, nice and orderly, please.”


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