We sat at our usual table by the window. The waiters served baguettes and a cheese plate. It was a hot day outside, and the acid rain levels had been steadily decreasing for the past week now. We used to have weather like this all the time. I remember the sweet summer days of my childhood, when you could go outside without a care in the world.
"We'll try the house Sirah, s'il vous plait," said Elma. She fancied herself as a fluent speaker of French, but she was far from it in reality. The waiters, being used to her overconfidence, nodded with grace and retreated.
"S'il vous plait," I repeated.
"Don't mock, little brother." She took a sip of water and continued: "Why don't we talk shop for a while?"
"I'm not in the mood."
"You're always in the mood. Tell me about Helena."
"What's there to tell?"
"For starters, will she be ready for tonight?"
"No, she won't."
Elma frowned. "Little brother-"
"Like I said, I need time to imprint early memories and cement the desire matrix. I do not agree with lower standards, however high up the orders may come from."
"I can assure you, little brother, that the orders come from the highest echelon."
"I don't care."
"She will be presentable tonight."
"I won't help."
"Of course you will."
"And what's going to happen when she asks about her name?"
Their name was important. They always asked.
"You'll wipe her."
"It's not going to come out right if we wipe them. I need to build her mind, not reset it." I clenched my fist and stared at my sister. Elma held my gaze. I hated her silent comebacks, a power move meant to humiliate me. She always punished my insolence, but I would not bear it this time.
"All right, sister, have it your way." I relaxed.
"Not all robot girls need a soul, Jack. Just make sure she's presentable for the customer. That's all I'm asking."
"I need a soul, Elma."
"You're being melodramatic," she said. "Say, shall we split the desert?"
"I don't want to eat any more."
"Don't pout, brother. You can have the next one all to yourself. I promise."
"Activate SRF - 12589, Helena, female."
I came back to the lab after lunch. My stomach was rumbling from the cheese, and I didn't have anything else; I had barely touched the wine. I walked into my office and shut the door behind me.
"Jack, lovely to see you again." said Helena.
I had activated her as a reflex. I've been working on her for a month now, careful to construct a solid personality, but with not enough time to go deeper than that. She had no dreams, no past. No desires.
"Yes, indeed, hi." I said.
My office was small. I had room for a desk for the computer panels, a small table with a lamp and a corner bookcase on one wall, and the bed currently occupied by Helena on the other wall. There were two orchids on the windowsill which I had forgotten to water, and a ficus tree near the window, opposite the bookcase. I sat on the only chair and started to swivel.
"Jack, where am I?"
"Oh, yes. Well, you're back in the, in my office." I said "Yesterday, we went to the training course, remember?"
"I remember." After a pause, she continued. "Why did you shut me down?"
Her question had startled me. She wasn't supposed to ask that.
"Have you been drinking?"
"What? No, I barely had a sip-"
"I can detect trace amounts of alcohol in your breath. Wine. Red. Possibly Cabernet, or perhaps Syrah."
"That's amazing actually. Yes, it was Syrah."
"You shouldn't drink on the job," Helena said.
"Ok, enough of that. Listen, today we're going to have one more test."
"What kind of test?"
Helena was eager to get tested. I taught her that when the tests were over, her life would begin. I planned to validate her physical functionality with her awake - as opposed to scripted movements and memory wipes - so I can test the theory of the emerging self, the idea that the sense of self is a construct based on physicality as much as mental development.
My sister, of course, had interfered with that plan.
"You'll dress up, put on make-up, and go out to meet a new person." I said. This was true, except for the part that it wasn't so much a test, as it was a reality, but I did not want to introduce this idea quite yet.
"What is the purpose of this test?" Helena said.
"Of course you would ask that."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Never mind that," I said, "do you think you can do it by yourself?"
"I have the ability and the knowledge to choose my own attire, to dress and to apply make-up. What are the input parameters?" she said.
"Well, I guess that's why we call it a test. The input parameters are your choice."