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Charlenes 2 and 3

by Bill Bowler

part 1 of 4

I turned back into the lab and walked over to Janice. She lay sprawled face down behind the desk. I knelt down and looked at what was left of her. Her skin had turned pale gray, almost translucent. Her body had been drained of blood. On her neck, I saw two small red dots, like tiny pin pricks.

“Charlene, why are you kneeling there?”

Professor Stone had come into the lab. I turned to reply, and he saw the two legs sticking out from behind the desk.

“What on earth?”

He knelt beside me and touched her face with the palm of his hand. “My God!”

The professor stood, staggered back a step, and collapsed into a chair. “Get away from her, please.”

He covered his face with his hands, and rocked back and forth. After a moment, he took a deep breath and picked up the phone. His hand was shaking.

“This is Stone. I’m at the Robotics Lab. There’s been some kind of accident.”

Detective Javertson and two uniformed patrolmen arrived within minutes. The policemen stood in the doorway while Javertson knelt to examine the body. He rose, brushed the dust from his knees and ran a comb through his silver hair. With a glance at Professor Stone, he came over to where I stood.

“Which one are you, sweetheart?”

“Charlene 2.”

The policemen laughed.

“Quiet, you two.” Javertson frowned and continued, “Remind me what you do here, Charlene.”

“I assist Professor Stone in his experiments.”

“What kind of experiments?”

“Our current project involves problems in fluid nutrition of synthetic bio-matter brain tissue.”

The officers in the doorway laughed again.

“OK, OK. We’ll get to that later.” Javertson nodded towards the body on the floor. “Did you know her?”

I looked at her face again. It was expressionless now, like mine. Her emotions had been extinguished and her eyes stared blankly into space. She was only nineteen or twenty years of age. I turned to the detective. “Her name is Janice Rowe. She’s a student of Professor Stone’s.”

One of the officers in the doorway walked to the desk and began leafing through Professor Stone’s notebook. We heard the sound of a page tearing.

“Please be careful!” Professor Stone shouted. He stood up from the chair and looked around wildly. “I don’t understand. What could have happened?”

Everyone in the room looked at me.

Javertson straightened his tie. “You want to tell us now, Charlene?”

* * *

Alternate outcomes involving Janice’s continued existence had been possible until the very end. I remembered how the chain of events had commenced. The professor and I were in the lab late one Friday afternoon, studying a schematic of the C-3 circulation system. A young woman came in without knocking.

“Professor Stone?”

“Yes?” The professor looked up from the diagram. A girl in a t-shirt and faded jeans stood before us holding a pile of notebooks and textbooks under one arm.

“I’m Janice Rowe, Professor. I’ve just tried to sign up for your artificial brain seminar, but the registrar told me the class is full.”

“Perhaps next semester...”

“No, Professor. Please. I can’t possibly wait that long.” She put her books down on the table. “That’s why I came to this university — to study with you. There’s no other reason. You’re the best in the field. I’ve read everything you’ve written. Please don’t say no.”

“Well...” said the professor.

“Dr. Stone, I’m an honors student. I have a 4.0 grade point average with a major in physics and a minor in biology. I’m the perfect candidate for your seminar. I know I can contribute. Please say yes. Please.”

“Well...” The professor smiled. “You’ve got spunk. I like that. I suppose there’s always room for one more.”

Janice broke into a big smile. “Thank you, Professor! Thank you! You won’t regret it. You’ll see.” She looked around the lab and seemed to notice me for the first time.

“Wow. An android!”

“May I present Charlene 2. She was last year’s class project. She’s remarkable, isn’t she?”

Janice looked me over from head to toe. “Awesome.”

“Charlene 2 represents a great improvement over the previous model, which was a rather crude prototype.” The professor pointed to the stack of schematics on his desk. “And these are the plans for Charlene 3, another big step forward! The technology is advancing that quickly. We’ll build C-3 in class this year.”

Janice leafed through the plans.

The professor continued: “For Charlene 3 we will use the same basic design template we used to make version 2. However, I want the students this year to pay more attention to anatomical detail. The assignment is to emulate the human form by means of synthetic materials. Charlene 3 will be a work of art as much as a model of mechanical design.

“Look here.” The professor pulled a full color sheet from the stack of papers. “Look at that detail. The hair and eyelash material is a fine silken filament. Those are plastic fingernails on the fingertips. The syntho-derm is malleable and resilient.”

Janice looked up at him. “Nipples?”

The professor paused. “They’re made of elastic. Non-functional but highly detailed. You see those tanks over there?”

A rack of aquariums stood against the wall. Shapeless gobs of matter hung suspended in a murky fluid. The professor’s eyes flashed and he spoke rapidly.

“The same tissue that we harvest for the skin can be used to make a brain! And that brain, that 1500-gram chunk of bio-matter, is precisely the difference between Charlene 2 here and Charlene 3. C-2 has tremendous functionality with her multiple chip array, but next to Three, well... The bio-brain will increase the computational speed and power by a factor of 10,000.

“The problem is, the brain runs hot. It rapidly dehydrates and the tissue degrades. But look!” He handed Janice a schematic. “The fluid circulation system can be routed to a water-tight skull housing.”

Janice studied the sketch while the professor spoke.

“We will bathe the brain continuously in the same nutrient-rich plasma that lubricates the syntho-derm. The result will be a profound difference in the behavior of the two androids.”

Janice looked up from the diagram. “Brilliant.”

“Charlene 2, of course, is completely passive, able only to process input and execute commands.”

Janice looked at me again.

“C-3’s superior brain will have the capacity to initiate a range of activity appropriate to the circumstances; essentially, to improvise behavior. In this respect, while Charlene 2’s behavior appears machine-like to us, artificial, Charlene 3 will seem almost human. And she will look the part!”

“Incredible!” Janice’s eyes went wide. “This is really exciting! I’m so happy to be part of your team, Professor Stone. It’s a great honor. When do we get started?”

“Monday morning. Of course, there are still a few, heh, little wrinkles to iron out.” Professor Stone leafed through several pages of diagrams, pulled one out of the stack, and handed it to Janice. “There are still problems with the fluid matrix, the rate of flow, questions of pressure, temperature, and so forth.”

“Yes, I see,” said Janice, studying the diagram. “Just off the bat, I can think of a couple of different ways to come at it. Auxiliary pumps here, and here, for example.”

The professor looked where Janice was pointing, and nodded his head. “Why, yes.” He marked the diagram with a pencil. “Crude but effective. We’ll run the numbers.” He sat at the desk and scribbled a note on Robotics Department stationery. “Give this to the registrar. There won’t be any problems.”

“I can’t wait to begin,” said Janice.

“Then we’ll see you Monday.”

“Thank you again for being so understanding.” Janice hesitated for a moment, then threw her arms around the professor’s neck and kissed him on the cheek. The professor looked at me for some reason.

Janice glanced at her watch. “Oh my God! The office closes in five minutes. I’ve got run! Bye, Professor.”

Janice rushed from the lab. We watched through the window as she hurried down the path towards the administration building.

“She’s very attractive, don’t you think, Charlene?”

“Her features are symmetrical.”

“Yes, they are. Quite symmetrical.”

When Janice disappeared from sight, Professor Stone reassembled the stack of sketches and diagrams, and put the papers carefully into his desk drawer.

“That’s all for now, Charlene 2.”

I powered off.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2010 by Bill Bowler

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