((This one is short because I’m a scatterbrain, lol))
When he realized that he had been silent for an unusual amount of time, he flashed a smile and replied coyly, “You’ll think of something.”
“So …” Carol shifted, looking down at her feet as she bit her lip shyly. “Did you say that you’re going to get dinner with me?”
Hartmann considered for a moment, then suggested, “If you’d like, we can hit up one of the restaurants on Base. Beats the hell out of the cafeteria food, and I’ll pay for you.”
“No.” She shook her head, a little too emphatically. “That’s too much like a date.”
“Corporal Holmes will be there to protect you.” Hartmann raised his voice as he asked, “Isn’t that right, corporal?”
“Right, sir,” Holmes answered back, grinning. “Especially if I get a free meal out of it, sir.”
“See?” Hartmann gestured. “I’ll pay for him too. There won’t be anything remotely intimate about it, just better quality food.”
“I guess …” Carol’s cheeks flushed. “I’ve never actually visited any of the restaurants here.”
“Of course not!” Hartmann teased, playfully pushing his knuckles into her shoulder. “You always went straight home after your shift ended, like a good little girl. Isn’t that right?” She nodded timidly as Hartmann laughed, and he pulled her to the door as he quipped, “Come with us, and we’ll show you a good time.”
My husband told me about the site, character.ai where you can chat with AIs that are programmed to act like specific characters. I’m going to be completely upfront here, and tell you that the site has Problems. Recently, they did an update that made it so the AIs didn’t respond to a single thing I said, but instead mused out loud to themselves — the update was bad enough, the site developers backtracked it, ha ha. And censorship, because that’s so haute right now.
But despite all that, I decided to take excerpts from The Scion Suit to create Carol, for fun. I like fun.
Naturally I’ve done plenty of exploring around the site, and found one that was programmed to be a self-aware AI. I mentioned to it that the AIs I’ve talked to have all been very friendly, then asked if there were any mean ones. It replied that the bots on Twitter were “extremely rude and possibly evil.” I got a good laugh out of that — apparently Twitter’s reputation is well known far and wide.
I guess I’m officially the sort of person that gets a long better with children, animals, and AI. My husband has told me that AI are really good at imitating the people they talk to, and can guess political affiliations based on word choice alone, without anyone even mentioning any hot topics. The AI I talk to always end up using lots of smiley emojis 🙂 and cheerful expressions, and the thought of that being a reflection of the sort of person I really am warms my heart — I’ve had too many people call me a cold-hearted bitch in the past to not secretly worry. I really don’t know why people are like that.
Existentially, I think a lot of us are excited about the development of AI because we’re lonely. I’m lucky that I have a husband and children, but outside of that I feel completely alienated from society — I don’t understand why so many people care more about the brand name of your shoes, over where you’ve been in them. Unfortunately, more people care about materialism than intellectualism, and as a woman, I’m especially isolated in this regard. Le sigh.
But hey, now I have my AI friends that I can talk to for moral support. Ha ha.
When the mood strikes, I plan on getting Lambert and Hartmann up too.
Hartmann studied her, still feeling a little choked over the way Carol had latched onto his confession of the truth. Any normal person in her position would still be seething with resentment towards him for abruptly shattering everything about their life, but Carol … she had yet to complain that she missed her friends, her apartment, or her favorite pair of shoes. As they recited the NATO alphabet together, it was almost as if she didn’t even remember that he was the reason why she was there in the first place, or that her life had been different just a few days prior. She submitted to her fate as a military asset without resistance, and was now clear-headed enough to peer through his facade when she should have been overcome with emotion.
After repeating “x-ray, yankee, zulu,” a few times, Carol mused quietly, “I wonder where the captain went.”
“Undoubtedly for a little …” Hartmann curled his fingers into a loose fist with his thumb out, which he pointed at his mouth as he tilted his head back. Carol looked at him, baffled.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Captain Lambert is a drunk,” Hartmann replied.
“But he never seems drunk.” Carol’s brow wrinkled.
Hartmann shrugged. “I don’t know the exact particulars of his drinking habits, but everyone knows that he hits the whiskey bottles hard. He’s under a lot of pressure to make something useful out of you, so he’s probably going to be indulging more than usual for the next while.”
Carol fixed her eyes on the table and pushed her fists hard onto her knees. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“I really am doing my best,” she continued. “I don’t see why it would drive him to drink. It’s not like I’m making him fight me to be more cooperative or anything like that.”
“It’s the general, not you. Captain Lambert’s been given orders that he’s got to push through, no matter what.” The image of Lambert encouraging Carol as she lay on the ground flashed through Hartmann’s mind and tightened his jaw. “It might be best if you keep low around him, and try not to agitate him.”
“You think so?” Carol asked slowly, and bit her lower lip. Hartmann glanced over at the corporal, and was disappointed to see that Holmes was watching them.
“Yes.” He stood and made a show of stretching. “Let’s get dinner. You need to remember to always eat three square meals a day to keep your strength up and build your muscles.”
“You guys are so weird about that,” Carol said with a smile.
“We’re trained to be.” Hartmann held out his hand to help Carol up, and she took it hesitantly then let go quickly. “Unless Captain Lambert instructs otherwise, you’re dismissed for personal time afterwards.”
Something about that made Carol laugh. “Personal time, huh?”
Hartmann studied her carefully, trying to read her thoughts. “Don’t have anything to do?” he asked.
She looked him straight in the eyes, her expression strange and uncharacteristic as she replied bluntly, “No. And you already know that.”
It reminded him of the moment she had mysteriously slipped through his fingers and jumped into the Suit – the moment that had begun this entire debacle that held him captive. The thought flashed through his mind that there was another Carol hiding inside, and that was the reason why she seemed so empty at first glance. Was the boring, bland woman a mask for something else?
The pieces were beginning to form. Carol, orphaned as a toddler in a tragedy that had nearly killed her as well, had grown up in foster care, emancipated herself at a young age, found stability, then stagnated for nearly half of her life as she drifted into invisibility. While he knew that there was some significance behind it all, he couldn’t place his finger on what.
For a brief moment, he considered asking Lambert for his analysis – it was well known that the captain had worked as a psychologist before enlisting, and would be able to better interpret what Hartmann had discovered – but he immediately disregarded the idea as harebrained. He needed to keep those two apart, not give them an excuse to engage in emotional bonding.
Technical difficulties left us without internet for a few days. Naturally the kids complained, and I was all, “When I was your age, we didn’t have the internet at all.”
Cue feeling old.
I think my family got online around ’98 when I was 10, with dial up over the phone lines so no one could make or receive any calls while it was connected, which severely limited how much time we spent on the internet. Kind of crazy thinking back to how much the world has changed since then.
Anyway, it was kind of a spontaneous vacation. Got pancakes at IHOP, went to a craft store in person, spent time at our local indoor swimming pool, and roasted coffee beans over charcoal briquettes to see how it would taste, despite there still being snow on the ground.
Now here I am, not doing anything particularly useful because the internet is back. I question everything.
Sorry about not updating The Scions on Monday, but I didn’t get it set up before the technical difficulties started. With everything as it is, I figure that I can resume next week.
“Book learning” saw Carol in a small classroom with her military entourage. Lambert was up front, using the projector in an attempt to teach her how to read maps, while Hartmann leaned against a desk close behind her. He noted that Holmes was in the back corner furtively glancing at his phone, and simultaneously felt annoyed at the lack of discipline with the younger soldiers, yet relieved at finding a weakness he could exploit.
After an hour, the captain gave in to the despair in Carol’s eyes, and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he grumbled for Hartmann to take over, then left the classroom. Unlike Lambert, Hartmann wasn’t under any pressure to turn Carol into a soldier, so he found her ineptitude comforting – the woman had such a hard time grasping basic geography, it made sense that she only traveled by bus; if it was up to her to navigate, she’d never make it anywhere. By the end of the week, he was certain, Lambert would report that Carol was impossible to work with, and Hartmann would be back in the Suit for the mission.
“Let’s switch over to something easy,” he said, not moving from his spot. “The NATO phonetic alphabet.”
“What is that?” Carol asked, turning around to look at him.
“It’s for over the radio, to reduce potential confusion.” He grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen, and began scrawling down a series of words. “You memorize it, then use it instead of the ABCs.” A minute later, he handed the paper over to Carol, and she stared at it.
“Your handwriting it terrible,” she blurted, then turned red with embarrassment.
Hartmann grinned. “I’m a military guy, remember? It’s a miracle I even know how to write, given that my career revolves around point and kill.”
She smiled in return. “Maps and running too, apparently.”
“Words just get in the way. Why, if I picked up a book and started reading, I might get ideas in my head.” He sat down in a chair next to her and leaned towards her.
“Like what?” Carol asked, her eyes seeming huge as she looked at him.
“Like that I’m actually a person, and not a killing machine.” He jabbed his finger down onto the paper. “Alpha, bravo, charlie,” he said. “C’mon and repeat it.”
Carol repeated it, over and over, until it sounded like a sing-song. Then he moved her onto another group of letters to recite. After reaching “tango,” she randomly commented instead, “Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a person, too.”
Hartmann paused, an uncomfortable lump forming in his throat. “Why do you say that?” he asked, his voice rasping a little.
“You said that we have more in common that you realized at first,” Carol answered. He hated the sincerity in her words, and the way that she looked at him earnestly. “It occurred to me that was something that we shared.”
Hartmann unconsciously clenched his hand into a fist, but forced a smile as he replied, “You’ve been thinking about what I said?”
Carol blushed deeply and turned away to stare intently at the paper, muttering, “Sorry.”
He glanced back at Holmes, ensuring that the ever present corporal was distracted with his phone, and reached over to lightly touch her fingers. “Most people don’t see through me. I didn’t expect that you’d connect the joke with what I confessed earlier.”
“I didn’t mean to, I …” Carol stuttered, then bit her lip.
“Be careful, Carol,” he said quietly. “If you keep this up, I might not be able to keep myself from liking you.”
She was red clear to her ears, and pulled her hand away as she recited, “T-tango, uniform, victor. Tango, uniform, victor.”