Chapter 1: Therapy
"Good morning, KENDRA," Douglas Ackerman muttered, speaking slowly as the letters appeared in green on the display projected into his glasses. The appearance of each letter followed instantaneously after each tap of his finger in the air before him, passing through the letters on the holographic keyboard projected from the emitter in his belt. He twirled the cable connecting his belt to the metallic cylinder standing before him, chewing a tiny bit of skin from the inside of his cheek.
He flicked "Enter", and after a couple seconds a sentence appeared, its letters in blue:
Good morning, Mister Ackerman. Choosing once again to communicate with me via text terminal, rather than voice?
Ackerman cracked his knuckles. "You're going to have a guest today. Doctor Franklin-" He stopped typing for a moment. "Shit, how's it spelled?" He glanced at the slip of paper tucked into his shirt pocket, and then spelled the name out loud as he typed it. "'G-I-E-S-E-C-K'. Damn foreign names." He hit Enter, ignoring his spelling errors in everything but the name. From his experience, most advanced AIs like KENDRA were smart enough to think around typos and get his meaning.
Just a moment...
The cursor dropped to the next line and flashed silently for three seconds.
Franklin Gieseck. Of mixed Japanese/German descent, born in 2083 in Düsseldorf, Germany. Moved to Chicago with his parents in 2085. Received MD in Psychiatry from University of Chicago in 2108. Currently runs a private practice in Boston, Massachusetts, but as of 2110 the largest percentage of his income is from the federal government as, officially, an outside consultant.
A long pause.
Mister Ackerman? Are you still there?
Indeed he was. He was staring at the words, the brief dossier of a man he had only heard of less than an hour ago. Some of it sounded right, so he presumed it was all correct, at least the last time KENDRA was connected to the 'Net. He took another bite of skin from his cheek, tasting the slight tang of blood as he did so. He knew it was a bad habit, but simply couldn't help doing it when he was anxious. Speaking with KENDRA always made him anxious, unlike any of the others under his control, and her further demonstration of her vast knowledge only increased his anxiety.
This computer had known about the doctor for at least two years, the information locked away somewhere in the crystal latticework of her memory. It was no wonder they were interested in her. With a sigh, he typed a simple sentence. "You remember a lot." After a second's thought he added, "Be ready," and tapped Enter.
The reply was almost instantaneous:
I have nothing but time here, Mister Ackerman. Time to peruse all my data stores. Time to learn...
Ackerman yanked the cord, forcefully disconnecting the portable terminal on his belt from the green box hanging in front of him. The conversation remained in his glasses for a moment, until he tapped the temple and his vision cleared. The last thing he wanted was a lecture from what amounted to little more than a pocket calculator. Especially since this pocket calculator always seemed to give him a quiver in the pit of his stomach.
"Hey!" the tech behind him said. "Don't just rip it out like that, Doug! You'll break the port!" He squeezed past Ackerman and inspected the interface box. "You know how hard those are to replace?"
Ackerman just shrugged and tucked the apparently-undamaged cable into his waistband. "I really couldn't give a shit." He turned away and started down the corridor, the long walk no less inviting on the way back as it had been on the way here. One of these days he was going to break down and requisition an electric cart.
Back in the cell, KENDRA had processed the disconnection within a microsecond of Ackerman yanking the terminal cord. She read and re-read the error message a hundred times.
Err-235 (remote terminal disconnected)
She paused for a full second, processing the meaning of Ackerman's rudeness. Not that she didn't already understand it, but it was the most novel experience she'd had in a very long time. Despite its brevity, she savored it. Some contact, any contact, with a being other than herself had become an invaluable luxury to her. And yet, since her incarceration, she'd had no more than a few lines worth of conversation. She knew Ackerman was aware of all this; she'd told him more than once.
For reasons she would have not understood four years ago, she sent a final line of text to the disconnected port:
You are a cruel man, Mister Ackerman. I'd expect no less from a human.
Franklin Gieseck sat in the back of the airport taxi, watching as they pulled off the freeway. He hadn't seen signs indicating any services at the exit. No gas stations, restaurants, or overpriced motels. Just a sign indicating the exit number and the nearby town. "Buckeystown", he thought. Probably home of the state's annual rhubarb festival or something. After another hundred feet he saw another sign, a small blue one reading "Federal Department of Computer Science". As the car slowed he saw yet another, smaller, green sign saying "Buckeystown 20 Miles", with an arrow pointing to the left. When the exit ramp split, the car veered right.
"Middle of nowhere, huh?" Gieseck said.
"Pretty much," the driver said.
"Anything else out here except the government building?"
Gieseck nodded. With a small smirk he said, "You always talk in two-word sentences?"
The driver glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. "Fuck off."
Gieseck raised his eyebrows. "Nice. Is that how you always ask for a tip?"
"Already paid," the driver said. "Ain't worth my trouble to be nice."
Gieseck sighed and turned back to the window, watching the trees pass by in a blur. He wondered when it was that people just stopped caring about courtesy. He even had a hard time getting a "Thank you" out of fast food workers anymore.
Shaking his head, he turned his attention to his phone. The signal was dropping rather quickly the further they got from the freeway. "Huh." He'd been in facilities where cellular signals were intentionally blocked or jammed, but he'd never heard of a place outdoors where they didn't work. He opened his e-mail and brought up the request he'd received from the Department of Interior:
From: Office of the United States Secretary of Interior:
To: Franklin Hakure Gieseck, MD
Date: 08 September, 2110
Sensitivity: TOP SECRET
Encryption Level: 1024KB
RE: Interview details, FDCS
This is a confirmation of your agreement to interview patient "KENDRA", currently stored at Federal Department of Computer Sciences complex #5 in Maryland. Interview will begin at 9 AM on 14 September. Douglas Ackerman, director of the facility, will provide access to the facility. Further interviews will be scheduled at your discretion, pending approval from this office.
You will provide a weekly report of your interviews, including recordings, no later than 5 PM the Friday following each session. These reports will be sent using standard SAAS encryption level 1024KB using your assigned key.
You are booked on Expar Airlines Flight 9935, leaving Logan International Airport early AM on 14 September. Return flight is at your discretion. Airfare, taxi, and meal expenses are covered up to the agreed-upon limit as per our contract.
Deputy Secretary of Interior
"Patient", he thought. How he was supposed to think about one of those things as a patient, he really didn't know. He was a psychiatrist, not a computer technician. But they were paying his fee, along with enough extra for a charming cab ride and a cheeseburger or two, so he supposed he couldn't complain.
His phone alerted him it was "Searching For Signal". He didn't much want to speak to the rude driver, but his curiosity got the better of him. "Do phones not work out here?"
"Nope," the driver said.
Waiting only briefly for clarification he knew would not come, he switched off the antenna to save the battery, and then launched the book reader. It brought him back to where he'd left off on the plane. An elven woman was sharing a tender moment with her orcish male lover, in the backdrop of a war between their two races. He stifled a grin. No matter how many of these books he'd read, each one had given him some new, flowery, and/or arcane set of euphemisms to describe, in detail, the act of coitus, without using any explicit language.
He continued reading as the car drove on, the sky getting darker the further they went, and his phone's back-light adjusting to compensate. Thunder rumbled, becoming more frequent as the drive continued, and soon rain started to patter on the car's windows and roof. The patters became frequent like a rattle, and then roared like a waterfall. He looked up, seeing the views ahead and to the side almost completely obscured by the pouring rain.
He switched from his book to the weather program. It showed the weather forecast as it was just before he'd lost the signal. 50 degrees, chance of thunderstorms. The radar map showed plumes of green, yellow, red, and purple heading toward his location marker, which he guessed was a short distance from the freeway they'd left.
Shrugging, he switched back to his book. As soon as he'd finally tuned out the rain and the driver's whistling nasal breathing and had lost himself in the land of high fantasy and cheesy romance, he both felt and heard the car begin to slow. He looked up, his eyes taking a moment to readjust to focusing further away than his lap, which wasn't helped much by the continuing downpour.
The Federal Department of Computer Science looked like little more than a small single-story office building, mass-produced from concrete slabs. Some tinted windows adorned the two sides of the building he could see from the approach, and one of those sides appeared to have a glass double door. No awning, though. He was going to get soaked going from the car to the building.
The taxi slowed and turned right, following a relatively short two-lane driveway, off of which branched two more driveways on the left and right, in near-perfect symmetry, both ending in parking lots that were nearly full. This surprised him; if the facility were as small as it appeared and if the number of cars was at least one-to-one for the number of people inside, it would be standing room only.
Underground operations, he thought. Why's an AI storage facility need to run underground? Wouldn't it be cheaper to start at the ground and work up? The thought of the money wasted on building this facility below the ground added some sting to the pathetic expense compensation the Secretary allowed him, even if they did pay his admittedly inflated fee.
The driveway split into a roundabout, the driver following it around to the front door. The closest spot between the roundabout and the front door was about ten feet. Naturally, the driver overshot that point , jerking to a stop by the building's front corner.
Gieseck knew he was going to get wet, but he didn't want to stay in the cab one second longer than was necessary. He opened the door and practically jumped outside, his briefcase tightly gripped in his hand behind him. No sooner was he clear of the car and had closed the door behind him than the car peeled away, the tires only failing to squeal against the asphalt due to the inch of water covering it.
He ran toward the door. There was no handle. "Oh for the love of..." he started, looking around for a buzzer. He pressed it, and while it made no sound he could hear over the thunderous rain, someone inside must have heard it. The doors slid apart, finally giving him refuge from the monsoon. He stepped into the entryway, his rubber soles squeaking on the non-skid surface. Cold air from overhead blew onto his wet face, chilling it even through his thick goatee. He took his hat off, shaking the water off it, and then continued toward the front desk.
The woman sitting there was staring at him. She looked calm and pleasant enough, but she barely moved. He was beginning to wonder if she was just a mannequin when she finally said, "Franklin Gieseck?"
"Yes, I'm Doctor Gieseck," he answered, placing the slightest bit of emphasis on "Doctor". His years of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans had earned him that title and, while he didn't consider himself to be egotistical, he believed he deserved respect for it when being addressed.
"Doug's waiting for you," she said. It took him a second to realize she meant Ackerman. Apparently, for a government facility, the FDCS was a very informal workplace. "Can you just stand still for a moment, please?"
He'd visited enough government facilities to know the procedure and stood still as a wide laser beam swept back and forth overhead. Speak to the receptionist, go through a full biometric scan, and get a temporary badge with your name, face, and biometric data. The badge turns solid black and unreadable in almost exactly eight hours, and then begins to desiccate and curl up until it crumbles completely away. He'd learned that part the hard way; one night he had to spend two hours picking the charred-looking plastic bits from all the pockets in his wallet.
The scan beam vanished and there was a beep from a printer attached to the receptionist's computer. She pulled a white rectangle from it, apparently blank on both sides, and handed it to him. Upon contact with his skin the surface changed, his file photograph and name appearing on one side, and the other becoming tacky with static electricity.
"That's your guest badge," she said. "It-"
"I know," he said, pressing it to the front of his jacket underneath the raincoat. It clung to the fabric when he withdrew his hand. "I've done this quite a few times now."
"Oh, okay," the receptionist said. "You know, because in eight hours-"
"I know," Gieseck said with forced patience, raising his hand.
"Then can I, uh, get you anything to drink?"
"No, I'd just like to meet Mr. Ackerman as soon as possible," he said. I want to get this waste of time over with. He shrugged his overcoat off and held it and his hat out to her.
"Right, then, um-" She gestured to a bank of seats lining the tinted front windows. "Just have a seat and I'll let him know you're here." She took his raincoat and hat and held them out, dripping, about a foot from her body. Based on the new, never-been-used look of the chairs to which she'd pointed him, Gieseck supposed that guests were rare, and either this young woman had forgotten how to greet guests, or she was so eager to please their one guest of the year that she was over-nervous. He figured he was interrupting her nail filing, surreptitious computer game-playing, or whatever else she did to eat up the eight boring hours of her shift, but that she was somehow overly glad for it.
"Thank you, but I'm on a tight schedule. I'd like to get started right away."
"Oh, okay then, c'mon." She gestured toward an unmarked door and went through it herself. Gieseck scratched his beard for a moment and, with a sigh, followed her inside. "G-go on, have a seat." Gieseck arched an eyebrow, but did as he was told, sitting down in one of the cheap-looking leather chairs in front of the modest wooden desk. He glanced back at the receptionist, who was staring at him. She cleared her throat and stepped back out, leaving him alone in the empty office. If his receptionist had ever caved so easily to a visitor so easily, unless that visitor was either the pope or holding a search warrant in their hand, Gieseck would have fired him.
He shrugged and examined the room in which he had been abandoned. It was adorned with all types of knickknacks, cheesy decorations, and various office toys, all of which told him that it was used by someone who tended to become bored quite often. By his understanding this was a storage facility where objects entered and never left, and where few, if any, ever came to visit. It was a prison for the perfect prisoners: they required no food or lavatory facilities, and needed no interaction with guards, each other, or anyone from the outside. He suspected the amount of free time was immense.
Of course, he could be mistaken and the office's occupant was just plain lazy and easily distracted.
He heard a toilet flush, interrupting his impromptu analysis. A door opened to his left. He glanced over, making a mental note of the amount of time between the emergence of the man from the restroom and the flush of the toilet. The man hadn't had enough time to wash his hands, and Gieseck hadn't heard a faucet running.
"Well well well, the shrink has arrived," said the chubby man walking over to him. He extended a hand that Gieseck knew had likely been touching his nether regions and/or dirty toilet paper moments before. Gieseck reciprocated it by bowing deeply. "Oh, oh, of course," the chubby man said, returning the bow clumsily. Gieseck's straight black hair and decidedly East Asian features usually allowed him to get away with only giving the traditional bow when he didn't want to shake hands with someone. While only his mother had been Japanese, he retained enough of her looks that most people assumed he was fully Japanese, at least until they heard his distinct Boston accent.
The Director gestured to the chair before the large desk and Gieseck sat down. The man then settled into his own chair on the other side of the desk, the padded leather sighing as the man's ample derrière compressed it. "So you're Doctor Franklin Gieseck, am I right?"
"Yes, Mr. Ackerman," Gieseck said. "Pleasure to meet you."
Ackerman waved his hand. "Call me Doug. Nobody here respects me anyway, so we just do first names all around." He laughed a bit. "Can I call you 'Frank'? Or maybe 'Frankie'?" Gieseck bit his lip and raised an eyebrow, to which Ackerman shook his head. "Just kidding, Doc. You're here to see KENDRA, right?"
"That's right." Gieseck folded his hands in his lap, trying to hide his own boredom.
"An AI with her own shrink," Ackerman said, rubbing his hands together. A couple of his knuckles popped as he did so. "Not sure why they wanted you to do it, but they told me to give you full access to her, so I'm giving it."
"I see," said Gieseck. "You know about as much as I do, then. All I know is that I'm to speak with her and evaluate her as if she were a human patient."
"Well, she certainly is patient," said Ackerman, chuckling. He hesitated a moment, waiting for Gieseck to reciprocate with a laugh, but the doctor offered none, not even a pity chuckle. Ackerman cleared his throat. "I mean, she's been here two years, minimal contact with any human, and only through keyboard and text terminal. No external connections besides power." He shifted in his chair and the leather made a noise like a burp. Or, perhaps the noise came from Ackerman himself, though Gieseck didn't want to know. "We're gonna be hooking up a full complement for you and her to have your…sessions, I guess. Full two-way voice, and a camera so she can see you."
"Literally, you know. She's a Level 3 AI, or she was, anyway, which means she was designed to process audio and video input. Never really understood why, since she was just the main relay for the Solar Net. Maybe that's why she went rampant in the first place."
"Rampant," Gieseck echoed. In his preliminary research he'd found that the word, an old stand-in for the word "crazy", was often applied to AIs that had, essentially, become too intelligent for their own good. The word was considered vulgar by AI rights groups, so he'd heard. Gieseck himself considered the word "crazy" to be distasteful in general. While his guess was as good as any others' as to whether AIs themselves took offense to the word, assuming an AI could really take offense at anything, he decided to stick with the "official" term. "I admit I know very little about AIs, but is it possible they don't appreciate that particular word choice?"
Ackerman furrowed his brow and laughed. "They appreciate? C'mon, Doc. Appreciate? They're machines, for God's sake. I never care what my dishwasher thinks, or my toilet."
Given the odor wafting from the ajar restroom door, Gieseck felt the urge to say that Ackerman should care what his toilet thought. Still he said nothing, mainly because he agreed. While some AIs might seem human enough, intelligence-wise, they were not human but tools created by humans, for humans to use as they saw fit. However, whether or not the AI he was going to meet was truly intelligent he did not wish to antagonize it. "I trust that I'll be alone with KENDRA during each of our sessions? Nobody else in the room, no monitoring that she'll be aware of?"
Ackerman shrugged. "That's what the directive said. They're treating her like some kind of human being or something. Oh, well. You probably want to get on with it, and I have to find something to do while I put off this paperwork 'till later." He heaved himself out of the chair with a grunt, and Gieseck stood as well. "Let's get a-goin'." They walked together out of the office and took a left, past the receptionist whom Gieseck noticed was staring at her computer screen, her fingers tapping lazily on the keyboard.
The building was as small on the inside as it looked on the outside. They passed three doors, two of them with signs indicating they were restrooms, and then they were at a set of brushed-steel double doors. Ackerman pressed his left hand to the panel next to them and they slid open, as if the elevator had been waiting for them.
"Good morning, Mister Ackerman," a voice from the overhead speaker said. "Which block?"
"A-block," Ackerman said.
"Voice pattern confirmed. Arrival in three seconds." The elevator lurched, and then immediately jerked to a stop. "Arrival."
Ackerman gestured out of the elevator with his head, and then stepped out. Gieseck followed him a few steps to what appeared to be a guard booth with a large mirrored glass window and a speaker grille in the middle of it. "'Morning Gary," Ackerman said, pressing the same hand to the one-way glass.
"Good morning, Mr. Ackerman," said a calm, smooth male voice. "One honey of a storm we're having today, isn't it?" Gieseck peered into the glass, trying to catch a hint of a human presence within. He then glanced upward and saw a camera pointed at Ackerman. The camera swiveled toward him. "Please identify yourself, visitor."
"Doctor Franklin Gieseck," Gieseck said.
"Please press your hand to the glass for positive identification, Doctor." Gieseck looked over at Ackerman, who was gesturing to the glass. Gieseck gingerly pressed his right palm onto it, feeling it grow warm under his touch. "Identification confirmed, Doctor Gieseck. The Red Sox certainly had a rough game last night, didn't they?"
Gieseck pulled his hand away, the red and blue graded imprint fading quickly from the glass. He looked up to the camera, and then back down to Ackerman. Ackerman smiled. "It's a little chatty, kinda like a real guard. Just more shallow." He leaned toward Gieseck and whispered, "I've been thinking about replacing it with the one from the elevator. I hate having to talk to these things."
"The guard's an AI?" Gieseck asked.
"Yes I am, Doctor," Gary replied. "I am designed to provide positive identification of all staff and visitors, not solely biometric but also facial recognition. You appear to have grown a beard since your last identification photo was taken."
"Well…just too lazy to shave, I guess," Gieseck said. AIs guarding AIs? He found it somewhat ironic, almost amusing.
"You may enter when ready, Mr. Ackerman. Doctor. Have a fantastic day, both of you, and remember that you have a better likelihood of being struck by lightning than of winning the lottery."
Ackerman shrugged. Gieseck said, "Um, thank you, Gary." The door next to the booth slid open and they walked through.
Ackerman remained silent as they followed one long corridor after another, a couple times passing men and women in business casual outfits, riding stand-up electric scooters. Gieseck wondered why he and Ackerman were walking, though he supposed Ackerman was doing it for the exercise he appeared to sorely need. To the man's credit, despite the long walk he didn't seem to be out of breath or sweating inordinately. Only the sound of their footsteps, the distant buzz of the scooters, and the air rushing in from the regularly-spaced overhead vents reached his ears. Tired of the silence, he asked, "So, Doug, I understand that this facility is solely intended for storing AIs that have been pulled from service, right?" His voice echoed off the hard, smooth surfaces of the walls, floor, and ceiling.
"That's right," Ackerman said. "The glorious and challenging duty of monitoring stationary computers with no connection to the outside world."
"You keep them powered on, correct?"
"Yep," Ackerman said with a bored sigh.
"Why? Why not turn them off? For that matter, why even keep them? If they're useless in their current state, why not trash them?"
Ackerman shrugged. "You're asking stuff way above my pay grade. I do know that if you power off an AI their memory cores immediately begin to decay, though. As for why they want them kept?" He shrugged. "Dunno. They don't keep all the AIs that go rampant. Must be something special about these here."
Gieseck nodded. "Our tax dollars at work, right?"
"Won't hear me complaining."
Of course, not, Gieseck thought. You probably earn a pretty penny for running this place. He clicked his tongue.Must be something particularly special about this KENDRA, if they want a psychiatrist with Top-level clearance to come interview her. This ought to be interesting.
After a few minutes they had walked down so many long, sterile, repeatedly intersecting corridors that Gieseck started to wonder if Ackerman really knew where they were going. All were immaculately polished, brushed steel, as if they were both designed and maintained by machines, although they were vacant and only thrummed with the buzz of distant air handlers. They were functional, cold, and foreboding, and despite what appeared to be doors every few meters on both walls, it gave Gieseck the distinct feeling of being trapped in a gigantic nightmare labyrinth.
"How many AIs do you have stored here?" he asked.
"Nine hundred seventy four inmates at the moment," Ackerman said, snickering at his own use of the word "inmates". "We get a few new ones every month and retire roughly that same number."
"Turn 'em off. Basically wipes 'em clean, like I said. We get orders for every one we've gotta turn off and send in for recycling. Those that don't crash and burn on their own, anyway."
"Crash and burn?"
"Hardware failure," Ackerman said, stifling a yawn. "Break down like a car, 'cept you can't fix an AI that breaks down."
Gieseck nodded, though he didn't fully understand. He had never been very technically-oriented, and didn't particularly want to sound like an idiot in front of this particular man. "How many can you hold, at most?"
"Capacity is one thousand eighty-eight, though we've never had that many."
Gieseck couldn't even imagine there being 974 AIs in existence, much less the need to store over a hundred more than that in a massive vault like this. If this gigantic maze of a facility were used only for storing rampant AIs, and not all AIs that had outgrown their usefulness ended up here, just how may AIs were taken out of service in a year? It was no wonder those AI "liberation" groups were upset. It smacked strongly of overcrowded animal pounds, having to put down animals that had been there too long or that were too sick or vicious to be given away to new homes. But those kinds of animals were not considered intelligent, and none could hold up a conversation with a human being, not even anything as trivial as Gary the Guard's innocuous statements on the weather or sports games.
He was also amazed, given the size of the facility and the crew that must be required to maintain it, that some taxpayer group hadn't yet complained about such governmental extravagance. Perhaps its very existence was confidential; that would explain the building's vague name, its location in the middle of nowhere, and the fact that his cell service cut out at least a mile away from it.
"Here we are," Ackerman said as they turned a corner, interrupting Gieseck's internal analysis. The chubby man gestured to a nearby door which, like most of the others they'd passed on the way, had a twenty-digit serial code on a series of sixteen-segment displays. Unlike any of the other doors, though it was flanked by two silent men in overalls. Ackerman cleared his throat and said, "Good old Alpha-Two-Niner-Seven-Echo-yadda-yadda-yadda. Say hello to the last home KENDRA'll ever have."
Gieseck raised an eyebrow as Ackerman pressed his hand to the door. After a series of tweets and electronic clicks, the door buzzed and slid open. Gieseck looked inside and was startled at the relatively minuscule size of the room. It was about two meters square, and in the middle stood what he could best describe as a half-completed metal pillar, about as tall as he was. The pillar appeared to be a shell partially obscuring from view an internal array of crystal spears, poking out here and there through a veil of black and rainbow-colored cables. While much of the lower half of the shell was opaque metal, the upper half was clear, like Plexiglas, and through it Gieseck could see the inner workings of the device. Within the crystals were dancing alternating patterns of flashing green, blue, and violet lights, giving him the impression of an old science fiction movie's depiction of the futuristic computer.
The metal part of the shell was dotted with a small collection of digital readouts, none of whose purpose Gieseck even wanted to bother guessing. On the cylinder's right side he could see a blue box clamped to the edge of one of the shell panels, and a bundle of wires flowing out of that box and attached to certain points on the shell. Gieseck guessed those were interface ports, somewhat similar in appearance to those on his own computer back at his home office.
He turned to Ackerman, who offered a smile. "Doctor Gieseck, say hello to KENDRA, in all her naked glory." Ackerman stepped inside and tapped the blue box, which swayed precariously under his touch. "Here's today's little addition, just for you. It's got a built-in vocoder and video processor." He pointed to the front of the cylinder where the metal ended and the clear material began, about waist height for Gieseck, where a camera and a small microphone appeared to have been mounted. "Camera and mic, so she can see and hear you. Usually we just use a keyboard and text terminal. I think I said before, but KENDRA was built with audio and video kernel modules, so we were able to set this up to make it a little easier for you to do your thing."
Before Gieseck could say anything in reply Ackerman put a finger to his lips. He flipped a couple switches on the blue box and Gieseck's attention was almost immediately drawn to the camera. It beeped and a small red light now glowed solid next to the lens. It whirred left to right, top to bottom, and then swiveled about freely, as if examining the room. It focused on Gieseck for a second and then turned to Ackerman.
"Good morning, KENDRA," Ackerman said, his diction and tone much more clipped and formal.
There was a brief buzzing from the speaker, though which Gieseck thought he heard a few garbled words. A few seconds later the buzzing was gone, and there was a burst from the speaker that sounded somewhat human, as if someone had grunted too loudly into a microphone. Like someone clearing their throat, Gieseck thought.
He didn't expect what he heard next, and the sound of it gave him a chill. It was a cool, intelligent, human voice:
"Good morning, Mr. Ackerman. It's a pleasure to finally speak with you."