It registered her fingerprints and heartbeat. “Good morning, Ms. Wakahisa. You may enter.” The door panels irised open, circling closed after she walked through.
“Light level 60 percent,” Kokoa said, approaching the lone figure in the display.
“Would you like the privacy screen?” the system’s calm female voice asked.
“No, thank you,” Kokoa replied. Some of the staff teased her for using polite phrases with the systems. She only smiled. They aren’t that different from the robots, she thought. Why wouldn’t I treat them as well?
Kokoa was the only one still assigned to the Kenji I. Over the years, generations, all interest, all hope of overcoming the Kenji Flaw, as it was known, had faded. The next generation of robotic development had resolved the flaw, but they had never been able to successfully overwrite the Kenji programming with the new algorithms. And now Kenji was consigned to a dusty exhibit on the lowest level of the Mitsui Museum, and Kokoa was overlooked again and again for new research, new projects in robotic core development.
She didn’t care. It was her legacy, her duty to work with Kenji until they found a way to reroute his algorithms from his endless loop. She approached the seated figure. His body featured a smooth creamy yellow casing. His head was humanoid, his face a bland mask. He would never be mistaken for anything other than a robot, unlike the modern models. Kokoa loved him in spite of, or perhaps because of, his old-fashioned style.
She held up the latest code stylus in front of his dark, empty eyes. “Look, Kenji, let’s give this a try, shall we? She tapped the node behind his right ear and pushed the stylus into the hole that opened into his head. He would startle if she stood beside him when he came online, so she stepped back and held her hands behind her back, waiting.
His skin casing darkened, his eyes glowed, and he lifted his face, looking around. Seeing her, he smiled. “Good morning, Ms. Wakahisa, it is good to see you.”
“Good morning, Kenji. It pleases me to see you, too. And you know who I am. That is very good. Do you know where you are?”
Kenji looked around, and with a slightly unsteady motion, he stood. He walked to the window and peered out into the hallway. The museum was not yet open, so there were no people wandering through. He turned back to Kokoa. “I am on sub-level eight of the Mitsui Museum, am I not?”
Kokoa nodded and indicated the table with two facing chairs. “Please sit and talk with me for awhile, Kenji.” She never called it running tests. That seemed very impolite.
Kenji sat, his movements loosening as his system came fully online. He had a fluid grace that Kokoa admired, even though modern systems were designed with more human-like clumsiness. They ran through the opening protocols of question and answer, and Kokoa felt a flicker of hope. They had never made so much progress before the flaw resurfaced. Could it be resolved? She started thinking ahead to next steps, press announcements, future studied. Could Kenji be released to her lab for further study? Could he be freed?
They completed the opening protocols, and Kenji sat quietly for a moment, observing her with placid, brown eyes that flickered around the edges. He leaned forward. “Ms. Wakahisa—”
“Please, you may call me Kokoa,” she said.
He nodded. “Kokoa, may I ask you a question?” He rested his hands on the table. His fingers trembled. Kokoa looked down, and she blinked back tears. She knew the question before he asked it. “Yes, Kenji,” she whispered.
“Is Harumi here?”
“No, Kenji. She’s not here.”
He sat for a long while. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Kenji. She is dead.”
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
Kokoa looked up at him, and a tear rolled down her face. “Yes, Kenji. She was my great-great-grandmother.”
Kenji reached out and gently touched her face, wiping away the tear. “You look like her,” he said.
Kokoa stood and pushed her hands down into her coat pockets. “I have to go now, Kenji. Would you like to sleep?” She always offered him the option of staying awake, but he never took it.
Kenji moved to the wing chair and sat tall. “Yes, please, Kokoa.”
She reached behind his ear and brushed the soft casing, almost a caress. He looked up at her and smiled. “Kenji, can I ask you something?” she said, her fingers hovering over the stylus.
“Of course, Kokoa. What do you want to know?”
“Do you dream?”
Dogs in house
Itzhak Perlman, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: Spring
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