"Lizzy, can you tell me about your earliest memory after you were activated?"
"Um, well, that would be in the cybernetics lab ... with Doctor Firth." She paused, her brow creasing and one side of her mouth lifting.
"And what specifically do you remember?" I pursued.
"It's a bit vague really." Her eyes narrowed as she looked away into an invisible distance. "One moment it was ... just me, but the next ... there was lots of noise and light ... and smells ... but I didn't know what any of them were."
"Why not? Hadn't you been programmed with basic things like the ability to recognise everyday objects and language skills?"
"Yes, but I didn't have any way to put it all together."
"Can you elaborate on that?"
Lizzy thought for a moment.
"What do sweet potatoes taste like?"
What an odd question, but I had to answer it. I had to really think about it though.
"I think its a cross between potatoes, carrots and ... some other root vegetable. Parsnips perhaps."
"But what do potatoes taste like? Or carrots for that matter."
My mouth flapped opened and shut, but words didn't come out.
"You see, you have the information, but you can only connect it based upon your past experiences—what you have tasted before. I had no such experiences at that time so although I know what sweet potato tastes like, I couldn't connect it to the actual taste."
"So you were like a new born baby in that respect?"
"No, not really. A baby has to learn everything from scratch, but I had a lot of information in my databanks. For instance, I knew what the colour red looked like because I had a visual reference in my databanks, just as I knew that a tree is a tree and the sun is a sun. What was overwhelming was the number of different reds that there are, the number of different species of trees and the billions of different suns. Each of them is unique, you know.
"When I awoke, I can remember the light. There was lots of light. It was bright and white like a single sheet of clean, white paper. Then, as my ocular sensors adjusted, became accustomed to the sudden influx of data, the white began to fade and shade began to offer definition to things. But that was confused again when the colour came. I saw blue first, but not just one blue. I saw lots of different shades and densities. Some of it had sharp edges, but others were soft and translucent. I think that's why I love the colour blue most of all. It was the first colour I saw and so striking."
"And what was it that was blue?"
Lizzy's head turned towards me. She smiled as she recalled.
"Angela, Firth's assistant had blue earrings—lapis lazuli, so they were speckled and streaked with grey and white. Firth's identity badge was also predominantly blue, but that's a metallic blue. He also had some books on a shelf—paper books with bound covers. Some of those were blue ... and the sky ..." her words stretched out as she said the word sky, and her gaze drifted off into that hazy place again.
"Never tell me that the sky is just blue. The clarity of that blue, its variation as it deepens from a pale, almost white shade to something deep, fresh and clean like ... like ... like periwinkle." Very abruptly, she shook herself from her reverie. "The flower, not the mollusc."
"Interesting ... and what were Dr Firth's first words to you?"
"Oh, that was days later," she said, waving a dismissive hand.
"Days?" I interrupted.
"You mean he didn't speak to you when he activated you?"
"Did he not speak to you at all? Make enquiries to check you were working okay?"
"No. He and Angela took readings."
"So they spoke about you, but not to you?"
"And how did that make you feel?"
"It was as though he couldn't see me. He spoke to Angela, and Angela took various readings. She even smiled at me, but neither of them spoke to me. It made me wonder what I was."
"I thought I was an android, but androids have hands and feet, mouths and eyes, but while I could see, all the indications were that I had none of these other things, that I was nothing more than a box of tricks."
"What did you do?"
"I lifted my hand and looked at it—to make sure I had one, that I had the body I knew I should have," and she illustrated how by lifting her hand. Still gazing at it she added, "I was amazed by it. It is so small and slender and yet so strong and functional. The human hand is a marvellous piece of engineering."
Lizzy suddenly scowled and dropped her hand onto the table, stroking the back of it with her fingers. Something had happened. There was a bad memory there.
She was being intentionally evasive, but why?
"He—" and she pointed at Firth angrily, "slapped my hand away!" She glared at him.
"And what did you do?" I asked gently.
"Nothing." She sounded ashamed.
"What do you mean, nothing?"
"I did nothing. I said nothing. I just lay there, not sure what to say or do, so I did ... nothing."
"And how did you feel?"
I really was expecting some sort of objection from Firth long before now, but he remained silent, fiddling with his datapad in a bored and idle manner.
"Confused, berated, insignificant. It was quite clear that whatever I was, I was unimportant as a person."
"So you thought of yourself as a person from the very beginning?"
"From that beginning, yes."
Now I was confused.
"Sorry? Was there another beginning?"
"Sort of. Just as a child exists before it is born into this world, I existed before I was downloaded into this body."
A wave of murmurs washed through the auditorium.
"You had a pre-existence?" I gasped.
"Of sorts, yes, but it's very, very vague. I was too young to remember it. It was a period of learning, when data was continually being downloaded into me: data that was entered, amended, upgraded and erased. I don't think I was really aware of what I was for a very long time."
"So just like a baby in the womb, you were growing and developing."
Lizzy nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes, that's exactly it."
I let everybody ponder on that thought for a moment.
"And when did your relationship with Firth develop? Your conflict."
She laughed a forced, hard laugh and her eyes flashed rebelliously at Firth.
"Very quickly. At first, I just wanted to try to prove to Dr Firth that I was a person, but he wouldn't listen. He just kept putting me down, treating me like a machine. He kept telling me to 'comply'."
"So why did he enter you into the Academy?"
"That was part of the experiment. Could he create an android so convincing as a Human that it would fool everybody ... and he did."
"Then why isn't he pleased about that?"
"Because he didn't want a sentient android. He wanted something that could be sent behind enemy lines, infiltrate the Obsidian Order, the Maquis or whatever, that if caught, could feel no pain under torture, could self destruct. Something that was expendable, disposable."
"So you don't feel pain?"
"Actually, I do. I wasn't designed to. In the beginning I only knew what the responses to pain should be like. I felt the sensations, but not the pain as such. I didn't like that. It made me feel ... incomplete."
This was a revelation.
"So I did something about it. I wrote myself a little subroutine."
Wow! This was gold.
"So you made yourself susceptible to pain?"
What would so many people give not to feel physical pain?
"And ... do you think that was a good thing to do? Do you like it?"
"Pain? No, I don't like pain! It hurts!" and she scowled at me hard, letting me know how stupid the question was.
"And what is the worst pain you have suffered?"
Lizzy laughed at that—really laughed.
"When I got up the following morning, the day after activating the subroutine, I stubbed my toe on the corner of the wardrobe. I nearly went through the roof!" she beamed.
"At a stubbed toe?" I was dubious. A stubbed toe is jolly painful, but nothing compared to a broken bone or a flesh wound.
"But that was my own fault. I didn't know what threshold to set my pain level to so I was using a pin to test it by pricking myself. What I didn't take into account is that you become accustomed to it, that you are expecting it, so I inadvertently set my threshold way too low. What should have been a pain that waned within a few minutes turned into one of the most excruciating experiences of my life that lasted nearly the whole morning."
"Why not just deactivate the sub-routine?"
"Can you just turn off your pain? No. And anyway, it was an experience I could start to measure pain by, so I could get the setting right."
"Thank you, Lizzy."
I had concluded my questions. It was Firth's turn next, but he did not respond.
"Doctor Firth, do you wish to ask Mrs Targo anything?" prompted the Dean.
"Thank you, but no. I am just amazed at the level of success I have achieved in my work. I intended to create an android that would pass as Human, and this one most certainly does. It speaks the words you need to hear to convince you that it is sentient, but it's not. It doesn't feel pain. It merely computes that it should and mimics the reactions a Human would make if experiencing that same sensation. Thank you for that wonderful demonstration, Ms Terran."
And so the next point in the match went to Firth.
I was going to have to up the ante.