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Emilia's Second Chance - Part 1 of 2

"Emilia's Life"

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1958 - The 5-year-old Emilia Conly was taken to a science exhibition by her mother. The exhibition was held by a company called "Aperture Science Innovators". She was extremely fascinated by the things on display, which seemed magical to her.

A part of the floor was painted with some kind of orange gel. The visitors were allowed to push special cubes on it to see how fast and far they go with just a little push. A little further, there was a robot with guns which aimed for anyone who passed by it with a red light. Its guns were empty and merely made bang voices, which were enough to scare some people, including Emilia, away.

But the thing which got Emilia's attention was quite simple. There was a young woman from the science company there, explaining about a recently invented rechargeable battery. She explained that ordinary batteries were just a waste of money and resources, and the future belonged to this battery. She put the charged battery inside a small flashlight and turned it on, saying, "Charge it once, and it will work for you non-stop all night."

Emilia had Nyctophobia, and believed monsters were living under her bed and in her closet. She had trouble sleeping at nights, and sometimes woke up to nightmares. The idea of having such a device seemed very appealing to her.

"Mommy, I want that," she said, pointing at the flashlight.

"That's not for sale honey. That's just for the visitors to see," her mother responded.

"But I want it. I need it. I can scare away the monsters who come out at night."

"Honey, that's just in your imagination. There are no monsters."

"Yes, there are! They live in dark places and come out at night. I want that flashlight. If I have it, they can't scare me anymore," Emilia insisted. She was loud and brought attention to herself.

The woman who was explaining about the battery approached them with a smile. "It's okay if this young lady needs a flashlight, she can have this one." She offered the flashlight to Emilia, but as she tried to take it, hardened her grip, and said, "Wait for the camera." A cameraman took a picture of the woman handing the flashlight to Emilia.

Emilia and her mother thanked the woman and went home shortly afterwards. That night, Emilia kept the flashlight in her hand and slept calmly.

The next morning, when she was eating breakfast, her mother went outside to pick up the newspaper. As soon as she returned, she said, "Oh my god! Emilia, the woman who gave you that flashlight... do you know who she was? I thought she was just an employee, but she is Caroline, the wife of Cave Johnson, the CEO of Aperture. Look, they published your picture," as she placed the newspaper in front of Emilia. There was a large picture of Caroline handing the flashlight to Emilia with a smile.

"She was nice," Emilia said, "I want to be like her when I grow up."

1961 - Emilia was watching TV. The news was talking about some dangerous experiments happening in Aperture Science Innovators, which had endangered the lives of many volunteers who had participated as test subjects. Apparently, some test subjects were missing, some had ended up in coma, and some were showing worrying symptoms.

The whole affair had led to a large scandal, and the investigation team was placing serious charges against the science company. The company argued that the test subjects had agreed to participate in the tests voluntarily, and signed various documents which clearly stated the company wasn't responsible for any harm resulting from the tests.

As the news showed test chambers and laboratories of Aperture Science Innovators, Emilia couldn't help but feel drawn to the concept of working there. All those men and women, working together as a large team, in advanced futuristic laboratories to discover new things - this seemed very noble to her, unlike the reporter's arguments which seemed illogical. "Of course, there will be some failures! Of course, some may get hurt in the process! All great things come at a cost! No one forced the volunteers to participate," she thought to herself.

The idea of helping to make the world a better place by advancing science, even at great risks, was something that she found deeply appealing.

1963 - The classroom burst into laughter as Emilia read the title of her essay: "An Aperture Science Scientist".

The teacher had asked the students to write about what they want to become when they grow up. The children pointed fingers at her and laughed.

"Emilia, who gave you that idea?" the teacher asked her, not letting her continue reading. "Do you even know what they are doing there, under the ground?"

Emilia felt sad. She had expected some encouragement or curiosity, but instead, the teacher seemed to disapprove of her choice, along with the entire class. She tried to explain, "Well, I've been reading about them. They're working on some amazing new things, like teleportation, computers, artificial intelligence, space travel, and Quantum mechanics. They're making the world a better place, and I want to be a part of that."

The teacher looked at her with a confused expression, as if trying to understand her. "Emilia, those are just stories. They're not real. The people working there, they're not scientists. They're just... I can't find a polite word for them. They don't care about people. They endanger the others. Almost all their products have been proven to be harmful. Their testing is inhumane. They abuse some loopholes in our laws to treat humans like lab rats. I don't think you actually want to work there. In fact, I think I might need to have a word with your parents about this."

1967 - Emilia was going to school jumping. Each time she jumped, she went up around 10 feet. People were screaming and running away from her. When she reached school, she created a panic. The teachers and staff ran out to hold her down, and it took them a great effort to finally stop her from jumping.

When questioned, she admitted that she had bought a bucket of Aperture Science's Repulsion Gel, which was taken off the shelves in the 1950s, from the black market, and painted her shoes with it in order to jump.

The principal was furious and summoned her parents. He explained that Emilia had endangered the other students by bringing a substance that could dissolve bones in a few minutes to school. He made it clear that this couldn't continue, and Emilia needed to behave like a normal student.

Her parents were shocked and disappointed. They had no idea where she had gotten the gel, and why she was so obsessed with such a dangerous substance. They grounded her for a month and forbade her from watching TV.

Emilia remained in her room but used the opportunity to read. She read a lot about different scientific fields, and what had been accomplished at Aperture Science. By the time her punishment was over, her parents had a serious problem in dragging her away from her room and books.

1968 - Senate hearings about missing astronauts were on TV. Apparently, the astronauts were missing after participating in an Aperture Science test. This created a serious problem for the US space program.

Emilia couldn't help but feel sorry for Aperture Science. She didn't understand why people were so quick to judge them. They had accomplished so much, and their tests were necessary for progress. Sure, there might have been some accidents, she thought; but that's part of the process. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. She didn't want to see the progress coming to a stop because of a few misfortunes. "All great things come at a cost!" she thought.

1969 - A large demonstration was taking place in Emilia's hometown against the Vietnam War. Large crowds had gathered across the USA to protest and demanded ending the war.

Emilia went to the demonstration with a banner she had designed herself. As soon as she opened her banner, everyone pointed fingers at her and started laughing. The banner read, "Allow tests, not wars" and had an Aperture Science logo on top of it.

"What's wrong with you?" asked a man who was standing nearby, "You think the people who get hurt in those tests are any different from the people dying in Vietnam? They just endanger themselves out of desperation, and for what? The profits of a few."

Emilia felt her face flush with anger and embarrassment. She had thought that people would understand, that they would see the bigger picture. But they didn't. She felt they were just as ignorant and close-minded as everyone else. With a heavy heart, she turned around and walked away from the rally, her banner trailing behind her.

1971 - Emilia was accepted into a good university. She studied neurology there. Although an outside watcher would have probably found that good and promising, she wasn't happy with it. She wanted to change the world, but anything she studied there seemed lame and primitive compared to what she had in mind.

She continued to express her desire to work at Aperture Science, and every time, she was humiliated for it. Emilia was labeled as a crazy girl, but she didn't care. To her, anyone who couldn't see the bigger picture was crazy.

1977 - Emilia was at an Aperture Science underground facility, staring at the clock. After taking her master's degree, she had rejected some highly lucrative job opportunities, and left behind everything to travel to upper Michigan in order to participate in an Aperture Science test, despite her parents' protests. She had filled in the forms and was waiting for a director to guide her. Participating in two successive tests meant that she could join the Aperture Science as an intern.

After seeing a list of tests she could participate in, "Brain Scanning" had gotten her attention, since it sounded somehow related to her field of study. So, she volunteered for it.

The metal folding chair she was sitting on was uncomfortable, and the fact that the tests were happening at such a late hour, deep under the ground, and she was the only volunteer there, didn't make her more comfortable.

Finally, a woman approached her. She looked around fifty years old, very confident and elegant.

"Hello. I'm Caroline. I will be your director tonight."

Emilia recognized her. She was the wife of Cave Johnson, the CEO of Aperture Science. She couldn't believe such a high-ranking person was there to direct her.

"Ahhh! Caroline!" she jumped from her seat. "It's so nice to meet you! I have been dreaming about this moment since I was a little girl!"

Soon after finishing her sentence, Emilia noticed that her behavior was overenthusiastic and Caroline was looking at her strangely.

"I'm terribly sorry ma'am," she apologized, "it's my first day here. They said I will be accepted as an intern once I complete a couple of tests… starting with the brain scanning test."

"Yes," Caroline responded with a voice that almost seemed sad, "about that... there has been a change. I reviewed your profile, and concluded that you are not suitable for that test."

Emilia was terribly disappointed, and yelled, "But why?! WHY?! I have a master's degree in neurology! I worked all my life for this moment! I can't go back now!"

Caroline was shocked by her reaction, and continued, "Ms. Conly, please control yourself! You didn't even let me finish. As I was saying, you are not a suitable test subject for the brain scanning test, but there is another test which we believe is suitable for you. If you wish to proceed, please follow me."

Caroline led her to a room filled with various equipment, while Emilia followed her nervously. "You've been chosen to participate in a very important test," she explained. "It's called the 'Spatial Reorientation Lab' or SRL for short. The SRL is designed to study the effects of altered gravity on human perception and motor skills. We believe that understanding these effects will help us develop better space travel technologies."

Emilia listened carefully and nodded in understanding. She knew that Aperture Science was famous for its innovations in space travel. "I'm honored to be chosen for this test," she said, her voice filled with determination. "I'll do my best."

"Okay then," Caroline responded, "I'll leave the test chamber, and the test begins shortly afterwards. Prerecorded messages will guide you, and your activity will be recorded."

As Caroline left her, Emilia felt confused. She had a general idea of what the test was about, but that was all. She was afraid to fail and decided to focus all her attention on completing the test successfully.

A few seconds later, Emilia started to feel weightless. At first, she thought it was just her imagination, but shortly after, she was actually hanging in the air.

She heard a voice. "Greetings test subject. I'm Cave Johnson, the CEO of Aperture. Now, I'm sure your director has filled you with all the information you need for completing this test, so I'm just going to make sure you are motivated enough to do your best and continue to the end."

Emilia was listening to the prerecorded tape, as the gravity shifted, and she hit a wall. On its surface, there was a device, much similar to an arcade cabinet, with a chair, pinned to the surface, in front of it. Inspecting it closer, she noticed that it was actually a video game console, with the monitor displaying a racing video game. That was confusing for her. It wasn't what she had in mind about a scientific test.

Since there was nothing else on the surface, she sat behind the arcade cabinet. She noticed the chair had a seat belt. Assuming it's test-related, she closed it.

Soon after, Cave Johnson's voice continued, "Since making an actual racing track was expensive and required a vast space, we decided that a racing video game would suffice for this test. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stingy or anything. If it was twenty years ago, you were already sitting behind a race car on an actual racing track, with the ability to switch gravity in every direction, but since we are a little low on resources, we have to confine ourselves to this."

Emilia started playing the game. It was kind of disappointing. If she wanted to play a video game, she could have just visited a local arcade in her town. There was no reason to travel all that distance to sit behind an arcade cabinet. The game wasn't interesting either. The graphics were basic, the sound was crude, and the gameplay was boring.

The prerecorded message continued, "Okay, as you have probably noticed, this might not be the most interesting game around, but you need to keep playing, and you need to win the game... Perhaps I didn't emphasize enough... YOU NEED TO WIN AT ANY COST! Otherwise, the results will be unusable. I know, I know... you are probably thinking: Why bother? I have participated in a test, and I'll get sixty dollars when it's completed, regardless of what happens in the game. So, you'll need some motivation for winning. That's what this tape is about."

Emilia was still skeptical. She was trying her best in the game while listening to Cave Johnson. After failing several times, she was getting hold of the gameplay. Suddenly, the gravity shifted again, and the surface she was sitting on, became a wall. The closed seat belt prevented her from falling. Now, it was like sitting on a wall for her.

She was afraid, and as she was gathering her thoughts, the sound continued, "So, what can motivate you? Don't ask me to offer a bonus or something like that. The sixty dollars you are to receive is more than what you deserve. Frankly, I believe you should be paying us for letting you participate in our test. But since that's not very practical, I have to look for another motivation. I can give you a long speech on the importance of science, but I doubt that can motivate you enough. Let's be honest here, you were probably found drunk or sleeping on a park bench, so you don't care about that stuff. But there is something you care about, survival! You have to win the game in order to survive."

Suddenly, the lights in the test chamber turned red, all surfaces behind Emilia opened, and some devices came out of them. Those devices emitted a red beam. She was scared like never before in her life, and listened as Cave continued, "These lasers can cut through your body as easy as you can cut butter. They are connected to the game. If you don't drive fast enough in the game, they will move forward and cut you into pieces. And don't think about opening your seat belt and running away. The only way out is through the lasers, and it only opens if you win the game. The gravity will keep shifting in different directions again and again while you are playing. That way we can study the effects of altered gravity on human perception and motor skills based on the results you offer us. So, let the game begin!"

Emilia was frozen for a moment, trying to comprehend the situation. Then, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and started playing the game again. This was far from what she expected in a test, but she was determined to survive. The adrenaline was rushing through her body. The gravity shifted once again, and this time, she was upside down, as if she were sitting on the ceiling. She quickly adjusted to the new orientation and continued driving, despite feeling nauseous.

As she played, she noticed that the lasers were slowly inching closer to her. She had to increase her speed, but at the same time, she couldn't afford to make any mistakes. The game was designed to be challenging, and the constant switching of gravity to different directions made it even harder to focus. She could feel the sweat trickling down her back, and her hands were trembling on the steering wheel.

The game progressed, and the lasers moved closer. Emilia knew she had to push herself to the limit. She focused all her attention on the game, blocking out everything else around her. She managed to reach the speed limit, which made the lasers stop, but driving the car in the game at such a speed was very challenging. She had to avoid crashing. The tension was unbearable, and the gravity kept shifting. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest.

Finally, she reached the end and won the game. As she did, the lights turned normal, and the lasers stopped.

A prerecorded message started playing. Cave Johnson said, "Congratulations! You finished the test. I was just kidding about the lasers cutting you open. That was merely to motivate you."

A beam emitter moved forward and pointed right at Emilia, as the message continued, "See? No harm done. We just needed you to try your best. Now, please wait for your director to escort you out, or guide you to another test chamber. I don't know which. It's your call."

The gravity shifted until she was on the actual ground, as the door opened, but there was no one waiting for her there. After leaving the test chamber, she searched the entire corridor, but there was no one around. After going through many doors, she finally found Caroline in a big hall. Emilia approached her and said, "I did it, the test is over."

Caroline looked indifferent, and said, "Congratulations. The accountancy employees are not at work at this hour. You can take your 60 dollars in the morning."

"But I didn't do it for money!" Emilia cried.

"You didn't?!" Caroline asked in surprise.

"No! I'm supposed to be an intern here. They said after completing my test quotas, I will be accepted as an intern."

"Oh! That!... Please wait."

"Forgive me," Emilia continued with a lowered voice, "but there is also another thing bothering me. That test didn't seem very scientific."

Caroline looked bored, and explained, "This is a science facility, so everything that happens here is considered scientific. Now, please excuse me for a moment."

Emilia heard a ruckus from the room next to her, and soon after, she noticed two Aperture employees dragging away someone who seemed like a homeless man away. He was trembling and blinking uncontrollably, while speaking gibberish. That scared her.

"Who is that man?" she asked.

"That was the test subject for our brain scanning test. I understand you were supposed to take part in that test, but I studied your profile and his, and concluded that he was more suitable."

"Is he going to be okay?"

"I don't think so. But he wasn't in a much better condition when they brought him here, so you can't blame all of it on us. Don't worry. I don't think he even cares anymore."

Caroline began writing something down on what seemed like a report, and continued, "I'm sorry. We don't have any more tests available right now. We will contact you when there is one."

"How are you going to contact me?" Emilia asked with disappointment.

Caroline looked at her in confusion, and answered, "You wrote your telephone number in the form when you entered the facility, didn't you?"

"No. I don't have a phone number. I don't even have an address. I left home to join the Aperture."

Caroline's expression looked sad, and she sighed. "I see. Well, we really can't help you with that. Contact the HR in two weeks, and see if there is anything available."

Emilia was frozen. Her dreams were shattering. She had traveled half across the country to become an intern at Aperture Science, but it seemed like she had merely wasted her time traveling, as well as the years of dreaming of becoming an Aperture scientist.

As she was standing there, frozen, an employee approached Caroline. "Sorry ma'am, but we don't have a janitor available until the morning. We are short on staff since the last layoff."

Caroline looked disappointed. "But we need the presentation room ready by then. All that dust from the failed test is still there, on every possible surface. Find someone."

"Sorry, but I did what I could. There is no one available. I have to go. Excuse me."

Caroline looked upset as the employee left. Emilia was still standing there, hoping that Caroline could do something for her. "Please ma'am. I can't go back now. If I leave, all my efforts are wasted. Is there absolutely no test I can participate in? I don't care if it's hard or dangerous. I understand that advancing science comes at a cost."

Caroline seemed to be lost in thoughts for a few seconds, until she continued, "You know what? There may be something for you. Tell me, how do you feel about vacuuming?"

Emilia was taken aback. "Vacuuming?" she asked nervously, "But that's not what I came here to do."

"I know," Caroline responded, "but this is part of a test. We need to see if you are really comfortable with vacuuming. We are designing an automatic vacuum cleaner, something that can clean all surfaces, including walls and ceilings, without any human interference. I can have you work on the project as an intern. But to do that, I must be sure that you like vacuum cleaners, and are able to handle them with extreme care."

Emilia was confused. "I know how to use a vacuum cleaner. It can't be that hard."

"No, it's not hard. It's just... I mean, you have to be extremely comfortable with vacuuming. So comfortable that you can vacuum non-stop for several hours... until the morning to be precise, and you have to do it with extreme caution. So careful that no dust is left on any surface when you are done. That way, we'll know you are suitable for the vacuum cleaner project. Do you think you can pass this test?"

Emilia was still hesitant. She had never imagined that vacuuming could be such a big deal and had different things in mind to work on. She was hoping to work on brain mapping, supercomputers, teleportation devices, artificial intelligence, or things like that. A vacuum cleaner seemed like a setback.

"But I thought I would be working on science in Aperture. A vacuum cleaner is a little... how should I put it... primitive?"

"Oh, no, no," Caroline cut her words, "This is not going to be a typical vacuum cleaner. We are hoping to install artificial intelligence on it. You know... something which gives it a mind of its own. So, your field of expertise would be artificial intelligence... which is very new and important."

Emilia was intrigued. She had not realized that a vacuum cleaner could be so much more than just a cleaning tool. The idea of incorporating AI into it excited her. "Okay, I'll do it."

Caroline looked happy for the first time since they had met. She guided her to a corridor which led to a presentation room. The whole area looked super boring and was covered with a strange dust. Caroline asked her to wait there, and after a few minutes, she came back with a regular old vacuum cleaner. "Your test begins now. I will come back in the morning to see the results."

"I'll do my best," said Emilia, as she took the vacuum cleaner from Caroline, and started cleaning.

1978 - Emilia was working and studying at the Aperture Science facility as an intern. Although her work mostly consisted of preparing coffee for the scientists and employees, plus vacuuming, which the management insisted was very important and necessary for developing artificial intelligence, and she studied on her own, without any help, she was happy there. Her main field of study was computer science since it was related to the vacuum cleaner project.

One thing bothered her though. No progress was being made in transferring artificial intelligence to a vacuum cleaner. She was sure she knew everything about vacuuming and was very comfortable with working with vacuum cleaners by then. But it seemed like the management had totally forgotten about that project. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Emilia asked the lead scientist in her department for the project file to do some research on her own. He wasn't very cooperative and insisted that they had no such project. Assuming he was too busy to remember about a minor project, Emilia approached the archive manager. The Aperture Science archive was huge. There was a project titled "Vacuum Cleaner" documented in the archive, but the manager couldn't find it. It was entombed under a large pile of abandoned projects.

Emilia spent a whole day digging until she found it. The project was from 1947. There were a few interesting ideas and theories in the old file, but the vacuum cleaner design was obsolete, even with the 1970s standards. There was no mention of artificial intelligence in the file either. It seemed like no progress had been made in the project for almost 30 years.

She took the file back to the office and talked to the lead scientist. He agreed to promote Emilia to the lead manager of the "Vacuum cleaner" project but made it clear that she was only allowed to work on it during her free time. Emilia was overjoyed.

But he had more good news for her. He explained that Emilia's voice was very reassuring and warm, and asked if she was interested in preparing prerecorded messages to guide the test subjects. She didn't hesitate to agree.

It seemed like her dreams were becoming true, one after another. Not only was she leading a science project, but she could also help others to participate in her noble goal with the messages.

Her department manager said that she could start immediately. To be more precise, he insisted that she must start right at that moment, and prepared a tape recorded to record her voice there.

Emilia was stunned, and asked, "What should I say? I have no idea what the test is about."

"You don't need to know that," the department manager told her. "The person who did this is not here, so you must do it. A series of tests are about to begin. We need the tape right now. Just greet the test subjects. And remember, we are calling the science laboratories the Aperture Science Enrichment Center now, since we are enriching the test subjects here, both financially and mentally. We are hoping to see more volunteers for testing because of this new name. You know what? Just imagine you are entering the laboratories as a test subject for the first time. What would you like to hear? Say that, after it, read one of these." He put some papers in front of Emilia.

Emilia took a deep breath and pushed the start button on the tape recorder. "Welcome to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center!" Then she looked at the manager and asked, "How was that?"

The manager looked stressed, and pointed at the recorder, indicating that he wanted Emilia to continue. "Okay, good," she said, which caused him to cover his eyes with his hands as if something terrible had happened. She picked a paper and read it. "The fact you're standing here tells me that you want to help us revolutionize the world just like we have for over 30 years."

The manager took that paper from her and pointed at another. "Wrong draft? This one?" she asked, which made the manager panic. She read another paper. "Lunch at 10?"

The manager didn't let her finish. He took the tape recorder and stood up to leave.

"Wait, where are you going? Are we not finishing my part?" she protested.

The manager turned off the tape recorder, and said, "This is good enough," as he left in haste.

1980 - Emilia recorded another message: "Well done test subject! You have just completed another test. Congratulations on contributing once again to the future of science. Feel welcome to pause at any moment. There's cake and beverages in the break room."

Since the company had decided to lay off more employees, she had to record these messages. But she liked recording them. It was a way to communicate with the test subjects and help them to achieve good results.

Emilia's hard work and study had earned her promotion from an intern to a scientist; at least that was what she thought. Some employees believed that handing out fancy titles to anyone who still remained in the Enrichment Center was just a way to keep going despite all the layoffs and migration to other companies.

Her project had made some progress. She had designed a new vacuum cleaner and had some good ideas for designing an AI. She had already picked a name for the AI, Stirling.

There were hard barriers in the way of progress. All those good ideas remained on paper since the available hardware couldn't support them. The available computers seemed primitive for what she needed, and the company was in a terrible financial situation, preventing it from investing more money in developing better computers or buying fancy things developed by others.

One day, in the boring presentation room, when the lead scientist explained the impossibility of Cave Johnson's ambitious plans with the poor quality of the available equipment, Cave offered a simple solution to the problem. "If you can't do it with quality, do it with quantity."

Theoretically, that could work. There were a lot of old computers from numerous abandoned projects available in the Enrichment Center. Their combined data storage capacity and processing power amounted to something still far from the needs, but enough to test a few ideas and make a little progress in the AI field, at least until better computers were available.

All the AI research team scientists gathered in the boring presentation room again to evaluate this idea. None of them was happy about it but saw no better option.

Two things Aperture Science had plenty of, were space and energy. There was a lot of room available in the underground facility, and the hydroelectric power from an underground water stream, mixed with geothermal power, provided more than enough electricity. Hundreds of old computers were installed and connected in some special chambers. A network was designed to divide the tasks and data between them.

A minimum of data storage and processing capacity was met, and the work on AI started going beyond theories for the first time.

1981 - Emilia was going down in an elevator with an open view. Getting to her office, which was located near the hole's bottom, took a long time. When going down, she looked at the giant abandoned science testing spheres, which Aperture Science was once proud of. But now, they were abandoned because there wasn't enough budget, and most of the staff were dismissed, or simply left the company because they didn't want to work there anymore, not to mention the regulations that forbade the company to conduct human testing like before.

Finally, she arrived at her office floor. As she walked, she noticed the workers installing rails on the ceiling. The company was going to use robots to supervise all activities in the Enrichment Center, and the robots could move on the rails. Since there wasn't enough staff around anymore, using robots to replace humans seemed like a good idea. They were able to perform some tasks and monitor almost all activities in the facility at a much lower cost.

At her office, she reviewed Stirling's development report. Stirling was being developed slowly and its flaws were being fixed one after another. Emilia had formed some kind of emotional bond with Stirling and was programming it for things beyond vacuuming.

All the scientific data and progress she had achieved during the development of Stirling attracted some attention in the Enrichment Center. The management had seen her potential and relieved her from the vacuuming duty, as well as recording tapes. She was now a part of a research team that worked on artificial intelligence, but she still continued working on developing a vacuum cleaner for Stirling, as Caroline had assigned her. Caroline had never asked her about the project during all these years, but despite Emilia found that a little strange, she didn't dare to question her.

Stirling was getting smarter and smarter, and Emilia was learning a lot about computers in the process of developing it. She had implemented a simple learning algorithm into its code, and it was learning new things little by little. It could adapt to new environments and situations. Emilia was excited about the possibilities this presented.

Emilia reviewed some files and studied a few reports from the other scientists. Despite the slow progress, they were actually getting somewhere with the artificial intelligence.

No new resource was coming their way. The team had to work with what it had. The computer cluster wasn't very reliable. The old computers kept failing, and a lot of work was required for their maintenance. Emilia had proposed selling the large amount of electricity the cluster needed to operate and saving the money which was wasted on maintaining old computers. That way, they were able to buy new advanced computers which were more suitable for their purpose. But the management hadn't answered her yet.

She left the office to get some coffee. As she was walking in the corridor, she noticed a new poster which read,

"Karla the complainer says...
'My new boss is a robot!'
But did you know?
Robots are SMARTER than you.
Robots work HARDER than you.
Robots are BETTER than you.
Volunteer for testing today!"

Emilia had heard volunteering for the tests was now mandatory for every low-ranking employee, but this was too much. Was the management actually trying to replace her with a robot? That was not technically possible... yet. The existing robots were not able to solve problems... yet. They could merely perform the tasks they were preprogrammed to do... so far.

But she began to wonder if her success could actually lead to people, including herself, being replaced by robots.

1982 - On an ordinary workday, Emilia was suddenly summoned to the CEO's office. No reason was given.

The first thing she noticed after entering the office, was Cave Johnson sitting in a wheelchair. His wife, Caroline, was standing right next to him with a worried face. She had heard rumors about the CEO being sick, and his condition explained why he wasn't seen around like before.

Cave immediately gave her the news. She was now the lead scientist of the artificial intelligence project. Not only that, but the company had decided to restart the brain scanning tests, which were stopped a few years ago, due to the consequences they left on the test subjects. Emilia was now assigned as the lead scientist of that project too.

Emilia was overwhelmed. She wasn't ready for such a big responsibility, but at the same time, she was glad that the management had seen her potential.

Cave made it clear that accepting both responsibilities together was mandatory since they both had the same purpose. Turning human minds into AIs.

Emilia was shocked to hear that. She had never even considered the possibility of such a thing before. Even a simple AI like Stirling was far from complete, and now, the management had decided to take on something which was incomparably harder and out of reach.

When she tried to explain the reasons for the impossibility of such a thing, Caroline cut her short and asserted that the company was willing to allocate every available resource to this combined project, and couldn't accept no for an answer. Caroline looked serious and determined but worried at the same time. Emilia saw no other choice but to accept. She mentioned the expensive things they needed for such an ambitious project, some of which didn't even exist yet, but had to be developed.

Caroline agreed to everything and sent her on her way. Emilia studied the old brain-scanning files and found them terrifying. Despite causing brain damage to numerous people, nothing even close to success had been achieved. She finally realized why Caroline had picked the homeless man instead of her for the brain scanning test on the first day of her arrival.

The new incomparably more powerful computers that were needed arrived shortly, and relieved her team from working with a cluster of old computers. This allowed for significant progress in the AI field. But in the brain scanning field, things were more complicated. Emilia tried not to focus much on the latter field and made it clear to the researchers that the safety of every test subject must be ensured before they begin human testing.

1983 - Emilia called Caroline and told her about a breakthrough in the AI field. Caroline came down in haste to see the results.

The whole research team greeted Caroline as she arrived, but she seemed indifferent towards them and asked to see the result immediately. Emilia approached an object which was covered with a piece of cloth, and as she took the sides to pull it off, she couldn't hide the excitement in her voice.

"Your investment and our hard work finally paid off. I assure you, this is the greatest invention that has been made in computer science."

"Enough with the pleasantries!" Caroline shouted with a voice that seemed a little angry. "Let me see it."

Emilia was a little afraid of her reaction, and said, "Meet Stirling!" as she pulled the cloth off and revealed a round object about the size of a large cooking pot.

"That's it?" Caroline asked with a disappointed expression.

"Oh, no, no," Emilia answered. "You haven't seen the true potential of Stirling yet. When you assigned me to the project of incorporating AI into a vacuum cleaner on my first day here, I didn't realize the significance of such a thing. But now, I do. We all do. Let me show you what it does."

She put the round object on the floor, and said, "Stirling, can you please clean this room?"

"Yes, Miss Conly." a robotic voice responded, as the object turned out to be a vacuum cleaner, and started vacuuming the floor.

"You see," continued Emilia, "it accepts voice inputs, there is no need for a keyboard. It operates without needing any human interference. It can only vacuum the floor for now. But we are working hard to enable it to vacuum walls and ceilings as well. Aside from vacuuming, it can handle a variety of tasks. It can analyze the command voices to see if the person ordering it is a man or a woman, and responds accordingly. It can recognize the owner, and ignore orders from the people who are not permitted to use it. It can even recognize your mood from your voice, and if you command it with an angry voice, it vacuums faster, at the expense of more battery usage. It can also function as a calculator, a clock, a calendar, and a remote controller for any TV. It can do maths for you, change the TV channel by voice commands, inform you when your favorite show begins, and tell if someone's birthday or an anniversary is close."

As Emilia was explaining with enthusiasm, she noticed that Caroline's face was getting more upset with each word, so she tried to make her explanation more scientific. "It can store 4 megabytes of data for now, but if we connect it to external drives, this capacity can be multiplied. Its processor can operate at a clock speed of up to 20 MHz. Stirling is very energy efficient and can map the entire operation environment with its digital camera and avoid bumping into objects."

That didn't help either. Caroline's face was getting red. Emilia decided to try an economic approach. "The whole development process came at the modest cost of 14.6 million dollars, and after mass production, Stirling can become available on the shelves at the market price of about 8000 dollars."

"Miss Conly, do I look like I'm in the mood for jokes?!" Caroline asked as she was boiling with anger.

"No ma'am," answered Emilia, while she had never been so scared in her life, aside from when trying the SRL test. "I just can't see why you are upset. This is a revolutionary step in science."

"Are you out of your mind?" Caroline shouted, "We gave you everything you asked for, and this is what you came up with?!"

Emilia felt hurt by the accusation, but she tried to defend her invention. "Yes, I am aware of the magnitude of your investment, but I believe that Stirling has the potential to revolutionize the home appliance industry. It's not just a vacuum cleaner, it's a highly intelligent personal assistant. With its advanced AI capabilities and seamless integration with our home environment, it can offer services that no other home appliance currently provides."

"Services?! Vacuuming?! Changing television channels?! A calculator?!" Caroline shouted in rage. "You are making me regret not letting you do that brain scanning test when you arrived! I was expecting you to realize that the whole thing about incorporating AI into a vacuum cleaner was just a polite way to say you should clean up the place by now! You wasted all that time and resources on this thing?! And you seriously expect me not to be angry about it?! If you like vacuum cleaners so much, perhaps you should have continued working as a janitor, not a scientist!"

Emilia felt like she had been slapped. Tears welled up in her eyes as she struggled to find the words to defend herself. She wanted to say that she had only been trying to make a difference, to push the boundaries of what was possible. But the anger in Caroline's eyes was too much to let her speak. She felt stupid, and all the hard work she had done to develop Stirling seemed pointless.

Stirling was still vacuuming the floor, making noise. Caroline yelled, "Turn that stupid thing off!"

Emilia ordered, "Stirling, stop vacuuming," and it stopped.

"Didn't my husband make things clear enough for you?" Caroline asked, "You were supposed to turn human minds into AIs. What happened to that?"

Emilia finally brought herself to speak, "We are working on that. This project is a part of that. We have to take some initial steps to get there. But expecting us to achieve that goal now, is something like... like... if someone expected the Wright brothers to build a spaceship even before they completed their first airplane."

She noticed that Caroline was staring at her in disappointment, and felt compelled to defend her team's hard work. "Stirling is the most advanced AI ever made, and about the other field... I mean brain mapping... we tried brain scanning a monkey, and actually succeeded, without causing significant harm to it... maybe not a complete success, since in order to store all the contents of a brain, we need hundreds of exabytes of digital space. That's much more than the combined digital data storage capacity of all computers and devices on Earth. Keep in mind that a human brain is much more complicated, so... there has been some progress. Please take that into consideration."

"You should have thought of these problems before accepting such a responsibility," Caroline said with a tone which seemed more sad than angry. "I was counting on you. There is always a way. The question is whether you can find it or not. In the latter case, you shouldn't be here. You have one year to solve this problem, and if it's still unsolved by then, we won't be needing you anymore."

Caroline left as she finished her sentence, leaving the whole research team in the aftershock of her anger and ultimatum. Everyone was quiet, processing what had happened, until Stirling broke the silence.

"Miss Conly?"

"What?" she answered with an upset tone.

"I'm running out of charge," the robotic voice answered, "I think I need to be plugged in."

"But we just charged you," Emilia yelled at Stirling, with anger clear in her voice. "You only vacuumed for a minute."

"I know. But I had to process a lot of data. Processing data takes more energy than vacuuming."

"Someone plug in this stupid thing!" Emilia screamed at her team, as she started walking out.

"One more thing miss," Stirling said just before Emilia left the room, causing her to stop and turn.

"What?"

"I'm not stupid."

The whole development team stared at Stirling, as he continued, "You and that lady called me stupid, but I'm not stupid."

"Believe me, you are," Emilia answered with a mocking tone, as she went to her office to analyze the situation.

There was no way to accomplish the goal Caroline had set for her in a single year. What had been done so far was a great breakthrough, but apparently, it didn't matter as long as the final goal wasn't achieved. Mapping a human brain and transferring it to a computer was something out of reach, provided it was possible at all.

Emilia had always been confident in her abilities and those of her team, but now she felt like they were drowning in an ocean of impossibilities. The weight of the ultimatum pressed down on her. She couldn't help but feel responsible for the failure, even though it wasn't her fault.

A knock on the door cut her thread of thoughts. It was a scientist who worked on brain scanning. He was a genius in biology, but Emilia had never considered him as a problem solver, since he was merely responsible for the safety of test subjects during the tests. He had done well so far, but since all the test subjects were monkeys, that didn't really amount to much.

He claimed he had an idea for storing a vast amount of data. Since his area of expertise was biology, that seemed a little odd, but Emilia allowed him to continue. He said it was possible to turn digital data to synthesized strands of DNA. That enabled them to store a vast amount of data in a completely different format. Although encoding and decoding such a data had problems of its own, the idea brought a spark of hope.

1984 - Emilia got ready for the test. Since no one else had volunteered, and there was little time left until the deadline Caroline had set, she decided to volunteer for the brain scanning test herself.

All the scientists assured her that the test was completely safe. All the calculations were attesting to that, but given the history of earlier brain damages the test subjects had suffered years ago before she was responsible for the project, and the fact that she had to enter a state of coma for about a week, the test was scary. Yet, she was determined to do it.

Cave and Caroline kept pushing the research team to turn human minds into AIs, but when they were told the best possible achievement could only be storing minds as synthesized strands of DNA for now, they found it satisfying enough, and informed the team that every effort should be focused on this purpose, and turning the stored minds into functioning AIs could be postponed. The technology to upload the resulting data into a computer with the ability to simulate a human brain was far out of reach, so that seemed logical.

Aside from the possibility of brain damage, another thing worried Emilia as well. In case of success, all her memories and emotions would have become available for everyone to see. She wasn't comfortable with that and certainly didn't want a computer clone of herself. So, she set strict protocols for accessing the resulting data, using it for purely scientific research, and deleting it once the research was complete.

She lay on the bed nervously and watched the scientists connecting tubes and wires to her. When they were going to put a large scanner, shaped like a helmet, on her head, she wanted to scream and run for a second but managed to hide her fear.

When it was finally time, she forced herself to sound happy, and said, "Goodbye for now. Everyone, I'll see you in a week."

The test began, and she lost her consciousness peacefully.

Published 
Written by Clara
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