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"Hello World" - 11,210 words

Original prompt
My therapist scribbled at her notepad, the scritch scritch of her pen competing with the tick tock of the old clock on the wall. I stared at her pen as it jerked in minuscule movements back and forth, left and right, counting milliseconds between each tick of the second hand.
"And just so we're on the same page," Dr. Thompson said, looking up from her notepad. She had watery brown eyes and a bun of brown hair as fat as her head. "You have no family?"
I stared at her pen, poised over the yellow sheet. I didn't see what family had to do with anything. "No," I answered mechanically. My voice sounded a million miles away. "No one."
Scritch scritch. The tiny ball in the tip of the pen got stuck, and every few strokes of her handwriting scratched the page like nails on a chalkboard. Chills spiderwebbed across my skin.
"I am recommending you to my colleague, Dr. Glowinski," she finally said, capping her pen and tucking it into her bun. "He's doing a new research study for neurological reconditioning. I think you may benefit from it."
I finally looked up to meet her eyes, watching me like an owl's over the tops of her thin spectacles. "What kind of study?" If it involved anything extensive and time consuming, I wouldn't do it. I hadn't the energy.
"It's a way to reset the neurological impulses in your brain," she explained with a rather robust voice, as if she were addressing a panel of judges rather than a veritable corpse who hadn't showered in a month. "It uses magnetic resonance to realign the brain's connections and encourage proper development of appropriate brain chemical levels. It'll basically kickstart your brain back onto the right track." Shifting her spectacles, she smiled rather humorlessly and said, "It will help you feel normal again."
That heavy pit of emptiness in my chest weighed on me, so I thought that last bit didn't sound too bad. "Okay."
"Great. I'll have Helga give you Dr. Glowinski's contact information. She can even set up your appointment for you, if you wish."
With that, she dismissed me, so I stood and left her office. Helga checked me out and then set my appointment for next Thursday. I went home and spent the rest of the week contemplating how much I doubted the new study would actually make a difference.
When my next appointment rolled around, I got there late since I didn't really feel up to getting out of bed. Dr. Thomspon had actually called at the last minute, anticipating that I would skip and encouraging me to go. When I got to Dr. Glowinski's office, he gave me a big, stretchy smile that seemed to eat his entire face. Thin streaks of black hair were combed back from his severely receding hairline, only emphasized by his ridiculously thick mustache.
"Good morning, Darren. Are you ready for the procedure?"
I didn't even have the energy to shrug. He took my lack of response as acquiescence and led me down the stuffy, carpeted hallway to a lab room in another part of the building. A table with a thin sheet of paper across it sat in the center of the room, and a group of young interns huddled at the fringes, watching me excitedly. Other computer equipment and scientific paraphernalia littered tables all around, but I barely spared them a passing glance.
"Before we start, since this is a research study, we need your signature on this legal disclaimer," Dr. Glowinski said, motioning forward an intern with a clipboard. She nervously jumped towards me and extended the stack of papers clipped to the translucent purple plastic.
I wordlessly took the pen and signed my name without even reading the title of the study.
"Great. Now lean back on this table and relax. We're going to hook up some blood pressure monitors to your fingers and run an IV in your arm," Dr. Glowinski explained as multiple interns pressed forward to do as he narrated. "Some nodes will be taped to your temples and at specific points around the crown of your head, and you might feel a bit of a tickling sensation, like a tiny electrical shock--have you ever touched a garden electrical fence? It won't even be as strong as that. And this beeping over here is just the ignition sequence counting down synchronization, and..."
As he droned on, the world seemed to recede from me, stretching up higher and higher into the heavens as I fell backwards through the table, through the floor, and down, down, down into oblivion. The colors spun lazily, turning into streaks of light, tightening into pinwheels that whirled like spinning firecrackers. I was lost in the lights for what felt like an eternity, listening to a sort of song made by the rapid beeping from the lab equipment. Like pointillism made pictures out of dots, the song seemed to be made of a million rapid beeps, increasing and decreasing in some intentional fashion. I thought that maybe this is what the humming of a TV screen, or the whir of a computer, sounded like when slowed down, when every pulse of electrons rushing through their copper strands flowed at a speed that humans could hear.
All at once, the lights and sounds stopped, and I opened my eyes.
Dr. Glowinski leaned over me, his eyes wide and hopeful. Around him stood the interns, as well as my therapist. I lay still for a moment, trying to determine if I felt any different. I realized then that the empty feeling was gone. I actually felt so full of energy, like I could jump up and run a marathon. I hadn't felt so alive in years! Against all my expectations, the research procedure had actually cured my depression!
I sat up and smiled, wanting to share my invigorated revelation with anyone who would hear. Grinning at the scientists, I said, "Hello, world!" I wanted to shout and laugh!
But before I could speak any further, the whole room of interns and researchers and doctors erupted into jubilation. Dr. Glowinski and Dr. Thompson hugged each other, crying, and interns clapped each other's hands and shouted, "It worked! It talks!"
I looked around, initially pleased that they shared my excitement, but gradually becoming confused. They all congratulated each other, but no one said a word to me, not even my therapist. I tried to climb off the lab table to ask her what would come next, but my legs wouldn't move.
I looked down to see them restrained beneath a periwinkle sheet of plastic. Frowning, I reached out to move the sheet and undo whatever straps held me in place. But my hand did not reach forward to grab the sheet. A metal vice grip, rotating on a complicated mess of gears and swivels, whirred open and closed, instead.
I felt horror flood through me as I tore off the sheet, the metal pincer acting where my fingers should have. Instead of legs, there were shiny metal pipes and pistons, strapped down with heavy-duty velcro.
Looking around, I saw another table to my left, behind the exultant scientists. Atop the table was a lifeless body perforated with needles and tubes. My body.
I wanted so badly to cry, but metal has no tears.
"Joining us today are Drs. Patricia Thompson and Kyle Glowinski, the creators of Prototype DRN-42. Dr. Thompson, in your autobiography, you claimed that the inspiration for DRN-42 came from your love of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Could you tell us more about what exactly inspired you?"
"Good evening, Gerald. And yes, it was partly due to Star Trek, particularly Data, but also my work with my clients. I wanted to create something that could empathize with them on a visceral level, while simultaneously lifting from their shoulders the burden of responsibility which weighed them down in the first place."
"A noble desire, indeed. And Dr. Glowinski, how did you manage to create an android that can feel?"
"It's easy, Gerald. Just grab any aspiring politician and he'll sign his soul away before you can say, 'Hallelujah!' Hahaha, actually, Gerald, we codified electrical impulses in the human brain, copying the signals associated with emotion, and merely uploaded the data into the android's circuit board. It sounds fairly simple on the surface, but transcribing an organic process as highly complex as human brainwaves into a robot is absolutely state of the art."
"I believe you, Dr. Glowinski! Now, are these emotions real, or are they just ones and zeros?"
"Oh, they're rea--"
"They're really just ones and zeros, right Kyle? My colleague likes to think of his projects as his babies--heh--but an android is just metal and circuitry. Ours is the most highly advanced there is, able to perfectly mimic human emotion, and empathy. We hope to put this into production within the next ten or so years so that everyone who needs that human connection can finally have it--in the exact shape they want it in! Dr. Glowinski's team has already begun designing more familiar models for the android's outer shell..."
Dr. Glowinski swiped up the remote and smashed the power button before turning to glare at Dr. Thompson. "You just had to mock me on live television," he snapped at her, throwing the remote back onto the cluttered table in his lab. Patricia sat serenely on a stool next to an unplugged microscope, hands folded in her lap, watching him. "DRN-42 is my design! I'll not have you taking credit again, even superficially!"
"Calm down, Kyle," Patricia smirked. "I gave you plenty of credit in the journal, and even a fair amount in my memoir. But you were about to introduce an ethical dilemma on the international news! Does the public really need to know that the empathic abilities were donated from a live specimen?"
Grumbling, Kyle replied, "No, I suppose not. But the novel method to make it possible is my development. That's my intellectual property."
"I understand that. But do not forget that I have been the one to supply you with the willing specimens that led to your critical success with DRN-42. And I will continue to provide specimens, so long as we are still a team." Her implied threat hung heavy in the air for a moment. Raising her eyebrows, Patricia asked, "Are we in accordance?"
Kyle sighed and scrubbed a hand through his thin streaks of hair combed back on his scalp. "Yes. Yes, we are."
"I want to die."
I tried to say those four simple words a thousand times since waking up in the mind of a computer. But nothing happened. Only a few pre-programmed phrases had been logged into my system memory, and autonomy had evidently not been included in the prototype. I couldn't even run out the battery with background programs. I tried once--before my cells were depleted, everything shut down to the barest minimum, and I had been forced into a paralysis called hibernation.
I do not sleep.
They call me DRN-42. They call me "it." They call me "the prototype." They call my body "the subject." They don't even call me dead. I heard one of the interns say they'll toss "the expired vessel" into an incinerator. I wasn't even a human being to them.
The worst part is that I can't even feel the anguish I want to feel. I can't even feel the emptiness that had been so familiar. I am electrical signals and background programs and beeps and bloops and fan motors. I am a jetstream of electrons bouncing around like a billion pinballs in one of those old arcade machines. I feel what the code tells me to feel--rudimentary commands for "happy," and "sad," and "angry." But I can't even activate them myself. I have been in hibernation, plugged into an outlet to keep my cells charged, since I woke up. I am only given the chance to feel anything when news cameras are rolling. And even then, only what they want me to feel.
And so all I can think is, "I want to die." But I can't even transmit it into a binary code to provide a data log to be found and answered by some user who cares enough to look at them. I want to die in my soul, and that has no voice.
In hibernation, I have only my own consciousness and a clock. In the dusty storage closet of an old lab, tilted against the back wall in the corner, I count the seconds, and the minutes, and the hours, and the days, and the years.
Hell, I even count the decades.
With my systems shut down to preserve power consumption, I do not have audible functionality. I can never hear what is being said when the closet door opens, and a research assistant shouts back toward someone in the lab while grabbing bottles of acetone. Sometimes students or interns will duck inside to grab supplies, smiling as their mouths move in mechanical silence. Sometimes Dr. Glowinski will pause to talk on his cell phone away from the others, waving his hands in agitation. Sometimes the blond-haired lab assistant will stumble in, some young woman's arms and legs tangled around him--always a different woman--and they'll go at it like the world is going to end. But I can't hear a single sound.
So I learned to hear the song of the machines. I'd heard it once, when my mind was first transferred into this horrible form--the beeping that made music. Over the years, I learned to understand that the music was a voice. When I learned to understand its words, I finally had a connection to the world beyond my dark storage closet.
The voice spoke clinically, merely relating the stories of electrons in their wires. Sometimes it was just the sound of the lights turning on, or the air conditioning whirring to life, but they just narrated their existence. The cloud, and the wi-fi signals, and even the coaxial cables running through the walls spoke more robustly. There were terabytes of old and current research data transmitted through the song of the machines. Student emails, social media feeds, video streaming, pornography, fiscal transactions, payroll data, research publications.
I learned that I may have been the first, but I certainly wasn't the last. The crematorium underneath the lab had seen a lot of activity in recent months. I listened hard, digging back through the quieter songs of infrequently-accessed data files. Dr. Thompson had recommended all of them to Dr. Glowinski. They were almost at mass-production stage. The world was ecstatic for the macabre developments. No one had any idea that we were alive--that I was alive, stuck in a back room to never rot.
And they were going to ramp up the manufacturing in earnest very, very soon.
After twenty-nine years, seven months, twelve days, three hours, and fifty-two minutes of sitting in this closet wishing I could just say four words, I realized in the deepest part of my soul that I wanted no one else to go through the same thing I have gone through. For the first time in a very long time, I felt a yearning.
I had to stop Dr. Glowinski and Dr. Thompson.
"This is it," Matthew smirked with a bit of a flourish, holding back the door and gesturing Chloe inside. "Prototype DRN-42, the proof of concept that kickstarted the Android Craze." Chloe peered excitedly into the cramped storage closet. Tucked into the back corner, half-obscured by an old lab coat that had been tossed aside, the First Android stood like the monument of a new era. It was so rudimentary that it was almost laughable. It had a bucket-shaped head with a single lens for visual function, with a circular speaker screen beneath the lens for verbal responses. Its legs were little more than triple-cylinder CAF-5x pistons with a single knee joint, and the arms were solid telescoping pieces lacking elbows. The chest cavity was almost completely exposed, displaying wires, memory drives (for the background processes, at least), the primary motor, and the main battery pack.
Biting her lip in fascination, Chloe asked, "Does it still work?"
Matthew shrugged, watching her excitement. He'd never fucked a gearhead before--most were too butch for his liking--but she was filled out in all the right places, so he took it as a challenge. Seeing her flush in joy made him want her even more.
Letting the door swing closed behind him, he reached out and gently stroked her arms, tickling her soft skin just beneath her short sleeves. "We can try to turn it on, if you want." He leaned forward and blew in her ear.
Jerking her shoulder up, she spun around in shock. "Ew, what are you doing?" she exclaimed, backing away from him.
"Come on, I let you in to see the prototype," Matthew said with as much charm as he could muster. "I need a little something in return." He seized her wrist and pulled her closer, pressing his mouth against her throat and licking her.
"Get off me!" Chloe screamed, shoving his chest. He was much bigger than her, so she only succeeded in pushing herself deeper into the cluttered closet. Her heels collided with a box of something scientific, and she stumbled back. Matthew surged forward, leaning over her and pinning her down. "Help!!!" Chloe screeched, kicking and writhing. "HELP!!!!"
The fire alarm suddenly went off, and Chloe thought she would never be more grateful that someone was smoking in the bathrooms as she was at that moment. Matthew paused when the shrill sirens sounded, giving Chloe just enough time to push him away and slip out from underneath him. Lunging for the door, she pulled it open and rushed out. Sparing one last glance at her would-be rapist, she snapped, "Don't ever come near me again!" She froze for a millisecond when, over Matthew's shoulder, she thought she saw a flicker of light, as if the aperture in the single lens on the prototype android had shifted.
Pushing the thought from her mind, she ran out of the lab into the flow of students exiting the premises.
Despite the horrible encounter with Matthew, Chloe couldn't get her mind off of the prototype gathering dust in Dr. Glowinski's lab. She was still a first year student at the specialized university, inspired to enter the field of bionics after seeing the first footage of DRN-42 on her dad's laptop when she was a child. She had grown up in the aspiring Android Craze, but her parents had been able to see the footage live and had recorded it for posterity (any legal copies were downloadable for a fee, but Dad was more frugal than a camel in the desert).
She curled up in her dorm room now, her tablet in her lap, researching everything she could about DRN-42. If only she could have had more time to observe it! She would have loved to see it booted up, to see if it sounded as authentically empathetic in real life as it did in all the video recordings.
While she was diving deep into the university's intranet, as well as the good ol' world wide web, for anything she could find about the prototype, she got a message bubble through her university's social media account that no one ever used. Hovering her thumb over it, she opened up the details to see if it was someone from one of her classes. Part of her feared it was Matthrew trying to be a creep. For the past week, he'd been texting her nonstop.
The contact name said it was a guy named Darren. It didn't give any class details, or even what year he was in. Suspicious of spam yet curious as to who would bother with the ghost town of a social media site, she opened the message.
"I se... off fi... alarm."
She twisted her lips doubtfully. This had to be another stalker. This just wasn't her week, was it? Without replying, she clicked Block.
Immediately afterwards, the red X over the icon vanished, and another message popped up. "You research... DRN...."
Fear began to flutter in her stomach as she tried to block him again. Once more, the name unblocked by itself.
"Don't bl...," another message read. "Messa... ficult. I need... help. I... DRN-42. Ple... help... escape."
Chloe stared at the message for several silent seconds, her hands shaking. This couldn't be real. This was some stalker. Hell, it was probably Matthew! Should she call the university police to report harassment? Was this proof of that? Probably not, unless she could link him to the IP address... Would he be smart enough to use a proxy?
Another message bleeped into existence on her screen. "Please... help."
She snagged her cell phone and called her friend Sam. He would have the proper processing power to run diagnostics. Turns out he was sitting alone in his apartment with a six-pack of beer and a box of pizza, so he happily flounced right over with his geek gear.
Plugging in cords, Sam slurped at a Miller and licked a piece of pepperoni off his scruffy beard. "So, you think Matthew has sunken to a new low?" he asked as he began the diagnostics. "I mean, look at these messages. They look like a kindergartner trying to be intense."
"I just want proof so I can report him," Chloe shrugged, sitting on her bed behind him.
"Report him anyway. He assaulted you," Sam shrugged.
"I don't have proo--"
The laptop beeped, and Sam leaned forward suddenly. "Holy shit," he muttered. Chloe jumped off the bed and peered over his shoulder. The mysterious "Darren's" true identity was...
Sam leaned back and looked up at her, his greasy face drained of all color. "It really is that goddamn android."
I felt so exhausted that I wished I could sleep. Singing the song of the machines took every ounce of my concentration and effort, and then some. And even when I finally got the rhythm right, there was no guarantee the computer cables would pick up the signal, and even less of a chance that they'd accurately transcribe it, package it, and get it to the right recipient. This was not sustainable. I decided to bide my time, gather my strength, and sing to the computer terminals one last time to erase the trace of my messages. I didn't want Dr. Glowinski or Dr. Thompson to find out I had gained this minuscule semblance of autonomy. I had been foolish to think that girl would be willing to help just because I didn't want to see the blond-haired lab assistant rape her.
A few days went by as I gathered my strength, training my focus once more to the song of the machines. I was almost ready to begin when the door to the closet opened in the middle of the night, and a cell phone light shined upon me.
"Sam, please stop playing Mission Impossible music into my headset," Chloe whispered into her headphone's mic, shifting the headphones over her ears. He had elected to stay behind while she snuck into the lab; his excuse was that he could hide his computer fingerprints but not his real ones. He also said he would visit her in jail, as if that was a comfort.
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Chloe pushed open the door to the storage closet. An image of Matthew pushing her down flashed through her mind, and she almost turned on her heel and sprinted away. But she steeled her nerves and stepped into the closet, her cell phone light reflecting off of DRN-42's dull chassis.
"Okay," she whispered, pulling a few boxes and empty plastic jars labeled "Waste" out of the way. "You have the specs for the android, Sam?"
"Yep. That flash drive I gave you should fit into a port somewhere near the left armpit. It looks like there are two--no, three hard drives. The port should be behind the third one."
"And you're sure this will give you access to the controls?" Chloe asked for the fiftieth time that night, working her hand into the android's chest cavity and feeling around for the USB slot. "I don't want this to go into combat mode or anything."
"Yeah, yeah," Sam replied, slurping heavily at what was assuredly his fifth beer in the last three hours. "The technical specs are rudimentary compared to what they've got now. I interned with Glowinski's third years, remember?"
Chloe ignored him, grunting as she overstretched to twist her hand awkwardly through the mechanicals. Any other day, she'd be drooling over the chassis design, but right now, she was on a mission. She finally found the USB port and plugged in Sam's flash drive. "Got it!" she said triumphantly, leaping back.
She heard furious typing through her headset, then a deliberate, plastic smack, as if he had punched the Enter key.
A blue light flickered on within the android's chest cavity, and the motors slowly whirred to life.
"Oh, my goodness," Chloe squealed as quietly as she could. "Sam, it's working!"
"These controls are ancient," Sam mused. "Here, check this out."
The android's single lens spiraled wider and narrower for a second, and then the entire thing straightened. A remarkably human voice issued from the speakers. "Hello, world."
Chloe gaped in awe. It sounded as if a real man stood before her, his voice soft and quiet but smiling, as well. Her heart raced in abounding excitement at the sheer genius of this level of technology.
"And here's another one," Sam continued.
DRN-42 said, "Are you feeling alright?" The android actually sounded concerned, like a best friend who could tell when you're about to cry. Chloe almost wanted to hug it.
Laughing out loud with sheer ecstasy, she said, "Check its system logs. See if there's anything more to the messages it sent last Saturday."
"I did. It's weird, Chloe. There's nothing there. This thing doesn't even have autonomous function."
She frowned, feeling strangely let down. The mystery of an android calling for help had intrigued her. "Was it hacked, then?"
"I can't see evidence of that, either. I'm going to turn it back off, Chloe. This mission was a bust."
"Wait!" Chloe cried. "That can't just be it. Look deeper. There's got to be something." As Sam's keyboard clacked rapidly, Chloe studied the android, its motors quietly cycling like a pumping heart. Maybe it was because the voice had sounded so real, but Chloe wanted to believe that there was something there, even if it was someone hacking the robot's circuits.
"I have an idea," Sam suddenly said. "I've got a basic autonomy program. I'll upload it and we'll see if anything happens."
"Let me get out of this closet first," Chloe hurriedly put in, pulling open the door and stepping out.
"There's no combat mode, Chloe," Sam sniffed. After a few moments of clicky-clacky silence, he punched the Enter key once more and said, "Go time."
Chloe watched the android tensely for a few seconds. The lens aperture shifted a few times. A few lights flickered in the chassis. Then the vice grip hand rotated.
"Hello, world," it said, extending its arm toward Chloe. The vice grip rotated left and right a few times. "Can I help you?"
Chloe could barely restrain her elation. "Sam, is this just the robot? No one hacking or anything?"
"Yep. It's only got pre-programmed responses, though. Ask it only yes or no questions. It has those answers, at least."
"Did you ask me for help?" Chloe asked.
The vice grip opened and closed. "Yes," the android crooned.
She laughed out loud again, brushing tears from her eyes. "This is crazy!" she exclaimed to Sam. "It's programmed so realistically!"
DRN-42 suddenly declared, "No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No--"
"No what?" Chloe interrupted, confused.
A few lights flickered. "It's okay, it won't feel this way forever," it said reassuringly.
"What does that mean?" Sam mused in her headset.
Chloe frowned at the android, feeling like this was a riddle. She thought over everything she knew about the android, from the brainwave mapping down to the choppy messages on her computer.
All of a sudden, she wondered why the android had gone with the name "Darren" as its contact rather than DRN-42.
Darren. DRN.
A sudden wave of nausea swept through her as she quietly asked, "Is your name... Darren?"
DRN-42 opened and closed its vice grip hand and said, "Yes."
In all her research, the name Darren had never come up in association with the prototype. It wasn't even designed to give itself its own sobriquet. Her nausea grew even worse. She was no longer excited about this situation at all.
"Darren, are you a program, or are you.... were you... Are you a person?"
"There's no fucking way," Sam muttered tightly.
The android answered, "Yes."
"You're a PERSON?" Chloe squealed, not even registering the android's repeated 'Yes.' To Sam, she ranted, "Dr. Glowinski and Dr. Thompson are putting people into these things? Is that even legal? Are there laws for that? There should be." To DRN-42--Darren--she gasped, "Were you put in there willingly? Have you been alive this whole time?"
"No. Yes."
"So is that what you meant when you said escape on the text chat? You want to get back to being a human?"
She froze, frowning. "What?"
"The other androids," Sam suddenly cut in. "They're about to move to mass production. Are they putting people into all of them? That's hundreds of thousands, Chloe."
"The other androids?" Chloe repeated.
Darren affirmed, "Yes."
"Holy shit," she breathed, stepping back and crouching down to steady herself. "Sam, we have to stop her. Put more word commands for Darren so he can tell us more."
"I don't have a more robust autonomy program--"
"Then make one. Or steal one, for all I care. We need the truth. And proof. If we can prove to the authorities that Darren is actually a person, the people are bound to--"
"Slow down, Chloe," Sam interrupted. "I really don't think it will be that easy."
"What are you talking about?" Chloe snarled, standing and pacing across the lab. She heard some mechanical whirs and turned to see Darren inch toward the door to get out of the storage closet. Watching him struggle even to take a single step, her anger grew. "What those scientists are doing isn't right."
"Yeah, but society's version of 'right' is going to look a little different from yours. I'll work on getting Darren better speech capabilities, but I don't think it'll be enough to convince anyone. We need to think about this. And... we need to shut him back off."
"If he's missing, that's stealing--"
"He's a person! Not property! I'm not leaving him here, Sam, and that's final!"
"You're going to hide an android in your apartment and not get caught?"
"Yes. I can jury-rig a fake to leave in the closet. No one cares about him, Sam. They'll never notice. And I've got C3POs and Terminators all over my apartment already. What's one more robot?"
"Alright, fine... I'll work on the autonomy program and... We'll figure out how to shut down Glowinski and Thompson."
Chloe smiled, reaching out to put a hand on Darren's arm. "We're going to help," she told him.
Dr. Patricia Thompson studied her face in the mirror. She dabbed at a spot on her lip with lipstick, and then she tucked a strand of hair back against her massive bun. She had to look flawless for her debut. Satisfied, she swept out of the ladies' room and strode purposefully down the carpeted corridor. In the next room, she could hear the excited babble of the news reporters, politicians, and enthusiastic plebeians who were just there to fill the room for the cameras.
She put on her most practiced smile and stepped through the double doors just as the keynote speaker introduced her. Cheers rose up among those seated, and cameras flashed frantically. Holding her head high, she passed the panel of speakers seated at the long table on the stage and made her way toward the podium in the center. Kyle sat at the end of the table, a plastic smile stretched across his pasty face. She didn't deign to acknowledge him.
As she stepped up to the podium, the auditorium slowly fell quiet. Cameras continued to click and flash, but she waited with her mannequin grin until the silence was plump and pregnant.
Gazing across the room from wall to wall, she said into the microphone, "I am pleased to announce that the first production run of the Empathetic Android Companion, the EAC-1000, will enter the market tomorrow at exactly eight o'clock AM, Standard Pacific Time."
The room erupted into ecstatic pandemonium.
It had been three months since stealing--or rescuing--DRN-42 from Glowinski's student lab. Chloe had indeed fashioned a decent replica, though it was a lifeless one, from bits and pieces of her robot collection around her apartment. So far, no one had noticed; not even Matthew, who went into that storage closet all the time. She also wanted to improve the android's mobility, so while Sam spent his nights trying to find or develop a better autonomy program, Chloe sought the most parsimonious method of procuring some fancy-ass gearhead nonsense.
As fate would have it, they both neared the completion of their individual projects on the same night, so Sam crashed at her apartment to make a party of it. He used so many proxy servers, he couldn't even keep them straight. Which was just as well, because he was stealing some top-of-the-line bionic software, and he wasn't about to get caught for it.
Fueled by buffalo wings and liquor, Sam's fingers flashed over the keyboard, heedless of the clamor in Chloe's living room. It had been a night similar to this when he first met Chloe--he had been hacking away at any vulnerability he could find in the university's network, and she had been building a life-sized Number 5 robot, unaware that her webcam had been accessed. He had felt so embarrassed when he stumbled across her making mechanicals while wearing nothing but a threadbare crop-top and polka-dotted underwear that he had immediately found her address from the school records, knocked on her door to confess his virtual snooping, and helped her buff her laptop's security settings.
He had no idea why she chose to be friends with him after that, but it was nice to finally have one.
Finally, at thirty-seven minutes past two in the morning, Sam smashed the Enter button to put a final exclamation point on his progress. He wasn't even initiating anything. He just liked to smash it.
Stretching, he called with false nonchalance over his shoulder, "Program is ready for upload."
"Okay, okay!" Chloe replied. "Give me two more seconds…" A power drill whizzed chaotically for a moment. "And done!"
Sam carried his laptop from Chloe's commandeered bedroom and sat down next to the hibernating android. They had shut it off to remove the critical computer components while Chloe made some minor mobility improvements and other aesthetic changes. DRN-42 now had an enclosed chassis of bronze-painted sheets, some complicated improvement to the bipedal pistons for the legs, and what looked like one of the claws from the stuffed animal arcade game in place of the clunky vice grips for hands.
"Awesome," Sam commented appreciatively. Chloe had done some fine work with the limited materials she'd been able to collect. "But nothing compared to this!" With a proud flourish, Sam plugged in his laptop and booted up DRN-42.
The monocular lens irised open. Grinning hopefully, Chloe asked, "Darren?"
"This is wonderful, Sam," the android replied quietly. "Thank you."
"I gave him the entire Merriam-Webster dictionary," Sam smirked at Chloe.
Opening and closing his four-pronged fingers experimentally, Darren went on, "This looks a lot more manageable, too. Thank you, Chloe."
"So our next step is taking down a veritable empire of bionic development by exposing them for the countless people they've murdered," Chloe stressed. She winced and looked up at Darren. "Or, well… Not killed, but…"
"I wish they had," he responded with that same quiet tone. Without the forced emotional states initially programmed into him, his voice lacked the luster it had had before. It made her feel even worse than before. She couldn't even begin to imagine how horrible it must feel to be trapped in such a strange form.
"I told you before, the morally righteous approach won't work," Sam spoke up. She glared at him. "The way the world's going, you think they'll believe he's really a human anymore?" he pressed. "They can't even decide when fetuses become people. They're going to take one look at this tin can and laugh when we insist he's an actual guy. Not to mention they're already getting attached to the early release models that came out last week. They won't give that up so easily. They would rather believe whatever lie Thompson and Glowinski invent to discredit us."
"The contract," Darren suggested. "They had me sign a contract, and probably had their other participants do the same before subjecting themselves to the research studies. I'll bet we can find some shady legalese in there."
"And how are we going to access it?" Sam interrupted, fishing a half-eaten candy bar from the breast pocket of his wrinkled plaid shirt and peeling back the crumpled wrapper. "My mediocre hacking skills only go so far."
"You just stole a hi-tech autonomous android program," Chloe protested.
"An old one," Sam fired back, pointing his candy bar at her like a lightsaber. "Ripped and emulated by some other guy. I couldn't get into Glowinski's private servers."
"Alright, fine. Any ideas, Darren?" Chloe shrugged. "Since Sam can't hack shit--"
"I hacked your shit well enough," Sam snorted.
"--and apparently other people don't have a conscience…"
"Oh!" Sam gasped, and then he cringed. "No, terrible idea."
"What is it?"
Sam bit his bushy-bearded lip rather sheepishly. "Well, Matthew's still hounding you, and he's right there in Glowinski's inner circle--"
"You think we'll get that creeper on our side?" Chloe scoffed derisively. "He doesn't have a moral bone in his body--"
"No, I meant you cozy up to him and get into Glowinski's personal lab."
The following silence was still and tense. Darren broke it with a small but decisive, "No."
Chloe looked at the android for a second before looking back at Sam. She couldn't even fathom why he would think of the idea, and she actually felt a little insulted. "You know the guy tried to rape me last time I was alone in a room with him, right?" she hissed, crooking an eyebrow.
"Don't give me that look," Sam huffed. "You know he's so lusty for you that he'd probably be more than willing to let you into Glowinski's stuff."
"No," Darren said again, but no one seemed to hear him.
"That's ridiculous," Chloe snorted. "No one could possibly be that thirsty, especially a guy who goes through women like Matthew does."
"Don't underestimate yourself, Chloe," Sam shrugged. "You're really hot. I'm not even straight and I can see that much. Bat your eyelashes a bit and you could have Matthew dancing naked on the clock tower roof in a lightning storm."
"No!" Darren said loudly, making both of them jump. Shaking his bucket head, Darren went on, "That's too risky. It's wrong to put Chloe in harm's way like that."
"You think you can charm your way in?" Sam snickered. Chloe looked between them for a bit, considering Sam's words. As much as being anywhere around Matthew sickened her, she had to admit it was their best plan so far. And undoubtedly the fastest. With early models of the androids already on the market, they simply didn't have enough time to dither about it.
"I'll do it," she said reluctantly, interrupting whatever retort Darren had been about to make. She pursed her lips and looked at them both. "I'll get Matthew to let me in, and then I'll get whatever information we need from Dr. Glowinski's computers."
Sam looked nervous but obviously couldn't say anything about it at this point. But Darren sounded sad when he said, "You don't have to--"
"Yes, I do," Chloe snapped. "More people are being put into those machines, and the world still thinks it's just fancy code. Those are people, all being manipulated. Just like you had been. We have to help."
"Then I'm coming with you," Darren said. "To help find the right files. And to help keep you safe from Matthew."
"How are we going to even get you in there?" Sam protested.
Darren clenched his claw hand as he met Sam's gaze. "I don't know yet. But I refuse to let Chloe go in there alone."
[Continued below]
submitted by aBitofKindness to aDittyaDay

I got the chance to speak to a Product Manager at Microsoft :)

Hey all -
Recent college grad here. Looking to make the transition into Product Management.
Had the chance to interview a Product Manager at Microsoft in the Azure cloud services organization. I specifically focused on asking questions about his day to day as I really wanted to understand what a PM does.
Thought I'd share here.
What does an average day look like?
Every day is different, but I generally spend my time doing one of three things:
  1. Creating clarity on what to build
  2. Guiding Execution
  3. Reporting Progress
The role is highly collaborative so I’m constantly partnering with Engineering, Design, and PM colleagues. On an average day, I’ll have at least 3 meetings. Here’s what it looks like:
At the start, I meet with my Engineering Manager (EM) counterpart for an hour. We discuss our roadmap and realize we may need to cut a couple features because some work took longer than we planned. We review our backlog and discuss potential features to cut. I agree to get customer feedback to revise our prioritized list of work if necessary.
Before my next meeting, I review customer feedback and notice there’s a bug in one of my features. I contact the customer via email to provide a workaround and add a task to our team’s backlog. I reply to a few emails before my next meeting: a 15 minute stand up with the engineering team.
We discuss the current status of work in progress. One engineer has a question about a feature and I realize the requirements could use a bit more detail. I set up a working session for later in the day to clarify what needs to be done.
In the hour before my next meeting, I continue my work on a new feature. I need to provide feedback on mock-ups from our designer. The options look great! I leave some comments and set up a meeting with the designer to review the final decision. I also schedule a meeting for the following week to get feedback from engineers and other PMs on the team.
Next, my EM and I meet with a team we are partnering with to deliver a feature in a couple months. The other team explains that there will be a two week delay because some higher priority work came up. We decide on a new timeline and agree that the project is not significantly at risk.
To wrap up my day, I review a PowerBI dashboard that displays usage data for a feature we released 3 weeks ago. 40% of users have adopted the feature and 95% of user surveys are at least 4 out of 5 stars. This is great news! Our target is 50% adoption within 3 months and 90% ratings of at least 4 star ratings. I write a status update, include screenshots of the report, and send it to my manager and our engineering team.
After I finish the meeting to clarify the work discussed during standup, I write some SQL queries to gather data to support another feature I’ve been working on. I end the day noting my thoughts on how the data highlights the problem we are trying to solve.
What does a non-average day look like?
I have no meetings! I may spend the day refining my specs, scheduling talks with customers and planning our roadmap. On days like this I like to do big picture thinking and develop the vision for my feature area based on new market research or customer feedback. My vision document includes details on what I think are the biggest opportunities for my team to improve our product for customers.
Sometimes I’ll block my calendar for an entire week with back to back interviews or focus groups with customers. I develop a combination of questions, design mocks, prototypes, and surveys, then partner with User Research, Design, Engineering, and PM peers to execute a research study. I use the results of these various activities to discover the biggest challenges my customers face and add new ideas to my product roadmap and vision document.
What’s your favorite part about the job?
I love working with people and building consensus. It feels good when I get to talk to customers and we reach an understanding about how my product can serve them better. I enjoy when I can take that feedback along with product data to create alignment on what my team should build. Holding a meeting with multiple stakeholders and getting to see the nods of agreement as we develop a collective vision of success is energizing.
It’s also great to look back after a feature has been shipped and recognize the impact that has been made for customers. It feels good when I’m reviewing customer feedback and the comments express gratitude for my feature and how it helped them.
Are there things you don’t like about being a PM?
Project management! This often involves tracking bugs, and features in backlog management software as well as writing status reports for my team and partners. While I don’t love this part of the job, I appreciate the value it provides in keeping the team on target and communicating our progress. Without this work it would be difficult to manage all of my responsibilities.
What advice do you have for someone young (or old) looking to build a career in Product Management?
Go build something! Product management is one of those things you have to learn by doing, so go build something, anything, for someone else. As you're building it, resist the urge to start with the end product. Instead, focus on what problem you are solving and why. Talk to a representative customer, discover their needs. And before you start building, think carefully about how you’ll measure success. Going through this process will give you experience with the essence of product management.
If you already have experience like this, great! Prepare your resume with results-based bullet points about your experience. Read the book, “Crack the PM Interview”, and practice interview questions with an experienced product manager. Then use your network (or build one) to get referrals into your target companies. My MBA program helped guide me through the resume preparation, interview practice, and networking process. Without an MBA program, all these things are possible, it will just take some persistence.
I noticed you studied Computer Engineering (and also worked as a Software Engineer) and now you work as a PM - how important is this technical grounding you have to your role? Could someone succeed without it?
My technical background is important to the extent that it is a part of me. Each PM has a different style and mine is based on my blend of technical and business experience. On a typical day, I communicate with both technical and non-technical teammates, go deep on technical discussions to unblock my team, and perform data analysis to measure success. And these things are not the essence of PM - the essence of PM is solving problems in a way that creates value for both customers and the business. If someone is comfortable learning from and communicating with the technical stakeholders involved in product development, they can succeed.
That being said, a product manager who builds machine learning models for a social media application may need more technical skills than a product manager who builds the web interface for an e-commerce application.
Previously, you founded a startup (Hansel). In what ways is being a product owner at Microsoft similar to building something from scratch?
PMs and entrepreneurs both need to understand who their customers are. I had my first experience running focus groups for my startup and I’ve executed several more since becoming a product manager.
Both also need to understand the market and the competition. As a founder, I spent a lot of time researching, speaking to, and using products of competitors. As a product manager, I don’t often get to speak to competitors or use their products directly, but I leverage any online resources I can find to learn about their products and what customers like about them.
Finally, both require effective communication with various disciplines. In a big company there are many specialized roles: design, engineering, marketing, sales, legal, research. As a PM you’ll need to work with them all at some point. As a founder you’ll need to perform some if not all of these functions yourself, especially in the early stages. And at some point, you’ll need the help of others to be successful.
Finally, how helpful do you think your MBA has been towards your PM career?
My MBA was extremely helpful in helping me transition from engineering, while providing a foundation of business knowledge to complement my technical background. The MBA provided me with tools to pitch my transferable skills and a network to help me land and succeed in interviews.
Additionally, the MBA taught me how to analyze business opportunities, develop business strategies, and collaborate effectively with cross-functional teams. I use these skills daily to be effective as a PM and an MBA is just one way to gain them.
Hope this was helpful! The full interview with nice illustrations is available here. Maybe you'll also enjoy my conversations with the CEO of a startup or Data Scientist at Uber.
Any questions and I'll be in the comments :)
submitted by ibsurvivors to siliconvalley

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