Title: Epiphany By Coffee
Author's note: A short fic that came to me when brainstorming another WOEICS? story called 'Upgrade' . I don't speak French so please let me know if the translation is off.
It was a sunny Sunday morning in 1987 when the CHIEF experienced his first world changing revelation. It happened where all soul-deep philosophical discussions naturally take place - a street side cafe in France.
This said cafe was located in Paris, city of love, haute culture and gourmet cuisine. On that fateful day, he followed his partner as she limped into the crowded cafe. Their entrance were greeted by hushed whispers and a prevalent mood of subdued hostility.
Carmen sensed the tensed atmosphere and inwardly cursed as she weaved through the patrons to an empty table in a darkened corner. Unfriendly eyes from the cafe's customers followed their progress until they disappeared into the shadows. Reaching relative safety, she sunk down into the chair facing the door. With a guttural groan, she stretched out her left leg to ease the weight on her ankle.
The CHIEF ambled after her and banged into the table, causing patrons to shoot them death glares before turning back to their meals. The CHIEF re-calculated the distance and sat down opposite her without further incident. Carmen sighed and tugged her fedora hat down to cover her eyes. It was going to be a long morning.
As soon as they had settled themselves into the chairs comfortably, a slim, blonde waitress came over to take their order. Her long hair, rolled into a loose pony-tail, bounced jubilantly with every step. The waitress offered them a honeyed smile as she took out a notepad with practised ease from her pouch bag.
"Bonjour. Qu'est-ce que vous prenez?" she asked cheerfully.
"Un café espresso et un croissant, s'il vous plaît," the sable-haired woman ordered brusquely.
The waitress tapped her pen absently against the side of her notepad as she stared curiously at CHIEF. She took in his mechanical frame, the tan trench coat and dark brown fedora hat that sat precariously on his metal head due to a large bandage.
"Oui...et pour monsieur?"
The woman did not hesitate in answering: "Rien pour lui. Merci."
The waitress did not so much as bat an eyelash at her reply. Instead, she jotted down the order and left with a polite: "D'accord. Un moment, s'il vous plaît."
The CHIEF glanced at his partner, his sensors whirling as he compared her countenance to his database of facial expressions. She looked, as humans would say, in a bad mood. Based on her personality profile which the CHIEF was currently scanning, he came to the conclusion that the woman was probably going over the last several hours and second guessing herself into misery.
Carmen spied an abandoned newspaper at a neighbouring empty table. Within a few moments, she had pilfered it and slapped it down on their table as she retook her seat. She stared stunned at the headlines on the front page.
National Treasure Stolen
The Shadow steals Mona Lisa from Louvre Museum
International art thief, The Shadow, staged the predawn robbery at 4.30am. Top Acme detective Carmen Sandiego blamed the thief's escape on the Parisian police's slow response to the robbery alarm that she had tripped on purpose.
"If there was greater co-operation between Acme and the local enforcement, The Shadow would not have been able to get away with this crime," said Sandiego in the emergency press conference convened in front of the museum.
A source within the Parisian police revealed that the Acme Agency had shared intelligence on The Shadow's activities and suspected plan to rob the Louvre Museum a few days prior to the heist. According to the source...
"As usual, the press loves to sensationalise. That quote is completely out of context. Now, I know why the natives are restless," Carmen muttered dourly as she scoured the article. By the time she had finished reading, her expression had changed from idle curiosity to a dark one.
Carmen did not look up from the daily. She seemed to be re-reading the article, her chin resting on a hand as she stared thoughtfully at the paper.
"I am sorry that I let L'ombre get away."
Her shadowed blue eyes blinked once, twice before raising them to look at her partner. Carmen seemed distressed for a moment before she replied softly: "What are you apologising for? It's not your fault."
The CHIEF recorded a 0.2 second pause before she replied and a 0.03cm shift to the left and up by her eyes. She lowered her gaze back to the newspaper. According to his psychological software results, she was lying.
To confirm the analysis, the CHIEF selected the archived memory file of the robbery and replayed it.
He rounded the corner to see Carmen smash a display case with a fire extinguisher she had liberated from the corridor. The alarms blared as they chased after the five fleeing shadows that headed for a museum's exit.
Within moments, they poured out onto the street and saw the thieves getting into a Chevrolet. As Carmen ran towards the car, three henchmen got out to deal with her. To her surprise, the detective found herself matched up against experienced martial artists. She concentrated on not getting her bones broken.
Using the diversion to his advantage, L'ombre started up the Chevrolet and gunned it. He left his compatriots and that meddlesome Acme woman in a squeal of tyres. The CHIEF calculated Carmen's chances of finishing off the fight and giving chase. It was minuscule.
Before his logic parameters could define the stupidity of his action, the CHIEF stepped into the path of the oncoming car. The Chevrolet smashed into him, catapulting him over the hood and onto the street. L'ombre fought for control of his car, got it and sped down the street.
Distracted by the sinister sound of screaming metal, Carmen mis-timed her kick. The henchman sidestepped, trapped her leg in the hook of his arm and caught her foot with his free hand. Faster than she could blink, the man twisted her foot savagely. As her ankle snapped, Carmen screamed in pain. With Carmen down for the moment, the henchmen took off on foot in a different direction from L'ombre's.
In a few minutes, the CHIEF optic sensors came back online and he viewed the world through a flurry of static. Static in which a shadow appeared. As his graphic processor cleared up the noise, he saw that the shadow was Carmen. His partner was peering at him worriedly as she propped his head up on her lap.
"Leave me," the CHIEF managed to articulate.
Carmen took off her jacket, crumpled it into a wad and used it to press against the side of his head. The CHIEF realised that he must have been 'wounded'. He recalled Carmen's scream of pain as the henchman had twisted his ankle. He wondered what it would feel like...to be in pain.
"Just stay still and keep quiet," she said. She frowned angrily. "Damn it. You're leaking lubricant and motor oil everywhere. Give me a damage report. Now."
The CHIEF dutifully complied. "Structural integrity on the cranium compromised. Motor functions...15 per cent responsive. Faculty functions...optic sensors damaged. Audio sonics...functional. Cognitive processors...operational. Gyro stabilisers damaged. Unit is incapacitated."
Carmen swore for a few minutes as she glared at the burnt tyre thread marks beneath the CHIEF's prone body.
"Where the hell are those damn cops?"
The CHIEF stopped the replay and computed the possible simulated scenarios. He selected the one that ended in L'ombre's capture.
"You should have left me there."
Apparently disgusted with the Parisians' response to the robbery that blamed Acme, Carmen flipped forward to the business section. Her eyebrows scrunched into an absent frown as she checked stock prices. As if only just registering what he said, she looked up in surprise.
"Nonsense! You're my partner. Besides...I was in no shape to run."
Carmen looked away as if pained by the memory. Unconsciously, she bit her lip slightly. Then her expression smoothed over and she returned to her study of the business section. The CHIEF ran an analysis on her body language but his visual cues database could not give a conclusive result.
Before he could enquire in the state of her emotional health, the waitress arrived with the coffee and food. Carmen reached for the coffee and cradled it in her hands.
"Bon appetite," the waitress wished them before sauntering off.
The CHIEF looked at the cup of coffee in Carmen's hands as she began to raise it to her lips.
C.H.I.E.F. SYSTEM CONFIGURATION MENU
THERMAL OPTICS MODE...ON
SCANNING...5 PERCENT COMPLETE
SCANNING...25 PERCENT COMPLETE
SCANNING...55 PERCENT COMPLETE
SCANNING...85 PERCENT COMPLETE
LOADING RESULTS...LOAD COMPLETE
Carmen started and glanced about for what had attracted his attention then looked down at her coffee in confusion. "Why?"
"The temperature of the coffee is too hot for human consumption."
Carmen scoffed at that statement and continued to raise the cup to her eager lips. The rich aroma of strong coffee tantalised her almost beyond endurance. She could almost taste the black heaven that awaited her. She gingerly blew on the beverage before taking a small sip. Aaiiii...it was hot. Undeterred, she blew again.
"Detective Carmen Sandiego, I strongly insist that you stop that harmful action at once."
The woman, long tired from having no sleep the night before and 'grilled' for hours by the Parisian police, began to lose her patience. "For crying out loud, CHIEF, I only want to drink hot coffee!"
"Because it makes me feel good."
"Because I need it."
"Because...wait, no, no. It's too early in the morning for this. CHIEF...just stop it with the 'whys', okay?"
The CHIEF was silent a moment. Maybe two. Carmen savoured the blissful silence and returned to survey the business dynamics of the French stock market.
"Why?" It sounded almost plaintive. But Carmen was sure that the robot's voice modulator had not been programmed with that tone.
"Because I'm human!" she retorted in irritation.
"Yes, human. Because I am human, I breathe, I live, I feel, I cry, I need to drink coffee in the mornings!"
The CHIEF took a while to process that information. As he did so, Carmen recalled Suhara's teachings on meditation. She sought to clear her mind of all thoughts. Be like the water. Water absorbs strikes, thus it is ever resilient, ever strong. Feel the flow, Carmen. Feel the flow of peace run through you. She had almost achieved her equilibrium when the CHIEF spoke up again.
"What does it mean to be human?"
The detective wondered if that knock on his head had jolted a few bolts and nuts loose. He had never been this inquisitive before. She could not decide if this change in attitude was a good thing. Outwardly, she only sighed. It was really, really too early in the morning for a philosophical discussion. And yet here she was, having a dialogue with a robot on what it means to be human.
The woman frowned as she considered how to answer the question. Finally after much thought, Carmen replied: "What does it mean to be human? Physically speaking, my body reacts to the stimuli around it. My brain processes the nerve signals, creating sensations that my mind turns into experiences and memories.
"Psychologically, to be human is to connect with others. Humans are very social creatures that need to interact to form a connection with others around them and create a sense of identity. We form relationships because we have to. It's...it's the way we are hardwired, I guess."
"How do you form relationships?"
"Through mental, emotional and physical interactions."
"Such as...through touching?"
"Uhm...yes, that's one way..."
The CHIEF then asked. "What do you feel if I touch you?"
Carmen laughed. "You're metal. Of course, you will feel cold, CHIEF."
The CHIEF looked at his robotic hands. He flexed them. His creators had revised the motor sensors so he could no longer crush steel metal bars as if they were aluminium. The move was to ensure he did not inadvertently harm criminals when he captured them. To the CHIEF, it made him more human. At least, that is what his processor had deducted.
Carmen seemed to regret her outburst. She watched him flex his hands for a few moments then placed her gloved hand atop of one of his hands. She asked him softly: "What do you feel if I touch you?"
"Nothing at all?"
"That's not strange. You are a robot, after all, CHIEF."
The CHIEF processed that information. The silence grew heavy. Carmen wondered if she had hurt his feelings. But, he is a robot, he doesn't have any feelings! she thought to herself angrily. Even so...
"Je pense, donc je suis," she recited softly.
"René Descartes?" the CHIEF asked, summoning the relevant encyclopaedia entry.
"Yes, that French philosopher. I was thinking that even though you, CHIEF, a robot functioning according to the tenets of your programming, are a sentient entity and not a machine," Carmen explained.
"Detective Carmen, do you think of me as a machine?" the CHIEF asked after a moment.
"That is not a definite answer."
"Yes, you are a robot, CHIEF. But, how do I say this? You are also my partner...so that makes you..."
Carmen trailed off. Silence lapsed again between the Acme agents.
"What do you want me to say?" Carmen asked finally in vexation, absently fiddling with the pager she took out of her vest pocket. If it went off now, she would do a dance around her fedora as if it was a sombrero.
The CHIEF considered. "In your astute opinion, Detective Carmen, would it be possible for technology to advance to a point where my receptors would be calibrated to human skin sensitivity?"
"If you're asking if you will be able to feel like a human...Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I guess anything is possible, CHIEF. The future is the future after all."
The CHIEF analysed her statement. He computed the possible dialogue trees that she could have chosen. He knew that the woman had chosen, in a human emotional sense, to be the least hurtful. He came to one revelation: humans lie to protect the other person's feelings. It was only natural then, that he took the next step leap forward. He conjectured: Carmen must like me.
"Yes?" Carmen asked after a moment, inwardly groaning. What does he want now?
Carmen blinked in surprise. She wondered where that had come from.
The CHIEF scanned his response options. He calculated that Carmen would be uncomfortable or irritated if he told her for liking him. So, the CHIEF decided to lie.
"For answering my 'whys'."
Carmen sighed in exasperation. "You're welcome," she replied gruffly. Carmen was quiet for a moment. Maybe two. She glanced askance at the coffee, watching the steam curl upwards in a graceful dance.
"Yes, Detective Carmen?"
"Got any objections to me eating the croissant?"