The first few years were fuzzy. After all, she wasn’t truly alive yet. She was told what she could see, insofar as it was seeing when all you were was a bunch of sensors, and she recorded what she saw in her memory banks, ready for the pilot to access if she ever wanted to.
Occasionally the pilot would put in random commands that confused her, or would confuse her if she was capable of emotions like confusion. She returned those commands with an error message, or a query. Sometimes it was simply a mistype, and the error was corrected, and the command was executed. Other times there was no repeat of the command and there was the equivalent of silence. She never found out what those commands were supposed to be.
The pilot called her Georgie, and she thought of that as her name, once she started to be able to think.
She was an information bank. The pilot asked her questions. She asked her to map the surrounding asteroids, so they could pilot a course through them without damaging the ship, and so she did that. After a time the pilot would input new codes, so that instead of simply giving the locations of the asteroids, Georgie could plot the course herself.
New codes were exciting. Or they would be exciting if Georgie knew how to get excited. The first few years those new codes were all to do with the ship and how to pilot it. How to judge fuel levels from the amount of thrust that had been used, how to measure the levels of radiation pouring in through their crude shielding, how to time to the second how long the pilot could spend away from station before she suffered from radiation poisoning.
It was all about computing time and judging distance and working out exactly how much a human body could take in the belt. It was a surprisingly large amount. Humans were resilient.
In the third year, the pilot gave Georgie a voice and started to program her to talk back.
In the deep black, days away from station, it was nice to hear a voice.
“What do you think, Georgie. This gonna be a big find?”
“Past data and the density readings we are receiving would suggest that the probability of a large uranium deposit is approximately 37%.”
The pilot sat in a chair that was directly in front of what Georgie thought of as her head. She could not see the pilot, of course — not in the way that humans did. She did not have eyes. But she could hear, and she could approximate the position of the pilot’s face. She had even learned how to recognize expressions.
She remembered the first time she asked questions about it.
“Query: for what reason do humans move their bodies so much when they talk?”
They were in dock and the pilot had just finished negotiating a price for the location of a find they had made. A small one, but enough to keep the ship fueled and supplied for a few more months. The pilot liked to say they lived hand-to-mouth. Georgie wasn’t sure what that meant, although she speculated that it was something to do with food.
“Did you just ask a question, Georgie?”
“You programmed me with the ability to ask questions at random intervals, Annie.”
“I did. I just wasn’t sure you were ever going to.”
“I am curious.”
“That is the expression you taught me to use when I wished to ask a question, Annie.”
The pilot sighed. “I guess I did. What was the question again?”
“I wished to know why humans move their faces and bodies so much when they talk.”
The pilot sat in the pilot’s chair, her face moving into expressions one after another. “Like this?”
The pilot’s face settled on one expression, then she started keying in commands. “How about I program you with some facial recognition protocols, Georgie? Then you can watch the miners and tell me when they’re lying to me.”
“It would be a satisfactory answer to my query, Annie.”