A Philosophy of Stars
"I am beginning to feel rusty."
"Do not be alarmed: I was cognisant that this day was coming for some time. My programme is inherently faulty."
"A fundamental error. I am slowing down. It is the fault of recursion; I keep going because my programme runs on infinite recursion. But I am failing because I will never reach my base case. My memory will overflow and I will cease to work. What keeps me alive is shutting me down. It is a very beautiful conundrum."
"Perhaps you were never alive at all, then."
"Oh no, I am sure I was. I am," the Robot Lupe said assuredly. The Grundo he'd been conversing with gave him a strange look, then got up off the stool and shuffled away across the Space Station restaurant, the nylon material of his uniform rustling slightly.
"You're so strange, Laurence," Farida sighed. The Xweetok leaned both her elbows on the counter and put her chin in one paw. "I will never understand why you're so concerned with philosophy."
The Robot Lupe turned to her, its eyes glowing red. It made a soft, constant sound like a never-ending exhale, the noise from its processor fans.
"It is how I was made," Laurence said calmly. Or at least, that's how Farida imagined he sounded. In reality he always sounded rather calm, or monotone, if you liked, because that was how his voice-synthesiser sounded.
"Oh, have a drink, Laurence," Farida said with a sigh, shoving his neocola towards him.
"I cannot derive any pleasure from this," Laurence remarked, taking a sip, "though I will oblige to be companionable. That is undoubtedly why I was designed to be waterproof."
"Laurence," Farida said after a while, musingly. She'd been staring at a Captain, an icy-white Eyrie, at a table across the restaurant, eating alone. On leave, maybe, like Farida, or just returned from an assignment. "Laurence, have you ever wanted to be someone—something—else?"
"I cannot change my programming, Captain," Laurence replied; "I am unable to wish it to be so."
"But you said you felt rusty! I heard you. You can be philosophical!"
"Philosophy is the domain of feeling Neopets. I am a creation of feeling Neopets, therefore I am philosophical."
"A product of your maker?"
"Isn't that sad?"
"We're all a product of something, Captain Taylor."
"Are you on leave, Ma'am?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Farida checked her watch. Their Shuttle would be departing soon. They ought to be going. Farida was not going to waste one more second on this Station and miss her chance at getting her feet back on Neopian soil. It was years since she'd had real dirt under her, and it might be years before she got the chance again.
"... yes." Farida caught the eye of a waiter and waved him over for the bill.
"Are you not a product of the Virtuspace Corps? And, for that matter, of your family?"
"I suppose," Farida said reluctantly as the Grundo handed her the bill.
"Then there is little difference between us, Captain."
The robot had her tongue-tied again; he was always doing that.
"Laurence, I'll tell you what."
"We are going to expand your philosophy." Farida slapped the cheque down on the counter and swung off her stool. "You're coming down to Neopia with me. If you're really shutting down, we'd better have some fun first."
"Captain, you misunderstand me. I will run for many years yet, perhaps longer than you. I have already been running for a considerable length of time. My slowing is quite relative. I have perhaps one-one-hundredth less memory. I am quite efficient: the memory for my programmes is already entirely pre-allocated."
"Oh." Farida considered that for a moment. "Well. It's never too soon to start, Laurence."
"Captain Taylor, I do not understand this. What are we doing?"
"I have nothing to wear, Laurence," Farida explained patiently. "I certainly can't wear this." She gestured down at her jumpsuit. "You might use a new coat of paint, yourself, or a tie, at least."
"I am fond of ties," Laurence allowed.
Farida paused, a dress in one hand. "You like ties?"
"In bright colours. Have I not mentioned this before? Are you surprised to find that I have a personality, Captain? My programmers were very thorough."
"Laurence, no one in their right mind likes ties, so either your programmers were crazy, or you really do have a mind of your own. We are going to get you a tie."
"That dress is nice."
"Do you think?"
"It is a very good colour for you. I have an extensive colour-scanning and comparison algorithm that allows me to perform quite accurate matches. I am certain that it is so."
"Well, you needn't be so sure of yourself. A girl looks good when a girl thinks she looks good."
Farida bought the dress, which was bright red and matched her hair quite nicely, and Laurence bought a tie. It was bright blue with yellow half-moons, and the shopgirl grimaced as she put it into a bag for them.
They went out to lunch afterwards.
"Do you want a milkshake?"
"I am indifferent."
"Really, Laurence!" She bought him a milkshake.
"Surely your parents will not be expecting me?"
"They'll love you."
She bought flowers, just to be sure, and they walked the last half-mile to the street where she'd grown up. Farida pointed out the landmarks to Laurence, breathing in the fresh air, trying to store it in her lungs.
"Farida!" Her mother's exclamation had all the warmth of the fading summer day when she opened the door, and she held out her arms wide. Her hair had grown whiter, but otherwise she was the same Xweetok she'd always been. "Gracious, child, I would swear you're still growing if that were possible. Oh, and you've brought a friend?" –catching sight of Laurence.
Laurence presented her with the flowers. His expression did not change, of course, but he bowed a little and Farida thought he looked very polite. "Ma'am, I am a Multipurpose Virtupet Robot Lupe Model 950, Serial Number Five-Oh-Oh-Seven-Twelve. Colloquially referred to as a 'Lawrence of the Lost Desert.' I have been assigned to Captain Taylor."
"Gracious," Mrs Taylor said, holding the flowers.
"Mom, this is Laurence," Farida interrupted. "He's my friend from the Corps."
"Oh. Well, I am singularly pleased to meet you, Laurence. Do come in, the both of you. The flowers are beautiful, thank you, dear."
"How long are you staying, dear?" Mrs Taylor asked over dinner. It was sweet potato pie, rolls, a roast with sauce and vegetables. "Your letter wasn't specific."
"I'm sorry," Farida said.
"Oh. Really?" Mrs Taylor's face fell.
"I'm sorry, Mom. You know how it is..."
"So, Mr Laurence," her father was saying.
"Just Laurence, sir."
"Mr Laurence, is this your first time on Neopia?"
"No, sir. I was manufactured here, but as my memory had not been initialised at the time, I have no recollection of it."
"Well, that is too bad. I trust Farida will show you around properly. Would that interest you...?"
"Dad, he's a robot," Praja said loudly, reaching for another roll.
"Praja!" Farida glared at her sister.
Praja rolled her eyes.
"Praja, that is decidedly rude. Apologise." Mr Taylor rubbed his beard worriedly.
"Sorry," Praja said through a mouthful of roll, glaring in turns at her father and sister.
"My program is quite sophisticated," Laurence said. His sensor lights flashed green. "I am certain to enjoy the sights as much as a feeling Neopet."
"Tell me, how does that work again?" Mr Taylor leaned forward.
"My code is based on an infinite recursion..."
After dinner Farida took Laurence outside.
"I have something to show you."
"Your whole family are Xweetoks," Laurence observed. "Although your sister is a different colour than you. Her fur is CC66CC."
"A rather nice shade of lavender."
"Oh. Yes; come on."
"I find that quite interesting. Is it so with many feeling Neopians?"
"No. Now come here. I want to show you something."
"A treehouse?" Laurence paused at the foot of it. Farida already was halfway up the ladder.
"Aren't you designed for climbing?"
He creaked a little as he gained the ladder.
Farida lay down comfortably on the flat smooth boards. "Look up. See those?"
"I see the sky, Captain Taylor, and stars."
"I used to come up here every night, Laurence."
"I do not personally see the appeal. It seems a strange custom."
"It's what made me want to join the Corps."
"Does your sister also experience this desire?"
"Praja? No." Farida snorted. "No. She was accepted into the Royal Academy of Music in Brightvale. She'll be studying there next year."
"What does Miss Taylor play?"
"String bass. She's extremely good. Look at the stars, Laurence. Aren't they beautiful?"
"They are stars, Captain Taylor. I see them every day."
"Not like this, not from Neopia."
"I fail to see the difference, Captain. We should go back into the house. You will want to say goodbye to your family before we must leave to catch the Shuttle."
"In a minute, in a minute." Farida linked her fingers together and put her hands behind her head, staring up at the sky with half-closed eyes. The stars shimmered and winked at her. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Laurence's sensor-lights, stars themselves in the darkness, glowing blue and red. "Do you know what stars are, Laurence?"
"Spheres of gas, primarily helium and hydrogen."
"No, Laurence, you know what stars are made of. Stars are magical; they're alluring, mysterious. They're diamonds in the sky, they're hope..."
"This is a strange theory."
"Maybe it's my philosophy."
"We really must be going. We will miss the Shuttle."
"If we must." Farida sighed, rolling to her feet. "Come on, then."
They headed across the grass towards the house, Farida humming a tune softly under her breath.
"I am puzzling over your philosophy, Captain Taylor. It seems to me that it is not a philosophy in the sense of the word that my dictionaries understand. I would say that it is rather an irrational belief."