The Creation Guild
Sample chapter – Sensori Awakens
Ava Lawson blinked hard against bloodshot eyes. Her mouth opened and closed silently. The sound came from her laptop, grating yet oddly mesmerizing. She snapped to and spoke into the darkness, “Sensori, connect to office speakers.” The sound of her creation making its own music filled the air gaining strength, tempo, momentum as it played. As if it were warming up.
Her hand flew to her open mouth. She struggled to see the readout on her monitor through the bleariness in her hazel eyes. A warm sensation deep in her gut rose up her chest. She quit trying to understand it and listened, frozen. One word kept circling in her mind. Otherworldly.
The polished concrete floors, clear glass walls, and utilitarian desks echoed with the sounds of the first artificial creativity coming to life. What she expected to be a moment of triumph and elation hit her more like a wet noodle of conflicting feelings. Her shoulders slumped.
She didn’t need to see the data to know this was it. The real deal. Shouldn’t she check to make sure it wasn’t another false creation? That they hadn’t tainted the system yet again with their own desires? Her little voice inside shouted loudly. It knew. It was certain. She decided to trust it for the moment.
What to do next? Call the team? She checked the time on her laptop. Just after three in the morning. It was bad enough she forced them out of the office when she noticed it was past midnight. On a Sunday. Waking them all up again would make her seem insensitive. But this was the result they worked on for the past two years. What she envisioned a decade before while a lowly computer science undergrad, and eventually proposed as her masters thesis in psychoacoustics.
She stood up and grabbed her phone. Of course she had to tell the team.
“It’s so creepy.” Her head snapped up at the voice coming from the dark office past her door.
The phone slipped out of her hand, hit the squared edge of the glass desk, and bounced across the concrete floor. Ava and Drew, her COO, both lunged for it and only succeeded in ramming heads with one another.
“Dammit Ava,” he yelled. “Still clumsy as ever.” He followed up with a small laugh and rubbed the top of his head. “But you did it. It’s real this time, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t realize anyone was in the office. Sorry, you scared the crap out of me.” She bent again to pick up the shattered phone. “But yeah. I’m pretty sure it’s the real deal. Can’t imagine a human making this kind of noise. Or music. It’s weird how it sounds like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard one second, then sounds like a toddler with pots and pans the next.”
“You did it Ava! That’s all that matters. This calls for a celebration.” His eyes lit up as he moved to the cabinet next to the futon at the other end of her long office. She kept the good stuff in there for investors and moments like this. He took out an expensive bottle of zinfandel and two glasses.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the rest of the team?” she asked. He was right. It was cause for celebration, but not without them. She couldn’t shake the knot growing in her belly where all her tension made itself known.
“A little private, pre celebration won’t hurt anyone. It’s not even champagne.” He handed her a full glass and lifted his. “To success!” he shouted triumphantly, clinked her glass and took a long drink.
Ava lifted her glass and took a small sip. “I don’t know about success, but it finally turned on,” she said after setting the wine down. Would it improve on its own was the real test.
“Bet you’re glad I put in the office phones now, huh?” Drew said looking at her useless smart phone. It was the investors’ idea to hire a business focused person. Everyone else on the team was research and development at the time. None of them used the phone system unless it involved taping the hang up piece and driving their coworkers nuts calling them until they realized why they couldn’t pick up the line. Most of the staff unplugged theirs a few days after they were installed, but still enjoyed pranking the interns and new hires.
“Yeah,” she muttered, looking at the contraption shoved to the farthest corner of her desk, covered in dinosaur stickers. Drew was the only person she knew who went to business school. They dated briefly in college and kept in touch over the years. He wasn’t so in touch with her world, but the investors seemed happy and she didn’t have to mess with the tedious operations stuff anymore. A decent tradeoff.
“I guess this should make our next funding round a bit easier,” she said.
“Well it’s about time.” He squinted like he had a headache and quickly shook his head. “I’m tired of trying to keep up with your hours.”
“So it’s brutal honesty time, is it? Are you that tired, or were you already drinking in there?” She was as surprised by her own comment as he seemed to be by his. Drew kept a full bar in his office. It was always open. His heavy drinking concerned her, but she never brought it up.
“That’s why I cheated on your hot little ass a decade ago.” His voice rose till it was almost a yell. “Miss Perfect never could see past her own nose. By the way, you look like shit. Isn’t that why you built locker rooms here? You should go make use of them before the team gets in.”
Her jaw dropped. They had an unspoken agreement never to mention the past, or so she thought.
He hurled his glass at the wall behind her and turned, storming out. “Why don’t you clean up after me for a change?”
She jolted sideways nearly falling out of her chair to avoid contact with the glass. Her heart pounded from the swift gut reaction.
“And turn that awful noise off!” he yelled louder from beyond the glass door of her office.
Too stunned to respond, Ava slowly stood and grabbed napkins from forgotten takeout remnants on the small conference table in the middle of the office. “Sensori, stop,” she said in a tone used on naughty puppies. Plunged back into silence, she sat down on the futon with her elbows on her knees, forehead in her hands. The office was still and the wine slowed her mind. She had to prepare for the team and couldn’t let Drew’s outburst distract her. He was as stressed out as the rest of them. She should have seen it and made sure he was taking care of himself. Her failure to lead by example was the primary cause. Her stomach growled. The leftovers were from lunch the day before, her last meal.
She looked around trying to remember how many nights she slept at home that week. Had it been two or three days since she left the office? Her bed was more comfortable, but there was no other reason to waste time on the drive. The office had become her home. Its inhabitants her family.
Enough thinking. Someone on the team was sure to notice what happened. All of it. It was time to prepare. Ava popped a pod in the small coffee maker and stuck her favorite dragon coffee mug underneath. What would she tell the team? Who would work on what? Where did she even want to take it from here? Shouldn’t she have already thought about all this? She went back to her desk and started going through the data. Why did she always forget how sleepy coffee made her if she went too long without a nap?
Ava’s eyes flew open to a light rap on her door. Michael must have figured out something was going on. She looked at her shattered phone, guessing he tried texting, but drove in when he didn’t get the usual immediate response. He stood outside her office watching her blink rapidly and wipe the drool from her cheek. Glass offices had their drawbacks.
She mouthed “get Rys” to her wide eyed assistant. He stepped to the left, unblocking the view of her lead software architect who stood furiously typing with one hand while the other held his laptop. She nodded them in.
“Well boys, what do you think?” Michael and Rys were the only other people with access to the company’s full code base. One of them must have run the auto-uploaded script earlier that morning.
“Holy crap Ava!” was all Michael could come up with.
“Looks like it’s time for the real work to begin,” Rys said, still staring into his screen. “Congratulations.” It was the highest praise Rys ever dealt anyone on the team. Ava rolled her eyes.
“Hold on. We don’t even know what we have yet. Before we can get into that, we need to decide what to tell the team in a couple of hours. Michael, get everyone together at eight.” They weren’t one of the snowflake factories people worshipped in the tech world. They took their mission seriously, their coffee black, and everyone showed up early and could be depended on. Those who couldn’t take it quickly left.
“Rys, I’m guessing you were panting at the door because you’re trying to reproduce the results. Have you found anything?” she asked.
“I’ve been trying to isolate your changes, but don’t have access to some of the files. I didn’t know what was missing, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Death Grips album I uploaded last night.” He looked up with sheepish eyes. “I watched the office camera feed from the time stamp when Sensori started playing.”
Had he seen the exchange between her and Drew? There really were no secrets around this place. “Did you figure it out?” she asked.
“It looks like something you had open on your machine interfered with the system. But Ava, what was that bullshit with Drew?”
Yep. He saw it. Leave it to Rys to get right to the point. Her brain struggled between remembering what she was doing when the music started playing, and the exchange with her COO.
“One thing at a time,” she said. “I don’t know what the Drew shit was. We can come to it later. I do remember what I was doing on my computer. I never should have had personal business on this machine, but it may be what changed. Look.”
She turned her laptop to face the guys, the feed from her late uncle’s cabin in Montana displaying views from twelve different cameras. “I had these installed last month after a drifter got a little too curious. It must have been playing in the background when I ran the program. There’s no way it can be that simple. Help me out.”
“Turn it up. How sensitive are the microphones? Put it on your office speakers.” Rys moved directly in front of the screen, still holding his laptop and typing commands at the same time. The twelve views around the property were split between the cabin, shop, gates, and the Little Blackfoot River. First pecking, then a squeak, broken by rustling of leaves and wind. As she separated the different noises, babbling from the river at the north end became apparent. The deafening quiet of nature filled the office. Rys stopped typing and looked up.
“I swear I can hear that bird walking in the brush. There, on camera nine. Isolate it,” Michael said, leaning in closer.
“It may be this simple. But I don’t know how.” Rys was notorious for thinking out loud. Ava was usually thinking about the same thing, this time was no exception.
“Didn’t we feed the system sounds from nature? It was part of the planned input as I recall. Let’s see,” he spoke while pulling up the database on his machine. “Right here. Quite a bit in fact. We even added the video one of the junior devs found of Drew’s cats.” The team still puzzled over Drew’s strange relationship with his feline friends. He liked to train them to do everything from use the toilet to attack on cue.
“Was anything different in the conditions?” she asked. “Sound quality is obviously excellent. Is it better than other feeds? What about interference?”
“File type is the same as many of the other clips.” Rys kept up his search while answering.
Michael had headphones on, presumably listening to the AI created music.
“Anything you’re picking up in the sound?” She touched his arm gently to penetrate the noise cancelling feature with another of his five senses. Something triggered in her mind.
“Rys, what about other senses? The video captures both sight and sound. What else are we missing?”
“Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. We know the machine can’t process the other three. Those are all the senses we humans know of.”
“OK, so did the images in the video change anything?”
“I watched all of it from that time stamp. There really isn’t any difference from a lot of the youtube and other videos we added to the database. We’ll need more time to extract all the data points.”
“What about time? Space and time. The fourth dimension. The machine can sense that, in a sense, right?”
All three looked up simultaneously. Rys was the first to it. “Streaming. Let me check,” his fingers flew over the keyboard. “None of the streaming feeds have sounds from nature. They’re all music channels from around the web we added for unpredictability, and they’re all recorded songs. Nothing live.”
“Is it possible that’s why it doesn’t work the same from the recording? You need the live feed from the cameras. Holy shit guys! Are you kidding me? We need to test it, but I think we’re almost there.” Her eyes sparkled and a giddy smile lit up her face.
It was just after seven and some of the other employees were outside Ava’s office, trying to pretend they weren’t watching what the three of them were doing inside.
“OK, we need to decide what to tell the team before we get too far ahead of ourselves,” Ava said.
Michael, frequently referred to as Ava’s Ass because of his military title Special Assistant to the President, spoke up. “They know something big is going on, no matter how much I downplayed it. The infrastructure team saw the strange activity this morning and started rumors. So we need to be direct, but make sure everyone stays the current course until we have a plan. Ava, you know how to walk that line.”
Her face fell back to the impenetrable stare she was known for. “Yes, of course. All in due time. I’ll tell them we got some great results last night and we’re starting testing to determine its commercial viability. Don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up too high.”
“And then Rys will pop the champagne that should be here in about 15 minutes. Dammit Ava! This is a huge moment. Be excited. We’ve all earned it.” He laughed, but the exchange added to the growing anxiety in her gut. No time to think about it now.
Her grin came back, bigger. “Rys, I want you and Michael to work with me on ideas for commercialization. And bring in the new data scientist. Is it Rachel? She’s a neurology and music major right?”
“Among other things. Our resident Renaissance man. She knows the data sets regardless, and is creative in how she structures things. Great idea.” Michael stopped short. Ava didn’t react well to praise. She gave him her that’s my job look.
“We also need to alert the Board and let them know we expect to have a plan to present at the quarterly meeting next month. That will waste some of my time, but should get them off the fence about the next round of funding. Speaking of, where is Drew? Did he get the message about the meeting this morning?” The office activity had tripled in the half hour they were talking, but there was no sign of the COO.
“He got the message, but no response. He’ll be in by 8. It’s Drew. You can set your watch by him,” Michael answered.
“Rys, anything else before we enlighten the troops?”
“At some point we need to talk about the glass smashed against that wall. There was something really odd about the exchange. Even for Drew. What do you make of it?” It wasn’t analytical Rys asking, but his protective big brother side.
“It’s been bothering me under the surface as well. Drew is always in control of what he says. I’m concerned everyone has been working too much and the pressure is getting the better of us all.”
“That’s not what’s bothering you Ava. What he said and did was fucked up. He’s your guy, but that kind of stuff usually gets people fired.”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed. “I don’t want to make excuses for him, but he has been working a lot. I’ll discuss it with him after we’ve both had a chance to get some sleep and clearer heads prevail.”
“You’re the boss. If that’s where we’re leaving it, then we can relieve the suspense out there.” Rys jerked his head toward the door, his free hand still moving around the keyboard on his laptop.
“Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up, then it’s showtime!” She tried to put excitement back in her voice. Michael and Rys walked out while she downed her cold coffee and headed to the women’s locker room that joined her office to the company gym.
Pulling her waist long fire red hair into a knot and securing it with a hair band, she took stock of her appearance in the floor length mirror. Every one of her twenty nine years showed in the bags under her eyes. She blinked and saw her mother staring back at her the day she left with no idea of when she would return. Ava had just started kindergarten. The next time she saw her mother she was seven and frightened by the changes in the woman who looked like her mom, younger even, but with a far off gaze. Mom 2.0 taught her how to survive, taught her to think, and took her around the world. The carefree innocence was gone though. Ava got this mom for seven more years before she disappeared in the Amazon jungle with Ava’s father for good.
She stuck her tongue out at herself and crossed her eyes. Too much serious already for one day.
A two-minute cold shower in the capsule barely large enough to turn around in and change of clothes later, she felt more prepared to address the team.
“You got this Ava,” she told her reflection on the way out.