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The Determined Instrumentalist

The dog’s tail wagged. Or so it had seemed. Lhalam wasn’t so sure now.

She held back the sim-treat.

The dog nuzzled her sandal.

Curious. Curious for both Lhalam and the dog.

She powered down the dog and it stretched down at her feet as if sleeping. She watched it for some time before entering data from the session. She then went outside the lab, to the terrace where she sat and vaped, reassured by the jiggle and tumble of colorful leaves on the hillside maples.

Autumn already. And she had a deadline. A deadline Lhalam was determined to meet. The lab wanted to ship her first dogs by the holidays. Not impossible. Very probable. But she kept thinking about the dog’s tail.

What was wagging what?

Lhalam knew her dogs were safe. They were machines. Like dishwashers. Like radios. Neutral artifacts. Instruments subservient to the user’s wishes.

So, why did an apparent wag of the dog’s tail bother her so much? The action was within parameters. Within the guardrails she and the programmers had established. A machine designed to mimic a living creature had to have a certain amount of variant behavior. Almost autonomous.

A stronger breeze rattled the maples and a few leaves chased each other up the hill. One dropped on Lhalam’s table. She picked it up. Twirled the stem in her fingers.

How much of her behavior was predetermined? Hardwired. Seasonal.

The breeze picked up and Lhalam noticed how quickly the sky had darkened. She vaped deeply watching the bad weather approach from the foothills. A storm hadn’t been on her radar. Why not?

Had it been on the dog’s? Is that why its tail might have wagged?

They were sensitive. Precisely tuned instruments.

But tuned to what really?

What Lhalam perceived? What Lhalam determined?

What was really in her control? In anyone’s?

She shivered when the temperature abruptly dropped. The sky cracked with thunder as the storm bore down on her. Determined, Lhalam waited for it.

Waited for her answer.

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