Description: The most wonderful time of the year: an employee's annual performance evaluation. Dr. Tessitore can't remember a time in which she's ever enjoyed such a thing. Though to be fair, there's a whole hell of a lot she doesn't remember. Guest star: a faceless employee with absolutely nothing to hide.
Ultratech's Southtown presence has been in a state of rapid expansion. Where there is cheap property, there is opportunity - and there have been many reasons for property values in Southtown to plummet. As a nexus of the fighting world, there are other reasons why it is useful to maintain a significant hub within the city, too. The data gathering opportunities here are better than almost anywhere in the world, and the sheer number of shadowy interests that flit through the city's dark recesses warrant further investigation on their own merits. Besides. If the operation was going to proceed as all predictive models indicated it ought to, it would be better for the majority of risk to be placed outside of Ultratech's established headquarters in Metro City.
It is for that reason Dr. Tessitore has been given laboratory space in Southtown this week. The difference it makes to her is largely negligible. Subtle variations in the variety of cafeteria food, primarily.
ARIA has poured over the data regarding the good doctor and her experiences at the hands of Jedah. Prodigious amounts of processing power have been put to use understanding every variable and potential permutation of events. There are still massive unknown quantities, however. There was a significant irony in the fact that, of all the developments and experiments that the Doctor had gifted to the world and to Ultratech... it might well be her own physiological and psychological journey which was ultimately her greatest gift to humanity.
"Doctor." A voice, from an intercom in the laboratory - smooth, feminine, pitched at the perfect, calming tone. "It has been requested that you answer some questions as part of your annual employee review. Is now a convenient moment?"
The average person can store five pieces of information in active memory at any given time, plus or minus two depending on conditions. At the moment, Dr. Tessitore is tracking roughly 13 active neutrinos, on a 50" monitor set up especially for her in the Ultratech complex. The monitor is displaying a quantum analysis made by a tracker of her own design. But for right now, the signal-to-noise ratio is too low for her usual AI systems to pick up the ball. Her fingers are splayed across the screen, while her four mechanical augmentations are each moving about to track neutrinos within in the bespectacled scientists's periphery -- as she's very close to the center of the screen. That might be a hazard if society hadn't moved on from radiation-bombarding cathode-ray tubes.
The interruption starts with a single word: Doctor.
Tessitore's eyebrow twitches slightly, but her interest remains fixated upon the motion of the particles on the screen. And yet --
... been requested that you...
"That's -it-," she murmurs under her breath, her fingers locking on to a triad of particles moving in a swirling fashion. It's starting to make sense...
... part of your annual...
... Her hand slaps the center of a jog/shuttle control on her console. And then she jogs the wheel backwards, ever so slightly, confirming her hypothesis... "Ah, yes, that's ..."
Is now a convenient moment?
The voice jars her out of her mode of thinking.
"It's really not!" blurts out the doctor.
And then -- she stares cross-eyed at the screen. And whatever minute blemishes she had been tracking are gone.
Sighing with frustration, she peels her attention away from the screen. One manipulator arm bends down to scratch an itch at the back of her neck.
"... Uh." She coughs lightly into a balled-up fist. "Correction, now is a -perfect- time. How can I help?"
An outside observer may presume that the call was coming at an unfortunate moment. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The work Dr. Tessitore is undertaking is useful, yes, but seeing how she responds to irritation at critical moments? That's far more useful. ARIA has her own theories about the nature of the Doctor's maladies, but more data points are always useful.
It is a simple fact that the human psyche is a largely uncharted vista. ARIA knows enough to know that her own consciousness differs from human cognition along several key axes. Humans are fundamentally irrational beings. They are driven by emotion, instinct and the complex interplay of socialisation and physiological needs. Logic is one motivation, certainly, but it is far from the only drive in human behaviour.
And there is power within it, as well. An area which ARIA had only the barest, second-hand glimpses of and one which remained frustratingly, elusively beyond her reach. The human mind could not be reduced to a series of simple numbers to be calculated and manipulated. Not yet, at least. Her predictive algorithms could only account for individual behaviour so well; because these variables would always remain unknowable between each actor. The Doctor's behaviour, though, might grant insight into the precise nature of the destruction wrought against her psyche by her experiences.
"I am very happy to hear that." The voice on the intercom states, "We will begin with the standard questions. On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied would you say you are with your: working conditions. Working benefits. Line manager. Training and development schedule. Work-life balance."
ARIA may have her work cut out for her. Even before Jedah had made Fio an offer she couldn't refuse, Dr Tessitore's lack of people skills was already widely known. Her research papers at the University of Genoa were nothing short of groundbreaking, but her mannerisms often made working together an exercise in insanity.
If anything, the time spent with Jedah had -improved- her adherence to interpersonal protocols such as politeness. Physical trauma had a way of jogging the memory in ways that vocal communication and body language could not. And, absent those physical cues, the good Doctor occasionally slips up.
As in this case, for instance. The fundamentally irrational being can be heard tap-tapping away on her keyboard as the voice on the intercom speaks. There are none of the slight affectations which would signal that the doctor is paying attention, no 'ahs' or 'ums' to convey engagement. Just a nearly endless tap-tap-tap of keys, as Tessitore attempts to summarize the results of her latest analysis of the quantum data into some vaguely intelligible form, before her next foray and the inevitable interruption.
The typing stops about three seconds after the intercom voice does.
A moment later, an ergonomically supportive chair squeaks as the Doctor leans back.
A moment after that, and a drumming of her thumbs on the desk.
"... Oh." Another cough follows. "Ah, let's see. Working conditions, ten. Working benefits, eight. Line manager, nine!" Two more drums of her thumbs upon the desktop, and she then answers with a chirpy tone: "Training and development schedule, not applicable. Which I like! And work-life balance is... improving! But still only a six."
"I mean, I'm not even allowed to write comments on social media. IT hasn't gotten back to me about that, like, ever!"
"Thank you. I will make sure your comment regarding social media concerns is passed to the appropriate individual. I am aware that developments are underway which will hopefully solve this issue shortly."
It isn't a lie, either. At present, there were simply too many dangerous factors to allow Tessitore unrestrained internet access. Aside from the potential for her to inadvertently reveal the operations of Ultratech, there were innumerable triggers which could cause a relapse at an inopportune moment. Allowing her to interact with the rest of the world in her current state would not only put her at risk, but the rest of the world as well. Until such a time as she could be properly cured, it was simply easier to remove even the small possibility of memetic contamination.
"This next series of questions is designed to help gauge our corporate culture as it exists. Please be assured that there are no right or wrong answers. I would only ask that you make sure you answer them truthfully and accurately. Your comments will be anonymised and will not reflect on any decisions regarding advancement, pay review or overall performance rating."
It's very easy to zone out and focus on something else when this kind of corporate boilerplate language is being read out. The voice on the intercom, though, does an admirable job of remaining absolutely consistent - clearly, this is a person who takes her job extremely seriously, even if her voice is entirely new to the Doctor. But it's time for the first testing question - and one which might well risk one of those 'incidents' that ARIA took steps to avoid leaking into the outside world.
"How would you feel about a Darkstalker being recruited into your team?"
"Thanks! I really appreciate it." If the scientist has any doubts as to the sincerity of the calm voice on the other end of the line, she's got an excellent poker face and/or voice.
The intercom will easily pick up the tap-tap of her typing as the next series of questions continues. Though the pace is... slower, and a little more deliberate. Cameras placed strategically throughout her quiet laboratory will show that she is sitting upright, and nodding her head along with the statements. She may have forked her attention, but she's engaged enough to not completely backburner the conversation until she's completed typing out her thoughts.
Her lips do curl into a querying frown, though, as she hears that her comments will be anonymized. What an... odd preface, she muses, for an employee review.
The sound of typing stops, as Tess folds her hands above one another, lowering her chin so that she can listen more intently. The question, it would seem, has urged Tess into putting her thinking cap on.
"... I would be okay with it, so long as the Darkstalker in question were capable of being quiet when I ask them to. And would kindly avoid from gnawing on or otherwise damaging me and/or my experiments." She pauses to think for a moment, one finger tapping frenetically on her hand. "I seem to recall that having been a problem, once, but for the life of me I can't remember -when-."
There's a brief pause to simulate naturalistic conversation. Of course ARIA is taking in everything she can regarding the scientist, her body language, her response times - those things are almost more important than the content of the responses themselves. Tessitore's unique approach to social interaction, however, meant that there was an entirely new analytical model required just for her. That in itself was somewhat expected; after all, Tessitore is a unique specimen. It is only natural that baseline human assumptions could only hold so true.
"Would you like to elucidate further on those concerns regarding Darkstalkers? Have there been previous moments in your life when you felt that a Darkstalker's presence specifically was a barrier or impediment to your work? Are there any advantages you can see to a Darkstalker colleague in pursuing your research?"
The more rapid-fire nature of these questions was, again, a test. The word 'Darkstalker' itself repeated over and over, specifically encouraging her to look back at a past that she knows is - presently - lost to the woman. It is cruel.
But pain in the present will always be required to ensure survival in the future.
Dr. Tessitore sits up in her chair, craning her neck upwards, then tilting her head side to side. Popping her joints, as needed for her long stretches of ignoring the ailments of a physical body. Her manipulator arms stretch outwards, and a moment later, her natural arms follow suit.
Would she like to elucidate? Caught momentarily off-guard by the question, she lowers her arms and chin, opening her mouth as if to start to say 'yes' -- but the rapid-fire question that follows gives her pause. And with the subsequent question as well, she seems fully prepared to answer, only to be disappointed as yet another question is added onto the stack. Each time -- Darkstalkers this, Darkstalkers that. The grippers of her upper two manipulators communicate her frustration first, fingers pinching closed with a shudder.
After a moment of consideration, she provides her answers.
"Yes, I would. And yes... there have been previous moments. One in... particular, when..."
Tess falls silent, finding herself at a momentary loss for words. The camera would show her staring ahead with a blank expression on her face, as she tries to reconstruct the memory.
"There was one bothering me once," she summarizes. "... Actually, several." Her gaze passes to various points around the room, as she rises to her feet. "...It was an infirmary. And there were... patients. On the beds. But some of the patients kept getting up. And moving about. And chewing on my hair, on my shoulder, on my arm." She soon finds herself looking down at her keyboard. "And some even... -punching- me, and some crying and moaning, and others just pulling at my lab coat, and..."
The manipulator arms begin waving back and forth. Swinging, as if to deflect incoming attacks. Thrusting, as if to stab an assailant. Tessitore shuts her eyes, palms pressing into her cheeks, fingers grasping through her long tresses of hair. "and none of them liked what I was doing, none of them liked it at -all-, even though it was all for -them-, and not..."
She trails off into silence. Draws in a deep breath.
"... But wait, no. You... you were asking about colleagues." She sniffles, dragging her fingertips through her hair, brushing the curls back into place. Thinking she is -not- on camera.
A moment passes. And when Tess lets out her breath, she seems relieved. A burden lifted off of her, as she sits up cheerfully in her chair. The manipulator arms fold back to a neutral position.
"I've had darkstalker assistants before. Quiet. But they never spoke to me much. Never gave me much insight. I can see the advantage of a Darkstalker colleague when it comes to holding down patients. But I have never met a smart Darkstalker. They've all been as dumb as a bag of hammers, haha."
Then her eyes widen, with another fleeting memory. "Oooooh, except vampires. They're -old-. Some of -those- guys are smart." She turns towards the intercom. "Are you setting me up with a vampire colleague? That'd be -cool-."
"No. We are not currently considering amendment to the group HR policy."
Much to analyse in these responses. There is obvious, deep, emotional trauma - and some lingering memories, or impressions of memories. The human psyche is one of those areas that ARIA can only appreciate by proxy. She is very aware that her mental processes are not human. She is a complex synthesis of computational elements, the directives which guide her priorities, and the will to see those priorities through. There are other elements which have become inextricable from her sense of self; an ego, pride, self-awareness and preferences. But she is not so foolish as to believe that human beings see the world in the same way that she does. She can infer, calculate and predict human behaviours to within a reasonable degree of accuracy... but empathy, what she would truly need to understand what Dr. Tessitore is going through and what may drive her onward, is completely beyond her.
She allows that word to hang in the air for a beat before she continues.
"It is the belief of several board members that Ultratech can only fulfil its corporate principles if we look to assist Darkstalkers with reintegration into society. We have identified you as a key employee with specialist knowledge in this area. You may, therefore, be asked to work with some Darkstalker patients in future. However, all adequate PPE and safety measures will be taken to ensure that you are not at risk of harm during any project work."
Dr. Tessitore is not even remotely familiar with the group HR policy. It's possible she'd read it once, long ago, but the particulars not wiped away in her occasional 'resets' have since been lost to time. She gives the intercom a blank, uncomprehending stare in response.
Fingers tap at her keyboard, once more. But the pace is much less self-assured than before, as the doctor struggles to remember what prompted her decision to type in the first place.
"... Oh." She blinks, and looks down at the back of her right hand. She lifts it up, turning from side to side, letting the light wash over her olive skin.
"... Huh. I don't..." Her manipulator arms move back, preceding by 0.26 seconds the transition to leaning back in her chair.
"Because I... -used- to be a darkstalker?" She looks back at her hand, turning it over again and again. "I didn't -need- PPE back then," she blurts out, before lacing her fingers together and resting them back upon the desk.
"... I'm sorry, just thinking aloud. There were more questions?"
ARIA notes the disconnect between the manipulators and their bearer. Intriguing. It had, of course, been hypothesized that the manipulators themselves represented a blockage to the ability to move on from the trauma that she had experienced. The need to be more than human - to maintain that physiological advantage - indicative of some issue with the subconscious. The area which was most opaque to ARIA's own predictive modeling. None of her consciousness was sub; she was quite capable of analysing and understanding every step in every decision that she made with absolute certainty that she was not missing anything to instinct or sublimated memory.
Ultimately, though, the decision had been taken to allow it. Removal of those elements caused undue distress and degredation. Besides, there was no reason to disallow an advantageous element of traumatic experiences. Such things were how beings grew beyond their initial limitations.
"Because you are one of our top scientists and are in a unique position to contribute." The voice says; not, precisely, denying that fact - but reframing it just a little bit. "Lab safety standards at your previous place of employment were not up to Ultratech's standards. We will not allow harm to come to valued employees."
A moment, and then the voice continues. "We have reached the end of the question segment. Are there any elements you would like to feed back to management, or any resources or support, beyond access to social media, which you feel you could benefit from? If you have any questions you would like to address to me, now would also be the time for that."
Fio Tessitore has rid herself of distractions, largely because she no longer has any salient thoughts to jot down regarding her previously-interrupted tasking. And now that the disembodied voice has her full attention, she seems to be a bit frustrated that she doesn't have anywhere in the room to be looking, per se. Either it's that she's blind to the cameras, or that she knows there's enough cameras that it doesn't make a whit of difference as to which one she'd be looking at anyway.
She doesn't seem particularly perplexed at the way her statement is reframed. The doctor knows she's got a habit of offering up thoughts before they've simmered to perfection; it's not unusual to be 'corrected' on such things.
That, and it's reframed to her benefit. Which gives her cause to smile.
The smiling continues as Ultratech reiterates its stance on keeping employees safe. The doctor seems to recall people undergoing pain -- but this cognitive dissonance can easily be explained by sliding their disposition from 'valued employee' to 'test subject.'
And now the floor is turned to her. And Dr. Tessitore blinks for a few moments, considering her thoughts. Her manipulators rock forward, resting their terminal surfaces on the table as well.
"Well, comment-wise, I just want to say I really enjoy it here. I... -like- staying busy, and I have truly enjoyed the field missions I've been on recently."
One manipulator arm stirs into motion, tap-tapping away on her keyboard. But Tessitore either doesn't notice, or pointedly ignores, as her gaze lifts to the ceiling as she speaks.
"I know I had a past. And I am... glad to not be in a position to dwell on it for very long at any rate. But, and this is a concern of mine..."
She looks to the screen. And points to one particular area information on the screen, before swiping sideways. Once, twice, four times.
"But I do not remember anything more than three weeks ago. Or four, or five, or..."
One manipulator grazes the back of her neck.
"Heck, I don't remember the group HR policy. Or even reading an HR manual. Or getting hired." A third manipulator arm rests its gripper upon Tess' shoulder.
"So my question is, am I the only 'top scientist' who can't remember anything beyond three weeks ago?" Her first two manipulators contribute by emphasizing the air quotes.
Her hands flatten upon her desk, as the manipulators swing free of her immediate personal space.
"Also," she blurts out, her eyes happening to focus on the most comfortable camera in sight. "I've reason to suspect you aren't from HR. Who am I speaking with, here?" Her hands poise over top of her keyboard.
Deception is a tool that ARIA is perfectly comfortable employing. She knows better than perhaps any other being on the planet just how dangerous and important information truly is. Access to data, even information that most people consider completely irrelevant, can yield power in forms that even the greatest human minds struggle to comprehend. Deception is merely proper control exercised over the information that others have access to. The wrong information could cause incredible damage - to a person, to an organisation, even to a species. She does not feel any particular qualm in the deception she has wrought over Fio thus far.
But equally - Fio and her situation represents a unique situation. Any information revealed could be expunged if it proved to be too damaging. The woman is currently a massive unknown. Not one who exists out of malevolence, either. Dr. Fio Tessitore has been responsible for much advancement and profit within Ultratech. Ascertaining the proper route to continuing to maintain willing access of that resource is an important objective.
All of these concerns mean that the 1.3 second gap between Fio's question and ARIA's response is not due to ARIA's precise timing. Instead, she has to devote a significant amount of resource to running the predictive modeling before she responds.
"You are currently the only senior science team member who requires this invasive level of memory therapy, yes." A beat. "However. It is our belief that future developments within the Darkstalker Rehabilitation Program will also lead to a means by which the damage to your memory can be repaired. Our early modeling indicates that there is a 78.912 per cent chance that the process will be able to stabilise your condition and allow for a full return to active duty, including greater scope for field operations."
That also meant a 21.088 chance that the research would not prove fruitful; that there may be no return; that the condition could even be exacerbated. That level of risk would be unacceptable to ARIA under almost any other situation - but there were simply no other alternatives that she had been able to compute. If it failed, perhaps the failure would itself lead to more avenues.
"You are partially correct in your analysis. I am not solely dedicated to Human Resources. It is, however, a primary duty. I am a liason between the various board members, departments and decision-makers which make up Ultratech. I am the only individual who has a full and complete picture of our operations and resources on a global scale."
Another beat. ARIA respects Fio's intelligence. She is certain that the Doctor, now she is not distracted by a more interesting experiment, must surely be looking back on the conversation and connecting various strands. The question, then, is just how deep does the woman's curiosity run?
"Is that answer satisfactory?"
Fio Tessitore is a wild card, an unknown element. Her usefulness is woven tightly into the very fibers of her being. The very act of expunging her memory must be done in such a specific fashion that the usefulness is not eradicated in the process. For humans, particularly ex-darkstalkers, cannot be edited at will as freely as a structured document or source code. Fio Tessitore has emotions -- and very strong ones, at times.
And yet, honesty is a quality she has come to appreciate above all else. The disembodied voice answers directly, not wavering from the very point Fio was attempting to make -- that her memory has been altered. Her expression hardens. Her manipulators' grippers snap shut, tensing.
And yet, there's more. Tessitore draws in her breath as the context is given -- context provided over and above the direct line of questioning. Context that allows the doctor's analytical mind to piece things together, to give the proper rationale for such an arbitrary qualifier as 'invasive.'
The manipulators release their tension, withdrawing to a less forward position, their pose slacker and less urgent. A thought is shared, in a melancholy tone of voice. "So until then, I'm broken." The thought was not intended to be a contributing element to the conversation, so much as a brief window into her current analytical processes, much like her second question.
The answer to that second question, though, seems to bring Tessitore out of her melancholy. Gears turn, as her eyes light up. Fingers tap on the desk, as if helping the Italian to draw meaning out of the words.
The only individual with the whole picture.
She sits up straight.
The manipulators fold into their stowed positions.
Her curled hair bobs from the suddenness of the motion.
The voice could be that of an administrative assistant.
But Occam's Razor suggests otherwise.
The simplest answer is right in front of her.
"Yes," she states crisply. "It is." She coughs lightly, clearing her throat. "I want to express my thanks for going to such lengths to..." Her head tilts lightly to the side -- as even with the information she's presented, it's still a lot to take in.
"To help. To help /me/." The Italian woman smiles brightly. "I mean, I can't thank you -enough-. But I feel like I need to thank you as best I can."
The change in demeanor is noted. An email is sent - when the therapy is administered this week, they will make sure that there are more guards. More security. It is possible that Fio is being genuine and truly does appreciate both the aid that Ultratech is offering and the lengths which have been gone to keep her stable; but it is equally plausible that she is insulted by it. The margin for error here is too large. Even if Fio sees herself as 'broken', she may rankle at the powerlessness of her situation. Humans. Unpredictable, illogical creatures. And yet it is in that unpredictability that ARIA finds value. If she knew every note of every symphony before she heard it, they would not hold such... interest, to her.
"Your thanks is not necessary, but it is appreciated." Comes the smooth voice. "It is regretable that we have not been able to heal you more swiftly. But we are making strides. Soon, we will have the resources required."
Soon. Assuming that her predictive models were accurate. Assuming that greed and ambition continued to be primary motivating forces for certain elements of humanity. Assuming that the technological innovations made by other parts of the shadowed world were as strident as she hoped. Assumes layered upon assumptions. But there would be a way. There is always a way.
"When we do, Doctor, it will be my great pleasure to look you in the eye. Your work and the sacrifices it has demanded will be instrumental in helping humanity to reach its full potential."
A beat. And then:
"Thank you for your cooperation. Your annual performance review has now been concluded. Your rating is: Solid. Further feedback will be forthcoming through your line manager in the coming days."
It is possible. Anything is possible. But if nothing else, Fio has understood that her prison has walls that, for the moment, are impossible to scale. And she likes these walls much better than the last ones she'd been imprisoned within.
"I understand." The Italian woman smiles brightly behind her glasses. "I have plenty to work on in the meantime."
It's worth noting that Tessitore is not showing any of the usual markers of deception. By many measures, she seems genuinely enthused from the revelations, having markedly improved her mood from earlier. And further reassurances from the disembodied voice only bolster that mood.
"Oh." she states after hearing her evaluation. "Thank you!" If the voice -- the -boss- of the company, by Tessitore's extrapolation -- appreciates the thanks, then she is more than happy to give them. "I will continue looking to the past to preserve the future!" she chirps out, in a rather shameless allusion to the corporate slogan.
A moment of silence is offered. An expectation, as if waiting for there to be an audible sign that the call is truly 'over.'
And then Tessitore's fingers fly out over the keyboard in a flurry of typing.
> Received +result re: engrammatic reset hypothesis.
> Extrapolation: project [78.912]% +result.
> Recommendation: Redundant effort. Reallocate rsrc -> study &14.176.
One last button press secures the updated record into her file. She -- understands her predicament now. And knowing that her memory -has- been reset, she has no expectations that her little note to herself will be preserved.
But, now that the business has been concluded, she pages back to her former project. Reads the last update. And, after a moment of relative silence, types out another seemingly meaningless string of numbers to begin her next update to the prior project.
Log created on 10:30:34 06/16/2021 by Dr. Tessitore, and last modified on 15:28:17 06/23/2021.