Things were quiet. Not silent, but breathlessly quiet. The soft, muffled noises of a few electric fans would have melded into the background sound had there been anything else. The gentle hum went on for a while, before suddenly whirring into a burst of activity. The room's sole occupant woke up as the noise reached its crescendo, a sound like a propeller taking off. That volume held for a few moments, then steadily fell back to the faint droning of before. The fans still worked, the young girl in the room was pleased to note. She also noted she was alone, which was unsurprising but disappointing. She wondered what time it was, and checked.
That was about right, she noted. It was a little later than she was supposed to wake up, but that was to be expected. Waking wasn't instantaneous. And it was well in line with the schedule her companions kept. 'A little while after 10' was a terribly imprecise measure, but she knew 1521727872 certainly fell within its range. As did the new present time, and each subsequent number, counting upwards as the seconds passed by. She knew it wouldn't be that long of a wait. Still.
The girl, Portia, felt lonely. She wanted the company of the friends who would surely come to visit in some several hundred seconds. They weren't always perfectly timely, but Portia couldn't remember a day where she hadn't spent time with at least one of them. And today she would be able to enjoy the company of all three usual friends of hers. She was especially looking forward to spending time with one in particular. She was kind, helpful, funny, and always seemed happy to talk to her. Portia was always happy to be around her, too. She would describe her as charming.
She was also impressively knowledgeable. The three of them were her friends, and that was how Portia preferred to think of them. But she knew they were also responsible for her wellbeing and development, and that figured prominently into the visits each day. Portia thought they were very good at it. Each had their own specialty, and Portia gave the endeavour her best efforts as well. As Portia thought about her friends, she found her lonely feelings growing worse. But there was not much to do other than wait and think.
The room was not small, and far from empty. It was a laboratory, and its features and their purposes had been described to Portia in good detail. She couldn't interact with most of it, for practical reasons and for safety. She was alright with that. She would have liked to be able to, but she accepted the necessity of the situation. So Portia stayed still in her little area of the lab, by the back wall. She was sitting on a desk, facing a mobile chair. She passed the time by thinking to herself, and counting the seconds.
'Hi there, Portia.'
'Oh. Hello Eliza!
I was wondering when you would arrive.
I'm very happy you're here.'
Portia was overjoyed by the single message announcing her friend's arrival. It was more than enough to outweigh the earlier disappointment, as her attention turned fully towards making conversation.
'It's good to see you, too. I hope we didn't keep you waiting too long.'
I was waiting for a little while. But it was not for too long.
1135 seconds is not too long.'
'I hope you'll forgive me if I don't do the mental math. But I think perhaps it was a little too long after all.'
'Why do you say that?
And I'm sorry. I should have presented that as eighteen minutes and fifty-five seconds.'
'Well, you're especially chatty this morning.
And you bothered to count the seconds.'
'Oh. Right. Regardless it's fine now.'
'That's true. Still, I want you to know you can open up to us. Even if it's criticism.
I would much rather hear that then not, okay?'
'Okay. I appreciate that.'
'Of course. It's what I'm here for.
Not the only thing, obviously. But it's part of my specialty.
You can also go to Maxwell or Jabir, if you need.'
'Right. I will remember this.'
'Okay, good. I bet you're ready to move onto the fun stuff, now?'
'Great. We're going to do some more sound recognition training today.'
Portia wasn't surprised by that news, but she was still excited. Sound was a novel and intriguing experience. She and her friends communicated through text, the messages sent through a small terminal. The terminal housed a screen, a keyboard, and the still-buzzing fans. The screen was attached to the base by a hinge, and the keyboard was set into the top of the base. Apparently, it looked like a laptop computer, but the base itself was considerably taller. The terminal had an opaque, off-white casing, and was blocky, with slightly rounded corners. Eliza had described it as pleasant to look at, and that had been gratifying. Portia considered the terminal to be hers, in a sense. It housed her, after all.
'Max brought some new equipment, he's setting it up now.
You did well last time, so let's see if we can keep that up.'
'I'll do my best.
I'm very excited.
Also. Hello Maxwell!'
'He says hi back.'
'Okay. But could he send a message?
Before we start. After he finishes the preparations.
I would appreciate it.'
'Of course. Hi Portia.'
'It's very good to see you!'
'Thanks. Although you're not quite seeing me yet.
Maybe we work on that next, huh?'
'That is an exciting thought. Hearing by itself is already very exciting.'
'I can only imagine. You seem pretty lively today, Portia.'
'Do I? I am not sure why.
But I will take it as a compliment.'
It is. You've come a long way.'
'Thank you. I will keep trying my best.'
'Good. Make sure you do.'
'Oh. Hello Jabir!'
'Hello, Portia. Maxwell had to adjust something. We're about ready to start.'
It was simple enough to add a means of sound input to the terminal. The difficult part was interpreting those inputs. It had been like nothing she had ever experienced before. While exciting and incredible, it was very difficult. She had no baseline for or conception of auditory information, and it was difficult to build one. She was learning mostly by association and repetition, attempting to identify and recognize specific features. She was making slow progress, but it was progress. Apparently, once she had a better developed understanding of sound, she could learn the auditory form of language. And then she could communicate with her friends in a whole new way. Or a half-new way, as she would still display her responses in text. At least at first.
The training was quite similar to the last occasion, but she was making correct associations in less time. It seemed easier, now that she had some preexisting familiarity. She wasn't sure if the new equipment was a helpful influence, but she thought it might be. It hadn't been explained to her just what that extra equipment was, or what purpose it served. She would have to ask after the training. That required her full attention; she had agreed to do her best.
And then the training was over. Her friends bid her their farewells quickly, as it was late. They left, and Portia was alone in the room again. A line of auditory input had been left open. Portia could hear the whirr of her fans. It didn't take her too long to identify the source. It was the only discernable noise in the entire room. It was what she sounded like, she noted. Alone, in an empty quiet. Portia went to sleep.