We took our seats: Lizzy at my side and Peter immediately behind us in the audience. Dean Tucker and his panel entered the room, ushering in a silence as they took their seats. The Dean glanced around the room to make sure everything was in order, and then he began.
"Ladies and gentlemen, before we recommence, I would like to remind all concerned that the purpose of this enquiry is to determine the sentiency of Elizabeth Buffalo-Targo, nothing more. The reason I feel I should stress that point is that I understand that tensions are high, that people's reputations and careers may rest upon these findings, but this isn't about those people. This isn't a hearing and no one is on trial here. This is about Elizabeth Buffalo-Targo. Is that understood?"
He waited for both Firth and I to acknowledge that point.
"Then, Mr Firth, perhaps you would like to begin."
Steven Firth stood up, tugging at the tails of his jacket to straighten it and cleared his throat.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began. "I am a man. I have feelings which define me. I have loves and dislikes. I feel happiness and sadness. I experience comfort and pain. These are the things that help to define my sentiency. Even a Vulcan, whose emotions are so closely checked, experiences these things and thus is sentient, but we are not here to talk about Vulcans or Terrans. We are here to consider an android—one I fabricated from the same materials we build everyday objects from: replicators, computers, buildings and household furniture; a unit developed under the project name of Alpha B-9.
"Alpha B-9 is, most definitely, an exceptional android. It looks and behaves like a human being because that is how it is designed to be. It absorbs information from those around it and mimics human responses, and it does it so successfully that it is understandable that Ms Terran has mistaken this machine's responses as being human, but it is not human and it is not sentient. It is a machine that mimics sentiency."
At this point he approached Lizzy. She shrank away from him a little, possibly remembering the last time she was near him, when he deactivated her.
"How old are you, Alpha-B9?" he asked.
Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip nervously before she answered.
"Sixteen. Sixteen what? Years?" Firth asked.
"With respect," I spoke softly but firmly, eager to keep my cool. "Her age is irrelevant. We have recently learned of a race called the Ocampa whose lifespan is just nine years. An Ocampan child reaches maturity in less than two years."
"And on that basis, at sixteen months old, Elizabeth would be less about twelve years old—not even a teenager."
"The point remains that her age is irrelevant as a measure of her sentiency."
"But does go to show that her development is not natural in terms of humanity."
"But we are not proving her humanity, only her sentience. Lt Commander Data is not human. He is a recognised sentient being and was admitted to the Academy at just eight years of age."
"Precisely, Lt Commander Data was eight years of age, Elizabeth Buffalo is barely more than a year old."
A loud tut echoed across the room. It was the Dean to whom all eyes turned. He rubbed his temple and sighed.
"People, we have established that Elizabeth is very mature for her age, so unless there is a further point to this line of questioning, can we move on, Mr Firth?"
Firth dipped his head subserviently before turning his attention back to Lizzy.
"What is your specification?" he enquired with unnerving politeness.
Lizzy's eyes narrowed. She didn't like the question and I could sense that her spirit was returning. One side of her mouth lifted audaciously.
"Thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-four," she replied, pushing out her chest a little.
Stifled laughter rippled through the audience, but the glare Steven threw her was vile, but that's when I realised it.
It wouldn't have mattered if she was a being made of flesh and blood like the rest of us. Firth simply loathed Lizzy. He despised her, not for being an android, but in spite of it. He hated her as a person—and she hated him back. Since the dawn of her creation, the moment of her activation, they had sparred against each other. He had tried to inflict discipline upon her and she had fought back like a reckless adolescent with bad behaviour. She skipped lessons, didn't tidy her room and was out until all hours of the morning clubbing it, well, singing in nightclubs at least. And now the sparring was beginning again.
"State your physical composition," Firth demanded coolly.
Lizzy glanced towards me. I nodded and mouthed the words humour him. She looked at me, pursing her lips hard in reluctance, so I gave a discrete wink to encourage her further.
"Tripolymer composites, molybdenum-cobalt alloys, bioplast sheeting, polyalloy, cortenide and duranium among other things."
"Storage capacity and processing speeds?"
"Four hundred quadrillion bits with a total linear computational speed rated at twenty-one trillion."
He was trying to de-humanise her again, by making her just a bunch of numbers, but weren't we all just a list of statistics? I raised a hand, extending my finger into the air. Firth glared at me and the Dean chortled.
"This isn't school," quipped the Dean. "You don't have to put your hand up."
"I know, but could I also ask a question of Lizzy please?
He looked taken aback.
"It is unusual at this stage, but if Mr Firth has no objection?"
Firth, caught slightly off-guard and feeling he had no grounds to object, shrugged so I continued.
"Lizzy, could you tell me the composition of the human body please?
"Predominantly oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus but also very small quantities of potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium."
"And what about storage capacity and speed?"
"The average Human has a storage capacity of about two petabytes. As to speed, you really can't use the same measuring devices—"
"Because your neural net is not Human," interrupted Firth triumphantly.
"No, it's not, but if you must make a comparison, the Human brain has a processing speed of about one kilohertz per neuron, but there are one hundred billion neurons in the brain. Depending upon how many of them are firing at any given moment in time—"
"So you agree that you can't compare an android to a living, flesh and blood being!" continued Firth.
"Not in that respect, no, but nor can you compare a Human to a Sheliak either, or to the Binars. The way their central processing systems are made and operate are very different indeed to that of a Human."
Nice response Lizzy, I thought.
Firth changed tactic and focused upon me.
"Ms Terran, you have compared Alpha-B9 to Data, but it is a much lower specification than Lt Commander Data. Is that not correct?"
He waited for me to agree and as I had studied Lt Commander Data's specification, I knew he was right, so I had to agree.
"So Alpha-B9 and Lt Commander Data are two entirely different things," he continued.
Again, I had to agree.
"So the fact that Data is sentient is irrelevant when it comes to Alpha-B9, which has a much lower specification. Would you not concur?"
I had no choice but to agree.
Round one to Firth.
"But sentiency is not connected to intelligence," I argued in vain. "Neolithic man wasn't intelligent by our standards, but was sentient. Similarly, while Lizzy might be Neolithic when compared to Data, she is still sentient. All you can prove is that she is an android, and that is not in dispute."
"But we have established that any comparisons to Lt Commander Data are irrelevant. Yes?"
Damn him, he was really pushing the point.
"It is an inferior machine," he continued.
"A machine that has emotions. She feels love and fear and hatred, just as you do."
"No, no," he shook his head like a teacher correcting a small child. "It doesn't. It merely mimics those emotions just as it has been programmed to do. It is a machine and like any machine, it does not feel, just as it does not age as we do. It can be dismantled. I can replace all of its components with spare parts and its specification will not change. It will be the same machine."
"But will she?" I asked. "Will she have the same characteristics that she has now? Will she be as defiant? Was that not part of your quandary?"
"I'm sorry!" exclaimed Firth, turning sharply to look at me, shocked at my query because, of course, he had no idea that I had overheard his conversation with his assistant. He hadn't known that I was under the desk at the time.
"Did you not intend to transfer the data from Lizzy's positronic data storage unit into a backup unit this week? To then wipe Lizzy's brain clean and do a full restore?"
His lips parted slightly as though to say something, but words failed him.
"Was not part of the object of that exercise, to see if, after the restoration, she would have the same characteristics as before the wipe? Did you not say to your assistant that if Alpha-B9 ended up as nothing more than a standard IT unit, you would be back to where you were before you animated it? Does that not suggest that you acknowledge the possibility that she might be more than just a standard IT unit?"
He did not answer the question. He would prefer to change the subject again, so he did. "She is a machine," and from his desk, he picked up a small tricorder unit. "One I can deactivate at the touch of a button," and his finger flipped the lid open.
Horror filled me. He was about to deactivate her again!
Would that be permanent?
I couldn't let him do it! I had to stop him!
In an instant, I had reached inside my bag, pulled out my phaser and aimed it at his head.
"As I can you!" I spat. "You touch that thing and I swear, I'll drop you where you stand."
Bang, bang, bang. The gavel came down.
"Enough!" shouted Dean Tucker. "Both of you, put your weapons DOWN!"
"It's not a weapon," protested Firth.
"On the basis that it has the same potential to incapacitate Mrs Targo as a phaser does you, it is a weapon and you will put it down NOW!"
Reluctantly, Firth closed the lid on his tricorder and placed it on the desk, pushing it to the far corner. I lowered my phaser too. Within seconds, security had swept the tricorder up and snatched the phaser from my hand.
Eager to move the debate along, the Dean prompted Firth to continue.
"The point I am making is that I can replace all of the android's components very easily and without pain. I could disconnect all of its limbs one by one and cause it no harm or discomfort."
I responded, "Mr Firth, good men and women come back from battles having lost limbs, and while those losses were painful, the limbs that they have been replaced with—cybernetic ones—they too can be disconnected from the person's body without inflicting pain. The fact that Lizzy doesn't feel physical pain is therefore not an issue."
The Dean tugged on his ear.
"Ms Terran has made a valid point, so perhaps we should be concentrating on Mrs Targo's emotional structure rather than her physical one."
"But the android has no emotions, " stressed Firth. "It only mimics them."
And that was the problem. How was I going to prove that Lizzy's feelings were real and not just a programmed response?