SepSceneWriMo #4.9 Dolittle

On a hot August morning in the center of the San Francisco Zoo, Marion Darby, her khaki shirt sweat-stained to look like camouflage, pulled her wagon loaded with computer equipment into the space between the jungle birds display and the simian cages, those sporting howler and spider monkeys.

“You need an umbrella or something, Ms. Darby?” Layton, her assistant, always eager to please, stood nervously twitching the keys in his pocket.

“Only if it’s convenient, Mr. Prichette.” They used last names in a sort of Royal Society’esque game of formality.

“I’ll see what services are available, ma’am.”

Marion watched him bob away, still fiddling his keys. She sighed. Layton just wasn’t her type. Sure, if she wanted a well trained puppy, a fetch me my coffee and would you quit staring at me, boyfriend. But deep in the night she admitted to herself, she favored the Lobos, the lone wolves who drifted in, dark, inscrutable, objects worthy of psychological analysis. They’d show up, she’d collect empirical evidence and they’d drift thankfully away, detached, stringless.

She shook away her daydreaming. Quit it, Marion, she said to herself. Today is not about them. Or her. Today is about the animals.

Marion got to work.

She’d start with the avians, situating her equipment such that a suite of microphones nestled amongst an embracing span of speakers all pointed at the aviary. Below the audio components, a bank of batteries sat beneath a plywood platform which powered the speakers and an array of mini-PCs networked into a kind of portable super-computer. Her connected laptop sat atop a waist-high platform constructed for the purpose.

A muffled crash snatched Marion’s attention away from her task. Around the corner, back toward the entrance to the reptile exhibit, Layton Prichette picked himself up from the walkway and hefted the cafe umbrella he’d dropped having stumbled over its draw cord. “Uh, sorry there, Ms. Darby.”

“Keep it down, Layton. We can’t be getting the subjects all riled up even before we’ve started.”

Layton stood up the umbrella to cover Marion and their equipment.

“Thanks, Layton. You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

Marion tapped a key that began a sequence of bird calls that their AI interpreter had fashioned from hundreds of hours of machine learning.

Immediately a green parrot fluttered from its perch and landed on a branch near them. It cocked its head from side to side. And squawked in a shrill, angry sound that startled both scientists.

“What the hell?” Layton physically jumped back at the noise.

“Yeah, not the reaction I was hoping for.” Marion tapped a few keys and hit enter.

A subtle reply came from the speakers which invoked another, less threatening response from the parrot.

“That’s better.” Marion crossed her arms, touching the wetness of her pits. “Oh jeeze, I’m sweating like a horse.”

“I don’t mind.”

Marion smirked. “Focus on the code, fanboi.”

On the screen, text began to scroll in a dark blue window.

The zookeeper, looking exhausted from the heat and the budget cuts, had welcomed the donation when the pair had first showed up. But had expressed, first suspicion and then flat out incredulity at their proposal.

“You think you can teach a machine to learn to talk to animals?”

“Well, no. We won’t be teaching it. It’ll teach itself, building a neural network, a model of what it, well, thinks is being communicated by your zoo creatures.”

The zookeeper shrugged and explained a few caveats and rules they’d need to abide by, to which they eagerly agreed. They’d start early the next morning, before all the patrons arrived.

The parrot had been joined by a macaw, the both of them trilling and burbling in parrot’ese, the AI equipment replying in turn.

On the screen the text flowed—the AI’s English interpretation of what was being said.

“That’s it?” Marion blurted, her finger poking at the laptop’s screen. “That’s all they’re saying?”

Other birds had joined the fray producing a cacophony of jungle bird calls, some piercingly loud, the whole while the AI responding in turn to each of them.

“I can’t believe that’s all they want to say.” Marion continued.

On the screen the AI’s prompts were met with one single reply from every species.

“Let me out.”


12 thoughts on “SepSceneWriMo #4.9 Dolittle

  1. Or… you could have cut word count that wasn’t doing anything and trying to build the B character and it would be like a short fuse to BAM. More of what matters, less straying into stuff there isn’t room for. The old “And Mr T has a friend who’s a flying horse” syndrome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sadly, this type of research in real life would be more like a horror story when you consider what animal research really looks like.

    And I’ll take a puppy dog at my beck and call who likes my wet armpit, any day of the week!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great riff. But holy smokes. Yeah, yeah, in a hurry… Hemingway said he could point out on the page when Fitzgerald started drinking…
    Good riff, highly suspect execution. Shifting tense all over the place and the protagonist being she and her in two linear sentences, omni in the next? The see spot run lines… Great riff, though

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I used to transcribe jokes and routines for a hypnotist/comedian and what people will put up with in conversation or performance vs what’s on a page? Our brain filters out all the porky pig budee budee budee nonsense. I think about transcribing interviews with various sorts just to see how what they say is assembled and then after the second Porky Pig I uh I uh I uh an then, then then the train I say fuck it and carve something intelligible but colloquial out of it and move on. And I’m not talking rednecks after a tornado, I’m talking billionaires and over paid athletes and police chiefs.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I recognize your growing adeptness at translation of local speak to readable/intelligible.
          Truth be told, this story, if it deserved to exist at all, deserved an expanded format. Cramming it together crippled the story.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Not about me, just about process. Otherwise I’d have started out “I did this really cool gig where I was the studly transcriptionist for a guy who knew a guy who worked for the Smothers Brothers. Or was it Erich Von Daniken? Anyway… “

            Liked by 1 person

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