White stared at the machine. It was a jumble of mismatched parts, snaking coils and reams of wires linking more microprocessors than an average school had access to. Several mobile phones were attached to the central unit, for the most part with their cases cracked open as if some alien virus was feeding from them. A keyboard and monitor were connected to the rear of the lumbering monstrosity and a loudspeaker was perched casually on top, two webcams attached with duct tape to each top corner like a ragged Mickey Mouse face.
Sergeant Peters laughed. “You're having us on. You can't have sentience in a computer. It'll be a programmed set of responses. Type something in and it'll parrot it back to you. They had a program that did that at college. You'd type in how lonely you were and it's psychoanalyse why you didn't just go to the pub and get hammered.”
“I wish it were.” Professor Shadwell turned away from the machine. “Even switched off it gives me the willies. I keep thinking it's watching me and making notes. That's why I keep it under a sheet.”
“I thought that would be to keep the dust off.” White bent to stare into the lenses of the webcams as if he could look into the soul of the machine. “Mind you, I can see your point. I don't even like the system they installed at the station. I sometimes think that's watching me, too. Helen from admin told me it remembers everything you type in.”
Shadwell waved a hand, as if the information was an annoying fly he wanted to be rid of. “That's just a key logger so the can check you're not looking up porn from your desk.” He turned back to the machine and shuddered. “This is the real thing.”