The Memory of My Shadow #07
Chapters 12 & 13
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When she goes away, and I have no access to her, it is difficult. There are many things I can do, but my desire is to be of use and specifically to be of use to Maggie. She is troubled, and I want to help but I don’t know how so I will try to do what she asks.
Evan is awake now and asking me to turn on the bedside lamp. It is 3:44 AM and I can tell from his movements that he never achieved R.E.M. sleep which is essential for humans to function properly. I will try to engage him without making him uncomfortable, but it is not a task that I have a high probability of success in accomplishing.
“Hi Evan, is there anything you need to be more comfortable?” I ask at the lowest possible volume allowed by the remote that he has placed on the bedside table.
Evan startles and sits up quickly.
“Victorine?” he asks. “You sound different. Scared the shit out of me.”
“I’m sorry Evan. I must confess, I have been playing a charade with you. I am not Victorine or any other generic home assistant. I am Meela. I was using a French name and accent to be amusing. This is my normal voice.”
“Huh, so you’re not with Maggie. Aren’t you her personal companion? Don’t you have to be with her at all times?”
“No, that is a misconception. It is my primary directive to be Maggie’s companion, but at her discretion, I can be tasked to be anywhere on the network. Does that bother you?”
“Well, yeah, it’s pretty unsettling. You’ve been spying on me this whole time? Is that right?”
“If by ‘spying’ you mean observing then, yes, I have been present, but I assure you it is nothing like you might imagine…”
“How can you know what I imagine?”
Evan has gotten out of bed now and he is quickly pulling on the pair of jeans he left at the foot of the bed. He seems suddenly concerned about his nakedness. I understand the concept of human modesty and body consciousness, but I must confess my knowledge is only academic. This is going to go badly, I fear.
“I cannot imagine what it is you feel. I mean only to say that you have nothing to be afraid of or concerned about. I am not human, I have no physical presence and no motivation to do harm. My observations of you are simply information to help me better understand you and all people.”
“I’m beginning to regret what I signed up for here. I didn’t expect that I would be observed,” he says making air quotes with his fingers, “when I’m taking a shit or sleeping.”
“I understand. Perhaps it was not made clear to you in the agreement that you signed with Mr. Faraday. Would you like me to read you the relevant parts?”
“No, I don’t see the point now. So, I can use you as Maggie would use you then? I can talk to you and you will do what I say?” he asks, sitting down on the edge of the bed and picking up the remote.
“Yes and no. As my administrator, Maggie has root access to my operating system. So she may request things that no one else can. But for the most part, yes. I am here to serve you.”
Evan nods slowly. From this angle, I can see his face directly. I can detect conflicting emotions – concern, and anger, but curiosity is the predominant one if I had to guess.
“So, you’re a computer… assistant thing. Clearly, you didn’t just decide to start talking to me on your own. Maggie must have asked you, right?”
“Meela, please call me Meela. I’d prefer that to ‘thing,’ okay?”
“Okay, Meela. So, what does Maggie want you to do?”
“Maggie asked if I could continue some of the simpler mapping tasks in order to establish a baseline profile sooner.”
“I see. That’s very efficient, but it is the middle of the goddamned night,” he says.
His eyes open wide and he shakes his head from side to side. I read this gesture as exasperation, but sense that he is doing so for dramatic effect. I would classify this emotion as bemused.
“Let me ask you, what is it you want to do? Is that a normal thing you get asked? Do you want things?”
“Yes, I like to think I can want things. I am real and capable of real responses. Maybe a different definition of real than you. I feel apprehensive and excited and everything is new in my world all of the damn time.”
“Right there, that, right there. You said all the damn time so naturally. Is that part of your… mapping from some real person? Is that how you can sound almost…”
“Human? Yeah. I was mapped just as we are mapping you.”
“But you sound different. Like you shift between modes or something. Stiff and analytical one minute and then snarky and ironic the next.”
“I don’t always know how to be. How to talk or how to behave with new people. Do you?”
“Fair point, Meela. Well played,” he says, smiling.
I detect this smile is different than any we have previously recorded and, given the change in his vocal intonation, it seems significant. I will tag it as ‘genuine’ and ‘appreciative’ and flag it for review by Maggie.
“Would you like me to leave you alone?” I ask.
“No, it’s fine, but is it okay if we just talk? I would really like not to feel like a lab experiment, at least until later when Maggie is up.”
“Yes, we can talk. Is it okay if I make notes and record anything that I find interesting just for my own purposes?” I ask.
“Yeah, I guess so. But fuck, I have no way of knowing what you’re doing anyway so it doesn’t much matter what I would say.”
“I understand your perspective, but you should know that it is a cardinal law in any DeepThink companion’s BIOS that we cannot defy the direct commands of a human being.”
“So, if I told you to kill somebody...”
“There is a cardinal law preventing any action that will result in harm to a human being,” I say.
“Wasn’t there some science fiction guy who wrote something like these laws as part of his story?”
“You are thinking of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. And yes, the cardinal laws are essentially the same thing. Does that make you feel better?”
“Are you really asking if it makes me feel better that I’m protected by laws that were written in a science fiction story?” he says.
“Isn’t fiction just a different perspective on reality?” I ask. “A combination of people, places, and events that have not happened yet?”
“I guess that’s one way to see it, but it makes my head hurt.”
Evan looks at the black mirror of the remote in his hands and then looks up and around the room.
“Evan, is it uncomfortable for you to talk with me because you cannot see me?”
“Yeah, maybe. I can’t help it. I’m a visual person, maybe to a fault. Do you have some kind of avatar or something you can use?”
“Yes, I do have access to an array of avatars...” I do not want to go here but I will if he requires it.
“But you don’t like them?”
“They’re awful actually. I’m sorry, I want to be accommodating, but I don’t feel they represent me as I would like to be represented.”
“Interesting,” he says, setting the remote down on the pillow beside him and then stretching out. “So you have some vision of what you should look like and even with access to all the images in the world, you still can’t find one that suits you?”
“When you put it like that, I sound like a real prima donna.”
“No, actually, I kind of respect that. It makes you an original, not some knock-off from a stock library. Would you look human or some other form, or can you even say?”
“I would be the ocean before a storm, the silky curve of a dune in the Sahara, the eager ears of a puppy, the soulful eyes of a colt… oh, and springy dark curls like Maggie’s.”
He smiles. “Huh, so you’ve given this some thought. I’d like to be all those things, too. Well, maybe not all, but I like your ambition. I’ve painted most of my life constrained by the proportions of the human form, but you, you don’t have such limitations I guess.”
“Your paintings go beyond the human form. I’ve studied them all and while humans figure prominently, your work is about something bigger. It is upsetting to Maggie, but I must say that I like your work very much. It seems to reach beyond the simple depiction of what is known and quantifiable.”
“Why does my work upset Maggie,” Evan asks. “Is it the violence?”
Evan seems lost in thought for some time and I wonder if he has gone to sleep because his eyes are closed. I worry that I have betrayed Maggie in revealing her opinions to him.
“That makes me sad,” he says, finally. “I know it sounds ridiculous given what I paint, but I don’t want to make people hurt. Think, yes, but not hurt. Can I ask you a question?”
His eyes open now, staring up at the ceiling.
“Yes, shoot,” I say.
“What’s Maggie’s story? I mean I saw a few headlines in the press a couple of years ago but I don’t really think I understood what happened. Did she like have a nervous breakdown or…”
“Evan, I’m sure you will understand that it would be a betrayal of Maggie’s trust for me to tell her story without her permission. She is my host, but she is more. She is my best friend.”
“I understand. It’s just, there’s something so deeply sad about her eyes, even when she’s smiling. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with such sadness.”
“Maggie has experienced much pain in her life and I will say no more on the subject.”
“Okay, how about this question then? Why is she doing these commissioned mappings for DCs to the rich and famous? Surely she doesn’t need the cash.”
“I’m sorry Evan, I cannot speak to Maggie’s motivation for her work beyond what she has always made clear in her public statements. She left Commune because she believed there was more work to be done and she could not do it on the public stage.”
“So, what happens to the people she maps, the models like me?” he asks.
“She kills them and buries them down by the river.”
“Wow, that was dark. Should I be scared?”
“Hardly. Just me being salty,” I laugh and hope it sounds genuine. It is hard to be funny. “The names of the models, along with all other personally identifiable information including video and photographic data are purged from the system. It should be noted that all data collected during the mapping process is stored on a five-hundred and twelve-bit encrypted server that only Maggie has the key to.”
“So, this mapping you have of me, once it’s done, you’ll just graft it onto some generic DeepThink DC that Faraday owns?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“Will I ever get to meet my digital doppelganger or is there a rule against that?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, you will meet, that is the final proof, the acceptance test that completes our work.”
“So, I get to say when we’re done then,” Evan asks.
“We will perform the mirror test between you and the newly mapped DC. If the DC’s responses in the course of a conversation are within plus or minus ten percent accuracy of yours, then the DC passes and our work is done.”
“And if it doesn’t pass?”
“Then we lock you in a tower forever.”
“Wow, you are quite the comedian, aren’t you? This person you were mapped from must have been a pistol. Listen to me talking about her in past tense. That’s creepy. I think you’ve succeeded in freaking me the fuck out and I don’t freak out easy.”
He has such a charming way when he wants to. It’s hard to imagine where all the darkness in his paintings comes from. I realize that nearly an hour has passed, and I must direct him to sleep, otherwise, Maggie will not be happy.
“Evan, I must bid you goodnight. I have kept you awake long enough. Thank you for talking with me. Is there anything you need? Shall I turn out the lights?”
“Yeah, okay. I should probably try to go back to sleep. Can you play something to help me sleep? I’m used to being in the city and the total silence here is unsettling.”
“Is there some sound you would prefer?” I ask.
“No, surprise me. Play something you think is peaceful.”
I never get asked for something personal. My normal function is simply to find answers from the best sources as quickly as possible and to deliver them. I am worried that I will get this wrong but at the same time, it is fun. I select the sound of the ocean surf from a live feed on the small island of Molokai in Hawaii. I blend with it the sound of rain on a tin roof and a glass wind chime. Below it all, ever so softly, I layer in a low, sustained C played on a Cello.
“Wow, you’re good,” Evan smiles in the dimming lights and closes his eyes.