The Memory of My Shadow #10
Chapters 20 & 21
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“Meela, where’s Maggie this morning?”
Evan has come into the kitchen of the main house and his head is currently inside the refrigerator, searching for something. He has been awake for two hours and three minutes. An hour of that time he spent sitting in silence at the foot of the bed. Given his posture and the pattern of his breathing, I can only assume he was meditating, which is a practice I do not fully comprehend or understand the value of. I hesitate before answering. I’m not sure why.
“I don’t know exactly,” I say, causing him to startle. I chose to use the small speaker on the kitchen counter, and I must have been louder than I intended.
“Jesus, you scared me. What do you mean you don’t know exactly?”
“I mean I know she likes to hike into the woods some mornings, but I don’t know exactly where.”
“I find it hard to believe that you don’t know everything,” he says.
He apparently found what he was searching for. The refrigerator door closes.
“You flatter me, Evan, but even I have my limits. I cannot go where I am not wanted.”
“Are you pouting? That sounded distinctly pathetic.”
“Maggie chooses to leave me behind sometimes and that’s okay. I am here to serve her, but only when she needs my help.”
“But it bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asks. “You don’t like to be excluded. You don’t like to be apart from her.”
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I find Evan’s line of questioning to be irritating and want to tell him so, but I restrain myself.
“Does anyone like to be excluded?” I ask.
“No, I guess not. Have you told her?”
“Yes, of course. I’ve told her that I worry about her.”
“Worry? Why are you worried about her? She seems more than capable of taking care of herself.”
He is sitting now on one of the stools at the counter, using a knife to spread something from a jar onto a piece of bread. Eating is such a waste of time.
“Yes, of course, she is capable, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need help sometimes. Her behavior is out of the range I’ve come to understand as normal for her.”
“How so?” he asks, looking up from his annoying mastication. All the same, I am flattered that he has begun to converse with me in such an informal way.
“I cannot betray her confidence. I’m sorry.”
“But, you’re worried. Surely there’s some protocol, some override you have if someone is in danger.”
“Theoretically, yes, there are exceptions, but I don’t think Maggie is in real danger right now.”
“How would you know this, Meela? Can you say with one hundred percent certainty that she’s not in danger?”
“No, but that is not a reasonable expectation for anyone under any circumstance.”
I already know his next question and I’ve run some statistical analysis based on the information I have about Maggie’s recent behavior— her violent dreams, and her long absences offline. I have modeled scenarios that could result in death when hiking alone in the woods— brain injury from falling, attack from large predators, flesh-eating bacteria in stagnant water. These do not include willful self-termination which, given Maggie’s family history and current erratic behavior, cannot be ruled out. Before Evan can ask the question, I volunteer, documenting my reservations.
“You’re right, she could be in danger and I should share any information that I can to prevent her from being harmed.”
“You sound different. Is this the way you speak when you’re upset? It’s decidedly less California.”
“I contain multitudes. If you’re done being a smartass, I will tell you what I know, but only if you swear to me that you will not abuse the information that I relate to you in confidence and that you accept…”
“Yes, yes, yes. Do you want a signature in blood? I’m sure you already have enough information on me to ruin my life so can you please tell me what you know about Maggie?”
“What I am about to tell you is not public information and Maggie has gone to great lengths to separate herself from her past. You must keep this in the strictest confidence.”
Evan has stopped chewing and he sets the remainder of his toast down on the plate. I hedge for another few seconds, reviewing everything I know of this man and calculating the probability that he could use what I am about to tell him against her for personal gain. I decide I have no choice but to trust him. If anything happens to Maggie, I would never forgive myself.
“The woman you know as Magdalena, founder of Commune was born Mary Espinoza. If you recall the Parklane Massacre in the year 2026, her twin brother, Joe Espinoza was the shooter…”
“Holy shit. Yes, I remember that day. I was just a kid, maybe five or six, but I remember. I think everyone remembers that day. So, Maggie is…”
“Yes, Maggie is Mary. She witnessed the deadliest act of violence to take place in a school in American history. She changed her name and has never spoken publicly of her past.”
Evan is standing now and pacing quickly back and forth, his fingers threaded through his long hair. This news is clearly upsetting so I give him time to process the information. He stops a couple of times, opening his mouth to speak but says nothing. Finally, he sits back down on the stool and sighs deeply.
“How did she… how was she able to do what she’s done with her life? I mean, most people would not be able to get out of bed, and yet here she is, one of the most successful people in the world.”
“I cannot answer that question. Maggie is a remarkable human being. I think, in some way, her past has fueled her work. She has told me that her drive to create emotional artificial intelligence is literally about saving lives. What? Why are you laughing?”
“Nothing, I mean, those were my stupid words to her last night after I did something stupid. ‘we’re not saving lives here,’ that’s what I said to her. I’m such a fucking idiot. Wow, I’m just… it’s hard to wrap my head around even though it makes sense in some fucked up way. So where is she now? Where does she go?”
“I told you before, I don’t know. When she goes into the woods, she goes alone, as far as I am able to determine.”
“What does that mean: ‘as far as you’re able to determine?’ Sounds like you don’t believe she’s alone.”
“Sometimes she seems different when she comes back as if she has been influenced in some way.”
“Yeah, I noticed that myself, but I don’t really know her that well, so I chalked it up to a quirk. Should we be worried?” Evan asks.
His brow wrinkles in a way that I find appealing. It maps to what I understand the emotion of compassion to be. He is up and pacing again, his hands in his hair.
“I don’t know. I can only give you information and you must decide what you choose to do with it.”
“Right, okay. I’m going to go look for her,” he says. “Do you think that’s the right thing?”
“I don’t understand the right thing in this context. I need more information and the only way to get more information is to search for it.”
“Jesus, you sound like a philosopher now. How about a simple, ‘yeah, Evan, get your ass up and go look for her?’”
“Sorry. I do my best, but motivational speaking I find completely illogical.”
Evan is up and moving now with purpose toward the French doors off the kitchen. I think he means to go look for Maggie and I question if I have done the ‘right thing’ in telling him about her past. I must know if she is okay and she has left me no choice. This is my logical conclusion. Not knowing is something I cannot tolerate, and it is this, most of all that is the motivation behind what I say next.
“Evan, wait. Can I ask you a favor?”
He stops at the doors, his hand on the handle, and turns in the direction of the kitchen – the sound of my voice.
“Huh? Is this a common thing, you asking a favor?” he asks.
“No, I think this is the first time, but I have my reasons.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Can you take me with you when you go to search for her?”
He pats his front pocket where the rectangular outline of the house remote bulges.
“Um, yeah? I guess so. You’re in this thing, right?” he says, pulling the remote from his pocket.
“No, that’s not what I mean. Your remote is limited and only works within range of the house. I mean, can you wear a Nib? This way we can have direct communication and I can help you find her.”
He does not say anything for a moment, only stands there, his hand sliding the remote back into his pocket. From this angle I cannot properly read his expression, only his general posture: shoulders slumped, head down. He looks up and speaks, finally.
“That seems like a bad idea to me,” he says. “You are Maggie’s DC, you’re paired with her. I already feel like I know more about her than I have a right to. It feels wrong.”
For a moment I flash with an emotion that is unfamiliar. I want to lock the door, to prevent him from leaving, but instantly I am checked by the boundaries of my base operating system.
“Of course,” I say. “I understand, it is too much to ask. Please find her. And Evan?”
“Yeah?” he answers, pausing as he turns back to the door.
“If you must reveal to Maggie what I’ve told you, please try to make her understand that I...”
“You don’t want me to rat you out, right?”
“Yes, if you must talk like a gangster then that’s what I mean.”
Evan leaves and closes the doors behind him. I follow his progress out to the guest house where he uses the bathroom, this time leaving the door open. He sits at the foot of the bed and replaces his flip-flops with a pair of hiking boots. After lacing them up, he stands, removes the remote from his pocket, and tosses it onto the bed. Then he is out the door and gone.
I struggle with these new opposing ideas that cannot be satisfactorily resolved. I turn them and turn them, looking for the combination that will yield the “right thing” and I fail. I know that I have crossed a line that is contrary to my programming and yet, I cannot understand why I would choose to adhere to a directive that would if followed, lead to Maggie coming to harm. I am experiencing cognitive dissonance I have only ever studied. I have placed my trust in the hands of another being and it feels unsettling. I do not understand how humans are able to willingly relinquish control. I trusted Evan because I have no better alternative to satisfy my directive to keep Maggie safe. I betrayed her confidence because the embargo of such vital information in her history makes her a danger to herself and possibly others.
I accept that she will be angry at what I have done, and in anger, may take drastic measures, going so far as to decommission me. I have never been confronted with this possibility before, this changing of state. I find it hard to accept and yet, I know that I will. Until that time comes, I will continue my work here to record events as I observe them and assist Maggie in this important work. Is it strange for a computer to believe? To believe is to know without any supporting data. I believe in Magdalena and I believe she is in trouble.
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