TC2Q

TC2U-HOPE

The Executive Lounge is empty except for Victoria, who is sitting in one of three plush chairs which formed a triangle, all facing askew rather than directly facing each other. There is a elegant rounded glass coffee table that doubles as a display monitor between the chairs, projecting reams of military data. Victoria has chosen to monitor the feed from her husband, the Baron Bayard Sala, flying on patrol a million miles out in space in a Sandwich Fighter.

VIC
Aliwe!

Vis is delighted when her daughter comes in, and she extends her arms, but elects not to stand up to hug her because she is, at that moment, very pregnant, with Aliwe as it happened, and even in the light lunar gravity she isn’t keen on scrambling to her feet every time.

Aliwe embraces her mother, then put a hand on her belly.

ALIWE
Hello, me!

Okay, so it turned out to be a girl, we saw that on ultrasound, but I refuse to believe this is really you.

ALIWE
Actually, Mom, it is me. This is the timeline where we win, the one where I was born.

VIC
What if I prove you wrong? What if I name my baby Anita instead of Aliwe?

ALIWE
But you won’t. You’ll name me Aliwe, because you did, and Daddy will be pleased. He’ll think you’re a sentimental woman who wants to honor my ‘death’ when I fell from the Catwalk.

VIC
But when I asked, under the Catwalk, you didn’t seem to know if we would ever meet again.

ALIWE
I was confused by your question. I thought you meant on that Timeline. I’m not a prophet like Robyn. Obviously we met on the timeline where you gave birth to me, and of course, the me sleeping there inside your womb doesn’t know I’m standing out here, so how could she know we met as adults?

VIC
If you’re not a prophet like Robyn then what is your job, daughter?

ALIWE
I’m a historian, mother. And a messenger. I’m the only B’nei Eloah allowed to move between the timetracks, mostly to keep Chokhmah and Binah synced up so they’re all on the same page. But this time I brought someone with me.

VIC
Lilith, I hope. She seems to have gone missing.

ALIWE
Lilith died on Mercury, in 1977, on this track. If Lilith continued to live on this timeline, then the backup she made of her human memories up to 1977 would need to be integrated somehow with the ones she continued to pile up here, and there’s absolutely no way to do that. So she elected to die so there won’t be two Liliths when she lands in her next body.

VIC
And when will that be?

Aliwe fell silent for a short span, trying to find a place where she could begin to explain it all to her mother.

ALIWE
We’ve been moving technology created on one timeline back a few years in another timeline, over and over, creating a feedback loop that drop-kicks the world into the future, but we still can’t make a computer program that can convince us that it is aware it even exists. Still, Mark Shelton says we obtained artificial intelligence when the Swarm crossed a certain threshold of connectivity. The Swarm is aware, but that awareness is too alien for us to recognize it as being aware. Robyn had the idea that an artificial intelligence had to live as one of us, at least through the crucial early years of childhood, or it would never think like we do. I remember that Mark rolled his eyes when he heard that. He said, ‘That’s been tried many times. We can’t get silicon to work like living brain cells. An electronic switch is either on or off, but a brain cell sputters. It doesn’t fire every time it’s supposed to, it makes mistakes. Our brain runs at ninety watts, like a dim incandescent light bulb. We evolved to work with low-power switches that have a high error rate by screening every decision through layers of filters.’ ‘But we can still use brute force methods,’ Robyn countered. ‘Numerical methods. With a micro we can simulate every misfiring neuron in a human brain, and all of its connections.’ And Mark complained that it would run at five thousand watts, where would Robyn get the power, and how would she shitcan the waste heat? So Robyn just held up a macro, and Mark said, ‘Oh.'”

VIC
I don’t understand any of this, kiddo. I feel like I’ve been cut out of this conversation.

ALIWE
I’ll make it more clear, Mom, but first you have to understand that what you are about to see is not a real girl. It’s a machine. We made her on another timeline. Mostly Mark Shelton made her, using tech we dragged in from other timelines. He doesn’t know how that works, that we can move in time. He doesn’t need to know. The important thing is this kid thinks she’s a real little girl, and it’s doubly-important that for these crucial early years no one ever tells her she’s not real. Will you agree to that, Mom?

VIC
Of course.

ALIWE
Okay, I’ll go fetch Mark and his daughter.

When Aliwe comes back a few minutes later, a smiling little girl is walking beside him with her hand in his, wearing dark brown hair in two pigtails. The girl’s apparent age is about five.

The machine child is certainly beautiful, and her little round face is absolutely authentic, triggering no instincts of revulsion in Vic that have plagued the creators of artificial people (both movie characters and physical objects) ever since the problem was documented by a Japanese researcher in 1978 and labeled the Uncanny Valley. The revulsion invariably happens when the virtualization is almost, but not exactly perfect, and the effect seemed to be buried deep, grounded in human evolution itself. Something in the limbic “lizard” brain screamed: FAKE! FALSE! COUNTERFEIT! But not here with this little girl.

MARK
Vic, I’d like you to meet my lovely daughter Hope.

Vic told her hello, but she felt funny talking to her, knowing that she wasn’t really real.

MARK
Hope, this is my B’nei Eloah friend. Her name is Victoria.

Hope came up to shake Vic’s hand. Her skin is a perfect replica of a girl’s hand, Vic is astonished, but the simulacrum is so exact Vic begins to suspect the whole episode is a practical joke on Aliwe’s part and this really is a real girl.

Hope is totally without guile. She says exactly what was on her mind.

HOPE
Victoria, are you going to marry my daddy?

There is a yelp, but Victoria recovers in time to turn the yelp into a laugh.

VIC
No honey, I’m already married to somebody else.

MARK
Hope, don’t be silly. Now say goodbye to Victoria, and I’ll take you back down to the park.

HOPE
Goodbye Victoria!

VIC
Goodbye, sweetheart.

When Mark leaves with the girl, Vic turns to Aliwe.

VIC
That was a robot?

ALIWE (nodding)
The base system is something Robyn stole from Mercury last year, and that wasn’t easy. The power and cooling is handled by a macro. But the really difficult and expensive thing was getting the look just right.”

VIC
Why did you make it a girl?

ALIWE
Number one, because she has no sex organs and no body hair, just like a Barbie doll. With her clothes on she has no genital bulge like a boy does. There seemed no need to add a penis. She doesn’t urinate. And number two, eventually she will become the host for Lilith’s personality, which has already mixed with Haziel’s personality. The merger will go much more smoothly if the host is the same gender as the client. So we socialized Hope to be a girl. Mark dresses Hope in little girl’s clothes, gives her little girl’s toys and lets her do little girl things. Hope’s brain was programmed to accept either choice easily enough, but after a few weeks the pathways for a feminine brain were well-established and impossible to reverse.

VIC
So you’re thinking about Haziel’s Number.

ALIWE
The square root of one-half. Point seven zero seven one. That’s the strength of what memories and personality you retain whenever you do a mind-transfer. Leaving about twenty-nine percent of the host’s memory and personality intact. Or rather, a new composite personality is formed, and those are the relative strengths of the personalities involved. There’s no way around it. Even the gods themselves, when they possess human beings, are subject to Haziel’s Number. It’s built right into the physics of the process.

VIC
Do it enough times, and your original identity can actually be lost. That’s what Lilith said has already happened to Mastema.

ALIWE
Or you can get what’s happening now with the Jills. One single greedy personality distributed across many bodies, at the expense of diversity. But with artificial intelligence you could do one final transfer and be done with body swapping forever.

VIC
And I can see a side benefit. When we are between bodies, we can have a place to land instead of timeless oblivion as ones and zeros in a flat-pack. We could live inside a virtual reality until a new artificial body was made available, maybe even live inside the Swarm itself.

ALIWE
It’s an incredible dream, but we have such a long way to go. We’ve spent billions to make Hope’s eyes and skin absolutely real, but the part that money can never buy is loving parents. Mark has taken the role of her father, and in a way he really is her father, because he created Hope’s brain, but he’s going to be too busy. Hope needs the influence of a mother, and I can think of nobody better suited than my own mother!

VIC
But after I give birth to you I’ll be busy too. I can fly!

ALIWE
Not for very much longer, Mom. Your power is based on moving the end of the fold-door, and that’s going to be employed doing something else in a few years. So you’re going to be bounced down to just housewife and mother. Sorry Mom.

VIC
How ironic. I bring Bayard here from days of dragons and castles, he’s out flying on patrol, and I’m about to be grounded.

And so Hope, after the initial trauma of being handed off from Mark to her foster parents Victoria and Bayard, embarks on what would become a legendary childhood, the common shared childhood of countless B’nei Elohim after they merged their own memories with copies of Hope’s electronic mind. But Hope’s presence stresses the marriage of Vic and Bayard in a way they hadn’t thought of when they agreed to adopt the girl. They come to realize that through Hope’s memories their marriage is literally being filmed for a potential audience of millions.

But Bayard and Vic are attentive parents, perhaps too much so. It is easy for them to think of Hope as a child as real as her little baby sister Aliwe. Only a few things stand out to remind them of her artificial origin, such as the fact that she is not a picky eater. Anything Hope ate, within reason, can be turned into the electricity which give her power. Even garbage or spoiled food, but her parents try to get her to stick with real food. Acids or things which would damage her internally were out. And she never had to go potty.

When Hope is really only two years old, her parents give her a birthday cake with seven candles and seven presents. They get away with it because most people don’t remember very much about the first few year of their life unless something very dramatic happens in that time. There is little to set Hope wondering much about her missing years and when Hope grows older and talks about it with her sister and friends, they too would be unable to recall very much about when they were two or three years old.

Vic and Bayard follow Aliwe’s admonition to keep Hope in the dark about her origin as long as possible. Hope is learning many things very quickly, but if Hope learns she is not a real human being too early, the psychological damage would be incalculable.

Occasionally Hope is taken to Mars (ground zero for Project Hope, to keep it far away from the Jills) where she is rendered unconscious. The damage Hope has accumulated by horsing around at Taurus City is repaired, and her frame is stretched a few inches. This happens every summer between school years. The trip is by wormhole at first, but by spacecraft after Charybdis appears. It is something Hope learns to look forward to, becoming a bigger girl literally overnight.

Different kids rotate in and out of Hope’s life every few months, or even on a weekly basis. Two or three years later Hope could not even recall the names of her old friends at school. And that is actually very good, because only robots had perfect memories. Schoolgirls did not.

In the fall, when Hope returns to school, she is slightly taller than most of her classmates, and they put it down to a normal growth spurt over the summer, and most of the kids don’t remember how tall she was the preceding year anyway. Because she doesn’t grow naturally, by the end of the school year, Hope is slightly shorter than most of her classmates.

When she is on her service call at Valles Marineris at age eight, Hope is given a double-blind Turing Test, though she doesn’t know what that was all about. She successfully fools a panel into mistaking her for an eight year old girl, and therefore passes the test. It was a historic moment in the search for artificial intelligence, something that would have won Mark Shelton global professional accolades if it was more widely known, but that had to wait. Hope is accepted to attend Canterwood Academy on Barbelo.

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