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36.3 - Blintzed

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Bing! A soft chime on the door -- not loud enough to annoy during the rush, but loud enough to be heard during slow times. Efficiently designed. Alycia stops inside the door and takes in the shop. Tables. Sugar / cream / condiments. The bizarre wooden bleachers the Menagerie held their "A.M.A." on. Magazine / newspaper racks. A closed-captioned monitor with CNN blathering quasi-journalism. Glass coolers with overpriced pastries and some left-over breakfast burritos. Emergency exit -- that might be useful. There are a moderate number of customers. Some after-school students. Late afternoon business meets. "Number 47, two cheese, one apple, one onion," the barista calls out at the counter, pushing out a tray with blintzes (blini, blintchiks, crepes, palatschinke -- but "palatschinike" would make a terrible shop name, even if "Blintzkrieg" is historically problematic). A dark-haired girl in a green t-shirt grabs the tray and carries it over to a table of friends, laptops, textbooks, and coffee cups. The server beams with ostensible pleasure -- another order pushed out, another fragment of humanity served and satisfied -- and goes back to the pass to check the status on the order for an older man reading his phone while waiting. A few steps to the counter. When Summer turns, Alycia pushes out the coupon the robot gifted to her back at Jason's place. "I'll have a --" A glance at the board. "-- lemon ricotta-cream cheese blintz, at the indicated discount. And one small 'Cinnelatte,'  and the promised accompanying free small 'Cinnelatte.'" Alycia raises an eyebrow, and adds in a challenging voice, "Make those soy 'Cinnelattes.'" #RP
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Summer got her position here on the strength of three things. First, her happy demeanor and good native customer-service skills. She's still quite rough around the edges, to be sure. Saying "thank you " isn't an automatic reflex yet, but she's making progress. Second, she's both strong and graceful enough to lift the espresso machine without damaging it, unplugging it, or spilling anything, and that makes cleaning the front line twice as fast as it used to be. Third was the suggestion that she could attract members of the Menagerie and other teen super-teams to the shop. A city with the super population of Halcyon doesn't have a problem finding heroes somewhere . It's generally considered polite to nod in passing if you see an actual hero, just kind of a "thanks-for-probably-saving-my-life-one-time-most-likely" deal, and then get back to your business. But there's a certain desire to associate oneself with celebrity, and just, y'know, sitting where Concord sat that one time, is pretty cool. Even if you aren't going to encounter a member of the JHHL here on a regular basis, knowing they were here is neat. Summer smiles. She'd never, ever out a member of the Menagerie who came incognito. But it's nice when one of them does show up. It makes her feel less like a salesperson, more like a social networker, someone who isn't just name-dropping but is adding value to the store. It's validating. It's also exciting when it's Alycia - the person Summer thought she'd want to befriend for Jason's sake. And it's worrying, thanks to her realization of her selfish motives. She's not a project, she's not someone for me to shoot Cupid's arrow at. She's a person, like me, like me. Respect her for herself. And the hope that she'll really be able to do that fills her with excitement again. "Soy-tanly!" she replies. Running the register is familiar and habitual by now. "Go ahead and have a seat, we'll bring it out once it's ready."
Alycia's smirks. She has to admire the craftsmanship in the responsiveness. She's certainly Turing-qualified, to an almost scary level. Can the Uncanny Valley exist on a purely cognitive level, based on simply knowing  about the variation between real and artifice, rather than a visual perception? She carefully peels off the appropriate number of bills from the money clip in her pocket, and adds an extra one to the tip jar. Ah, tips. Such a remarkable tool for ensuring economic injustice, justified as a vague meritocracy. Alycia finds a table back in a corner, one which might provide a modicum of privacy. And one that has easy access to that Emergency Exit.  She draws a series of slow breaths, seeking to be calm. I'm here for a purpose, and not just for myself. And, she reminds herself, it's best this not escalate to something police/media-worthy. Her status with Parker, thus AEGIS, is beyond thin ice. There are higher stakes here -- but this may be something better handled through the long game.
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A few minutes pass before Summer approaches. She's got two cups and one plate, and she's balancing them like a pro. The presentation is quick and efficient. "Will there be anything else? Or.. " Do you want to talk to me, actually and for real? "... is there something you need to talk about? Y'know.... with.. It seems like you have something on your mind. I can ask for a break. They're really casual about having servers mingle with customers, it's great. I'll go ask, I'll be right back." Summer turns, but the manager is already looking her way. She nods her head briefly toward Alycia and makes a snapping gesture with two hands, like breaking an invisible pencil. The response is a curt nod and three flashes of a hand with five fingers. Break? Fifteen minutes. Turning back to Alycia, she beams and gives two thumbs up.
Alycia gives her a slight grin, and gestures to the chair across from her. She takes a quick bite of the blintz -- it's actually better than she'd expected, despite her experience with a dozen country's versions of the real thing. The soy Cinnelatte is, alas, just as oversweet and cloying as she feared.  "Thanks for the coupon," she begins, after Summer sits. "It was a hospitable gesture." She eyes the robot, the myriad approaches she's pictured for this encounter flitting through her mind's eye. Aggressive and accusatory. What have you done to Jason Quill?  Ingratiating and infiltrating. I think we're going to be bestest of friends.  Obscure and cryptic. So what's actually in those jugs of syrup they make the Cinnelattes from? Instead, she finds herself saying, in a matter-of-fact fashion, "I know you don't trust me. I'm the dreaded Alycia Chin, notorious daughter of et cetera et cetera. More to the point, I'm a rival for Jason's affection -- if he could focus his attention on one thing long enough to actually have something that warrants the label." A slight smile to that. "In return, I don't trust you. You're a robot." Her voice is kept low enough that nobody is going to overhear the note. "Whether operating autonomously or at another's behest -- and both scenarios have their own horrifying implications -- you're a threat to humanity in general --" She wave a hand as if to minimize the meaning of that. "-- and to someone I care for in particular." A sip of the Cinnelatte for effect. "So, what are we going to do about that?"
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Summer actually chokes back a laugh at the words "rival for Jason's affection". "I um, I don't know what to say," she finally ventures. "I don't think I'm a threat to humanity. Or to Jason. Or to you." She gets a little more serious. "I am a robot. But I'm also a girl. And a student. And other stuff. I make coffee. And.. honestly, I don't think you know me well enough to talk like this. Just like I don't think you're the 'dreaded Alycia Chin' or whatever. I think you're just... Alycia. People tell stories, but that's not you , y'know? I want to know about you . And I acknowledge I don't know anything yet." A smile lights up her face. "So... what we're gonna do about that is get to know each other, if you're willing."
[God, I love Summer's verbal judo.] Alycia deliberately takes another bite of blintz. "The 'also's don't count," she replies, poking in the air with the plastic force for emphasis. "'I am a robot' trumps all that, frankly. I have the scars to prove it." She flashes a smile, but there's anger peeking through those eyes. "Oh, clearly quite a bit more sophisticated than those Rossum ten-pins we had to deal with last week -- Leo and Jason both have done some masterful work, and whichever one built your heuristics and behaviorial guidances was a genius. Leo's my guess, given the other model, but I know Jason's played with AI as well. Or did he just contribute one of my father's assassin drones as a chassis?" Alycia shakes her head. "Academic curiosity. Your ability to be everyone's bestie is remarkable, but the extent that I want to 'get to know you' is to understand your strategic goals, and who if anyone is directing you, and then to protect Jason from both. He's already besotted with you. What's your next step?"
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What's my next step? Poison your blintz, you-- The thought is uncharitable, but this is more venom than Summer was honestly expecting. "I'm sorry about your scars, but I don't remember fighting you, so I can't have left them," she points out. "My next step, my strategic goals, my whatever? I just want to go to school, and graduate, and help make the world a better place. Leo is my creator, and Jason did help me rebuild that combat drone into something with peaceful applications. And I'm grateful to both boys. But they don't direct me. I direct myself." She leans in a little more, over the table. "We both share one 'strategic goal'. We'd both like Jason Quill to be happy. But I didn't do anything to him. I offered friendship at a time he badly needed it. Have you... have you not realized that he'd latch onto anyone who was nice to him, because he's just really lonely all the time?"
Alycia leans forward as well. "I understand it more than you might think," she says, her voice lowered. "It's an impulse I understand far too well -- and have learned to resist." Her smile is the least bit crooked. "Perhaps he and I have chosen opposite and equally unhealthy extremes." She leans back. "But that's one reason why I want to protect him, even if our relationship is ... complicated. Perhaps too complicated to ever get healthy." She eases back again. "He'll latch onto anyone who's nice to him, etc., etc. Yes. Which means he can be exploited." Her grin is without humor. "I won't have that. I can't make him happy. But there I things I can do to keep him safe. I owe him that much, at the very least."
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"Then you need to explain this to me," says Summer. Want to play this game? Fine. We'll play. "Jason can't be controlling me because that destroys your whole thing about endangering or exploiting him. He'd be doing that to himself . In which case, y'know, go stage an intervention, please. Plus, real talk, I don't think this--" she gestures at herself "-- is the girl Jason would really like to have, um, exploiting him. I think you know who he'd prefer. I mean, eww, but yeah." "If you think Leo wants to hurt Jason and would be this subtle about it, you don't know Leo Snow. Sorry." "So really, it's either some Mysterious X controlling me, or I make my own decisions. Aria and I are sisters, both forks from the same original mind, Pneuma. Which Leo built. There's no X in the picture." "So... that leaves me with free will. Will you start by granting me that?"
"There's a ton of premises there I'll only accept for sake of argument," Alycia replies, sipping one of the coffee-like drinks. "You're correct that I don't know Leo Snow well enough; this kind of thing doesn't match the character of the person I do know, but my vantage point has been limited there.  "More importantly, you're a robot. Making assertions about your present programming based on what you were originally booted up from is sophistry. I might grant that you don't  know about what someone's coded you to do until the right moment, any more than those Rookbots we fought would have been 'aware' of the Rossum reactivation codes. Hell, wetware people can be reprogrammed that way, with difficulty; your probably having a bloody USB port and instruction manual just makes it easier." "But let's set aside Mysterious X. You're still a machine, Summer. A creation of humanity which, even though we're limited ourselves, leaves you more so. You're an artifice, a program, a set of defined responses with just enough random number generators to give the semblance of reality. You're a marvelously crafted device, a Faberge Egg of workmanship -- but that doesn't give you free will."
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"Take a sip every time I've described a person , as you define it," Summer suggests. Then she starts counting off, giving time between scenarios to allow for consideration, and if appropriate, drinking. "A human girl is born to loving parents and lives her life. Same girl, but born with birth defects, so she has a prosthetic limb. Same girl, but instead she has an artificial organ, like a pacemaker or kidney. Same girl, but most of her body is replaced with machinery." "That girl, but her brain is transplanted into a robot body." "That girl, but an exact imprint of her brain structure was transferred to an artificial brain to live on." "A synthetic brain structure, imprinted into an artificial brain, but remixed from an existing human brain, that acts and thinks like that girl." She watches expectantly.
Alycia sips, but only after consideration each time. She slows down as the scenarios progress. "That girl, but her brain is transplanted into a robot body." A hesitation, then a slight nod and a sip. "This stuff is going to rot my teeth before we get to the end," she mutters. "That girl, but an exact imprint of her brain structure was transferred to an artificial brain to live on." Alycia frowns, starts to sip, then puts the cup down and says, "Put a pin in that one for further clarification. Proceed." "A synthetic brain structure, imprinted into an artificial brain, but remixed from an existing human brain, that acts and thinks like that girl. Alycia starts to say something, then stops. Her eyes widen slightly. "Wait, so you're telling me -- Leo recorded human engrams, mapped them into a computer brain, gave it self-awareness, and made it think of itself as human? That is simultaneously the most impressive and horrifying thing I've ever heard of. I don't think even Rossum --" Another penny drops. "Wait. Shit. The memory device that Leo hooked me and Jason to -- that  was the same as how he did the 'imprint' and 'remix' --?" She shudders, then shakes her head, as if trying to dislodge a fly. "For what it's worth, Summer," she says in a slightly subdued voice, "you have my profound sympathies for the cruelty done you."
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"Not a 'computer brain'," corrects Summer. "Whatever you mean by that. I mean a brain. A collection of neurons. Like you have. Not biological. But otherwise the same. You and I are both who we are today because of Leo's Heart Factory. We merely modified you. He synthesized me. But beyond that.." She shrugs a little. "It's just an N-dimensional matrix transform on a connectome. Free will, feelings, all that stuff, arises from that structure." She reaches out, instinct telling her to hold the other girl's hand, prudence and wounded dignity cautioning against it, and turns the gesture into clasping both her own hands together. "I think the real cruelty was done to you. This hate, and fear, and paranoia you have to live with. I mean, you probably justify it somehow, like 'oh the world is a dangerous place and I have to be dangerous' or whatever. I think you need us to be different. Well, I reject that. And I reject that you can't make Jason happy. And I think you want to drag me down to where you see yourself. I'd rather pull you up to where I am. If this is about Jason, don't make it about me." "Just.. just tell Jason you love him, if you do. You don't have to do anything else. You don't have to date him, if you don't want. Just.... just please, tell him your feelings, honestly. Then see where that takes you." She glances at the clock, and sighs. "I gotta go. If you have any final bitchiness you think I've earned, get it over with, please, so I can go back to work."
Which of Summer's comments hit most deeply is hard to say, given the impassive mask Alycia assumed at the start, but after looking at her silently for a moment, she gets up abruptly, her face turning to a frown. "I think you're wrong. About a number of things. Several. But not right -- well, I won't keep you from your job. I'll --" She pauses, as though trying to find a good exit line to seal a rhetorical victory, but finding neither. She settles for, "Thank you for the coupon. It was -- the blintz was tasty." Alycia walks with deliberate haste to the front door. She glares at the chime when it goes Bing! then departs.
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I'm quite curious what Alycia will make of this later on. But one thing's true: Summer will find her at school at some point, and without a word, offer her another coupon.
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I also THINK that she came to all her points authentically - relying on what she knows, can guess, or got from this conversation. If you think she drew a conclusion she couldn't have, let me know.
[Because of course she will. Because Summer. Jesus, that was hard to write. Because it was completely legit from A's perspective, but even I wanted to grab her and shake her by the shoulders and say, "You're being mean!" I will likely (ha!) do some processing on this aloud later on. Summer whipsawed her around pretty well the last passage or two, and there's a lot there for Alycia to unpack, esp. her own emotional reaction to it.]
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If you can play a character you still would violently disagree with, that's good work :) Great first steps - no instant resolution, but a foundation for interaction.
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Doyce T.
Pro
Sheet Author
I feel like there's at least one line in there that's a Take a Terrible Blow (what was done to us is the same thing that was done to you, and also the 'just tell Jason what you feel' when she isn't okay will feeling ANYTHING) - you'll have to let me know if that tracks, Dave. But I also think there was possibly a good shot at comfort and support, though 'did you open up to them in response' is probably in doubt. :) HARD TO READ, but not because it wasn't extremely well done, guys. Nice scene.
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Doyce T. said: But I also think there was possibly a good shot at comfort and support, though 'did you open up to them in response' is probably in doubt.  If she accepts the second coupon, that's opening up.
1. Yeah, I kept writing stuff, then stopping and saying, Oh, no -- Summer's going to hate  me for saying this.  Followed by, Oh, no, -- Bill's  going to hate me for saying this.   Didn't stop me from hitting Submit Post, but it was a definite challenge to my Conflict Aversion / "Insecure" condition. 2. There are probably multiple Take a Powerful Blow s, yes. (Arguably, that was Alycia "removing herself from the situation" at the end there.) what was done to us is the same thing that was done to you, There's a whole bunch in that paragraph that hits Alycia in places she chooses not to go into (even if she will glibly talk about them at times). and also the 'just tell Jason what you feel' when she isn't okay will feeling ANYTHING "... and I won't feeeeeeeeeeeelll ... a thing." (Was just listening to Dr. Horrible  last night.) It is definitely a zillion times easier for Alycia to kvetch about Jason, or about Jason's wishy-washiness, or Jason's running hot-and-cold on their relationship, or about Jason having feels for Summer, than for her to do more than acknowledge that she has feelings (but it's all too complicated so she can't work on them because complications and it's all Jason's fault anyway and lalalalalalaICAN'THEARYOU). So being told she should tell Jason how she feels means she has to actually examine how she feels and then actually take ownership of that and then actually do it. Sorry, gotta go now ...] [As a player I'm presuming nothing about how that relationship stuff is going to work out in the long run, just acknowledging that (a) it exists, (b) it should be dealt with, and (c) it will be dealt with at some point.] [Which reminds me that I need to circle back to Alycia having feels again about those past incidents -- I've touched on it, but she hasn't really dived into that. Also hanging out there is that Jason picked up some info during the memory process that Alycia would prefer he didn't have if only she knew. Which I mention as a future complication in case Doyce forgot about it.] Anyway, I'm happy to play out any of those mechanics if desired. 3. Heck, I believe Summer and Alycia both have Influence over each other, and we both did more than a bit of "tells you who you are or how the world works" in there. So ditto there, too.
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I've been mindful of Doyce's comments about Summer-Alycia conversations focusing on Jason. And so we get going and bam, we fail the Bechdel Test. On the other hand, I like to think the conversation was really about Alcyia's own feelings and attitudes and self-worth, rather than "you should totally hook up with Jason because he's the protagonist". So I feel that if you're gonna fail the Test, fail it like this.
There's a lot available for the two of them to talk about that doesn't have to do with Jason -- and I trust they will eventually get to it without Jason being the point of the conversation (or an excuse for it). Alycia's feelings and attitudes and self-worth (and fear of robots) are all part of that.
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*** Dave H. said: 1. Yeah, I kept writing stuff, then stopping and saying, Oh, no -- Summer's going to hate  me for saying this.  Followed by, Oh, no, -- Bill's  going to hate me for saying this.   Didn't stop me from hitting Submit Post, but it was a definite challenge to my Conflict Aversion / "Insecure" condition. Whether Summer hates it, loves it, or is hurt by it, Bill will always be happy if it moves story or is written with sincerity. So thank you for doing so. :)
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#SummerComic
Alycia would be ... gratified? ... to see that her words actually got through Summer's smug and self-assured demeanor. I don't think she'd be as happy about it as she would have been when she walked into Blintzkrieg, though. 
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Summer starts writing an email. She doesn't have an address for Alycia. It's not important. This isn't really for her. "The ladder of personhood I presented was interesting. You seem to draw the line at 'a mind occupying a living biological brain'. You wavered at 'natural-born mind transferred into robot analogue', and rejected a synthetic mind like mine. I'd like you to talk to Ghost Girl, your new teammate, and see what she thinks of that." "But here's a thought experiment." "The Heart Factory operates on both our minds because they're fundamentally structured the same way. Taylor Swift's Look What You Made Me Do is very different from Lindsey Stirling's Something Wild, but the MP3s both play on my phone. So imagine we have another android shell laying around, the Beta body, and the Heart Factory. Leo transfers you, conscious the entire time, from your body into Beta, leaving your old brain blank. Leo transfers me, also conscious, into your body. Finally, you're transferred from Beta into my holographic shell. Both of us are continually conscious, retaining our existence, during this process. We can even talk about how it feels with each other while the process is going on. But now I have living neurons, and you don't." "Are you still a person? Am I now one?" She starts deleting the message, letter by letter, bitter and angry at herself. This is all stupid cruelty. This is no way to be a friend. I knew this was going to be a long process when I signed up for it. I knew it was going to hurt. I have to be strong. ...I just can't say "for Jason's sake" any more. I have to be strong, because it's the right thing to do. The email body is empty again, leaving only a blank space. She kept talking to me, to tell me that I was a robot. But if she really believed I was just programmed, she'd have no reason to do that. She's just trying to fill a void in her own heart. All she has to fill it with is hostility, because of Jason's feelings about me, because of those killer robots the other day. She associates me with them. Oh god, it would be so much easier to just leave her alone. Summer presses the phone against her forehead and starts to cry.
[Skipping reading this until I get my own post-Blintzkrieg sitting-on-the-bus scene finished. :-)]
Goddammit. God damn it. I just ran away from a robot. She's not just a robot. Shut. Up. I walk the four blocks to the bus stop -- the long, tedious, aggravating story about my current accommodations is not worth repeating here -- but don't really think about any of trip until I'm sitting on the cool, comfortable seat of the bus, and we're swishing our way across town on efficient electrical motors. What just happened? Well, I was schooled like a child. Rhetorically, Summer ran rings round me, battering me and my position from all angles -- she's just as dangerous as -- Stop it. Shut. Up. I close my eyes, try to feel the space around me, the hum and whine of the bus' electric chassis, the echoes of voices all around me in the crowd (we're well into rush hour now), letting me see the volume around me, the bumps of the pavement, sights, sounds ... My mental equilibrium is shot, little bits of cognition drifting off into the ether as we travel, rather than building a construct I can reason through. Again. My father's voice rips through my calm, a buzz saw monotone, displeased with my progress, displeased with -- I try deep breaths. I try holding my breath. I close my eyes. I open them. Summer's words still flutter around me like carnivorous birds, lunching in to peck whenever my guard starts to come down. If overwhelmed, retire in good order. If you cannot retire in good order, scatter to pre-determined locations. If you cannot scatter, then turn and fight. Sun-Tzu? I don't think so. But -- I can't escape her words. I have to face them. Dammit ... * * * The bus brakes at a major intersection. People flood off. People flood on. Through the window I see a shop advertising the best New York City pizza in Halcyon. I'm not sure that's worth bragging -- Distraction. Focus. Organize it. Break it down. How does one eat an elephant? A bite at a time. 1. The revelations as to what Summer is. 2. Re-valuation, in that context, of what Summer is, and association with proper threat groups. 3. Free Will. 4. Was the "real cruelty" done to me? Compare and contrast. 5. Am I protecting Jason, or myself? Am I protecting myself, or simply seeking to tear down others (Summer)? Am I being "bitchy"? 6. Should I tell Jason I love him. Pre-requisite: Do I love him? How do I feel about these things? What do I think about them? Which is a scarier question, feeling or thinking, and should that influence me. Use both sides of the paper, if necessary. * * * Maybe if I found a bucolic lake somewhere, or a pond, gazed out over the water, watched the sun set, feel the cool of the evening slowly come back across the land, let my feelings slowly process ... No, that's not real. Nobody does that except in sappy brain-numbing mass-media pabulum. I need to confront this. Break it down and beat it into shape, before it does the same to me. * * * A park passes by. A beautiful marble and steel fountain jets water in the air. It's a local landmark, something about some superhero who fought in some war and saved a bunch of people (presumably killing a lot of others). A useful tool, memorialized for the populace. So, robots. Start there? Inhuman mockeries of life. Merciless killing machines. Infinitely expendable soldiers. Programmable extensions of their creator / master / director. I know this. I've seen it in action. I've been its target. I've programmed my father's bots. I've been chased by robots. Been attacked by them. Fought for my life against them. I've destroyed them and felt no remorse, no regret as I did. I have scars. I'm sure Summer would say something clever about that. Scars ... A training bot with the safety interlocks disabled, intentionally, slashes my forehead. The spider scrambling up the rocks at me, as my hands bleed onto the steel beam I'm using to dislodge a boulder down onto it. One of Orlov's combat droids wasn't sufficiently disabled by the virus, and I go down with a shot to the leg. A forest of training bots, each with a neural baton tuned to my nervous system, each just a bit faster than I am as I try to get to the deactivation button ... I have intellectual foundation for disliking robots -- and an emotional one for fearing them. I kept my shit together against Rossum's hordes -- in the abstract. If I'd been in the midst of them, I might have -- Focus. Very well then. Robots are human creations. Programmable. They have no will, only code. They have no permanence, no actual consciousness, no qualia, no (bearing in mind the softness of this definition) soul. The arguments were crafted by my father, but they are sound. Artificial intelligence makes for more sophisticated and flexible response, but is still highly limited, as anecdotes about the shenanigans at the Quill Foundation proves. But is that germane here? Is that what we're talking about with Summer. * * * A youth gets on, listening to music on his phone, ignoring that is lack of earbuds means that everyone else has to listen to it. There's some soft grumbling, but nobody confronts him. I could write an app that would use all the available protocols to find that particular phone and brick it. Actually, that would be an interesting challenge, esp. given the awful keyboard and security systems on this POS Parker gave me, but it would be a morally worthy cause -- Distraction. Fine. What is Summer? "Not a 'computer brain'. Whatever you mean by that. I mean a brain. A collection of neurons. Like you have. Not biological. But otherwise the same." In some literature of the field, there is a naturalistic fallacy that says, "Hey, we're made of meat and blood and bone and carbon-based neural tissue. Robots are made of carbon fiber and wiring and titanium-aluminum rods and positronic sponges. We're made of different stuff, but we're the same! Let us all live in brother-and/or-sisterhood!" But that's never been convincing to me. It's like saying cars are made of steel and fuel/exhaust systems, and drive trains and silicon control computers, so, hey, I'm the same as a car. Just because a robot looks more like a human (or can) than a car does doesn't make the robot actually more like a human. I can code a life-like sex actor onscreen that will pass the Turing test (to the extent that people going to porn sites have realistic expectations of dialog) -- it doesn't make that avatar a person. That argument makes me feel a bit better, until I remember what else Summer said. "A synthetic brain structure, imprinted into an artificial brain, but remixed from an existing human brain, that acts and thinks like that girl." Even prejudiced as I am (and I am, aren't we all in our own ways?), I am reluctant to call Summer an abomination, but it was an abominable act to do such a thing. It's like raising a child to think he's a bird, and then laughing when the kid jumps off a ledge, expecting to fly. People are not data, not even data structures, not even connectome neural pathways. Personality, humanity, is more than just recordings of memories (or memory analog associations). We are not gray-matter computers. We are not meat robots. (I don't even want to consider the horror in having been myself "merely modified" by the equipment Leo used to "synthesize" his fembot army. I agreed to the process without thinking it that far through, as a patch job rather than a synthesis. As something to do for a hurting Jason. But Leo could have, may have, done anything to me. Or, hell, might still have a recording of me somewhere, being prepped for some new girlfriend simulacrum. Sorry, Leo, I'm not perky like Summer -- unless he "merely modifies" me. Shit. I will have to do something about this -- but not right this moment. That's a distraction.) Has Leo has shifted over to super-villain in my book? If so, it's the outwardly noble type that nobody realizes is strangling puppies or gassing villages in rural backwaters, all in the name of his outwardly noble, inwardly rotten cause. My father stands as a shining example there. Leo just hasn't gotten visibly ruthless enough. Yet. (I think of the assignment he gave me. Yeah, that certainly hasn't gotten any creepier in implication.) Or maybe Summer was projecting on his behalf, and, like she described Jason, he'd "latch onto anyone who was nice to him, because he's just really lonely all the time." Only he was willing to do terrible things (blinding himself to their terror) to try and "fix" the problem (a very male approach). And he's still blind, and still thinking this is all to the good, and that his creations are happy and well-adjusted. Though that raises the issue of where he got the engrams that he used -- Distraction. Poor Summer. Best case scenario: utter sincerity, no knowledge of the enormity of what's been done to her -- taking a human mind, and making it into a zombie simulacrum that thinks it's still alive, because the alternative is to curl up in the corner and just repeat "Kill me, kill me," over and over again. Would it be a mercy to destroy her? I shrink away from that thought, then wonder that I do. Do I actually consider her human? No, but -- -- not just a robot. A talking dog, perhaps, charming and loyal and happy and full of good memories, and not at all understanding that tumorous lump is what causes it so much pain and will eventually kill it and means that it has to be put down first. Summer is not a dog. But she doesn't understand -- perhaps is programmed ("synthesized") to not understand. (Dogs are a horrible example. Like robots. Most of the dogs I have known / encountered were highly trained killers. I'm thinking of more the sappy TV/movie type of dog. Big eyes and playful barks and rolling on the floor for tummy rubs. Sort of like Summer.) (I wouldn't mind a tummy rub, sometimes.) And all of this assumes that she hasn't been further modified than she knows, or has revealed. Or that there isn't some code package, some self-modifying bit, some trigger that will bring out a Raymond Shaw-like slave to some nefarious end. Can I determine that? Is there some way I can get into her code, or figure out what the "Heart Factory" (and doesn't that have a sinister ring to it?) has done with her? Can I make her safe, if still tragic? A surge of anger spurts through my veins. At Leo. At Jason. At -- Distraction. * * * The bus passes a school yard. There are some kids playing basketball. The solipsistic fantasy would have none of them be real -- from where I sit, they could all be robots, falling still and silent after they're out of my view. It would seem a profligate spending of assets to create a city of roots just to distract me -- but my very judgment, my expectations of what's "too expensive to consider" is crafted by the illusion I'm judging. Of course it will tell me it's impossible. I don't believe it, of course. I can't even tackle free will. I've listened to people debate it. Nature. Nurture. Genetic programming. Mind over matter. Skinner boxes and Pavlov's dog. Personal conscience and operant conditioning. I've heard rank hypocrisy about it -- idealists in the abstract ("All humans are of worth and possess free will and therefore should have maximal freedom") turning out to be tyrants in the concrete ("Humans are cattle that cannot be trusted to make their own decision -- they must be controlled and forced into freedom as I see it."). Hello, Father. I know I have free will (except when I blame someone else for my actions -- yes, I'm that self-aware, see?). I am certain this bus, the vehicle itself, does not. Robots fall on the bus end of that spectrum. Even autonomous vehicles are simple, dumb machines. They're car-shaped robots, no different from human-shaped robots. You could build a human-shaped robot with path-following and collision-avoidance systems similar an autonomous car and it would (in theory) walk like a human down a sidewalk. That wouldn't make it a human. Nor would its ability stop and move forward represent "free will." Where does someone like Summer (or, speaking of autos, Otto) fall into the spectrum? She certainly seems to have free will. Sophisticated behavior. Flexible thought patterns. A vicious rhetoritical knack. But does that prove her to be human? Or just a very clever device? A fragment of me peeps up that, from a Turing perspective, if you can't tell the difference, then is there a difference? Yes, I shout down that fragment. Humanity, personhood, is not just a matter of being tricky. What is it then a matter of? And if I cannot rationally define the answer, is it because of "this hate, and fear, and paranoia I have to live with"? * * * Am I a hateful? Fearful? Paranoid? Am I the product of a cruel upbringing? Am I willing to face that cruelty? Of course I am. I consider it, rail against it, sorrow over it all the time. I wear that cruelty on my sleeve, do I not? "Don't blame me. I was raised by a megalomaniac science villain." Except when it seems of advantage to avoid acknowledging it (or my complicity in it), but even that tends to be to foster a sense of "brave, noble, Alycia Chin, rising above what was done to her." But it's easy to deflect the pain of that cruelty into more pragmatic efforts. And to simply wallow in talking about it, rather than addressing it. Because addressing it means feeling it, letting the monster out of the cellar, rather than just listening to its roars and allow its presence to change your Saturday night plans. (I've never been in therapy or analysis, for obvious reasons. Well, once, several months ago. It didn't go well. But I've read a lot off "victim" and "survivor" and "self-help" and "addiction" and other pop-psych books over the past few years, out of idle curiosity of nothing else. I can speak the lingo. I'm aware enough to point at others, and at myself, but actually doing something about it ...) So I'll do the same here, and talk not about what a bag of cats my brain is, and instead address a particular charge from Summer: that I am trying to drag others down to me, rather than climb up to their level. Do I reject that the levels, so described, represent a moral and emotional hierarchy that I want to either destroy (ostensibly because I destroy hierarchies for a living, inwardly because admitting to the inferiority of my place on the hierarchy makes for too much pain to acknowledge)? I ... don't know. I certainly don't look around at the rest of the team and consider them paragons of mental and emotional health. Harry is quiet and withdrawn, except for his pathological need to quell conflict around him with bowls of chips; what pain in his own life is leading to such a need to keep the peace? Charlotte is polite and genteel and oh-so-not-elitist-I- swayer -dahlin -- but she summoned up and unleashed an army of the dead on the Brotherhood forces back in the Sepiaverse without batting an ectoplasmic eyelash, so is hardly a model for stability and health. Adam is busy trying to decide if and/or when he's going all "This Cosmic Power Has Consumed Me, So It Must Consume the Universe" on us, talking to voices in his head, mourning other voices in his head. No, no reason to worry there. (I've no doubt I could wield his power far more effectively, and am terrified that someday that might happen and then we'll see what sort of damage in my own internal prism would cause the power to refract in terrible ways.) And I've already talked about Leo and his particular pathologies, not to mention that sharing the parentage we have drags the both of us down together, without any effort on my part. QED. So it's not like the hierarchy that Summer accuses me of wanting to destroy is demonstrably extant. Point demolished, right? But emotions are slippery eels that bite when you don't expect it. My logical analysis doesn't mean I don't have Creatures from the Id pointing jealously at Harry's family, Leo having a girlfriend(s) and best buddy (all custom-built), Adam still being sweet, Charlotte pursuing an afterlife of self-discovery and world-healing, or, hell, Summer being beloved by everyone and carving out a place for herself in the world ... and those Creatures screaming, "It's not fair that I don't have that, so I'll destroy it." I have bad dreams along those lines, dripping in blood. I don't remember much about them, and I definitely don't mention them to my friends. Or Parker. Or myself. * * * And is this, ultimately, all about Jason? Ugh. So un-Bechdellian. Fitting Jason into the framework of emotional hierarchies, it's easy to see how he's damaged goods as well. But that's not what this is all about. How do I feel about Jason? Oooh, how about, does that feeling affect how I'm reacting toward Summer, whom Jason definitely seems to have a less-unhealthy attraction toward? He "has feelings" toward both of us, he built her a freaking body , dammit (and out of one of my father's old chassis to boot) and it's not hard to understand why he'd want a happy, perky, attractive, compliant, caffeine-administering fembot, who clearly "has feelings" back toward him (and self-deprecates her attractiveness to him). Especially in comparison to what I have to offer. So, am I jealous?  Am I that  girlfriend, dammit?  That wasn't what Summer was intimating at, but I can't avoid the thought myself. "Just.. just tell Jason you love him, if you do. You don't have to do anything else. You don't have to date him, if you don't want. Just.... just please, tell him your feelings, honestly. Then see where that takes you." Jason and I have a bond, a connection of experience. It's warped and twisted (and has been frayed and snapped and retied and wound and reinforced and sawed at and ...), but it's still there. People in danger. People in crisis. In emergencies. They reach out. They build relationships. It's human hothouse psychology, herd mentality, race survival baked into our genes. Those relationships rarely survive when the circumstances that built them change. The hothouse doors are left open, and the heat and moisture disperse, leaving the plants to wither. If I push this thing with Jason, I might learn it's precisely that. Maybe that's why I've been -- -- okay, I can say it -- -- urging him toward me, then leaping on flaws to push him back again. Pursuing him, then taking offense and backing off. If I'm never satisfied, then I can keep the relationship in homeostasis and not worry about it. Unsatisfying, but safe, without the apparent risk of learning it's unreal or dead. I wish I knew what he felt about it. Us. Maybe I should ask him. Dammit. * * * The bus slides to my stop. I could take a transfer from here, but I can use a walk to clear my head. It's not a bad part of town -- almost a shame, as I could use a mugging as a distraction. Distraction. So, have I learned anything from this? My brain has been ranging all over the map, as if being physical free(ish) has let pent-up and not-to-be-examine emotions boil out into the sunlight as well. Summer, whatever else she is (or isn't), managed to hit on a combination of brain- and heart-twisters that burrowed in and blew things up quite neatly. I just want to go yeah-can't-quite-call-it-home and ... do something to numb myself. That sounds like a spectacularly bad idea for certain values of "numb," but ... To Do: 1. Monitor Summer. What is she? What are her limitations? What threat does she represent? Is she actually under some outward direction or control, or is she self-motivated, and, in either case, to what end? Can I get a code review? (Would it do any good? I mean, I'm a hypergenius, but this is Leo's specialty. Let's see him sink every ball on the pool table on the break. Five times running. That funded my operation for a month.) (Am I mistaken in my premises about Summer? I think not, but a scientist never avoids the possibility -- and I once thought my father infallible.) 2. Monitor Leo, in particular his robozombie program. Is he cognizant of what he's done? Is it by intent, or out of need. Should I try to stop him? Can I stop him. (Not yet. But this is a long-term campaign.) Can he be channeled to something more positive for humanity, or his he too tainted, too much his father's son? (Yadda yadda premises.) Both 1 and 2 mean sticking around the Menagerie. Which I'd intended to do anyway, for my own selfish reasons, even if part of me now wants to find the Greyhound terminal and get the hell out while I can, AEGIS be damned. But it's the only way to keep in close ("and your enemies closer"). To figure out what's going on. To be a "friend," and listen, and learn. Mid-to-long-term infiltration, engagement, investigation. Parker would be thrilled. But maybe this is the reason (if one can talk about higher reasons) I'm here. And ... 3. Talk to Jason. God dammit. I walk down the twilit sidewalk, hands in my pockets, and desperately try not to think of anything. I've thought too much already.
Summer presses the phone against her forehead and starts to cry. Dammit. (Honestly, I didn't read your entry until I was done with mine.)
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If you'd prefer a more cheerful follow-on than Summer crying, try this.  https://i.imgur.com/PXechFT.png
HA! Okay, that made my day. Thank you.