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.