Monday, June 03, 2013

Fractal, Part II

This is the second part of a short story draft. Part I.

"I think we have a problem," David said, sitting himself down across from me in the breakdown as I finished my coffee. He was biting his bottom lip.

"Do we ever not have a problem?" I joked. But it might not have sounded like a joke.

David waved his hand impatiently. "I've tried to get a full reaction from her, and I think we've failed."

I put down my coffee and sat back in surprise. "How can you say that we have failed when we have done something no one else could possibly do? We have done it. We succeeded it."

"She's not responding properly," he replied with a shake of his head. "I need you to check me on it, make sure I'm not making some stupid mistake somewhere."

I sighed and stood. "I will look into it, of course. I think Conference Room 3 is open now; we can do it there."

He nodded and was off. It was very strange, seeing David all worry and no calm. Unsettling.

When I made it to Conference Room 3, she was already there, sitting quietly. She looked with girlish interest at me.

"Do I know you?" she asked.

I sat down and pulled out a legal pad. "Do you feel like you know me?" I returned.

"Yes." She continued looking at me. Also very unsettling.

"Do you know what your name is?"

She seemed to think a moment. Then she said, "Rebecca."

"You seem hesitant about that."

"No," she said. "I am very sure of it. But it takes an effort to remember. Is David going to join us?"

"You have already talked to David?"

"Yes."

"What did you talk about?"

"I'm not sure," she said. "It was strange."

"Did you recognize David?"

"Yes." The answer was very firm. "I feel like I know him very well."

"Do you remember anything specific about him?"

She frowned and seemed to think for a moment. "No," she said. "At least, nothing definite. It all seems to fade in and out and blur into everything else." She continued frowning thoughtfully, then suddenly looked sharply at me. The sharp look was very much a Becky look. "Charli," she said. The frown became a shy smile, which was not Becky-like at all.

I smiled in spite of myself. "Yes," I said. "I am Charli. Do you remember anything else about me?"

The frown returned. "No." But a moment later she said. "Is Sparky around?"

"He's usually in David's office. Did you remember Sparky before? Did you talk about Sparky with David?"

"No," she said. "It just came to mind, thinking about you and David. Who is Sparky?"

"Sparky is a dog."

She stared at me, or rather through me, for a moment. Then she shook her head. "Sparky's not a dog. You and David made Sparky." She frowned again. "Sparky was the BCD project."

"Do you know what BCD stands for?"

She had to think a long time for this. "C is Charli and D is David," she said finally.

"And do you know what B stands for?"

"B stands for Becky," she said slowly. Then, startled, "And Becky is another name for Rebecca."

"Yes."

She stared at me. "Am I Becky? But I don't remember any of it."

"When I came in you said your name was Rebecca. Did 'Becky' not feel right?"

She smiled cautiously at me, as if she were uncertain whether I was tricking her. "It still doesn't."

"Do you remember anything besides me and David and Sparky?"

She sighed. "I try, but it's a jumble of things, always shifting around." Then she said abruptly, "You don't seem to tell me much."

I hesitated. "I think it's best if you remember and figure things out on your own."

"Is Becky dead?"

I hesitated again, and she noticed it.

"She is dead. Then I'm not Becky." She paused. "But that doesn't seem right." Then she got a distant look and began to look very upset, and I had the technician sedate her and take her to the room that had been set up for her. Then I went to find David.

"Well?" he said.

"She seems to me to respond just fine," I said. "We have done it. We have passed the Turing Test and then some. She responds like a human being."

"There must be something wrong with the software, though," he replied. "She doesn't remember anything about her life."

"She remembers you and me. And she remembers Sparky. That's successful memory."

"But just fragments. It should all be there."

I leaned back against the wall and gave him a look. "I argued this out with you and Becky at the very beginning. The human brain is not a computer running standardized software. Each human brain grows its own way, with an endless number of factors shaping it, with no clear distinction between hardware and software, building both as it goes along. There is no way to copy that exactly. It's like copying a weather system. That even some of the memories are there in as specific a form as they are is itself an astounding thing."

He was quiet, and I gave him the look again. "David, this was a success. Your method is a complete success. This was the best possible result we had any right or reason to expect. We made your idea real. And you've fulfilled your promise to Becky."

"Becky would have wanted more."

"Yes," I said with a sigh. "But Becky was always like that. And surely it's much better that we don't have some creepy machine running around acting like it's Becky?"

He smiled wrily. "I suppose you're right. I don't know what I was hoping."


*****

To this day I am not sure how well the main presentation at Trisagion went. We looked too much like nervous kids, I imagine. At least, whenever I look at pictures of us from those days, we look almost like children, with fresh faces and goofy smiles, obviously without the faintest idea what the world is like, and obviously oblivious to the fact. And Becky had almost drained out the technical details from the presentation. It started off with pictures from Mandelbrot. None of them had anything to do with anything David was doing, but, as Becky informed us, "You have to bring it down to the level of a dimwitted business major." When David pointed out that the people in the meeting would be engineers, not business majors, she dismissed it as insignificant.

"These days even engineers pitch ideas in business-major-speak," she said. "No ideas make money unless you can give them to the marketing department to put in a commercial or a promotion."

Perhaps she was right. They nodded politely enough. But what really cinched the deal occurred after the presentation, when the man at the end of the table was saying something about how they would look over the supplementary documents and call us, and so forth, and Becky, ignoring him completely, pulled a dog carrier out of a box, set it on the table, and let Sparky out.

It baffled them, of course, and the man on the end apparently did not like dogs, because he started spluttering with something like outrage as Sparky wagged his tail and went happily from person to person. Becky, still ignoring him, pulled out the controller, pressed a few buttons to make Sparky beg, froze him, and opened one of his maintenance seams.

The room was suddenly quiet and still. The man at the end of the table stopped sputtering and, leaning forward on his elbows as if praying, just stared at Sparky in stunned surprise. One of the women at the table, who had petted Sparky when he was making friends, reached out hesitantly and touched him.

"How did you make it so real?"

"That," said Becky, thoroughly victorious in the way only Becky could be, "is a technical detail. There are a lot of technical details, and we will have plenty of time to talk about them about with you in the months to come."

And we did, of course. Who could resist Sparky? Certainly not Trisagion. We were kids just out of school, and they handed over to us a full research lab without any hesitation or even any conditions. BCD had come into its own. I insisted that David be the head of the project, and Becky agreed, although I have always thought that she was irritated by it. In her eyes, she got us the lab, and it was obviously hers. That was just the Becky way of looking at things. But we were all friends, so it didn't matter, and for all practical purposes David's being head of project just meant that he did the most paperwork and sat in the most meetings while Becky and I mostly just did as we pleased. I think she suspected that would be the case.

Six months afterward, David proposed, and, as Becky was not one for waiting, they were married three months after that. For their 'honeymoon' they went to Japan for a big robotics conference. I went along, too; both of them insisted on it. There were times I felt like a third wheel, but we did have lots of fun. And when we got back, it seemed as if our luck would never run out. Every day we seemed to come up with something completely new, and Becky's work alone, in synthetic polymers that were indistinguishable from biopolymers, was the stuff of scientific revolutions.

Strangely, I think Becky became more unhappy the more successful we became. Or perhaps 'restless' is a better word.

to be continued

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