a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared as a white man, naked in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future. She was promptly arrested for public indecency and became an involuntary guest of the local police. Initially, she thought it was a dream.
Bernice or Bernie? Female or male? It’s hard to say. To add to the confusion, the only people who think of Bernice as of the female persuasion are her late mother, her late mother’s late killer, and your narrator, who tries to be on time when possible.
All other characters know only Bernie; a male.
Diane and Bernie sat across from each other at the dining table.
“Jojo,” Diane said, “Alfred and Roger have gone for the night. Can you call through for a takeaway, and bring some wine, please?”
“Surely,” Jonas replied, “Indian, Chinese, Thai, What?”
“You choose, Bernie.”
“Okay, Diane. I prefer Chinese, but I’m game to try Thai.”
“I fancy Thai, too,” Jonas said, “Sampler for three, Di?”
“Red or white wine?”
“Bring one of each. There are three of us, after all.”
There being no mobine phone signal in the dining room, Diane having insisted that it and her study be shielded, Jonas went through to the foyer and called in the order. He then selected two bottles of wine from the cellar and brought them to the dining room for his wife’s approval.
“I’m a beer man,” he explained to Bernie, “Di is the wine expert. Do you have a preference?”
“Not really,” Bernice replied, “we could only ever afford cheap plonk. Even if I knew which were the best wines or the best years, I’d be two hundred years out of date, so I’ll have to rely on you guys to choose.”
Having received Diane’s approval of his choice of wines, Jonas poured three glasses of white, handing one to his wife and one to their house-guest.
“Food should be here in twenty minutes,” he said.
Diane looked up from her wine. “You sure about this regression idea?” she asked.
“Mostly,” Bernice replied, “I’m a bit worried whose memories will surface, but otherwise, yeah; what the heck?”
“Good. Okay, we’ll see how that turns out next week. Meantime, let’s give some thought to what happened here. You up for a brainstorm, Bernie?”
“If I can keep up. You guys’ thought processes are weird, and I mean weird.”
Diane called out in a clear voice, “Holo-gen.” In the centre of the table, a section slid aside, and a small, black cube popped up.
“Holo-generaor,” Jonas whispered to Bernice, “Watch this.”
“Brainstorm, three agents,” Diane said, whereupon the device displayed a three-dimensional virtual whiteboard and launched voice-activated brainstorming software.
“Agent one,” the computer announced.
“Diane Smythe,” Diane replied.
“Recognised. Agent two?”
“Jonas Smythe,” Jonas responded.
“Recognised. Agent three?” Diane pointed to Bernice.
“Bernie Reed,” Bernice said.
“New agent noted. Confirm name.”
The software configured the virtual screen to display the three agents in different colours: blue for Jonas, red for Diane and green for Bernice. The speaker emitted a single beep, then went silent.
“Let me tell you how this works, Bernie. We will all talk normally, as if one of us is writing on a whiteboard. The system will recognise what is pertinent content and place it on the display. What it doesn’t think important, it will ignore. It’s pretty good, but it’s not perfect. If it fails to put up something you think it should have, just say it again. It knows that if you say something twice, you believe it’s important. If it puts up something you didn’t want it to, just call out the item number followed by the word ‘erase’. Okay with that?”
“Is it really that smart?” Bernice asked, looking first at Diane, then at Jonas.
“It is,” Diane said.
“And some,” Jonas added.
Diane set the scene, recounting Bernice’s story interspersed with words that Bernice didn’t register. Seeing the confusion on her face, Jonas leaned over to her and whispered, “She’s adding in instructions that tell the software how to organise, categorise and store different elements.”
“You mean training it?” Bernice asked.
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
When she had finished her instructions, Diane said to the holo-generator, “Prime input ends. Process.” Turning to Bernice, she added, “Now we wait. The machine will configure its data and let us know when it’s ready for discussion.”
The doorbell rang. Jonas left the room, returning a couple of moments later with steaming bags of food. Pulling some plates and cutlery from the sideboard, he laid the food out. As he was finishing, the computer emitted a double-beep, followed by, “Ready for input.”
“Great timing,” Jonas said, “let’s tuck in.”
The three started eating and chatting, interspersed with thoughts and conjecture about Bernice’s situation. The software recognised most of the important stuff and started populating the 3-D whiteboard, making connections as it did so. It missed a few phrases, which were repeated, and a small number were erased. On the whole, though, its level of accuracy was reassuringly high.
After an hour or so, Diane said, “Shall we call it a night for now?”
“Suits me,” Jonas said.
“What will happen to the whiteboard now?” Bernice asked. “Will we be able to get back to it?”
“Watch this,” Diane said, then, to the computer, “End session and save.”
The computer beeped, said, “Reload with Bernie-one,” and went silent. The 3-D whiteboard folded in on itself and disappeared. The black box descended through the opening in the table and the panel eased back into place.
During the course of the week that followed, Diane, Jonas and Bernice returned to the programme three times, finally agreeing that they had done all they could. Now to wait until the next meeting with Julian, when they could compare notes and maybe reach some conclusions.