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.
“Recognise agent four: Dr Julian Robertson,” the holo gen chirped.
“Okay, Jules,” Diane said, “pair your phone with the holo gen. It’s on the house-net as—”
“Yes, I know that, Di. You’re forgetting, I’ve paired before during SFWC meetings.”
“So you have. Sorry.”
“Is your holo-generator compatible with the latest neuralmap protocols? I’d like to see what my phone can do.”
“Not sure, Jules, but give it a go.”
Julian placed his phone on the table, moved his hands away from it and closed his eyes. After a delay that couldn’t have been more than fifteen to twenty seconds, his content started to appear on the virtual whiteboard in a fetching shade of lilac. Links with existing content appeared automatically, and as they did, some sections of the mind map began to stand out in a bolder type-face, and some connecting lines became thicker. Four faces looked on in amazement.
“Wow,” Diane exclaimed, “I’ve never known it do that before; not as quickly, anyway.”
“What?” Julian asked, “Import the data or make the connections?”
“Either. Both. I mean, I’ve always had to kick off the transfer by hand, then tell it to calculate once the data are all in. And just the number-crunching can take up to an hour.”
“But that’s for a whole novel…”
“Even so. Seconds instead of hours. That’s impressive. Hang on. Holo-gen: display versions.”
“HoloGen eighteen dot three dot zero stable; Brainstorm five dot zero dot zero beta.”
“Holo-gen: who authorised beta software?”
“This device determined it to be sufficiently stable. It offers numerous significant improvements on version four and this device is monitoring for any anomalies, reporting them to Brainstorm Inc and working around them.”
“What was that about?” Bernice asked.
Julian struck up a professorial pose and explained, “Many devices now incorporate high levels of intelligence and can out-perform all but the brightest humans in decision-making.”
“In a little box like that?”
“Heavens no. The holo gen is permanently connected to the hypercloud. It keeps itself up to date without any human intervention and can decide which levels of upgrade to install.”
“Isn’t that dangerous; leaving the machine to decide for itself what to upgrade? Especially if it grabs unproven software.”
“Might have been in your day, Bernie. Now, though, it’s generally thought too dangerous to leave non-technical users to make those decisions.”
“But what about hackers?”
“Hasn’t been an issue,” Julian replied.
“Not until a few days ago,” Jonas added.
“Speaking of which,” Julian added, “someone mentioned regression.”
“Okay,” Bernice said, “let’s do this. Where do you want me?”
“Where we are is fine; or we can move to the lounge.”
“Do you mind if we watch?” Diane asked.
“I don’t,” Julian replied.
“Fine by me, too,” Bernice added, “and I’m happy to do it here, while you’ve got the whiteboard in front of you.”
Jonas and Diane relaxed back into their chairs.
“Right,” Julian said, “can we lower the light, Di?”
“Holo-gen; reduce room lighting to forty percent.”
The box emitted a short beep, and the room lighting became dimmer.
“Now, Bernie,” Julian said, in his very best, soft therapist’s voice, “I want you to relax and look at my pendule* as I swing it in front of you and concentrate on my voice.”
“I’ve never heard it called that before,” Bernice said, “and isn’t it a big one!”
“Family heirloom,” Julian replied, “belonged to my great-great grandfather. It’s an original Waltham, from 1876. Now relax, clear your mind and concentrate on my voice.”
Julian slowly and carefully brought Bernice to a trance state.
“Where are you, Bernice?” he asked.
“In my Momma’s house.”
“What do you see around you?”
“Momma’s crying. I need to go to her.”
“Why is she crying?”
“She said Poppa’s gone to a better place. I think that means he’s dead and ain’t coming home no more. I don’t know what to do…”
“Bernice. I want you to come forward in time. Can you do that for me?”
Bernice started to wail, deeply and uncontrollably.
“What’s the matter, Bernice? Where are you?”
“I just got back from Momma’s funeral. How am I supposed to go on with my life, now my Momma’s been killed by a low-life drunk driver?”
Julian turned to Diane and whiwpered,”This isn’t working. I need to bring her back,” then, addressing Bernice directly,, “Come back to me, Bernie. Come back.”
Bernice’s eyes flew open. “Did you learn anything?” she asked, brightly.
“Not yet, Bernie. I’m afraid you went to some sad places and times. Let’s take a break for an hour and try again, shall we?”
“I’ll make tea,” Jonas said, rushing out of the room as though his bum were on fire.
*Julian pronounced the word pondule in the French way