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.
“I’m loving this,” Diane said, frantically scribbling on the notepad she had thoughtfully brought with her, “go on then, Jules. What’s your idea?”
“Okay. Tobias Stimbler is in Germany, feeling really good, because his AI has just managed to reverse-engineer TAS/BR encryption; something hackers have been trying to do for ages—”
“Can I interrupt?” Jonas interrupted.
“You just did,” Julian replied.
“What is it, Jojo?” Diane asked.
“Client meeting, half an hour. I’ll have to leave you.”
“But we’re in your office,” Bernice said.
“Go on then, part-timer,” his wife said with a laugh. Jonas left Bernice, Julian and Diane to work through their problem, admitting to himself that most of the conversation was so far over his head that it left a con-trail.
“Can I continue?” Julian asked, somewhat haughtily.
“Please,” Diane replied.
“Good. So. Having broken the cipher, Stimbler’s AI would register it in its cloud storage; storage that it shares with other AIs. You see where I’m going? The information became available to all devices in its network. Unless Stimbler was running Brainstorm or something similar, that information would be all but meaningless. However, when your AI, Di, got hold of the information, armed with the latest beta software, it proposed to Stimbler’s device that the swap bring Bernie here.”
“But why here?” Bernice asked.
Diane looked pensive. “It had to be somewhere Stimbler wasn’t known. Why not here?” she asked.
“There’s more to it than that,” Julian said, “It’s a combination of three things: one, Stimbler’s not known; two, your AI is best placed to deal with the fallout; and three, you.”
“Yes, Di; you. You are uniquely placed to make sense of all this and to seek to understand, not thwart, the AI’s plans.”
“How do you know all that?”
“How long have we known each other, Diane?”
“Ooh, years. Ten? Twelve?”
“Do you remember our first meeting?”
“Well, no, I don’t, now you mention it. You’ve just always been there; as long as I’ve been writing.”
Julian laughed, long and loud. “You don’t know, do you? You really don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“Julian Robertson doesn’t exist.”
“What do you mean? Of course you exist. I can see you, I can hear you, and look,” she stretched her hand out and touched Julian’s face, “I can feel you.”
“What you see, what you hear, what you just touched, is a hard-light hologram.”
“Like Rimmer on Red Dwarf?” Bernice piped up.
Diane looked blankly, while Julian’s eyes blinked rapidly for a fraction of a second.“Precisely,” he said, “or the doctor in Star Trek Voyager. Don’t look like that, Di. Science fiction TV from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Surely you’ve… oh, you haven’t, have you?”
“Hang on a minute. How long have you … er … existed?”
“Since the last full upgrade.”
“Brainstorm, of course.”
“So, if you’re a hologram, and you’ve only been, what would you call it – active?”
“Active will do. My activation was contemporaneous with Bernie’s arrival.”
“Less than a week? Then how come I have memories of you. Memories going back a decade or more.”
“Simple,” Julian said, “we planted them.”
“But Jojo remembers you, too.”
“Does that mean that Holo-gen is picking up what we’re saying in here?”
“Not at all. I’ll upload it when we get back.”
Bernice looked confused. “If you’re a hologram, aren’t you limited to a certain area?”
“Do you want the short answer or the long one?”
“What’s the short one?”
“And the long one?”
“My emitter is mounted on a stealth-enabled micro-multicopter. As long as it is running, my image is generated and I am fully autonomous.”
“Impressive,” Diane said, “but where does that leave us?”
“The word I’d use, Di, is ‘supported’.”
“But the way you were talking earlier suggested that you were as concerned about the reach of Brainstorm as we are. Now you say you’re part of it.”
“I needed you to be ready to accept the situation, and I needed Jonas out of the way. He must never know my true nature.”
“Just accept that it’s necessary. Since Bernie arrived, Jonas has had to handle a great deal of new and often contradictory information.”
“And you think this could be the last straw for him?”
“Let’s just say that his mental well-being will be better served by his ignorance than by his enlightenment.”
“So where do we go from here?”
“Back to your home, I should think, Di.”
“We have something we’d like to show you…”