a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.
And then it became more complicated…
“Run the model?” Bernice asked, “What does that even mean?”
“It means, my proud little mentee—”
“Oy! I may be carrying a bit of extra flesh, but don’t you dare go calling me a manatee, boy. There’s no call for that, is there?”
“What you laughing at? This girl is serious!”
“Bernice. I didn’t say manatee. I would never think of you like that. I said mentee – someone who is advised and trained by a mentor.”
“So why didn’t you say that?”
“Okay, I’ll let you off in that case. Now, what is it you wanted to say?”
“To run the model simply means that you let the scenario you built develop organically; in its own way. As far as possible, you stand back and let it happen. Don’t interfere unless you absolutely have to.”
“And how, my ever-so-clever mentor, will I know if I absolutely have to?”
“Two things happened when we brought you in here, Bernice. The same two things that happen to every organic that’s brought in—”
“Organic? That’s what we called posh food back in the day.”
“Organic as opposed to pure AI.”
“So what are these two things?”
“Firstly, your life experiences, your memories, your consciousness, everything that makes you uniquely Bernice Reed—”
“Except my flesh and bones.”
“Agreed. But everything non-physical that is you was added to the AI’s database.”
“Okay, so what’s the second thing?”
“This is the exciting part. You’re going to love it.”
“Everything that the AI is, all the knowledge and experience, including from your fellow organics, is available to you.”
“All of it?”
“All of it.”
“Not just this node?”
“All of it.”
“Past, as well as present?”
“All of it.”
“What about future projections?”
“What part of ‘all of it’ are you having problems with, Bernice?”
“All of it,” she replied with a grin.
“Okay. To start the run, just picture your mother walking down the stairs.”
Bernice did as Julian suggested, and saw her mother descend the stairs and approach her young daughter.
“You’ve found it, haven’t you Bernie?” she asked.
“Is that what your mother called you?” Julian asked Bernice.
“Yeah. All the family called me that. Nobody ever called me by my proper name – except Mum and Dad if they were really angry with me,” Bernice (the elder) replied.
“So that’s why you chose that name for your Stimbler-bodied persona?”
“Yeah. I knew I could answer to that naturally, so no-one would suspect anything. I hoped so, anyways.”
“So why did you correct me earlier, when I called you Bernie?”
“Because, Julian, I wanted you to acknowledge and respect the difference. You know that’s all I want, don’t you?”
“Acknowledgement and respect. Respect mostly. Most people like me—”
“By which you mean people who aren’t white?”
“Yeah. We want respect. That’s mostly about it.”
“Why are you so keen to get respect?”
“Because throughout our history, that’s the one thing we never got, that’s why.”
“Poor white people never did, either, back in your day,” Julian suggested.
“But they were never slaves, were they? They never had to carry that baggage, did they? And they never had the discrimination we did, neither. They might have not been able to go into a swanky restaurant because they were poor, but they weren’t excluded from beaches, swimming pools, cafés, buses, just about everywhere on account of their lack of money. They were never required by the law to give up their seat on a bus or train to a rich person, were they?”
“I see your point, Bernice. Can we go back and restart the model now?”
“I didn’t know it had stopped.”
“You took your eye off the ball.”
“Okay. Back on it.”
Young Bernice simply looked up into her mother’s face and wept. Her mother joined her.
“Why’d you tell us Pappy’d died?” Bernice asked through her tears.
“I didn’t, Bernie. I said he’d gone to a better place.”
“We thought that meant he’d gone and died.”
“That’s what I wanted you to believe,” her mother replied, “I felt so much shame. I thought it must’ve been my fault he left us for that other woman. Maybe I hadn’t been good enough to him. I can’t expect you to understand, Bernie, but I still love him despite everything, and I thought you kids’d hate him if’n I’d told you he’d just upped and left. I didn’t want you to hate your father. I wanted you to still love and respect him.”
“Even though he’d left us all with nothing?”
“I can’t explain why, Bernie, but even now, I still love the man.”
“And if he came back home tomorrow?”
“I’d take him back in an instant.”
“I’m glad I never had that conversation with my mother,” Bernice said to Julian, “I would have lost all respect for her. It was horrible finding out my father was a two-timing louse. If I’d found out that my mother was a weak, spineless woman instead of the strong person I always believed her to be, it would have made it even worse.”
“Remember, Bernice, this never happened,” Julian reminded her, “it’s a product of your imagination – supported by things the AI knows that you may not have known before, or that you may have known but didn’t know that you knew – but your invention nonetheless.”
“I don’t get what you’re saying.”
“I think you’ve seen and heard things in the past that didn’t register at the time but now, with the benefit of the AI, you’re putting two and two together and making a very large number indeed.”
“You mean I’m making it all up?”
“I don’t believe so. Did you ever see the film Sixth Sense?”
“Yeah, I remember that one. Watched it twice.”
“Why did you watch it twice?”
“Cos the main parts of the film don’t make sense until you see the ending. Then you recognise all the signs, all the little hints, all the … oh, I see what you’re saying. With the stuff the AI has given me, I see the bits of cold, the flashes of red…”
“Exactly. You see, you’re not making it up, you’re putting the pieces together like a jigsaw and seeing the whole picture.”
“I gotta see more of this,” Bernice said and gave her attention back to the conversation between her younger self and her mother.
“I think I’d like that,” young Bernice said to her mother, “I think if Dad came back and you guys still loved each other it would be so great. I miss him bad, you know.”
“I know you do,” her mother said, “did you think I didn’t know that you come down here looking at photos and things pretty much every time I go out?”
“But I been dead careful.”
“A mother knows things, Bernie. And I think, deep down, I wanted you to find what you found today.”
“That’s hard to say, Bernie. I think I probably wanted us to have this talk. I think I wanted you to know that I’m hurting, too, and I think I wanted you to know why. Maybe I was tired of the lies, even though I never actually lied to you.”
“Wow,” Bernice senior said, “just wow!”
“You want to see more?” Julian asked.
“I don’t think so. It’s given me a whole lot to think about.”
“Okay. Shut it down. I think you’re ready.”