All art is by Aisaku.
Part 1 - Alive
I woke to Dida’s little yawn between my ears.
Before I could say my usual, half-uttered “gumornin”, Dida seemed to jump up and begin rattling between my synapses.
“Mr. Glossian, I have downloaded twelve songs from your recommended playlist while you were unavailable. Also, I have monitored your incoming calls. There have been no emergencies or critical notifications. I gave a terse reply to a pinger bot though. The nerve! I sure gave it what for!”
It was invigorating to feel Dida’s hyper, pre-pubescent tone vibrate through my skull. I could almost sense her physically dashing around my brain with all that boundless energy.
After most of a yawn, I replied, “Thanks, Dida. Tell me about my day.”
The sound of a notepad shuffling, a default sound I’d long given up switching off with how much Dida enjoyed playing it, repeated a few times. “I have your meeting with Mr. Orantes and Ms. Chambers so far as work. Then you said to remind you about a new belt because you lost some weight and you’re also out of probiotics. Shall I order them through your preferred delivery service?”
I rubbed my right eye a few times. “Don’t worry, Dida. I’ll pick it up after work. I’ll make sure you don’t waste away.”
She giggled softly. “Thank you, although my colonization rate is still in the upper nineties. I’m several weeks from it being detrimental to my abilities.”
I set my feet on the ground and pushed the covers up. “You know, Dida, it still amazes me how normal this all is.” The covers remembered to pull themselves back in order.
With a few popping joints, I rose. Dida made a little noise. “Oh! Is it time for a trip to the chiropractor?”
I shook my head a few times and it popped as well. “Nah, just didn’t sleep straight.”
She fussed in a virtual space. “Shall I decrease the level of caffeine in your coffee today?”
I snorted. “Let’s not go quite that far but feel free to adjust my serotonin levels tonight, if needed.”
“Gotcha!” She dove forth.
I pushed open the door to the bathroom, scratched at my hair, and continued my previous thought. “I mean people like my father. He still shuns integrated systems like you.”
She seemed to pause, and I could feel the curiosity of her gaze upon me. “He shuns us…why?”
The door gently settled back in place behind me as I entered the bathroom. All was in order. Dida was a vigilant little maid with her crew of house systems.
I stood over the toilet, lifted the lid, and unbuttoned my boxers.
“He’s old-fashioned. He believes computers should be on our desks and not in our heads and in our lives. And also…”
A yellow stream rushed into the basin.
Dida quietly asked, “...And also?”
“And also…” I finished when the stream came to a halt. “He doesn’t like the idea of fungal computers, especially ones in our brains. And I have to admit I was hesitant at first as well.”
She gave a tiny gasp. “But…you feel okay now, right?” Her voice sounded so frail, like a child hesitantly begging for love.
Although I knew logically that her reactions were synthetic, I also knew that the fungal processing units were more efficient with positive feedback.
“Yes, Dida. I feel quite fine. Thank you.”
In return, she made an indescribable but happy little sound. I buttoned back up and stood in front of the mirror.
After rubbing the rough, spackle-like scruff on my chin, I posed the same question to Dida, “And how do you feel now, Dida?”
The sound of her footsteps ceased and she seemed to nearly trigger the pratfall audio. I enjoyed the little verbal cues her system added. Though I could’ve turned them off, like many users did, the thought never crossed my mind.
I sense Dida’s confusion followed by a quick ‘umm…’. I expected to hear her typical “My processes are all functioning optimally!” when I posed these sorts of questions.
But her reply took a moment. I was reaching for the razor, so I waited. She soon seemed to notice my action and made a sudden, embarrassed noise. “GAH!...I mean…processes all functioning optimally!”
I held and twirled the razor. “I’m glad your processes are as they should be, but how do you feel about yourself?”
She sounded nervous. “…myself, Mr. Glossian? But the processes are me.”
I splashed my face before I started shaving. “Yeah. But then it’s said the neurons in my brain are me, but they don’t say ‘the neurotransmitters are balanced correctly today’, do they?”
She giggled, though softly. “That would be silly, Mr. Glossian.”
I clapped my hands on my cheeks. “So, what about it?”
“My apologies but I’m not human, Mr. Glossian. I can’t put together anything like human feelings except from a personality file.” I thought I could hear a light trace of melancholy in her statement.
I pressed the guide-light of the razor against my face. “But you are alive. Living beings have sensations.”
It was a line of questioning I’d posed to her several times out of curiosity.
I could tell how she would respond though.
“Though I am composed of a benign strain of Candida albicans, that’s just the genetic carrier for my program and systems.”
Of course, I knew. It was how I named her in the first place. Nothing I said could’ve convinced her she was a living being any more than a pig could be convinced it suddenly had wings, and yet, I still persisted in bringing up the topic from time to time.
I acknowledged she was right in this matter and that seemed to settle things. Dida’s chipper tone returned. “I’m glad I could clear it up! I want to make sure you have a beautiful day, Mr. Glossian.”
I nodded slowly. “Thank you, Dida. Now you said before you downloaded a dozen new songs into my head. Let’s hear them.”
Her small sound re-energized. I’d given her a clear and useful task. She jumped right into it with the frenetic joy of a kid with a new toy. She chirped out, “Right away, sir!” and dashed deep into her memory.
By the time the razor had pulverized my stubble with sound, another sound filled my head, Dida’s new songs. A small moment passed when I thought perhaps she was singing in a suddenly-mature tone but her normal voice chirped between the lilting lyrics, “You like?”
I waited for the chorus before I gave her a slow nod and a smile. “It’s growing on me. Good job, Dida.”
The melody played in my head. Sometimes she gave a little idle sound of sorting her recent downloads as though they were ancient CDs she was putting in an order I’d like. I slipped off my clothes and set them in a corner. I knew they would be done washing before me.
As the water tumbled like wet static over my head between musical notes, I let the warmth sink into my stiff joints. Dida giggled, as though she could feel the water tickling the skin of her home.
With my eyes shut, my mind began to drift through the concordance of sounds.
“Hey bro! Guess what?!”
With all the enthusiasm of an old and tired joke, I answered, “Okay. What. Am I right?”
Returning more chuckles than such a response really deserved, Kary, my elder sibling, laid out the cause of his enthusiasm.
“TOADS is up and running!”
I’d since lost track of all the flavor-of-the-week projects he’d been involved with, but I feigned a measure of encouragement.
“Nice…so that one…?”
“It’s the one that'll change the world as we know it! And plus it has…almost the greatest project name ever! TOADS!”
It’d been a long time since I’d been on the same page as Kary, even before we used to read books together at bedtime.
“Toads…” I’d heard of them. What was left of them, at least.
“YEAH! Exactly! TOADS! Well, really TOAD would be best. Or even TOADSTOOL, but that's either too short or too long of a name for it.”
I could tell he was trying to instill a sense of anticipation in me. It wasn’t quite working.
Still, I had to ask the next logical question.
He shot off a long and technical stream of terms which ended with “sporological” or “sporangium”. The rest slipped from my mind.
In his joking tone, he added, “I wanted to call it PRINCESS TOADSTOOL but that never would’ve worked.”
I prodded the black glass of the phone with my thumb.
“Okay okay...for a pleb. Our lab has managed to create a computer that isn’t designed but rather grown. It’s allllliiiivvve!”
I felt a shiver ripple through my entire body.
The water turned cold for a moment. I jerked back from the stream and aimed the shower head to spray chilly water against the wall.
Dida darted. Through the wall, I heard the faint rattle of shifting water. The stream warmed again slowly.
Her faint whimpers broke through the crescendo of the song.
I wiped the droplets from my vision and asked softly, “Dida?”
She didn’t answer at first. When she did, the words sounded like glass losing its balance. “Yes…sir?”
After a long breath, the first song finished. “What happened, Dida?”
The glass pivoted. “I…am uncertain, sir. But the initial diagnostic seems…it seems to say that there was an error. I am cross-checking all indices for further critical errors.”
“Error?” I turned down the stream of water.
Dida didn’t speak for several seconds. I worried until she gave a tiny cough.
“The error was in organizing control. OC should’ve kept the warmest water diverted here during your shower to affect only a minimal reduction in shower temperature. Instead, the situation went unmitigated by OC.”
I enjoyed Dida’s technical talk much more than Kary’s. I mentally sifted her statement until I came up with, “You drifted off?”
“Yes, sir. Sorry.”
I turned the stream of water off.
Dida whimpered and added, a moment later, “I failed you…”
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Bio: I'm MajorKerina and I love to collaborate creatively with a group of friends to make tales where people have their genders, identities, and very realities questioned, contorted, and turned upside-down. I like slice-of-life with a spicing of the supernatural, strange, or surreal. Reality with a scent of the impossible. You can find me on DeviantArt, Twitter, ScribbleHub, and other places.