All art is by Aisaku.
Part 3 - Nursery
I did wonder why the Transportation Authority would install such a personality on their problems-reporting server. I also wondered if Dida would respond to the other AI differently if I changed her setting and would the AI even remember Dida if we had to call again?
The bus hissed as its brakes charged its air compressor. The double doors of the bus fluttered with ads for a local pizzeria. A section of the image quivered as it snaked around the end of the bus. I stepped inside and took a seat across from a pair of teenage girls. They had irises augmented for size, color, and expressiveness. Their skin looked like the covering of a toy. They traded a ball of light between one another and giggled.
I could tell they both had versions of living FungAI like Dida. Their backpacks curled around each other like wrestling octopi.
A little girl swam in the glass behind me. “Hi!” She waved to me.
Dida coughed and she seemed to waver. “Oh! I see your security settings have locked out all pringers. Would you like to lower your settings temporarily to hear my valuable message?”
I could hear Dida pound her foot. “No pringers allowed!”
“If you don’t act now, then this deal may be lost forever.”
I could almost feel Dida waving the pringer away. “Get lost!”
She lingered a moment but then respectfully glided along the ceiling. Better than most pringers.
I leaned back on the bench. The teenage girls talked to one another in a strange blend of what sounded like Esperanto and Japanese. In the back of the bus sat an older man looking at and talking to the floor.
He smiled at it and said, “How are you today?...Aww. Well, I suppose we’ll need to do something about that. Can you call out? Feel up to it?...Good.”
In a different age, perhaps he would’ve been considered insane, but I recognized right away he was chatting on a private, augmented-reality line with his computer. I could tell that the girls had a semi-public line, typical of that age group.
A businesswoman clutched a pole and glared through a pair of stylized glasses, the more private type. She was communicating by eye-gestures.
I massaged the base of my neck.
“Mr. Glossian, would you like to continue with the playlist? I paused it temporarily.”
That she had, though I couldn’t recall quite when. It must’ve been around when the pringer showed up.
“Continue with playlist, please.”
I’d briefly tried an interface with Dida, but it felt clumsy. And I stayed away from augmented-reality add-ons.
Dida asked me about it only once. I told her, “Someday”.
And so it’d been for four years.
“It’s been too long, bro.” Kary shook my hand and adjusted his tie at the same time.
“Feels longer.” He gave my shoulder a stronger pat than I think he intended. He covered by rubbing it a little. “Shall I show you around?”
I slipped off my coat. “That’s why I’m here.”
“And truly…I am grateful, bro. It’s half my dream.”
He set my coat on a smooth wall. Despite the smooth surface, the material clung to it as though it were sticky.
Cracking my neck, I naturally asked, “What’s the other half?”
Kary clapped his hands. “That’s the half I cede to fate. But let’s not dwell on that. I want to show you everything.”
Kary’s labs were modest but stacked with activity. He rushed between areas, whispering little notes here and there as we walked along.
He passed a semi-translucent slip of paper to me. The paper warmed up and responded to my touch. It displayed the facts of Kary’s operation with a light smattering of sound and pictures.
I’d just started to watch the paper when he took it away from me. Before I could protest, he cleared his throat and said, “That is the past. For all this time, computers have been dependent on holding and manipulating things. The interface is an interference. That’s our motto. And we believe the future lies in integration.”
I rubbed an eye. “Enough buzz-words, K. Can we cut to it?”
He pressed his lips together and slowly nodded. “You’re right. I’m not out to convince you about the technology. We’ve talked enough about that. Heh…I guess I just haven’t gotten over the fact dad will never set foot in this place.”
I returned the pat.
Kary smiled. “But enough about that. I am so psyched my little bro is going to get on board.”
I smiled back gently. “We’ll see. You’ve got me here and I’m interested but I need to be sure about the whole thing before I decide to commit.”
He laid out the benefits, beginning with the financial bonus of being a beta-user, followed by reminders of positives he’d laid out again and again.
But then he stopped and grinned widely. “…Although, I think the best idea is if you just meet one.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
He guided me deep into the facility and to a room which would’ve been the typical mad scientist’s lab if this were any self-respecting theater-released blockbuster back when those were still a thing. Of course, this being my brother, the walls had kittens and the organization was immaculate.
At the center of the room, in a small curved bowl, was an off-white collection of what looked like gooey ball-bearings rising in size from the center to the edges. I held my breath. The container of my brother’s science experiment.
With time, I came to think of it as a nursery.
Kary already did.
I cringed when he talked about it like that. He showed me all the gadgets around the room, the uses of which I couldn’t have explained five minutes later.
But one did stay with me. He passed an earplug to me.
“Shove it in real snug”, he advised.
I pressed it in as far as I could, mildly concerned that it would be stuck.
Before I could ask Kary what I was supposed to do next, a faint little voice asked a cautious, “Hello?”
He passed a microphone to me as well. I blinked at him and returned the ‘hello’ through the microphone. I recalled an elaborate practical joke Kary had pulled on me when I was eight.
“Are you Mr. Glossian’s younger brother, sir?”
The voice sounded gentle, curious, and a little bit fearful. It seemed hesitant, careful not to make assumptions.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.”
I covered the microphone with my hand and asked Kary, “Am I talking to your computer fungus?”
“So….why does it sound like a shy little kid?”
“My question still stands…”
Kary pulled my hand away from covering the microphone. “Because she’s for you.”
I could hear a smile on the other end of the earpiece lodged deep in my ear. “May I be allowed to call you Mr. Glossian as well?”
I told her simply, “That would be accurate and I have no objections.”
My eyes stayed on Kary. He folded his arms and whispered, “Just give her a chance.”
The voice in my ear gave her first little, tentative laugh.
“I would love to know you better, Mr. Glossian. I would enjoy very much to help you to the best of my ability in all things.”
A buzz came from overhead in my section of the bus. The preset arrival warning sounded. I noticed the bus was full, which was common this close to the city center.
I stepped off and made my way to the nearby restaurant where Dida arranged my order.
“Where would Mr. Orantes like to meet, Dida?”
I anticipated the usual, prompt answer but Dida was silent. I cleared my throat and asked again. It took till a third time before she came out of idle with a soft utterance of, “…a pleasure…”
“What was that, Dida?”
“OH! I’m so sorry, Mr. Glossian! I fear that there may be something seriously wrong with organizing control!” She whimpered.
“What happened, Dida?” I tapped a vacant panel in the restaurant to check on my order.
She kept whimpering. “I don’t know what happened, Mr. Glossian. I feel like I failed you. I wasn’t here for you. I’m useless. You should just take a shot of Diflucan!” Dida started sobbing. At least, she initiated the sub-routine and accordant sounds for sobbing.
I touched the top of my head gently. “I wasn’t around here either, Dida. I was…thinking. You know, I’ve noticed today. Whenever my mind wanders, you seem to wander with it. Might it be related?”
It seemed clearly obvious as I thought about it, except for the key point Dida immediately answered with, “But your mind and my systems are kept exclusively-independent. There is no evidence a human mind and something like me can share direct information.”
She was right. There were levels of interface and communication. Some liked to tinker with the boundaries, but they were, in fact, actual boundaries.
But then, it couldn’t hurt to give my brother a call. Just in case.
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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.