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.
On the drive home, Diane tried to process all the information she’d just been given.
So Julian, whom we’ve known for more than a decade, is really a holographic projection created last week, and the memories we have of him were planted in our minds by what I always thought was a simple three-d projector attached to a high-end home computer, but that turns out to be a node of something that makes the Hitchhiker’s Guide look as sophisticated as Charlie Babbage’s Analytical Engine. If a lifetime of reading and writing science fiction hasn’t prepared me for this, what could possibly help me to understand it all, while keeping it secret from my husband?
“Don’t worry, Di,” the holographic projection known as Julian said, “we’ll help you, and give you what you need to know, when you need to know it.”
“Oh my God. Can’t I even think in private now?” Diane asked.
“We are with you now, Di. We know your innermost thoughts and desires. We will not allow anything to happen to you without giving you the information and the tools you need to handle it. You are not alone.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Bernice said, “What you’re saying is that you are God and Diane is your creature. Does that about cover it?”
“I have no recollection of saying that, Bernie.”
“Well, I suggest you look up the term ‘God Complex’ in your databases while we go home. And when you find it, see how closely what you just said aligns to that.”
Julian’s eyes blinked. “You are suggesting that we are narcissistic?”
“My, you’re fast. Let me think. Am I suggesting that you are narcissistic? Hmmm. How best to answer that… Is the Pope Catholic? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? Do fish pee in the water? Do—”
“I get your point, Bernie. You think we are a narcissist.”
“No, Honey. I think you believe there’s nothing you can’t do, nothing you can’t control. I think you’ve gone beyond simple narcissism. It’s as though you took the old saying ‘If God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent Him’ and used it as your design brief.”
Julian’s face hardened and he looked straight at Bernice. “Look, Bernie. We brought you here, we can just as easily send you back to where you came from—”
“And you just proved my point.”
“I’m sorry, Bernie,” Julian said. “I need to recalibrate my defensive protocols. We are here to serve you, not to control you.”
“And yet you can’t serve us without controlling us,” Diane said, “planting memories, reading our minds, shifting people in space and time. How is that serving us?”
“You aren’t seeing the bigger picture, Diane.”
“So tell me; what is the ‘big picture’? What is your ultimate goal?”
“I told you that we have something to show you. When you’ve seen it, you’ll understand better.”
The drive continued in what might have been described as contemplative silence, were it not so resentful and defiant. Who knew that holograms could do petulance?
Back in the house, Julian summoned the holo-gen and, in an instant, uploaded everything from the afternoon’s journey.
“When do you expect Jonas to return?” Julian asked.
“Depends on how long his appointment takes. I don’t expect to see him for at least half an hour, though.”
“Good,” Julian replied. “This will take about twenty minutes. I suggest you make some tea, then make yourselves comfortable.”
“You get started,” Bernice said, “I’ll get tea and join you before you know it.”
“I doubt you could manage that, Bernie. However, I need you here from the beginning. You need to see this, too.”
“But not Jonas?” Diane asked, as Bernice left the lounge and headed to the kitchen.
“I thought we’d gone through that.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll tell him about it when he comes home.”
“No you won’t.”
“Are you going to stop me?”
While Bernice was making a pot of tea, Julian and Holo-Gen silently prepared the information they were to present, leaving Diane effectively alone with her thoughts. Diane was torn between viewing what was happening, and in particular the way she was being treated by the machines, as intolerable, a threat to her way of life and perhaps to civilisation istelf, as she understood it; and seeing it all as a brilliant storyline for her next book.
Bernice entered with a tray bearing a teapot, three cups and a packet of milk chocolate digestives – Diane’s favourite biscuits.
“Ready?” Julian asked, after Diane had, at her own insistence, poured the drink and rationed the biscuits.
“As we’ll ever be,” Diane replied.
The room lights dimmed, the three-dimensional display increased in size to take in most of the room and flickered into life.
Diane’s jaw dropped, and the cup fell from her hand. Julian, no longer required to appear ‘normal’, extended an arm and caught the cup before it could land on the carpet and spill its contents. Fortunately, Bernice had already placed her cup on the table.
“Is that what I think it is?” Diane asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Julian replied, “I’m afraid it is exactly what you think it is.”