“How are you today, Arachne?”
Arachne Sirk looked back at me from underneath a mass of blond tresses and smiled. “I killed the cobra thirty-four times before breakfast.”
I dutifully recorded that information on my notepad. “Arachne, I thought we talked about not being videos anymore. Especially not that one. It always disturbs you in the long run.”
“It’s fun. Fun, fun. Come on down to Teddy’s Funporium!”
I didn’t press the matter any further. Dwelling on it would keep the video at the front of her mind, and accelerate the disturbance process. Instead, I reached for the hourglass, and flipped it over.
“It’s time to begin. Warmups.”
Marcus Sirk had explicit instructions to stay out of my sessions with his daughter. Which would be fine, if Marcus Sirk weren’t the kind of man who had made a fortune and revolutionized the tech world by refusing to pay attention when people told him he couldn’t do something.
“Miss Draper, a moment of your time, please.”
I glared at him. Arachne was in the middle of her role play, and she might be starting to make some crucial breakthroughs. They couldn’t be interrupted. “I think it can wait a few minutes, Mr. Sirk,” I said, injecting a little frost into my voice.
Sirk backed off and sat down. A minor miracle.
“And grand jete!” Arachne leaped with a flourish, her perfectly starched tutu barely ruffling as she landed. “That’s the recital. It’s not just the same ballet. It’s the same performance. I don’t dance. I echo.”
“Good, Arachne.” I applauded politely. “Now tell me. How did that feel?”
“It felt like motion. Movin’ to the groovin’.”
“Motion, okay. But not like emotion? No pride, accomplishment?”
I sighed. “Okay, Arachne. I know the hourglass still has a few minutes left, but I think we’re done for the day. Your father wants to talk to me.”
“Fire you, more like,” he muttered as we left.
“It’s always your privilege, Mr. Sirk,” I muttered back.
“So,” he said when we were safely in the hallway and out of earshot. “No progress.”
“Minor progress,” I corrected him. “I’ve seen flashes of emotion, the awareness of the remnants of her self surfacing. But there’s no integration yet. I admit I’d hoped for more.”
“So had I.” He stared at my hourglass. “You know, I caused this island to be built in four days. I can have a clock whipped up for you in five minutes.”
“I prefer the hourglass,” I responded. “Time is a fluid thing, Mr. Sirk. It doesn’t tick away in perfectly discrete units.”
“A lot of time has flowed by since I hired you. Again, I’m paying for results.”
My temper, already brittle, simply snapped. “Do you think you can do better?”
His face reddened. His mouth opened and closed. Finally he turned and stormed out.
I couldn’t blame him. It was the worst sort of low blow.
That night, for the first time in years, I watched old footage of Arachne as she used to be. Growing up blonde and lanky and tomboyish and perpetually sunny. Exactly the way the child of a god should grow up, I supposed.
Not that Marcus Sirk was a real deity. But when a man masters nanotechnology to such an extent that he can revolutionize the world – speeding information transfers, controlling local weather patterns, even building entire islands from nothing more than constituent materials – he might as well be a god. There’s just no functional difference anymore.
The video currently playing was of Arachne getting the very first Sirkuit 4 computer ever manufactured. She was eight. She approached it like a holy relic, manipulating the interface solemnly yet joyfully. And there her father stood behind her, with a watchful gleam in his eye.
He already had the plan for her, I knew. He’d worked on it since before she was born. It gave rise to her name. Once she was older, once he’d developed his tech to a perfect pitch…he’d implement it in her. Direct access to the Internet via the cerebral cortex. And there she’d be, his little Arachne, the first human to dance across the Web.
She’d paid for the sins of her father. Or rather, her mind had.
“Riding in cars with boys,” Arachne mumbled. “Go, Speed Racer, go.”
So many things had been simply dumped into her head, I thought as I wrote these down. Yet the human brain only has a finite storage capacity. When would she stop surprising me?
“No, Arachne. Driving isn’t something you would remember. How about baking? Would you like to try that again?”
Her eyes lit up as she started singing a jingle. I pulled her old childhood oven out.
Some time later, the baking was done. She pulled out a plastic tray of brownies, tore off a piece, and bit into it. She chewed and swallowed.
And she smiled. Not a fake reflection of someone else, but a smile of real radiance.
Then she opened her eyes and looked at me. “I made these myself. Wanna try one?” The pride in her voice was unmistakable. The pride of an eleven-year old girl.
Cautiously I ventured, “Arachne?” If I could latch onto something of her real personality right now, I might be able to anchor it.
She looked at me, and the pride gave way to panic. “Who are you?” And then she moaned. “Oh, God. Who am I? And why are all these voices in my head?” She gripped her head, tugged at her hair, fell on the floor and rolled around in pain. She hit the table with my hourglass, which toppled to the floor and broke. I barely noticed.
It was her! “Arachne, stay with me. Fight the voices.”
But it was too late. She looked up at me with the blank expression she habitually wore, and started to recite an encyclopedia entry on chocolate. She’d done that before when making brownies.
Still, there was hope. Sirk had hired me, after his technological experiments had only exacerbated the problem, to do daily role-play therapy with his daughter in the hopes that doing the things she used to do would cause her to resurface, the same way a stray word triggered some random access feature in her shattered mind. And this…no matter how small…this was a sustained breakthrough.
“That’s all, folks,” Arachne exclaimed in delight as I left the room.
No. No, it wasn’t nearly all, dear. But it’s a start.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.