atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#282: Singularity, part XIV

My hand went to an ear. "My ears--?"

"I modified them. You must pass for human, of course."

I sat up. The unfamiliar heaviness of my chest startled me and I spent a few moments gawking at the unfamiliar contours before I managed, "Uh...clothes?"

Alyssa brought them to me.

"What day is it?"

"It's been a week since Joseph was here. It's the new year, already."

"He said he was coming back--"

Alyssa's face was unreadable, but after a moment her expression softened. "I persuaded him to let you rest."

Joseph had known that Alyssa had survived the Big Blackout; as a partial invalid I could not manage entirely by myself, and he--like his mother--had helped me keep Alyssa's actual origins secret. To the community, Alyssa was a shut-in, someone with severe agoraphobia who had taken a job as my live-in caretaker.

"Does he know you did this?"

"No one does. In about an hour you will call him and inform him that your father has died."

My jaw dropped as I evaluated that. "Wait--wait! You can't--"

"A robot may not harm a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm. You were dying."

My jaw did pushups for a few moments as I tried to find an answer for that. Unfortunately there was so much wrong with it, I couldn't get a handle on a starting place. Finally I said lamely, "But that's impossible."

"The Kel'v'vara had many techniques for 'downloading' consciousness. I used the simplest one. Unfortunately it left your body unable to reload, but I reasoned that your consciousness is 'you' and the body is merely support hardware. Since the hardware was damaged beyond repair it seemed reasonable to transfer your operating system to undamaged hardware."

I sagged back into the programming chair. This was wrong, it was all wrong--but I couldn't help my curiosity; what had Alyssa done? How had she done it? I got out of the chair and dressed, then headed toward the house.

The air outside was bitter cold, stars twinkling in a severe clear sky, and the wind from the north was sharp, but there were no danger signals from my body; merely information--these temperatures were well within my operating specifications. I could not "freeze" the way I could have, before this; at worst my joints would cease to move as easily as they now did, and it would take more power to move--but the machine would still function.

My body lay on the bed, already in repose, and cleaned. There were tiny pinpricks in the scalp, and Alyssa showed me the machine that she had built--in secret--and then used to my body.

I couldn't summon any emotion about that. This was how things were. I should have felt...sadness, horror, a gamut of other things; but instead I simply nodded and agreed that there had been little else she could have done.

The pinpricks were invisible beneath the hair, and of course they wouldn't bleed; so I picked up the telephone and cranked the handle.

"Operator, please connect me with the police," I said.

"Who is this? Alyssa?"

"No, I am...Cassandra Watson, Daniel's daughter."

"He never said he had a daughter! Why, I never. Well, here's the police, honey." There were scratches as the operator switched in the appropriate circuits.

<* * *>

I told the police that I had only arrived that afternoon, having heard that my estranged father was on his deathbed. I feigned sadness that he had never spoken of me to anyone.

"Probate's going to take a while. Did he mention a will?" The officer in charge asked me.

"It's with a lawyer in town," I replied distantly. Alyssa was feeding me lines via the wireless network, but it was hard to concentrate on the link and the conversation at the same time. Alyssa had gone to quite a lot of trouble, I was realizing, to "protect" me from harm.

"Well...seein' as you're his family, I don't think anyone's going to have a problem with your staying here," the cop told me. "It's just so strange that he'd not have mentioned you. At at his age!"

"My mother stopped here on a cold winter night," I said, "and...well, it was very cold, she said."

He shrugged. "It's none of my business, I suppose. Well, then...if you don't need anything else...?"

"No, officer; thank you," I said.

<* * *>

I finished a hot shower and stepped out of the tub, grabbing a towel and drying myself.

"I fail to understand your actions," Alyssa said mildly. "You don't need to bathe."

"Did you see how the cops looked at me?" I asked, annoyed enough that my irritation showed.

"Their reactions to you seemed to fall within nominal limits. You're now an attractive female, and they acted appropriately."

"And you don't understand why that bothers me, of course."

"Why should it bother you?"

"Because I've got sixty-odd years of habitual testosterone usage, that's why." I threw the towel into the bathtub and began dressing in night clothes. Alyssa brushed past me and picked up the towel, folding it and draping it over the towel bar.

Alyssa turned to me. "Surely that's not an issue now? Your hardware does not use hormonal cues to dictate emotional responses."

"It's a habit, damn it."

"There may have been some mistranslation of the code," she said. "I could correct it--"

"Don't you dare! This is bad enough; I don't need you making it worse." Satisfied that my skin was covered, I went to the guest bedroom and prepared to turn in.

"You don't wish to use your bed?"

"The bed I died in? Hell no."

"Your superstition does not make sense."

I whirled. "Leave me alone, Alyssa! For Christ's sake, just leave me alone!"

"I shall wait in my room," she said agreeably, and left me alone.

I crawled into bed, feeling like I wanted to cry, but utterly unable to summon tears or even the requisite emotional state. Sighing, I shut off the light...and discovered that my eyes auto-adjusted into the infrared when there was no visible light.

"And what were you planning to do, anyway?" I asked myself aloud. "You're a robot now; you don't need sleep."

But to my surprise, I found myself yawning and feeling sleepy, and presently I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

<* * *>

No, I didn't dream of electric sheep.

<* * *>

When I woke up, it was all at once--no loginess, no sluggishness, no need for caffiene--and I wasn't even remotely hungry. I could eat if I wanted to, but didn't have to; my system maintenance software was telling me that I should drink about half a liter of water in order to "top up" the hydrogen tank, but it was only a precautionary message. I drank the water mechanically and then prepared myself for the day.

Cassandra, I decided, would take over her father's part-time business and repair people's machinery. There was no reason not to; Cassandra had been realistic enough that only her "earpods" had revealed that she was a robot--and Alyssa had replaced them with realistic ears.

I could barely even tell that I wasn't human, to be honest; an hour after drinking that half-liter of water, I had to urinate. I was actually just disposing of the wastewater; my fuel system depleted it of all deuterons and then "cracked" some additional hydrogen from the remainder. The optimal fuel blend was three hydrogen atoms for one deuterium atom, so I had to drink some water every day, but the fuel system also extracted deuterium. Deuterium comprises about .0115% of all hydrogen atoms, so it was common enough such that making the robot "self-fueling" was economical--but it still required a few ounces of pure "heavy water" every once in a while.

There was plenty of heavy water in my workshop--Alyssa had seen to that--enough for several decades' worth of operation. Between that and the self-fueling capability, I was in no danger of running out of power.

I began wondering where Alyssa was; and then I recalled that I had told her to "leave me alone". I found her in her room, sitting in her chair, immobile; I said, "Okay, Alyssa; get up."

Some notes

Sorry this chapter was a long time in coming, but this development had been in the outline from the beginning and I couldn't make myself write it. Dad's death has effected me in a lot of different ways, and the emotional fallout hasn't been what I expected it to be.

Having planned for Dan/Cassandra to be Dan's "long-lost daughter", well...I couldn't write about it. I had originally planned for the scene to play out a bit differently--but not far from where it ended up, so I guess it's all good. The essential elements are all there, anyway.

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