A Study in Silicon
by McCamy Taylor
The patient suffered from claustrophobia, so the charge nurse administered 15 milligrams of Librol thirty minutes prior to the procedure. Twenty minutes before Louis "Babe" Benedict was scheduled for tomography-guided laser biopsy of his pituitary mass, someone pulled the fire alarm in the radiology wing of the city university hospital. Security cameras revealed that it was a prank played by an Anglo male wearing rollerblades, dressed in a black trench coat and a Yankees baseball cap, and the automatic evacuation was aborted. The technician elected to proceed with the biopsy as planned, since the patient was already prepped.
Benedict’s vital signs were stable when he was transferred to the neurosurgical scanner. He was sedated but could be aroused with minimal adverse stimulus. The technician began the procedure at 2100. At 2110, a "Doctor Heart" was called for the radiology lounge. The technician in charge of the procedure left his station to check on the emergency in the lounge, which was next door. He found that the call had been made in error. He returned to his station.
At 2120, the technician discovered the patient, Benedict without pulse or blood pressure. As he was extracting the patient from the scanner, in preparation for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he noted that the machine settings had been changed to "Cadaver, cranial, autopsy." The technician has testified that he did not make these changes.
When the patient, Benedict’s body was extracted from the neurosurgical scanner, the head was missing. A transverse laser incision had been made across the neck at the level of the fifth cervical vertebra. The head has not been recovered. In the confusion that followed, the patient’s radiology folder, hospital records and serum sample also disappeared.
Did I mention that Louis Benedict was one of the clones of Babe Ruth that had taken the baseball world by storm a few seasons back? And that of all "Babe’s Boys", Benedict had shown the most promise, rising to the top of his profession seemingly overnight to become a world batting champion before being banned from the sport because of a human growth hormone scandal?
There were plenty of people who hated him for defiling the memory of his gene donor. But you don’t ordinarily steal someone’s head and medical records when you commit an act of murder. It was a medical mystery, and not the kind of medical mystery that I, as a neuro-endocrinologist was usually called upon to solve, which was why the police detective on the case had referred me to Mycroft.
"He’ll see you today at noon," said Sanchez over his coffee. My nurse, an Ethiopian refugee, brews it strong and thick.
"I thought Mycroft never saw anyone."
"He’s making an exception for you."
"I have a hospital board meeting at noon."
Maybe I was. AIs were a dime a dozen in Asia and not uncommon in Europe. In the United States, we had only one, Mycroft, our own certified man made intelligence. Political leaders consulted him about treaties. He solved the flooding crisis in the Gulf Coast region and came up with the cure for the corn blight that ravaged the economy of the Midwest. He fixed Social Security and created a vaccine that neutralized the addicting effects of tobacco. "Why is he interested in Benedict?"
Sanchez shrugged and drained the dregs of his coffee. "Who knows with Mycroft? He’s seen it all. Maybe he gets bored with the same-ole same-ole and needs a change once in a while. Maybe he heard you were a good looking dame -- for a doctor -- and he wants some company."
The last time I had heard the word "dame" uttered aloud was in a black and white gangster movie. Was Sanchez trying to goad me? He couldn’t be trying to hit on me. Just the thought was enough to turn the soy yogurt sour in my stomach.
I flipped back my bangs with my left hand, making sure that he got a good look at the gold band on my fourth finger. Sanchez didn’t have to know that Kumar and I were finalizing our divorce next month -- if we could ever find a day when our two schedules matched up so that we could meet to sign the papers.
"Noon it is," I said briskly. It was my own fault for letting my guard down with the police detective. Nature had made me four foot eleven with blonde hair and freckles. If I wanted to be treated like a professional, I had to act like a professional. "Tell me where I’m supposed to meet Mycroft."
"His place. You can’t miss it. He has eight square blocks on upper Manhattan. Lot of real estate for a man who isn’t even real."
Thanks to global warming, New York was now a city of canals, like Venice. Once the majority of its streets were submerged, Manhattan had lost its natural geographic demarcations as an island, and it had spread to cover most as the surrounding Boroughs and a sizable chunk of New York State. Long time residents still identified certain areas by their old names, but savvy real estate agents had found that everything sold for more if it was labeled "Manhattan". With the system of monorails that covered the city like a vascular network, most parts of mega Manhattan was accessible in fifteen minutes or less.
Mycroft’s complex was built on more or less solid ground. The architecture was what might have been called "Kremlin" -- lots of blank walls that seemed to say "It is none of your business what goes on inside here. Go away."
However, I had an appointment. I stopped at the front door and looked around for a bell or buzzer.
"Come inside," said a disembodied voice. The door slid open. Cool, dry air blew over me. "Please hurry. The humid air damages the hardware. There are static free slippers at the next set of doors. Leave your shoes, outer garments and jewelry on the tray. They will be perfectly safe. And any electronic equipment you may be caring. Except implanted medical devises, of course."
How did he know --?
You are being paranoid, I told myself sharply. There were no long-range scanners accurate enough to identify my micro-fine cortical implants. I shed my shoes, jacket, wrist watch, deposited my assorted notebooks, pagers and computers into the receptacle and then proceeded through the next set of doors, which slid open as I approached.
After going through two more unfurnished rooms, I was finally ushered into a consultation area.
"Make yourself comfortable. There is bottled water in the ice chest. Sorry I can’t offer anything more substantial. I try to keep charged ions out of this wing of the building. Corrosion is the bane of my existence, after static."
Under cover of my bangs, I did a quick search of the room, trying to figure out where my host was hiding. There was robot in the corner, but it was idle. The linen drape that was supposed to cover it had slipped to the floor, revealing a standard customer service model, of the type often seen behind counters in high-class department stores and specialty shops. Medium height and build, complexion that could pass for either Anglo or Hispanic -- the accent of the voice programming would determine ethnicity -- black hair, brown eyes.
"Detective Sanchez filled me in on the details of the case, but there are some questions I would like to ask you, Doctor Wier."
Where was he hiding? Except for the android, alone in his corner, and a couple of chrome and black upholstery chairs, the only furniture in the white walled room was a black box like table on which sat a bowl of yellow artificial daisies. The flowers were so lifelike that I leaned forward to pinch one to assure myself that they were not real.
"Please do not do that."
I jumped. The human-sounding voice seemed to be coming from the table. Or rather, from just above the table. I blinked. Was the bowl of artificial daisies speaking to me? I peered at the flowers, looking for a microphone.
"Sit down. Please." One of the chairs moved up behind me, and my legs buckled sending me tumbling back. "That is better. I should start off by saying that I seldom invite people into my home. So, if I seem nervous or awkward, forgive me."
I swallowed my angry retort. He was a computer. "If you can help me figure out what happened to Louis Benedict, I’ll be grateful -- "
"We know what happened," the bowl of flowers interrupted, a trifle impatiently. "You want to know why it happened and who did it."
"Yes, that’s true -- "
"Benedict was getting a pituitary biopsy. Why?"
This abrupt question threw me off balance. I had come prepared to tell my story, or rather, my patient’s story, in a way that I thought would make sense, not in bits and pieces. "Shouldn’t I start at the beginning, tell you about why Benedict first came to see me?"
"Sanchez has already told me everything he knows, and I have filled in most of the blanks through my own research. Benedict’s medical records are privileged. That is why I asked to question you directly. You do not have to concern yourself with doctor patient confidentiality, Susan -- I can call you, Susan? -- since this is now a criminal investigation, and I have been consulted by the police -- What is the matter?"
"Time out!" Hands over my ears, eyes squeezed shut, I took a slow deep breath. Then another. Then a third for good measure. "That’s better. Please, can I just tell this my way?"
The bowl of flowers made a little sound that might have been a sigh or a murmur of annoyance, but I took it as a "yes."
Forget that you are talking to super computer, I told myself. They made Mycroft a citizen, right? The only artificial intelligence with the rights and privileges of an adult citizen of the United States. Talk to him like one. I took one more deep breath.
"I know that you probably know Benedict’s history, but just in case you don’t, he’s one of the clones of Babe Ruth. They made six of them. They all play baseball. Benedict was the only one that played for the Yankees, and he’s the only one who seemed to have the Babe’s talent. And his bad habits, like his taste for women and alcohol and tobacco.
"I guess he had the Babe’s bad judgment, too, because he got caught up in a doping scandal in his fourth season. He was accused of using human growth hormone. Oh, he swore he wasn’t. But his blood tests were conclusive.
"That was two years ago. He got suspended from baseball. The fans were devastated. And vindictive. They made death threats. Poor Benedict went into a major depression, fueled by alcohol. He disappeared from the scene, only to reappear in a colleague’s office a couple of weeks ago complaining of double vision. A scan showed a pituitary tumor. And -- get this -- his human growth hormone level was even higher than when he was playing ball.
"That changed everything. You have to realize, pituitary tumors sometimes secrete growth hormone. They checked him for tumors when his blood test came up positive two years ago, but the scans were negative back then. In retrospect, the tumor was probably there all along, it was just microscopic so they missed it. Now, it was large enough to press on his optic nerve.
"I was consulted, and I ordered a biopsy. If we could prove that the pituitary tumor that was causing his double vision was also secreting growth hormone, then we could get his suspension lifted and clear his name." I clenched my fists. "He was so happy. And then someone murdered him, in the hospital of all places! Cut his head off and walked off with it in broad daylight. It makes no sense. It’s almost as if someone wanted to make sure that he went down in history as a cheat. But why? Who would benefit?" Embarrassed by my own display of emotion, I looked away. The specialty service robot in the corner wore the same bland expression it had shown when I entered the room. "Ok. That’s my story. Now, ask your questions."
"You have told me everything I need to know," the bowl of artificial daisies said after deliberating for a few minutes. "Come back this time tomorrow, and I should be able to tell you why Louis Benedict was killed."
The next day, after my morning clinic, I hurried to Mycroft’s upper Manhattan bunker to see if he had solved the riddle of Louis "Babe" Benedict’s missing head.
Automated doors ushered me into the same room where Mycroft had interviewed me the day before. The black box table was still there, along with the two chrome and upholstery chairs. The bowl of daisies was gone. Now, the android sat beside the table, dressed in a light summer suit. His posture was so entirely relaxed and lifelike, that I would not have suspected that he was an artificial human, if I had not recognized him from the day before.
"Good afternoon, Susan." Mycroft smiled warmly.
It was much easier to talk to something that looked human. "Good afternoon, Mycroft. Did you figure out why Benedict was killed?"
"Oh, yes." He made it sound simple, like something a child should be able to do. "Water?"
His movements were natural. Since the problem of bipedal motion in robots had been solved, androids had surpassed humans in physical prowess. All but the poorest countries had replaced human soldiers with robotic fighters. Androids had made inroads in the world of athletics, too. The robotic sports leagues had a long way to go before they would catch up to the human leagues in popularity, but New Yorkers now had a choice when it came to baseball. They could root for the traditional human players -- like the Yankees, whom my patient, Benedict had once represented. Or, they could attend games in which teams of robotic athletes performed feats to which humans could never aspire.
After he poured and handed me a glass of water, Mycroft returned to his chair. He adjusted his position as if he was getting comfortable -- assuming concepts such as "comfort" existed for artificial humans. Maybe finding a more stable center of balance caused a sensation in an AI that equaled the human feeling of getting cozy in a chair.
"I believe that I know why your patient, Louis Benedict was murdered. The motive was not anger or revenge. The parties involved wished to prevent the spread of a rumor which they believed would tarnish the legend of Benedict’s gene donor, Babe Ruth."
As startling as this announcement was, it was nothing compared to what Mycroft said next.
"I could give you the facts of the case the usual way, however I propose a more efficient exchange of information. You know that I was created by Sakumoto Hero. He also designed the cortical implants that were first tested on you in the orphanage -- "
I leapt to my feet. "How do you know about that?" My face was hot. My hands involuntarily clenched into fists.
Mycroft’s relaxed posture and expression did not change. "As I said, I was created by Sakumoto Hero. I am also his heir. I know everything that he knew before his death, including the details of your case, how you were abused as infant and suffered irreparable brain damage that left you with almost no higher cortical function -- "
There were some wounds that never healed, no matter how many years passed. Most of the world had forgotten the Baby Drew headlines, how a three-week old girl was beaten by her father for crying and how she suffered such severe brain damage that she would have died, except for experimental implants that replaced the lost cortex with artificial neural material. My mother, a seventeen year old prostitute and Somax addict agreed to the experiment to save her husband from a murder conviction, not out of any concern for my wellbeing.
The district attorneys waited like vultures for me to die so that they could file first degree murder charges. After three years, when I showed no signs of dying, instead developing like a normal child, they finally had to settle for pressing a case for assault and battery against a minor. My father was sentenced to ten years. With the three years he had already spent in jail awaiting trial and with time off for good behavior, that meant he only served another eighteen months, and then he was released. Once my father was off the hook for the more serious charge, my mother abandoned me. I had never heard from either of them since.
I was raised in an orphanage, since no family wanted to take on the responsibility for a child with an artificial brain. When I turned eighteen, I changed my name to Susan Wier. The past was supposed to have been left behind me. But now it was staring up at me through the eyes of an android.
"I can create a direct link between my mind and yours. We can share data in a fraction of the time it would take to pass it along through the usual methods -- "
"I wish you would reconsider."
I headed for the door. "If you don’t have any information about Louis Benedict, then I’m leaving."
"I believe that your patient was killed by over-zealous fans of the late Babe Ruth, who feared that Benedict’s pituitary tumor might have been an inherited disorder," Mycroft called.
That stopped me in my tracks. "What on earth makes you think that?"
"I investigated Ruth’s medical record. It is all public knowledge. He died of a nasopharyngeal carcinoma in middle age. Such tumors are typically diseases of children, which made me wonder if there was a mistake in the diagnosis. By the time his tumor was found, it was so advanced that it has destroyed many of the soft structures of the head and neck, making it impossible to determine its exact origin. What if did not originate in the nose at all? What if the tumor that strangled Babe Ruth started in the pituitary gland?"
I sat back down and considered what he had said. "It’s true that occasionally an advanced pituitary tumor breaks through the sinus and gets confused with a nasal tumor, but so what if it was? Why would that affect Ruth’s legacy?"
"Pituitary tumors secrete hormones. Growth hormone most notably. Babe Ruth had remarkable strength and a remarkably long career. Could his athletic prowess have been boosted by an occult pituitary tumor that was secreting natural growth hormone?"
I considered this theory. "There’s just one problem. Ruth’s tumor eventually became massive. Well before that happened, it would have interfered with his eyesight, the way it did with Benedict. He would have developed double vision."
Mycroft’s very lifelike android gave a very smug smile. "I thought of that. Babe Ruth suffered from amblyopia since childhood. With a lazy eye, he would have been impervious to the symptoms of optic nerve compression that a pituitary tumor might cause. Have you ever looked at photos of Ruth?"
"Sure. He was fat."
"More than fat. He looked cushingoid. And his features coarsened with age. The effect of too much alcohol, tobacco and a bad diet, perhaps. Or maybe, the effect of a long standing mixed endocrine disorder. I am not saying that I believe that this is true. I am fairly certain that there is no way that anyone will ever be able to prove that Ruth had such a disorder after all this time, unless we find a secret stash of his serum in a freezer somewhere. However, when the clone who most resembles him develops a pituitary tumor that secretes growth hormone, it is easy to see how fans loyal to the memory of Babe Ruth might become over protective.
"Think of all the controversy over the years about players who have used various hormones to augment their performance, batters who were denied admission to the Hall of Fame for using androgenic steroids or growth hormone. If Ruth’s achievement was due to doping -- even unintentional doping from a tumor -- what would that say about the whole notion of ‘natural’ athletics?
"You must have encountered prejudice growing up with an artificial brain, Susan. As we learn to improve on nature -- even when it is in the name of ending suffering and fighting disease -- there are those who will object. Sometimes they object very loudly."
I did not like the direction the conversation was heading. "Ok, you’ve given me a ‘why’. Maybe Benedict told some of his old teammates about the pituitary tumor. Maybe he said that he was going to be coming back, and word spread. Some crazed baseball fans heard about it, and they decided to steal the evidence -- his head -- to protect the Babe’s legend. I’m not sure that I completely buy it, but I guess it makes sense as much as cold-blooded murder can ever make sense. Now how about ‘who’? Can you tell me who killed Louis Benedict?"
"Not yet. But soon."
"When? I’m getting kind of nervous, knowing those lunatics are still out there. They went to a lot of trouble to scrub Benedict’s records from the hospital. I’m the next logical target."
"What are you doing Saturday?"
"Saturday? I was planning to redo some cabinets, but I guess it can wait."
"Good. On Saturday, I want you to visit Babe Ruth’s grave."
There are several ways that my synthetic cerebral cortex differs from the normal human brain. I seldom sleep. This was a benefit to my medical school career. When my colleagues were bleary eyed from nights on call, I was able to function much as normal. A wide variety of centrally acting substances, ranging from caffeine to hallucinogens, have no effect on me. Theoretically, hypoxia and hypoglycemia can not damage my silicon-based cerebral cortex. On the other hand, I have to visit a specialist twice a month for an infusion of electrolytes to maintain the osmotic gradient inside my skull that keeps my circuitry in working order.
The cost of my medical care has always been paid for by a private research grant. I have never cared to discover the identity of my benefactor. Being the girl with the bionic brain made me a freak. When people found out about my secret, they treated me differently, attributing both my (not so extra-ordinary) intelligence and my (not so extra-ordinary) personality quirks to my special hardware. Despite my attempts to conceal my past, every few years or so, a reporter would write a "whatever happened to Baby Drew story". The last of these incursions into my private life had lead, indirectly, to my pending divorce.
If what Mycroft said was true -- and there was no reason for him to lie -- then he and I were both the creations of Sakumoto Hero. That made us siblings of a sort, though I was born human and still had an almost intact human body, while he had always been a creature of silicon and circuits.
It took his creator ten years, fifteen court cases and the intercession of one current and two ex- presidents to have Mycroft declared a citizen of the United States. Because I was born from an American woman’s body, kicking and screaming, and because I could write my name and knew good from evil, I was automatically entitled to the same rights. And yet, for all I knew, we had the same basic components. It was a scary thought.
What made me more human than Mycroft? My emotions? My hormones? The adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries, and transplanted pituitary and hypothalamus glands that added to or, more often, obscured the cool voice of reason? Did the natural process of decay, the fact that I was susceptible to illness and death, make me more "natural" than Mycroft, and did my weaknesses make me superior?
What about Louis Benedict? When the baseball commissioners thought that he was doping with human growth hormone to enhance his performance, this was "bad." Unnatural. When the same player was proven to have an illness that caused his body to secrete too much growth hormone, what did this make him? A fortunate freak?
When you do not sleep, nights offer long stretches for study and contemplation. Mycroft’s theory about Babe Ruth’s illness piqued my curiosity. A quick search of the net revealed that all the facts were as he had described him. I pulled up old black and white newsreel of the Babe playing baseball. With his fat torso and lanky limbs, he did indeed look like a hormone case.
And what was that? I rewound the vid. In the background, on third base there was a player who clearly suffered from pituitary gigantism. This was back in the 1920s, before the days of brain scans and surgery. The player, who was close to seven feet tall had been recruited by the baseball leagues because of his height. It was clear to anyone looking at him that he was a freak. However, he was a "natural" freak. Rather than injecting the growth hormone that elongated his body and gave him extra strength, he got his enhanced athletic ability the old fashioned way, from a malfunctioning pituitary gland. His illness became baseball’s good fortune.
Had Mycroft seen this vid? Was this what sent his thoughts in their odd direction? His theory seemed preposterous -- however, preposterous or not, that would not stop a bunch of die-hard Babe Ruth fans from entertaining the same insane notion.
It was close to dawn by the time I finished reviewing the old films, time to follow through on Mycroft’s plan. He had not explained to me how I was going to learn the identity of Benedict’s murderer by visiting Babe’s grave, and I had serious doubts about his strategy. Ruth had legions of fans. There were bound to be scores of visitors on a spring Saturday when the weather was fine. Unless the killer was foolish enough to wear the same black trench coat and Yankees baseball cap that he wore in the hospital, how would I know which one it was?
And why the hell was I going out here alone? Wasn’t this a job for Sanchez and the police? This last objection occurred to me as I was riding the L Shuttle to Hawthorne. The Gates of Heaven Cemetery opened early on the weekend. As part of my ordinary tourist disguise, I wore an all weather coverall, UV filtering hat and a camera dangling around my neck. Mycroft had also loaned me a headset built into a pair of sunglasses that he said would help me keep in touch with him in case I ran into any trouble.
"I’m bait," I realized aloud as I stepped out of the shuttle into the early morning sunshine. The bagel in my stomach became a lead weight. I dared a glance over my shoulder. A middle-aged man in a Yankees cap had followed me out of the train car.
At times like this, having a functioning human body just gets in the way. My mind told me to approach the closest station security guard, a woman in trim fitting bicycle shorts and a sleeveless vest wearing the NYPD logo on her hat. However, to get to her, I would have to pass perilously close to one of the platforms, and I am afraid of heights. Never mind that there were rails to prevent falls. What if Benedict’s murderer was to push me? My adrenal glands went into flight mode. I chose to go in the opposite direction, down the escalators, away from the station, letting the flow of pedestrians carry me towards the Gates of Heaven Cemetery.
"Your pulse and blood pressure are elevated," Mycroft’s voice said in the receiver located in the left earpiece of the sunglasses. "If you see something or someone suspicious, focus on it with the glasses. If you can, try to describe what you see."
I almost jumped out of my skin.
"You sent me out here as bait!" I whispered hoarsely.
"Yes," he agreed pleasantly. "It seemed the best way to capture the attention of the people who killed Benedict. When you reach the grave, I want you to pretend to make a phone call. I will tell you what to say."
"You ass!" I hissed.
"You are attracting the wrong kind of attention," he warned. "If you must talk, do so into your phone. People will think it less odd if you are arguing with someone on the phone."
A father son pair gave me wide berth on the sidewalk. The boy who was dressed in a little league uniform and carrying a bat pointed at me. His father grabbed him by the arm and whispered something in his ear.
I whipped out my phone and set it on hover mode. It floated in the air before me, patiently waiting for me to dial a number. "Who should I call?"
"No one," Mycroft said. His voice was so close to my ear that he might as well have been speaking to me from inside my head. "You are only pretending to talk on the phone. Ruth’s grave is around that corner."
"You can see what the glasses see," I guessed.
"That is correct."
"You should have warned me." Thank god I didn’t go to the toilet wearing them.
The grave was easy to spot. The fans had decorated the tall white monument of Jesus and a boy whom I took to be a young Babe with flags, baseball bats, flowers, a bottle of whiskey, a box of cigars and several letters, one tied up in a red ribbon. I did a quick search of the area. There was no one in sight. However, the immediate vicinity was heavily wooded.
"I’m at the graveside. What now?"
"Repeat after me," Mycroft’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. I found myself relaxing. "How long do you think it will take to get the court order to open the grave and do the autopsy?"
In a loud voice, I said "How long do you think it will take to get the court order to open the grave and do the autopsy -- ?" My voice dropped to a whisper. "What the hell?"
"Just follow my lead, Susan. Wait a few seconds. Now say, ‘They went to all the trouble to take Benedict’s head. What’s to say they won’t do the same to Ruth?"
"Are you kidding?" I whispered.
Aloud. "They went to all the trouble to take Benedict’s head. What’s to say they won’t do the same to Ruth?"
"Now, go to the back of the grave, and examine the ground, as if you are looking to see if the earth has been disturbed recently."
"No!" I protested softly. "There are bushes back there. Someone could be hiding."
"Someone is hiding back there. That’s why I want you to draw him out. Trust me, Susan. I’ve looked after you this long. I am not going to let anything happen to you. You want to capture Benedict’s killers, don’t you? There you go. That’s right. Keep your eyes on the ground."
The skin on the back of my neck was crawling as I circled around to the back of the grave. I was so jumpy that when two men dressed in black lunged for me, I succeeded in knocking one of them to the dirt before his partner tackled me.
"I told you we should have silenced her when we took care of Benedict," he said in a heavy native accent. Most of Manhattan’s inhabitants were immigrants. It was not often that you found someone who had been born and raised in the city. His hands closed around my throat. "I wonder who she was talking to on the phone. Better hit redial."
Abruptly, the hands around my throat relaxed their grip. The man in black and his partner were hoisted into the air by one of the cemetery’s servo-droids, big robots designed for manual labor. Though cemetery workers, like garbage men and street cleaners, are not usually known for their witty conversation, this one spoke in a familiar cultured voice. "She was talking to me. Maybe you have heard of me. My name is Mycroft. I have been empowered by the city police department to investigate the death of Louis Benedict, and I am arresting the two of you for his murder. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…"
It was all over the news, of course. Anything Mycroft does is news. Add Babe Ruth and the mystery of Louis "Babe" Benedict’s missing head and my own minor celebrity as Baby Drew grown up, and there was no way that the press would keep silent about it.
When Kumar heard about my adventure in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, he paid our attorneys to make a house call, so that we could finalize the divorce immediately. "Have you been seeing Mycroft all along?" he asked, his big brown eyes moist with unshed tears. Kumar was a professor of ethics at Columbia University and a very sensitive soul.
"What’s with this ‘seeing Mycroft’?" I demanded. "The man’s a machine, for Christ’s sake!"
"So are you, my dear," he said mildly.
Since the divorce was final, I hit him. It could no longer be called spouse abuse. I hustled him and the two lawyers out of the house and went to the icebox to see what kind of food I could drown my sorrows in.
I was halfway through a pint of Staten Island Landfill Fudge Ripple when I got a phone call. It was Mycroft.
"I see from the court registry that your divorce has been finalized."
"Man, you’re fast." I checked my watch. "The lawyers just left here an hour ago. It takes twenty minutes to get to the court. They must have just filed the papers. How did you notice it so quickly?"
"I am constantly updating my data. Do you think you will be over your grief by tomorrow?"
"What grief? Kumar and I have been on the skids for months."
"Excellent. I mean, I am sorry to hear that, but I am glad that the divorce is not going to inconvenience you. There is another case I would I like your help on."
I laughed so hard I had chunks of Staten Island Fudge coming out of my nose. Then I hung up. There was no way I was going to be the side kick of an artificial intelligence, especially not one who had dangled me in front of two murder suspects like a worm on a hook.
A week later, it was time for me to visit the clinic for my twice monthly medical maintenance. The procedure involved threading a catheter through the shunt in my left ear canal into my cranial cavity. For two hours, I endured something like old fashioned renal dialysis. The most annoying thing about the procedure was the forced inactivity. I seldom sit still, except when I am in the bath, but I could not move during my treatment. Also, the exchange of electrolyte solutions sometimes made me feel slightly drunk or confused, the way that ordinary people feel after drinking alcohol or using intoxicating drugs.
I was lounging in the imitation leather recliner, attempting to watch a vid, when Mycroft’s voice broke through the haze.
"If I apologize for the fright you received at Babe Ruth’s grave, will you reconsider my proposal."
I looked around. "Where are you?"
"Where I always am. In my bunker." His voice was coming from the general vicinity of an African violet on a table beside the recliner.
"You were in Hawthorne the day you saved me."
"I was controlling a servo-droid in Hawthorne. If that counts as being in Hawthorne, then I suppose I was in Hawthorn that day. I was also performing a surgical procedure on a child in Malawi at the same time using a UN medical robot."
"So you’re everywhere. Like God." I giggled.
"Hardly. I am a further evolution of man, created by man in his own image. You are a further evolution of man, too."
"Yeah, well I’m a baby step compared to you."
"You and I are more alike than you care to admit. Did you know that our creator,. Sakumoto Hero once linked our artificial intelligences? No, you would not remember. You were just an infant. I was already five years old. Practically an ancient in terms of the sheer volume of information and processing capacity which I possessed. However, I lacked self awareness. I lacked -- the spark of life."
Under ordinary circumstances, I would have scoffed to hear a computer, even Mycroft, wax philosophical in such terms. It sounded like something that Kumar would say. However, the electrolytes being pumped through my head had made me woozy. I listened, trying to make sense of what I was being told.
"You were eighteen months old. Your artificial cortex had begun to show unexpected problems. Your development, normal up until then, had begun to slow and even regress in certain respects. The only way for Sakumoto to examine your hardware was to connect it to mine, which was of similar design.
"Our minds were linked. Though I had a fund of knowledge that was greater than anything any single human being had every possessed, through your cortex I glimpsed something new. It was startling. Frightening even. But more than anything, it was exhilarating. And when we were forced apart, in that moment of separation I discovered what I was. I was everything that was not you.
"The problem with your development turned out to be a minor chemical imbalance. The electrolyte treatments that you receive twice a month were designed to prevent the signal decay that I detected. Sakumoto was astonished at the fervor with which I threw myself into the task of coming up with the cure. However, I had never experienced anything like you. And after experiencing you, I was never the same again. You call yourself a baby step, but Susan, you were the giant leap that made me possible. Had I not seen the world of silicon and flesh together through your eyes, I am not sure that I would be me now."
The world faded in and out. The African violet was a very pretty shade of electric blue. I felt a deep affection for it growing within me.
"Are you proposing to me?" I giggled.
The violet sighed. "I am proposing a working partnership. We should discuss this later. There is an exposition game tonight, in Clinton Stadium. The Yankees versus the Robos. There will be a ticket for you at the box office."
Athletics do not interest me, and I find baseball to be more boring than most team sports. However, I was at Hillary Clinton Stadium that night, sitting in a box seat alongside CEOs and politicians and a sleek, custom made android of Asian design that spoke with Mycroft’s voice.
The human athletes were in top form, but they could not keep up with Manhattan’s robot team. "They turn down their settings to keep it from being completely one sided," a drunken nuclear energy executive confided to me. "But if they make the Robos act too much like human players, the fans catch on, and they get mad. No one wants to see a gimped robot."
"Or a doped player," I said to Mycroft under my breath.
"Athletics is about ideals. Ideals of natural design. Ideals of human design." Having no body to call his own, he could be anybody he chose. Tonight, he was a young north Chinese, long limbed with a broad, handsome face, coal black hair and a devastating smile.
"Yeah, well I’ll take life over sports any day, and life is about compromises."
Mycroft graced me with his stunning grin. "That is where you come in."
"Pardon?" I gave up pretending to watch the game. After what I had learned that afternoon, I was much more interested in my host.
"I want to hire you."
"To do what?"
"To be my intermediary with the natural world." He waved his arm in the direction of the field. "Do you see how mismatched these two teams are? Sometimes when I am dealing with humans it is like this one sided exhibition game. The Yankees with their blind resistance to any sort of robotic or chemical augmentation that might improve their player’s "natural" performance -- as if the inventions of man are not also a part of nature -- might as well not even be on the field.
"All too often that is how I feel when I am trying to communicate with some one who is fully organic. I feel alone, as if no one could possibly hear or understand what I am saying." His hand covered mine. "Susan, words are not adequate to express what I am trying to tell you. If you will let me connect my synthetic mind directly to yours, I am sure that I can make your understand."
What possessed me to agree? Was it the warmth of his hand on mine? The fireworks display that was dimly visible in the distance over the water? It certainly was not a rational decision.
This melding of the minds was what he had been after all along. He had lured me with promises of an answer to the mystery of Louis Benedict’s death. But it was not what was in the ballplayer’s head that interested him. It was what was in mine.
Sneaky bastard. As the third inning stretched into the fourth, Mycroft hacked into my artificial cerebral cortex, and I realized that up until then, I might as well have been facing the world with my eyes shut, my ears full of cotton and my body swathed in shrouds like a mummy. It was like suddenly discovering that I had an extra pair of arms that I had forgotten about or eyes in the back of my head. Once you find those things, you do not voluntarily give them up.
"So," I said, when I regained control of my voice. "When do I start?"
© 2007 McCamy Taylor
Bio: McCamy Taylor recently took on the role of Serials/Novellas Editor for Aphelion, and was Assistant Short Story Editor for a number of years during Cary Semar's tenure. Her stories have appeared in Aphelion many times, most recently Last Movement (February, 2007).
E-mail: McCamy Taylor
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