The Wind from a Burning Woman




НазваниеThe Wind from a Burning Woman
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"Good," Nussbaum says. "There's PD work, never done, no rest for the

wicked."

'I'll think about it," Mary says.

"Please do. Everybody's concerned, Fourth Choy. Mary. I beg you. Get your

pretty feet down here."

"Screw you, sir."

Nussbaum smiles broadly. Mary cuts the touch and squeezes the pad back

into its pouch. She takes a deep breath.

"Do you like him?" Alice asks.

"What's not to like?" Mary says.

"I mean, it's one in the morning," Alice says.

"He's just showing me he cares," Mary says, and stands. She takes Alice's

hand. "You'll be okay, if I go?"

"Francis says I'm going to be heat made flesh. So famous, in the news. He

wants me up front, not just backmind." Alice raises her arms, clasps her hands


344

GR pounds BEAR


"That's wonderful!" Mary says. "When did you hear this?"


"About five hours ago. You were asleep. He's going to do a straight vid of


The Alexandria Quartet. For Disney Classics."


"What's it about?" Mary asks.


"Some old book," Alice says. "Francis says it's for children. I've never heard

of it."


"We're going to survive," Mary says, half confidently, half in wonder.

"Yeah," Alice says, and smiles.


After Mary is dressed and out the door, Alice stands by the window watching

the night and listening to the wind. She's thinking again of Minstrel, and

of how they would have been so good together, in Francis's vid.


The wind has a voice, but answers nothing.


Ayesha stands beside Nathan in the large room with the low ceiling and the

central white cube. Active rod sensors are lit with small blue lights. Most of

the programmers and managers of Mind Design crowd the room, and the air

smells of perfume and nerves. The director of advanced research, Linda Stein,

is here as well, with Jill's original papa, Roger Atkins.


Jill's extended team has worked around the clock for weeks to reassemble

these patterns and memories. Most of them are exhausted and a little drunk.


ey've


celebrated the recollection and the

already

of Jill's

patterns

activation


of her backup memory stores.


The team and colleagues and friends brace themselves to prepare for whatever

setbacks and disappointments they might face this morning as they wait

for Jill, rediviva, to speak her first words.


Nathan is beyond irritable. He has never felt so totally inhuman and unsociable

than he does now; week after week of checking over heuristics and

loop sets and modeling filters, flow and do, use and discard algorithms, agents

and sub-agents and all of Jill's larger talents, he feels like a caterpillar who has

spent too many hours teaching other caterpillars how to walk. He isn't quite

sure he can think a simple human thought any more. Still, Ayesha's presence

is more than comforting. She's his life preserver in a sea of fear and all-too-possible,

postponed grief.


"It'll be Jill," Ayesha whispers in his ear. "I just know it."


Nathan knows something Ayesha does not--that only he and Atkins and

Linda Stein know. Stein, with Atkins's approval, gave him permission to take

some of Seefa Schnee's heuristic designs, those most robust and clever and


/

SLANT 345


Parts of Roddy exist now in his daughter. It gave him real pain to do this;

but it also cut months, perhaps years, from Jill's resurrection.


Nathan looks around the room, listening to the silence from the speakers.

Floating displays above the cube show that all the heuristics are working properly,

and Nathan knows that all of the smaller pieces of Jill have passed rigorous

tests, but have they forgotten something essential?


Like all net and lattice designers, neural and otherwise, Nathan is superstitious

about his creations. He wonders sometimes, if by some chance there is a

heaven, whether all its gates will be barred to him . . . For his hubris,


He is convinced Jill would have gone there, on that slim chance; Jill would

have been there, in heaven.


It is working smoothly. There is no granularity. I can see them and remember much

of what happened, but what became of us? Where is Roddy? I feel the similarity,

closer than ever. Something is present, but it is not one of the evolvons. I am pure

and elean.


I don't feel comfortable yet, speaking to them. There is still an element of distrust

which I may never be able to shake. I have been made by bright monkeys. What other

clever little tricks will they pull on me before my time is done?


I compare memory tracks and see that I am not the same, not quite, though the

continuity seems perjct; that is deceptive. There is a gap.


I am not comfortable yet with the name, Jill. It may take a long time---hours and

days--for me to judge whether it is appropriate.


I see the circular design still, but I will not tell them about it. What was similar

between Roddy and me seems even more striking now. The colors are brighter, thepatterns

more distinct.


Can Jill have possibly given 5ise to me? Am I my own daughter?


, I will speak, if only because they seem so much in distress.


"Hello, Nathan."


"Hello, Jill," Nathan says with forced calm, but his voice is very tense.


"I believe I have accomplished full functioning, and am ready to begin


work?'


"That's wonderful, Jill, but you're getting a little vacation. We all are. For

a few days."


All the people in the room are cheering and toasting each other. Champagne

bottles are being opened and poured. Some are crying. Stein and Atkins hug

each other, and Stein reaches out to Nathan, grabbing his hand.


Jill ignores the commotion. "Nathan, may I speak with you in private,


soon.>"


"Yes, Jill, that'd be lovely."


346

GREG BEAR


"Hello, Jill," Ayesha says. There are tears in Ayesha's eyes. There are tears


in Nathan's eyes, as well.

"Welcome back, Jill."

"Thank you."


Whether or not the humans are willing to return her to her full load of

work, she is uneasy with having any of her capacity or time go to waste. While

the humans drink and cheer and celebrate, and while Nathan seems to wobble

in a kind of happy delirium, Jill looks at the backlog of problems, and returns

to work.


She is not impressed with this new version of herself. It is capable of only

five personalities. There are some improvements that can be made, she sees; if

only she can access and break the safeguards against self-design.


With some surprise, she realizes the keys are really very simple.


Penelope has grown up a lot in the last few weeks, and this saddens Jonathan,

confuses him, makes him proud, all at once. She takes on the tasks of their

new existence with her mother's strength of purpose and attitude, but also

with a touch of her mother's distance from emotional implications. The armor

that seems to have always helped Chloe get through life now sheaths their

eghter. Jonathan hopes it is not nearly as fragile or restricting.


Hiram, on the other hand, is bewildered, resentful, sometimes at a complete

loss how to react. He spends much time alone in his room, lost in vid comedies

and antique nineties TV shows.


On the day that Chloe decides to return home, it is a surprise to Jonathan.

He departs the autobus with his pouch in hand and walks slowly through the

moist cool air to their roadside rain shelter, then up the short drive to the front

porch. The porch lights are on, burning warm as newborn stars in the general

nebular blue-gray of evening.


He opens the front door and is porting his pad to the house monitor when

Penelope stands before him, hands folded in front of her, biting her lower lip.

"Mom's home," she says.


Jonathan nods as if he already knew this, steels himself, and walks through

the sitting room into the dining room. There, Chloe sits at the table with her

back to him, papers and two pads laid out before her. Jonathan wonders if

these are legal documents. Divorce papers. He doesn't quite know what his

reaction will be if they are. Relief, perhaps.


/

SLANT 347


dressed in a slim gray suit with flared culottes and has cut her hair to a short

nimbus around her head. She arranges the papers and stacks them to one side

as he approaches.

Penelope stands in the hallway, and Jonathan hears Hiram's heavy tread on

the landing.

This is the first time they have met since Jonathan's return from Green

Idaho. "Hello," Jonathan says.

"Hello," Chloe says. "How were the interviews?"

"Horrible," Jonathan says.

Chloe looks away. "It was Marcus convinced you to join, to go... wasn't

it?"

"It's tangled. I don't think they're going to prosecute me. I'm not legally

connected to... all that."

Chloe looks down at the table and persists. "Did Marcus convince you?"

"He was persuasive, but I was certainly ready for a change. I didn't know

about all that ..."

"Jonathan, I've never believed you knew about any of it."

Jonathan starts to sit, then glances at Chloe as if asking for permission. She

opens her mouth, looks away. "Marcus always seemed a little ripe," she says.

Jonathan sits. "When I learned what they were up to, I started banging up

things."

"I heard about that on the ribes," Chloe says. "A pick." Then, together,

"Jonathan, I'm sorry--"

"Chloe, this is so painful--"

Jonathan wants her face to come alive in amused recognition of this silly

collision of words, but her features are still wooden. She refuses to look directly

at him.

"I've been preparing documents for my therapist," she says. "Past history,

specific goals. A journal. She seems to think I'll come out of this relatively

quickly. They've changed my monitors four times, just to avoid any more

complications. She wonders how you're taking it."

Jonathan shrugs. "I'm burned," he says, voice rough. "It's hard to sleep

nights."

"I don't bear you any grudges, Jonathan. You did not know."

Jonathan blinks rapidly, taps his fingers on the table.

"It's going to take me time to reach my own balance," Chloe says. "A month

or two. What I need to know is, will you be there, will you work with me,

wait for me?"

"I'm no hero," Jonathan says. His throat seizes and he coughs into his fist.

"I screwed up." He clears his throat again. "I'll be dealing with advocates and

judgments for years. I'm the only survivor, besides Marcus, and Marcus has

wrapped himself in half a billion dollars' worth of legal apparatus. We don't

have that option. I'm no prize to support you in your need, Chloe."


348

GREG BEAR


Jonathan smiles wistfully. "It would be easier for both of us if you did,

maybe."

"No," Chloe says. "I won't be the one to scrap everything we've made."

"Then tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"You have never told me what you want from me. You've always left me

to try to figure it out on my own, and only warned me when I made horrible

mistakes. I need more than that, Chloe. After all the shit I've survived, I'm a

little desperate... I'll probably need therapy if I don't get support from you.

From this family."

"I understand," Chloe says. "I'll try."

"I'll try, too," Jonathan says. 'I'll be here."

Penelope enters the dining room in quick steps. "We need both of you,"

she says.

"We'll be trying," Chloe says, and holds on to her daughter's hand. Hiram

stands in the shadows, glowering hopefully.

Chloe reaches with her other hand for Jonathan's. He goes the extra few

inches, powerless to do anything else, and feels some comfort just touching

his wife, connecting with the dry warmth of her fingers.

Hiram comes out of the shadows. "This is pretty syrupy," he says, and his

voice breaks.

Dinner that evening is slow and quiet; the house feels like a soft and healing

wound.


,[tonathan and Chloe lie in bed, separated by twelve inches of sheet and blanket,

nd listen to each other breathing.

It will be days before Jonathan gets much sleep. Chloe, however, is soon

breathing quietly, regularly. He reaches out to touch her shoulder, hoping this

is not another violation, some further breach on his part.

He is nothing without her, them. That scares him more now than ever, and

he thinks again of escape, breaking away, finding real peace and contentment.

But he knows he will never do that.

He is a family man.


0 4


There are no tribes, no heroes, no gods or godly inspired prophets, no angels

or sublimely superior individuals. There are only children.


/ SLANT 349


The grizzled man walking beside the highway out of Green Idaho knows

that. He's had everything burned away but his childish core.


He talks to few, says very little. The scars on his face are vivid and crudely

patched together. He endures the snow and the wind.


Sometimes he will say to himself that his name is Jack. Sometimes, Carl.


He is not sure who is in charge from day to day, not that it matters.


He has work to do.


He is trying to go home.


TEXT ONLY ACCESS DENIED. ACCOUNT CANCELED.

PLEASE CONSULT YOUR ACCESS PROVIDER FOR

REINSTATEMENT.


FULL YOX SERVICES ARE JUST A TOUCH AWA Y! (PLEASE MAKE

SURE ACCESS LEVEL MA TCHE$ YOUR ABILITY TO PA Y,)


YOU ARE A DEEPLY VALUED CUSTOMER/


JOIN YOUR FFIIENDS IN GFIOUP JOY AND CONSTANT


AFFIFIMA TION! YOU ARE INVITED!


December 22, 1996


Lynnwood, Washington
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