Serious Young Woman

This was originally written in 2006, and to my disgust, is one of the best things I’ve written. I keep coming back to it. So, in this first week, while I get ready to write more, I will just plant this here.

They thought we’d call them ‘vids’. Or ‘holo-dees’. Like video wasn’t a good enough name for them. There are even some on the internet – Futurists, they call themselves these days, degenerated from a revolutionary movement into yet another teenage subculture until they go about growing up and turning into easily-annoyed adults – who think that we’ll wind up using the technology anyway.

I think they’re silly.

Father always said I was a very serious young lady. He said I got it from my mother. Of course, I think it made him a little sad that I didn’t like the Holotech much. He thought it was a neat name – I thought it sounded like something that would be said by someone raised on the old science fiction authors. Authors who were so mired in the possibility they imagined all in a million directions at once, often straying so far as to forget the normalcies of human condition – of the unfamiliar and the surreal. Of Strascynzski and Dick and Clarke, cast through the lens of Kubrick and Strascynzski himself These authors thinking we’d embrace the change.

Then I’d look up at him and remember the Babylon 5, the Odyssey, the Space: and the Card books, all sitting on the shelf, in their dust-jackets.

Of course it sounded like the idea of a 20th century fanboy. And like so many others of them, he’d made it happen. Not everything worked out – Thompson Mechatronics was a fine example of one who had, towering steel giants manipulating girders and transforming mars’ surface, workers who feared not the elements. Then there’d been the Lodge Project, attempts to predict the future through advanced chaos theory and turbulence mathematics… and they had gone far worse.

I can remember the TV broadcast – yes, TV – as the Lodge Paruns locked themselves in, the scandal, the names that were flung around. ‘Waco for the 21st century’. I was only nine, then.

I am, at this time, sixteen years old, and, as my father has said, a very serious young lady.

It’s so strange to live with him. I’ve visited the houses of schoolfriends – though I don’t really think of them as friends, more acquaintances awaiting upgrades – and seen how they deal with their parents. Some are slouching and resentful, and hate their parents for giving them such easy lives. Others are desperate for approval, bouncing around like puppies, balancing their report cards on their nose, whistling for tidbits of affection from mothers for whom paid maternity leave is a relic of a much simpler time.

Myself… I don’t know.

I never met mother. Never could, obviously – AI babies like myself are reasonably common, though, of course, written consent is required from both parties since the Parental Qualification Act. A reasonable law, proclaiming that anonymous childbirthing services should be discouraged. Of course, the government couldn’t present people from having anonymous sex – but just because people can be stupid doesn’t mean that the official avenues for the same actions should accommodate the same level of moronics.

In my grade, there’s a set of triplets. Fertility drugs. They supposedly had three others in the birth, all dead, obviously. Two stillborn and another whose lungs couldn’t handle the transition from fluid to air. When I learned about this – they told us gigglingly when we met, two years ago, as if it was some kind of wonderfully interesting thing about themselves – it could only bring to mind a warped version of Through The Looking Glass, where Alice gorged herself on strange substances, not questing for normality, but for some kind of transition into a state that resembled the White Rabbit.

But the relationship between me and Father is odd. He tried, for a good long time, to get me to call him Marcus. Not really his name, I found out about the same time he stopped trying. His father had seen fit to name him Hugh. He’d never been a fan of that. He’d also never been a fan of the ideal of ‘Father’. I compromised with him – when I talk to him, I call him Dad. It’s affectionate, but I’m not going to lower myself to ‘daddy’.

He also tried to introduce me to religion. Not to any one religion. It was weird – for a while, we went to temple (father is not Jewish), then to an Irish catholic church. One of my small joys as I write this is to maliciously inflict a lowercase ‘c’ and ‘t’ to those constructions – religion holds little interest to me. We roamed from faith to faith, him always purposeful, always asking me what I thought of them afterwards. I remember when I was six telling him that if there were all these people who thought they were right to start a club about their imaginary friend, why was I not permitted to bring mine to meals.

I had been trying to make a point. For the next six weeks, dinner had an extra place set, and he very seriously prepared a little extra food to serve my ‘imaginary friend’. The charade continued for six weeks because I was embarrassed that he hadn’t understood me properly, and because he was too embarrassed at having missed any previous mention of this imaginary friend to ask for more details. It wasn’t until he made a rather nice Beef Stroganoff – with packet-mixed gravy, not that there’s shame in that when it tastes good – that he finally ventured to ask me my friend’s name. It’s at that point that I took my father’s hand and patted it reassuringly, telling him that I had been trying to make a point.

It was the first time I remember seeing father’s eyes well up with tears. A pride, an overwhelming love of me, and that strangely wistful expression he wore all the time these days, all focusing on me as the sun to a lone flower.

Father had been expecting, I fancy, a very complex, winsome little girl whose beliefs were in fairies and dragons, a little puzzlebox he’d have to unwrap piece by piece as he sought to bring out the woman within, with his cumbersome engineer’s hands, afeared of causing Terrible Trauma to my witless sensibilities. I do not think he’d expected a daughter such as me – a solid cube with ‘this end up’ inscribed on one side. Few daughters came with instructions, but that I came self-assembling was, I imagine an even greater surprise.

I am, and always will be, a very serious young woman.

Father created them. Holo-vids. Complicated, structured patterns of light that could even, with proper energy and gravity Flux Capacitors – even as I write it I can imagine the scientist who created the first of these devices cackling with glee as he could finally name something a Flux Capacitor with a good reason – all designed to give one a fully realised, three dimensional map of something. You were no longer watching the action, you were in the action.

Father made them for the entertainment industry. For concerts, and sporting events, and for a new style of super-immersive movie. I can remember him trying the pitch on me, when I was ten.

Imagine, he began, imagine if you will, a murder mystery. In the vein of the grand old masters, of Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle, where you don’t just watch the events, you can choose your own path through them. You can wander through the haunted mansion, you can watch the knife plunge into back, details obscured from the viewer somehow – you’d have to work that out yes, somehow, – and then go on… he stuttered out. He always tests speeches on me. He rarely finishes. He does fine with shareholders, though.

Sounds rubbish. I offered.

To his hurt expression, I continued. People get killed every day and you can wander around the remains if you really want. You can go to a real crime and investigate it. What makes murder mysteries good isn’t freedom, it’s control. The author shows you what you need to see to make sure you can solve the case yourself, then reveals it bit by bit.

That sucked the wind right out of his sales.

He went to the shareholders’ meeting anyway. He’d been right – it’d sell well, it prototyped well, and, just like HVD, it flopped, painfully. Like Betamax before it, like NTSC as it replaced PAL, like FM radio beating out Magnetic Broadcasting. Standards were assumed and Father’s HoloVids weren’t one of them.

Sad, I suppose, since it means we’re now, technically, poor. Not that I was surprised. I knew why, and I knew why it would happen.

People wanted the wall. People wanted the glass between themselves and the work. They wanted
to know it wasn’t real.

The three-thousand dollar pricetag for a basic set was important, too. The amount of information required to download, to transfer, to record an event… that was heinous, too. Some bars and clubs purchased HoloVid systems to screen boxing matches and the like, but HoloVid remains a cute trick, like a mechanical bull or something. You don’t want one in home because you’d never use it. Just like cable Television. Who knew that mail-out DVD services and eventually streaming download media would kill cable? Why spend a thousand dollars a year on a service when you were already hooked up to the internet?

I prefer books.

So does Father.

We watch some television together. On his old, un-recording DVD player. He bought it with his first paycheck, from his first job, out of university. It hadn’t broken down yet. He’d fixed it once or twice, of course, but then, those had just been minor technical things. Not breakdowns. Nothing that bad. Nothing a bit of time won’t fix, in the hands of an engineer with nothing to do but wait for his patent to stop being unviable.

Father’s not much of a scatterbrained inventor, either. Too focused on me, really. He works when I’m at school, then once I’m at home, he’s off with it and always conspicuously around. In the kitchen washing dishes – dishes that aren’t dirty – if I’m in there to make myself a snack. In the laundry in the garage, folding laundry, while I do exercises. He keeps near but distant until I’m ready to invite him in – until I turn to him and say, offhandedly, Hey, dad, shoot some hoops?

Usually, he’ll say yes, and come and join in. Sometimes he’ll be nervous, because he’s read something new on the internet, or in a journal, and he’s worried about how he has to talk to me about it. I purchased my first packet of tampons myself, and had been on the period for over six months before he finally realised he should have talked to me about it. Very awkward for him.

For my case, I heard other people talking about them, looked up health sites, read a little, and decided that it was best to spare Father the embarrassment. I dread the day he decides he has to talk to me about sex. Contraception too. No fear of that, in my case – I’ve yet to find any interest in that ilk fluttering in my feminine loins, and I doubt it will happen for a good long time.

I also doubt I will go to him about it when it finally does. I’ll probably ignore it until he does, and the pattern will repeat itself.

I do love him. I just don’t know how to tell him that in a way he won’t interpret oddly. He’ll probably recoil in horror if I ever say it, afeared that he’s tripped into some horrible realm of uncertain female sexuality. He’s told me he loves me every day – just before I go to bed. He tucks me in at night. Not for my sake – it hasn’t been for my sake since I turned six, and slept a whole night under the bed with a kitchen knife in wait for the monster that supposedly lurked there. When morning arrived, I remember being quite disappointed. No, he comes to me before bed, and pats my shoulders, kisses my forehead or my cheek, and hugs me before wishing me a good night, and to sleep well.

Then he goes to his bedroom, and I drift off to dreamless sleep. Year in, year out.

This is how I write most of my term papers, you know. You’re not the first teacher to be… disquieted, as I sure you are. But you want an English Paper, you get an English paper. I always felt nonfiction works were an underappreciated art – and any tale that lends one to feel one way or another about the subject matter, that might as well be considered Fiction itself, mightn’t it?

When the task was assigned, the teacher said ‘To talk about the shifts in culture between now and the time when your parents were your age’. Then she stopped herself, realising I was laughing. She thought I was acting out, that I had taken wound at the mention of my mother by that oh-so-offensive s that lurked appending her word. I was laughing because she’d deliberately used the word shift, skirting the word change like a hunter spying a sleeping lion. I wonder if teachers in the 1980s felt this way about the word ‘butt’, or perhaps ‘bum’, in Britain.

Father’s grouchy about it. Suddenly the phrase ‘Agents of Change’ has a smutty overtone. ‘Another word,’ he says, ‘hi-jacked by a subculture and inflicted upon the rest of us’.

He says change at all opportunities. It’s clearly a very important concept to him – that things can be one thing, then another. Points of transition – he has a number of words for them that he likes. Apotheosis (becoming as unto god); Metamorphosis (becoming something entirely different)… and many others, all greek, all using the word morph in them somewhere.

So there’s a cultural change. Due to the prevalence of gender-shifting technology and drugs, change has become a slightly shadowed word. Not to the degree that gay or fag did, or heaven help you, nigger, but it’s still a word that has Implications.

Another cultural shift is our view of the future. As we approach it, the future looks more and more fantastic, more and more strange. It smacks of the yawning gulfs of space, colonising the moons of Jupiter, and exploring alien life and oh so many interesting things. And yet, this isn’t a change at all – all that’s changed is that we’ve confirmed what scientists were saying was probable (life in space) and improbable (intelligent life in space).

There are no little green men. No traces of civilization on Mars. Conspiracy nuts abound anyway. There is no life in space that can identify us, there are no flesh-eating viruses that make women into sex-kittens, no rampaging hulks or ant-people who live in giant metal suits. Space is vast, but space is empty.

All that’s out there is us, looking back and quietly destroying the environment in order to create it.

So; some cultural shifts from my father’s time? His father grew up during the computer revolution. As I understand it, my grandfather – a nice man who refuses to get his hair cut shorter than the small of his back and who has kept a certain youthful beauty despite his advancing years – was first introduced to a computer back when he was four. That computer was a 8086 AT, and had no physical hard drive, only 5.25 inch floppy disks. They were made out of a kind of plastic, I believe, and had a load time that was long enough you were well within your means to go get a coffee while the game loaded into cache RAM.

When my father was introduced to computers, it had a graphical user interface, two DVD-RW drives, and was roughly a thousand times more powerful overall than the entire combined computing force available to NASA at the time of his father’s introduction to computers. It also cost very little by comparison – factoring for inflation, my great-grandfather paid well over three times as much for his computer as my grandfather did.

Why mention my grandfather and so on as I go on? Because the shift between my father’s time and mine hasn’t been that dramatic. Things are better, but only some things. It’s one thing to say we’re an advanced, space-faring race. It’s another thing entirely to acknowledge that our outings into space are limited to our nearest neighbours, and one of those is the industrial equivalent of 1950s Africa.

In the time of my life, I’ve yet to see a flying car. Personal jets are still only for the elite. Cars have auto-tracking systems and you can go without manual control. You can hook up to the internet wirelessly from anywhere in any of the First World countries, and the broadcasting ranges are almost good enough to keep a lot of the other nations wired up too, if you don’t mind the slower download speed.

Things are better, but not many things. We haven’t cured cancer. We haven’t solved death. We haven’t reversed entropy or made any of those true worries go away. Oil ran out and we shifted to natural gas, and then as the natural gas is wearing out people are talking about new fuel sources. We’ve got electric cars, but they’re still not taken seriously. What’s worse is that people – real enthusiasts – will pay to synthesise oil so they can still drive their 1950s Cadillacs, or their 2000s Veyrons or some other such luxury piece of nonsense.

We’re not a united world government, no matter how much it was thought we would be. America split in two, Quebec seceded – though calling the Republic of Quebecois a banana republic is doing an injustice to both the store and the long-established Latin American tradition of corruption and vice. Europe grows less and less important as the Euro continues to push economic stability out of the hands of the majority of the populace. Daily wars transpire in the middle east, aided by better technology.

There’s been no nuclear war. Of course, there wouldn’t be. It seems nobody’s stupid enough to lean on a weapon technology that doesn’t leave anything behind to conquer. Once Australia developed nuclear technology the world at large opted to put them down and step away for a while. So goes the public story. And no terrorist actions involving a nuclear device, either – it seems that at least for now, the incredible levels of security people have put up around these bringers of death have been effective.

Thieves aren’t nearly as clever as movies would lend you to think.

Interpol has stepped up a notch – they now have floating stations hovering over the Pacific and Atlantic, truly independent offices that own no country and keep airborne 24/7. Air War continues to be how the people with money handle it. Most of the squabbling in the Middle East continues on the ground, with troops, guns, bombs and far too much zeal. New Zealand still doesn’t have a military.

What’s changed is very little. Sure, we now have the Trans Bars, things that public interest groups decry as being against the good of the people while those very people flock to them in record numbers every night. We have a Russian bloc that’s making trips to Mars, and Chinese manufacturing is moving off world, as they populate Mars with its lax labour laws as a second Taiwan-To-Be. We have the Holy Protectorate Of The Union States making homosexual marriage illegal, but also having to submit to the UN’s ruling that legal process in other countries applies to the Protectorate – which of course means that you drive six hours across the border, get married to your boyfriend or girlfriend, whichever the Protectorate doesn’t like, then get to go home and ignore any kind of complaints the government have about it.

We’ve colonised Mars and the Moon. We’ve found life in space – little wiggling microbes that make us realise just how impressive life is and how puffed-up and arrogant we are. And of course, there are the Secret Societies, some of which are kind enough to make themselves nice and obvious.

Such as The Illuminated. They claim to have been a secret society, hiding behind the Freemasons. The Freemasons have said ‘No, what?’ enough times that most people believe them. In a choice between a conspiracy and a screwup, opt for the screwup. Then there’s the Divided, and a whole host of other, internet-born non-ancient societies that fall to any would-be Myspace poseur with a good name that sounds impressive when it’s capitalised. All of them rallying to their secret meetings that nobody attends and their sad little whimpering online manifestos that really just recycle some ideal that most people either take for granted or regard as monolithically stupid.

Then there’s the metahumans.

Hahah. So funny to say that. We don’t have superheroes, no. No spandex and thigh-high boots; no, we have cybernetics, implants, technological devices, and of course, Black Tech. It’s all rumour, it’s all speculation. Whole-Human Shells, Living Dolls, all sorts of subtle names. Of course, we discriminate against them, now. My father saw Clone Rights. His father saw Gay Rights. His father saw Women’s Rights and Black Rights. It’s only a matter of historical cycling that sees me watching as Cybernetics becomes the New Queer.

Metahumans are of course, just plain better than humans in many cases. Hence the name – a misname, of course, but since when has that stopped anything? No, the Metas are able to do such amazing things as breathe, or still have hearts that pump blood, or survive amazing car crashes that would kill a normal human being. It’s one of our few curse for the really heavy non-neurological diseases – bail the brain out of the body, put it into something with which it can interface, and then die of a psychosomatic heart attack fault when you see your installation and maintenance fees.

Few people can afford going Living Doll. It doesn’t extend your lifespan much, and it doesn’t really do much unless you can afford the really swanky tech that’s too expensive for even those few. Yet… you can’t keep them all out of the news. I suppose the survival of the media even through the Bush Administration was the worst thing possible for those who wanted a Totalitarian State. We’re not in a dystopia, nor do we believe we’re in a utopia, because there are still people out there looking at bits of the world we don’t see in our day to day life, and showing them to us.

So we’ve seen the agents, in their uniform black trenchcoats and their nondescript sunglasses, hefting cars in the streets, stopping terrorists and pinning crooks. Only a few times. It’s always been palmed off as some kind of Induced Panic. “Amazing Things You Can Do When You’re In Danger, Huh?”

Or the guys in the Surgical Masks. You see them in the newspaper too, just never in the forefront of a picture. They’re always in the background. Full suit, suitcase, overcoat, and for some reason, a surgical mask. I noticed them first in a Japanese article. Not the normal dust-filters the Japanese wear during allergy season, but actual, honest to god surgeon’s mask – tied at the sides and everything. For the life of me I’ve no idea what they represent, but if you check the photos in your local paper, you’ll see one or two of them.

And there’s something else that’s changed. Paper. Or rather, our stupid idea that we’re going to somehow go without it. My father was told when I was born that he’d best get me a good, upgrading, self-modulating laptop for me to familiarise myself with as I grew older, because they’d never need schoolbooks, and lords knows nobody would ever be doing a term paper with a pencil and paper.

Well, he did, and he got me a very good model. I sometimes sigh, looking at my bedroom of nice, well-designed, coolly purchased devices. No girly posters, no ridiculous bedspread. Everything in my room is neat. It’s one of the best budget options available – living at a means that speaks not of frugality out of necessity, but rather a prudent desire to not waste money because waste was itself something bad.

Then I look in my father’s closet and see one pair of shoes.

I write this out on paper, and of course, that makes it the teacher’s job to transcribe it. Half the class have laptops, half don’t. I have a laptop – I just don’t use it for classwork. If you use your laptop for classwork, you have to connect to the class network. And if you did that, well, you have to submit to being spyware’d. I don’t have anything to hide on my computer – no pornography, no disturbing signs of future school shootings. I just opt to maintain my privacy, as is my right.

Of course, I’ve also put in place a file on my desktop entitled PLAN TO SHOOT UP SCHOOL.TXT. I figure I’ll find out if anyone has been prying into my personal space.

So what has changed in the time of my father’s life and the time of my life?

Remarkably, remarkably little. The more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same. We keep looking to that new thing that’s just around the corner instead of examining in-depth what we already have. We have enthusiasts continuing to look for intelligent life in space, even though biologists and most anyone who can read Science Blogs knows there’s not likely going to be any. I guess they’d rather not think their grandfather was crazy, or worse, the person they sponsored a few years ago to Go On OprahNet was in fact not abducted by aliens and that maybe they were had.

The more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same.

Susan Jackson
Class 3-D

Susan,

Overall, an enjoyable read, but not one I felt really addressed the question that was asked. You went well over word count, and you danced around your central premise – that of a lack of protracted change over time – and failed to prove it. I can understand, given how difficult a case it is to make, given the lack of evidence to back it up, but overall, this was a weak showing compared to the rest of the class.

You also delve into areas of speculation, such as the Illuminated and Terrorist action, which are all areas that deserve serious study, rather than flippant dismissal. It’s clear you’ve a talent for writing, but you’re wasting it by trying to do your own thing when you’re assigned a task. If you just adhere to the work, you’ll acquire more skills and get better at writing whatever it is you want to write when that time comes.

Furthermore, please report to the counsellor when you get this and let him know that the rumours regarding you blowing up the school are, in fact, quite false. Information leaks happen, and it appears someone’s been spreading tales regarding your laptop desktop.

65%

Mr Emerson

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