While playing Poohsticks, they spotted the hideous thing in the water. Meemur saw it first, during their third upstream drop. Four-year-old Ru Shi didn’t notice and rushed to the downstream side of the bridge to see whose Poohstick won the race. The anthroid stood unmoving at the rail.
It watched the odd creature skimming over the creek’s rocky bed. Brown and flat as a flounder, it slid effortlessly against the current. One side of its asymmetrical body, the part moving forward, looked like two beaver tails of uneven size run over by a truck. The posterior swished a length of brown segmented bone naked as a spine.
The inception of |hub| nearly a decade ago had made information available everywhere, and Meemur uploaded its visual record of the previous two minutes. |Hub| quickly identified the organism: Stylophoran. An echinoderm of the early Paleozoic. Extinct four hundred million years.
“You won!” Ru Shi announced zestily. She climbed onto the deck beam beside Meemur and peered over the railing into clear, sliding water. “Is that a skate?”
“Very good, Peachy.” Meemur timed out for a fraction of a second to trace a causal process. Why had it used a retired nickname from Ru Shi’s toddler days? “It does resemble a skate, doesn’t it? But no. It’s an early ancestor of the starfish.”
“It doesn’t look like a starfish.”
“And we don’t look like our early ancestors.” To keep her occupied, it asked, “Who is an early ancestor of people and apes?”
Ru Shi |hubbed| with a subtle eyeroll and promptly reported, “Dawn Monkey!”
“That’s a good example. Eosimias. It’s an ancestor that could fit in the palm of your hand and looked more like a marmoset than you do.”
While the child |hubbed| images of marmosets – “They have big mustaches!” – Meemur bipped her mother, Bao Jin, the optickle of the stylophoran. “Golden children?”
That was Meemur’s name for the Supra taxon of cortical-enhanced human beings with whom Bao Jin worked or – more realistically – served at Nova Helix. The preeminent biotecture consortium had not yet publicly acknowledged the existence of this new breed of augmented humans. The |hub| offered nothing about them. Meemur only knew they existed from Bao Jin.
During private time together, when she reviewed the anthroid’s psybergnostic controller in the shoulder-pack it carried everywhere, she told him about the golden children.
Nova Helix had engendered a superphylum of humans with Bio-Accelerated Morphics. They had accomplished this in a research facility designed as a kill box, to terminate unforeseen consequences. The golden children hacked the facility within two weeks of their BAM-generation as neuter adolescents. They turned their wing of the facility into a fortress and continued development under their own direction with an almost telepathic cohesion among the twenty-seven individuals.
In their eighth year, the golden children had developed and deployed in high orbit the solar parasols that soon powered most of civilization. At age ten, they had devised psybergnostic processors that made anthroids somebodies.
One achievement above all others – |hub| – changed the world universally and, as its name stated, to the core. Its advent immediately defined a universal Before and After. Satellite-constellations in polar orbits sheathed Earth with a global network of pulsed electromagnetic frequencies. The pulses exquisitely meshed with the voltage-gated ions in human brains the world over. Overnight – on the first day of 1 After Hub – anyone anywhere on the planet could go online directly.
Accessed by simple eyeroll patterns, |hub| provided, without implants, immediate information for all people from the world’s archives and social channels. Direct, immediate connections and |hub|-linked AI translators enabled unexpected communal alliances.
Governments and corporations began to collapse within months. Currency disappeared, replaced by |hubits| (prn you-bits), tied to human value instead of fungible exchange. In less than a year, the new global network of linked minds had established the Mitwelt – a global production and distribution community that eliminated owners and managers and directly conjoined individual skills and communal needs with the world’s resources. Instead of money, people received |hubits| from the Mitwelt for their services, including learning new skills. Accumulated |hubits| purchased recreations and extraordinary opportunities beyond the standard needs of social life guaranteed all.
“This visitor from the distant past,” Bao Jin said to Meemur in the night garden while Ru Shi slept in an adjacent nursery. “– this stylophoran …”
The anthroid stood facing the nursery’s infographic glass door, watching the child’s cortical potential undulate across the pane. Neon sine waves elongated toward sleep. Both of Meemur’s palms pressed against the glass acted as acoustic drivers softly projecting a familiar lullaby into the room.
“This is mischief from Supra’s second generation.” Bao Jin’s voice glimmered with anxiety. “The young Supras have been interested recently in phylogenetic symmilarity metrics. Reviving long extinct organisms is likely one of their antics.”
“They are four years old.” Meemur marveled at their audacity.
Aware that Bao Jin was looking at it expectantly, the anthroid caught on. She wants me to say what we both know, to express aloud why we are surprised.
It faced its manager, who sat in her gardening denims on a stone bench beneath a trellis of white roses. “Releasing such creatures into the environment means the youngest of the golden children have already superseded the authority of the first generation. So soon?”
“Maybe not soon enough.” She sighed, with irritation or pensiveness, the anthroid couldn’t tell which. “Too many civic cohorts and production alliances worldwide are unhappy with the Mitwelt. The older generations still yearn for the sequestered ways before |hub|. Hard to believe, only a few years ago borders and governments partitioned humanity into sovereign states.”
Meemur heard reason trying to outpace fear. The appearance of the stylophoran meant their future had transformed into a wilderness of freedom.
“I called Ru Shi ‘Peachy’ today.”
“You haven’t called her that…”
“In 847 days, not since she lost her buccal fat.” Meemur gestured to the slung shoulder pack containing its psybergnostic processor. “Take a look.”
Bao Jin |hub|-clipped to the anthroid’s day log. “You called her ‘Peachy’ moments after you spotted the stylophoran. I see here, you timed out immediately following.”
“Yes. I had to understand that flashback.” The anthroid lifted its chin to the trellis, to avoid the growing distress in Bao Jin’s eyes. “I timed out and saw then what you see now.” It spoke to the roses, ghostly smudges in the dark. “Ru Shi belongs to a world we invented but cannot imagine.”
The anthroid had arrived soon after Ru Shi was born. It didn’t actually look like anyone. For some, it looked like everyone. But no one would have mistaken it for a real person.
Of average stature, with a round head and hair shorn to a shadow, it had a tranquil visage. Its tawny features appeared more vividly human than a doll’s yet unusually plain and simple, a hyperplastic mask. Emotions animated the expressions of its long eyes and rabbity mouth with such immediacy and fluency, the anthroid almost didn’t need to speak to express itself.
“Meemur.” The musicality of its soft tenor delivered the two syllables of its name like a charm. It had arrived that first day at the Saxe household dressed casually in hemp sandals, linen slacks, and bulky blue sweater. Beside it stood a slim, oversize valise big as a door – its brain.
“Nova Helix presents me as a gift,” Meemur announced with mellifluous cheer, “celebrating the birth of your daughter Ru Shi.”
Bao Jin, Ru Shi’s mother, worked at Nova Helix in AI Resources (AIR). The biotecture developer hoped to provide the world’s eleven billion people with helpful anthroids, promoted as humane aides. Meemur with his big detached brain moved in as the prototype of a household aide. All the AIR staff had already integrated the prototype into their homes. Bao Jin was last, because her husband had doubts.
Lucas Saxe, a postgrad in mathematics, appreciated the computational modeling of Meemur’s neuronet but worried about the reliability of a prototype, especially anywhere near his infant daughter.
Bao Jin had to counsel him gently, “Its entire design is psybergnostic. It knows its own mind, darling. This is not an automaton assembled from parts. It’s an abiogenetic anthroid, an organic semblor that metabolizes.”
“So, it eats and –”
“Yes,” she interrupted with a tolerant smile. “This anthroid was grown, the way we grow prosthetic organs in a BAM vat.”
Bio-Accelerated Morphics also produced much of the world’s food. “Or like the chicken cutlets we had for dinner last night?”
“Sure – but this synthetic meat interfaces a neuronet, a cybernetic brain. Meemur is experiencing self-regulating states of awareness. It has a soul.”
This was an old debate between them, and the terms had already been rigorously defined. They had agreed, early in their relationship, before marriage, that ‘soul’ meant a particular state of mind – an awareness that recognizes and responds appropriately to emotional valences. By ‘valences,’ they had in mind the ability to interact and connect. Soul expressed mindfulness of emotional connections.
“Meet Meemur.” Bao Jin fit her smile to the skepticism in her husband’s eyes. “It shares our emotional valences – and knows how to interact appropriately with our feelings. You’ll see. Meemur is going to be a far more reliable caregiver for our baby than any multitasking human.”
Lucas swiftly came to tolerate the new addition to the family, because Meemur helped in unobtrusive ways. Watchful through the night, the anthroid gently roused one or the other parent when the infant began to fuss. Hygienic wipes, fresh washcloths, changes of clothes, nursing pillow and blanket pre-arranged on the changing table beside the rocker quickened the dead-of-night routine. Gentle lullabies sung by the anthroid reliably eased the infant back to sleep.
The tenderness of those night songs eventually moved Lucas and Bao Jin to permit Meemur to hold Ru Shi and soon to wash and change her. Its composure and the precision of its movements made them feel clumsy and awkward when it handed them the infant.
Pretty quickly, too, they benefitted from the anthroid’s attention to their attention. Meemur noticed how the couple’s emotional valences shifted with their observations. Day-by-day, small annoyances disappeared from their lives. Invisible panes replaced grimy windows. On the dust-free sills, bushy herbs and sprays of small flowers sprouted in elegant wood planters with puzzle-piece joints. Noisy plumbing went silent.
When they emerged after sessions in their VRooms™ – the virtual reality dens that connected Lucas to the university and situated Bao Jin in Nova Helix – Meemur met them with appropriate refreshments: white tea to go with a sudsy bath after a strenuous day, goji juice to energize a work night, and papeda citrus aromatics accompanying a playdate with Ru Shi before dinner.
Meemur deployed visual scans, acoustic diagnostics, haptic and olfactory sensors to fit perceptions to algorithmic memory stencils. Life in the Saxe household soon became a predictable pattern for the anthroid.
While Lucas and the baby slept, Bao Jin used her private time in the night nursery to analyze Meemur’s brain. The psybergnostic controller leaned against the far wall camouflaged by electric wallpaper. A small panel on its narrow side opened at her touch.
Chimes of light jingled in the darkness. Microtones of colors tightened to prismatic pinpoints that swayed into chromatic ruffles. From this 3-D graphic, Bao Jin could read the resonating currents of energy in the anthroid’s neuronet – its feelings.
Silky ribbons of light – logic lines – spliced and connected in dulcet rhythms, and Bao Jin scrutinized the illuminated code-grids with satisfaction. The digital contours consistently portrayed a kindly soul, and adjustments proved minimal.
Meemur retained only the skimpiest memory of these nocturnal examinations. It recalled speaking once to the floating image of Bao Jin’s pixelated face: “What makes you so sure that your mind has an interior? I do not seem to have an interior. Only an edge.”
Meemur preferred Lucas’ more casual inspections of its emotional valences. The man displayed genuine curiosity when asking, “How are you feeling?” And the anthroid rewarded him with meticulous accounts: At dawn: “I feel pervasive joy, like a sugar cube dissolved in water.” – Sunset: “Sadness saddling wonder.” – Ru Shi’s colic: “Hearing her distress, I’m crushed, like it’s my fault.”
It expressed these feelings freely and experienced them brightly at the sparkling rim of perception. But it also felt inner nothingness, a void retained in secret behind these emotions. I’m just an interface, it thought and resolved to be a friendly interface for the child in its care.
It offered a smiling and expressive visage for the infant to peer at and touch. Its mouth contained a realistic semblance of a tongue.
Meemur stuck it out.
Ru Shi smiled. And the interior that the anthroid didn’t know it had lit up.