As was their custom, Hikaru and Jasleen ate dinner together. Tonight, they were eating out although they could both cook fairly well. In fact, Hikaru could have probably made a fair living as a Japanese chef because they were in high demand in the area. However, she had completed two missions in one day, and Jasleen had spent the entire day struggling with the immense complexity of bio-android brains. Neither of them was in the mood to do any more work, and so they were relaxing together in a diner.
Neither of them spoke very much. They were too distracted. Hikaru ordered a main course. Jasleen wisely did not order anything, and they went back to reflecting on the events of the day.
For Hikaru, the confusion had all begun after she had rescued Velvet Dark from the General Motors corporation. Hikaru remembered opening the trailer to the truck and finding a CI agent who had been missing for three years. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Velvet Dark,” Hikaru had said.
And the other woman had stared back blankly. It had taken Hikaru a split second to realize that Velvet Dark didn’t know her own name. It had taken a half a minute for Hikaru to find out that this woman actually believed herself to be a different person. From then, it had been easy to guess what had happened. United Motors manufactured bio-android brains. UM also programmed them. And UM could reprogram them. Thus, CI had been thwarted again in its ongoing search for the whereabouts of Joanna Dark. Her own sister would not be able to help.
There was no question that the woman that Hikaru had rescued was indeed Velvet Dark. DNA tests had confirmed that. Hikaru had looked at her file searching for some way of perhaps jogging her memory. Unlike her sister, Velvet Dark had not been a full-time agent. CI had only called on her service to provide back-up for her sister. They had made a powerhouse team, apparently. Some of CI’s greatest successes had been achieved by the Dark sisters working together.
It was all gone now. Those who had met Velvet Dark could barely recognize her now. She certainly did not recognize them. She introduced herself as Anna Noctem now. Hikaru had smiled bitterly upon hearing that name. UM had given her a name derived from the Latin word for “night.”
Debriefing for the mission had been very short, of course. It had been very quickly determined that there was nothing to be learned from Anna Noctem. Afterwards, she had very understandably wanted to know what was going on. Apparently, UM had intended to implant the memories of a full lifetime within her. They had been transporting her in a convoy of trucks for that very purpose. CI had intercepted her before that happened, and so Anna had been left only with the knowledge of her own name, her “past” and the fact that she had been interrogated very thoroughly by UM. After much deliberation, Daniel Carrington had decided that she had the right to know what she was.
It had taken some convincing, of course. After all, the only known way of distinguishing a bio-android from a human was to hit a bone somewhere very hard with a heavy object to see if it broke. Carrington had refused to employ that method. Eventually, Anna had been convinced after seeing Velvet Dark’s file and an MRI had revealed that her brain was made of non-organic materials. She had taken the news very well, all things considered. Hikaru had taken her back to see Velvet Dark’s old apartment at CI. Together, they had sat together talking.
“Do you remember your parents?” Anna had asked.
Hikaru had been sipping her tea at the moment. After consciously swallowing, she had answered, “Yes.”
That had evoked a sigh. “I remember my parents.” Bitterness in her voice. Hikaru had leaned forward. “But they’re so full of holes. Up until now, I just accepted that they existed. I never stopped to wonder why I don’t know where they live or about the fact that I don’t know the color of my mother’s eyes. Just little things like that. I should know, but I don’t.” Silence, and a sip of the tea. “Tell me about your parents.”
Another sip of the tea, and then a moment of silence. “My parents, huh? Wel…I’m sorry, I’ve talked about them a lot. But I never know where to start with them. They were both short. They were immigrants from Japan, you see, and the Japanese are a bit shorter than westerners. My mother was very warm, I remember that. My father often smelled of oil. He was an engineer, a mechanic. My mother used to sit me on her lap. She shook a lot when she laughed. It was very comfortable on her lap.” More silence.
“Those are all childhood memories.”
“There aren’t any others.”
“I’m sorry.” Silence again and a look around the room. “Is this really what the room looked like when she lived here?”
A nod. “Dad preserved the room when Joanna disappeared. He did it in her honor, I suppose. He can be strange sometimes. Anyway, she and Joanna put all these decorations up. I wonder where they found this furniture though. It’s really very comfortable.”
“So this…woman who I used to be…she lived for many years. And she actually put this room together for herself.” Wonder in her voice. “I remember decorating my office and buying the furnishings for my room. But I never did that. It was all put into my head. She’s lived so much more than me.”
“Don’t cheapen yourself like that. You’re a living, full human being. So was Velvet Dark, but she’s gone now. You’ve got a life to live.”
“But I haven’t lived. I don’t even live now. I’m just a program built into some kind of device in my head. I’m nothing more than a set of instructions.”
“Anna, you have real emotion. You can feel it as much as anyone. You can be irrational and have instincts as powerful as the rest of humanity.”
“It’s not a soul, though. It’s all just built into me. I’m a bunch of hardware and software.”
“When you get right down to it, am I anything more?”
“Hikaru, are you listening to me?”
Hikaru blinked and shook her head. “Sorry, I was thinking about Anna.”
“She is an interesting case, isn’t she?” Jasleen had begun helping herself to Hikaru’s meal. They had established this habit a long time ago after their first experience eating at a diner. Hikaru had ordered a hamburger, not knowing just how large an American hamburger could be along with a plateful of french fries. Hikaru had barely managed to eat half of the hamburger and had not touched the fries. From that point on, she always brought Jasleen along for a helping hand.
“Do you think it’s possible to restore her memory?”
Jasleen nodded without hesitation. “You can’t erase something without leaving marks behind. If UM just wiped her once, I should be able to restore her by at least 90%. I’m even starting to understand how these brains work.” Jasleen paused. “But the question would be whether we want to do that.”
“What do you mean?”
“According to her, she’s existed as Anna for three years now. She’s lived those three years and gained her own personality and memories in that time. Remember, your dad decided that we would treat bio-androids as equal to a human since they are considered alive by most definitions.”
“But the personality implanted in her is an artificial one.”
“So was her first personality. Can we really consider a personality to be so little that we can just erase it with a press of the button?”
Hikaru rubbed her temple. “God, that’s all I needed: an ethical dilemma.”
“Well, when we get back, we can ask Anna what she thinks about it.”
Hikaru nodded slowly. Then she remembered that her food was getting cold. Picking up her fork, she began to eat. Strangely enough, she had quite an appetite.
It was a beautiful night, cool and refreshing. The city was buzzing with life, but not so much that it became a nuisance. Hikaru was taking her time, enjoying the sight of lit buildings and people passing by in the street.
Even while taking a leisurely walk, however, her instincts were engaged. That was how she was able to react instantly when she heard a cry raised by a woman on the street. Quickly looking in that direction, Hikaru saw a man running towards her clutching a purse. It was fairly clear what he was doing. Taking a moment to brace herself, Hikaru calmly jumped into the air and shot her foot out to smash into his face.
He recovered amazingly quickly. Regaining his balance, he shoved Hikaru while she was still landing from her jump. Hikaru fell to the floor and groaned, but not out of pain. His quick recovery had told her that he was yet another bio-android. This was quickly starting to irritate her. Getting to her feet, she yelled to Jasleen, “Stay here and call the police.” Jasleen nodded, and then Hikaru was off in pursuit.
The other man had no chance of outrunning her. If nothing else, he could not swing his arms because he was using both of them to hold on to the stolen purse. He turned into an alley in an attempt to shake her, but Hikaru wasn’t afraid of alleys. Just in case he intended to ambush her, she drew her Falcon 3 before entering.
He did indeed try to ambush her. Hikaru had a split-second after hearing him cock his handgun to jump out of the way. Bringing up her own gun, she swung her sights around trying to find him in the dark. Then, she realized that she had the advantage. Mentally preparing herself, she ran deeper into the alley. She made absolutely no noise as she moved along. For the hundredth time, she thanked her parents for giving her ninja training. Stopping for a moment, she saw his leg. She quickly swung about and fired. He cried out in pain and ran off. He was being very noisy about it, but Hikaru couldn’t track him with her ears alone. Then his footsteps stopped. Hikaru had a general idea of where he was, but she could not fire for fear of revealing her location to him. And so they stood there for a moment, engaged in a game of chicken in the dark.
It was Hikaru who first noticed that there was a faint source of light at the end of the alley. Then she realized that to eyes adjusted to the dark, she presented a silhouette by standing in front of that light. Then she heard her opponent take a step, and she knew that she had to move. She dove to the ground just as his gun fired. She was just an instant too late. A bullet smashed into her knee. She had lost her advantage, but she didn’t need it anymore. In firing on her, her opponent had revealed his position. Taking aim, she fired and felt a surge of satisfaction as he groaned and fell to the ground. Now, all she had to do was wait for the police to find her.
It took her a few minutes to realize that something very odd was going on. Considering the fact that her knee was smashed, it didn’t hurt all that much. Dragging herself towards a spot where the moonlight would allow her to see, she sat up and grunted as pain shot up her knee. It was broken all right. It was just her luck to get her first injury in a fluke encounter on the street. She took a deep breath and forced herself to look at her knee.
The bullet was lodged in there. And the very end of it was sticking out from her kneecap. It was probably safe to extract it. Taking hold and gritting her teeth, Hikaru wrenched and cried out as the bullet came free. Then she saw that the bullet was flattened at the tip. For a moment, she stared unbelievingly at the metal piece in her hand. It seemed suddenly that the entire city seemed to go quiet as if it were holding its breath, waiting to see what she would do next. She was alone with the triphammer beating of her heart and the blood rushing through her veins and the flattened bullet in her hand. She couldn’t quite breathe. She couldn’t quite think.
And then finally, as if she bore the weight of a building on her shoulders, she stood up. And placed her full weight on a knee that should have been smashed into fragments. Thinking about the smell of her father’s hands and the sound of her mother’s voice, she began to walk away.