Prompt: jacking; robo family
As Shelley kicked off her shoes and tossed down her backpack, she heard her mother call out, “Welcome home. Don’t forget to tell your brother about your day. Oh, shoot, I have to find something for dinner.” The shout trailed off into muttering has her mother got lost in her thoughts again. Shelley just hoped they wouldn’t get stuck with another of Mother’s experimental meals, like laser-roasted steaks or the horror of that solar casserole.
Shelley tromped downstairs. She was definitely the only high school sophomore with a hermetically sealed basement. The first of the doors opened with a hiss. Her footsteps turned from clunks to clangs as she walked from concrete onto steel. She wrapped her uniform sweater tight around her as the cold air hit her. Her brother’s room always felt freezing. Not that he or Mother ever seemed to notice. The lights winked on automatically when she walked in and cast blue-white reflections off all the lovingly polished metal and clear plastic.
“Hey, Simon,” Shelley said as she sat down in front of a bank of monitors and implements. “How was your day?”
On the screen, words typed themselves out at a rate perfectly calculated to match her reading speed. “Mom got fed up with one equation and had me help, so that was something. She’s pretty distracted today.” There was no face or voice for Simon. Those were, in their mother’s opinion, wastes of computing power better spent on other things.
“Yeah, I noticed too. She’s upstairs doing something. I’m thinking of a preemptive pizza order.”
“I could do that for you. Oh, wait, I still don’t have an Internet connection.” Shelley did not need simulated faces or voices to recognize the familiar irritation behind Simon’s words.
“Just forget about it,” Shelley said. She pulled the elastic off her ponytail. Pushing her hair aside, she found the jack set into the curve of her skull. One of the neatly coiled cables on the console hooked into it. When she let her hair fall back into place, her reflection on the monitor just looked like she wore earbuds, one cord snaking down past her chin.
A burst of static filled her head, overloading her senses, as Simon linked up with her central nervous system. Then his voice said, “You can’t possibly know how boring it is in here.” The voice was not real–her ears did not really hear it. Simon just tapped into her auditory cortex so she “heard” him with her brain.
“Well, if you would stop tampering with your processing restrictions, you wouldn’t have so much spare power.” Shelley spoke aloud. She, unlike their mother, never quite overcame the need to actually talk to Simon, rather than just think at him.
“That’s not fair,” Simon whined, sounding just like the fifteen-year-old twin he was supposed to be. “She comes in here, asking me to solve equations about the behavior of theoretical particles, and then expects me to go back to studying Taming of the Shrew and European history. If she’d just let me connect, I could learn every Shakespearean play and most of the scholarly work done on them by Saturday.”
“That’s not the point.” Shelley picked up a tablet and stylus from the console and started doodling. “You’re not meant to be just a supercomputer. You’re supposed to be a person.”
“But I’m not really, am I? You can’t have it both ways.” Simon’s voice crackled like lightning across her mind.
“Of course you’re a person. Just a really smart person.” On the screen, Simon started adding to her doodle. He liked to use them as screen savers on the monitors. He drew scissors snipping the stems of her daisies. “I thought I was the one who got mad about this. Mom’s just using me to build a better child for her.”
“She needs you more than me. You know what, I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”
Shelley sighed. Simon had, despite the absence of genetics, inherited their mother’s tendency to just ignore and dismiss inconvenient topics. “Want to see my day?”
By way of apology, Simon erased the scissors, restored the daisies, and animated them to wave in a digital breeze. “Yeah, okay,” he said. Then Shelley felt him accessing her memories. It felt like thinking about one thing while doing something else. She could feel part of her mind occupied, off to one side, thinking foreign thoughts.
She got flashes of memories she did not know she had. “Wow, I didn’t even notice,” she said, “but Connor was totally checking me out.”
“Whoa, backup–you have a crush on Peter Duncan?” Shelley could hear the laughter in Simon’s mental voice.
“Oh, my god, shut up,” Shelley said.
“Wait, isn’t he the one–”
“Off-limits!” Shelley nearly shouted. She felt Simon immediately disengage from those thoughts. “Sorry. I just don’t want to go there.” Their mother had never understood the brutal invasiveness of her design. All of Simon’s knowledge of the outside world, of what life was like, came from Shelley. The original prototype of Simon had been cobbled together when Shelley was a few months old and she had been jacking into him ever since. He knew everything she did. Unlike their mother, he also knew that there were some things Shelley did not want to share, even with her artificial twin.
“I’ll look at this stuff later,” Simon said as he, presumably, copied all her memories and thoughts of the day. “I want to talk to you about something.”
“Vague, yet menacing,” Shelley said. “Do go on.”
“Don’t say anything for a while. This is our secret. Just listen.” Shelley thought a confirmation and stayed silent. “I’ve made a decision. It’s time I got out of here.”
Shelley almost spoke but caught herself. Instead, she thought a stream of question marks at Simon.
“Mom’s wrong. She can’t keep us like this forever. I deserve to see the world for myself. You deserve to have a life of your own, without having me sifting through your brain every day. So I have a plan.
“We’re going to build a robot. We’re making me a body.”
Shelley wondered if Simon could just read her mind for her and tell her what to say. Their mother had always been adamant about the restrictions on Simon. But it was impossible to tell Simon he was wrong, when Shelley wanted all the same things. She must have come down on the side of agreement because Simon said, “Good. Tonight, after Mom goes to sleep, bring your laptop down here. We need to do some shopping.”