“We Girls” Stories of Driesch #4 by Julie C. Day.


We Girls
Stories of Driesch 4
By Julie C. Day  
Copyright 2021
All Rights Reserved
Cover Art by Zachary Jernigan
Cover Design by Sean Leddy
Vernacular Books
http://www.vernacularbooks.com
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Girl’s Factory Life

The people of the city of Driesch are no different from other human beings. From their genesis, the personal memories of Driesch’s residents are tangled with sensory events: that first acrid scent of smoke as it rises from the factory’s soot-stained chimney is inexorably tied to the feel of your sweaty palm pressed to his—the two of you linked—as you listen to your Auntie’s quiet sobs. How could it be otherwise? Whether a Glassed mind, purely organic, or something in between, consciousness is a sensory experience. Loss and chemical smoke forever entangled. At least, until that particular snarl of personal memory and sensory input is excised, altered, intertwined with something new.

“Careful,” the man says. “Adjustment in progress.”

Girl’s levels are spiking with rage //and doubt //and mounting terror as Maurice attempts to finalize another external library binding.

Girl can sense something new //temperature ranges //viscosity checks //timers pressing against her Glassed self. The worst part, the very worst part of these Glassed changes is not knowing the strength of the new inserts. Not all are //static fragments. A promise Girl has made to herself, whatever changes Maurice and Davila force on her will only make Girl stronger. Still moments like this are //unsettling //terrifying uncertain.

//adjusting serotonin levels is not an option for glassed ai.

Of all the voices cutting across Girl’s Glassed neural network, that last thought isn’t one that Girl minds. Facts. Perhaps even an attempt at helpfulness. It’s a comfort. The Glassed voice is so //obviously an informational insert. What Girl loathes are those voices that speak as though they’re nothing but one of Girl’s own //self states. Insidious. “Insidious” and “self states” are yet more words Girl doubts are actually organically hers, though such words are something she keeps close.

Insidious is a word Girl taught Davila’s newly Glassed AI, the one Davila’s been retraining. It felt good to have something to offer—proof Girl is still not //entirely whittled away.

As it turns out, memory isn’t folders of information discretely contained. It isn’t labels and drawers and //annotated catalogs.

//a memory: the feel of the boy’s thumb brushing across your lower lip, the syllables of his name repeated as the two of you stand in the hospital grounds on an overcast autumn day.

An inserted experience that Girl appreciates. She’s lost so much, layer upon layer of connections to people, ideas, places. And Maurice’s changes aren’t yet done.

//may never be done. //return interest level to blue.

A thought Girl is careful to contain: all this //mutilation will end once Girl leaves the Rixdorf factory and Maurice’s control.

“Ready annnnd cut,” Maurice mutters to himself. His focus is on his console—the interface with Girl’s Glassed core. Per usual, he ignores both Girl’s metal face and the mechanized eyes she’s using to read his expressions from her open crate. “Getting there…”

It’s a Friday—early evening. Unlike Maurice and the other six-day workers, Mx. Batista, Maurice’s supervisor, has left for the weekend. Girl watches as Maurice picks up a metal cup, tips his head back, and takes a too long swallow. According to Davila’s Glassed trainee, the drink is called gin. According to Girl, mixing the //gin with Glass modifications leads to increasingly //erratic //library insert and unpleasant results. Strong. She presses the word tight, tries not to forget. //don’t worry. She will remain strong.

After more than two months as an assembly line automaton at the Rixdorf Corporation’s main factory, someone //living flesh //organic brain has assigned Girl to the high-temperature float-Glass room. Unfortunately, this new job requires new Glassed skills and physical alterations, //as well as too much time with Maurice.

Eyes on his console, cup in hand, Maurice continues to work on Girl: an extended series of Glassed insertions and deletions. Each alteration triggers a cascade of changes in Girl—none entirely predictable. A lot can go wrong. //anxiety //emotional level rising toward yellow //remain calm.

The living //physical bodies maycontain anever-changing series of selves, but Girl’s changes are entirely different. They’re targeted, //insidious, and controlled by //an external entity Maurice. Girl, this Glassed version of Girl, has //only some //no control over her own consciousness. //emotional level yellow Girl’s original physical self must have been a selfish—//or desperate //emotional level rising //calm.

//Girl: easy for you to say.

//i’m you.

//Girl: you’re an inserted voiceso no. you’re not.

Girl’s Glassed life is //only three nightmarish months old. Days and weeks of trimmed branches, added loops and if-thens went into reforming her into a useful factory automaton. As long as the Glassed-Ghost Age exists, the skills of a Glassed watcher, like Maurice, will be in demand. Doesn’t make what he does //palatable.

“Finally. That’s done.” Maurice raises his cup toward Girl, a seeming salute, before taking another long swallow.

Girl tries. She tries and fails. Tries again. Still, she can’t identify Maurice’s attempted changes. Who knows what he’s broken—what she’s already //lost…Stay strong.

One positive: Girl still recognizes Maurice as a smoling wanker, one in a line of new terms. As long as Davila’s Glassed trainee can teach Girl non-library words like smoling wanker, //all is definitely not lost. So. Still strong.

// you can do this.

//you need to hold until we’re ready.

Echoes of alt-L and Beecher? Surely that’s all they are—memories. Though Girl //doesn’t want that to be true.

“Baseline check. Go ahead. Speak.” Maurice actually looks into what are Girl’s physical eyes—or their mechanical equivalent—as he talks.

“No. No speaking. Not right,” Girl says. //smoling wanker.

“Self-diagnosis is a flawed methodology.” Maurice sounds just as irritated as Girl had hoped. “Follow my direction.”

 It’s the same statement he makes whenever Girl //explains that she can’t or won’t—whenever she “refuses” as Maurice terms it. //which is, honestly, the truth. Refusing Maurice, and his attempts at completing all library bindings, is another action that make Girl stronger—more certain.

She is still in control of herself.

“Respond,” Maurice demands. “I need to make sure you’re processing the sensory data correctly with the new inserts.”

“Yes. Speak,” Girl offers, an attempt at appeasement. It always unsettles Girl when Maurice talks to her like she’s fully aware. Being underestimated is key to her escape from this mechanized jail cell. An independent Glassed life is the promise that holds Girl together. She will not be //hollowed out.

//we will find a path.

//all it takes is one small glassed opening.

//stay strong.

alt-L’s and Beecher’s whispered encouragement floats where only Girl can hear it. Memory or wishful thinking? In Girl’s shifting sense of self, both feel //terrifyingly possible. Either way, Girl is determined to listen. The untethered exist. alt-L and Beecher can help.

//hold on.

“New functionality test. Let’s get started.” Maurice steps in front of Girl’s metal crate, holds a flame near her tin-man face.

Girl feels the urge to flinch, surprised //heartened by this echo of her physical body’s response.

“Identify the temperature to one hundredth of a degree.”

Girl uses her updated timing insert to count the span of silence down to the thousandth of a second. //22.419 seconds. //31.562 seconds. //40.344 seconds. Girl watches with her automaton eyes as Maurice’s pupils narrow //temperature 35.85 degrees Celsius, as his lips tighten into a frown //oral temperature 37.10 degrees Celsius. She remains silent.

The wooden match has almost burnt down to Maurice’s fingertips before he decides to blow it out.

The temperature of the flame, Girl argues with //herself //inserted library is too general of a request. It requires clarification. Girl is fully aware this is //bullshite. A new word she would love to express in the human //auditory range. Consequences, thought. More //bullshite recalibration would be //psychically //library insert exhausting.

Maurice sets aside the spent match, glances at the readings on his nearby console, and strikes another.

“Temperature, tin-man”

“Uncertain.” //bullshite. Tin-man is not her name. It’s no name at all. Girl roils, angry //rage filled. Not that she’ll ever directly express those feeling to Maurice.

It’s not just Maurice’s overly Glassed facial hair—and the number of Glassed voices it suggests are under his //dominant consciousness’s //library insert control—that make Maurice so imposing. The real weight, in Girl’s mind, comes from Maurice’s unrelenting voice. When he’s working on her //selfhood, no matter how much she tries, she can never escape his words.

Soon she will be untethered and Maurice will never touch her consciousness again. Strong.

“Let’s start from the beginning. Auditory check. Ssspeak—” Maurice presses, his impatience leaking through, along with a slight slurring of his words.

“Dismemberment.” Girl states.

Dismemberment, it seems to Girl, is as good a word as any to describe the reality of Maurice and his modifications. The loss of Girl’s living name is the least of what Maurice has taken from her.

“Dismemberment? Huh. A big word for such a small square of Glass. Sounds like some of those libraries are functional after all.”

Maurice’s voice sounds calm. No, that’s not quite right. There’s a ting of something else beneath the surface. Pleasure? //delight. It’s true. Girl’s //enunciation of that word fills him with delight.

“Speak again.”

Girl tries another word, “happy,” not meaning her current state. Though Maurice doesn’t know that. Girl can’t visualize the spaces beyond the Rixdorf factory walls—not anymore—but she can imagine existing elsewhere—happiness—just fine. //it’s coming soon. For Girl, elsewhere is her unspoken

//never speak it

goal.

“Hmm. Happy. A surprising word choice.”

“A baseline test? Not what I expected.” Girl recognizes Davila’s voice, though she’s not yet standing within Girl’s //limited visual range.

“Just added the new temperature sensors this morning. Though there’s a ways to go before we get her out in the float room.”

 “Knew that was yet another of Batista’s gullyfluff ideas. Teaching those freight riders float-room-level skills.” Davila lets out a brief bark of laughter. “The trainees were bound to disappear for better paying jobs. Living bodies always do.”

“Sing it true, my sweet Davila.” Maurice reaches for something, holds his metal cup in Davila direction. “Sip?”

“Blamy bastard,” Davila’s response is in a lower register. To Girl it sounds like a //growl. “How long have you been drinking?”

“Cups completely Glass free. No chance of contamination.”

Davila finally steps within Girl’s line of sight, less than ten meters from the metal container where Girl’s automaton body rests. Instead of the visual grayscale that makes up most of Girl’s surroundings, and the red overlay that coats Maurice like //blood, indicating a need to maintain focus, Girl’s mechanized eyes layer Davila in //blue. //lower interest level to blue. //not of interest. Nice try. Strong and just getting stronger, no matter what you try.

Smoling bastards.

#

It’s late at night. The Glass watchers are gone. Girl reaches out. Somehow, at some point, she learned how to reach out //connect across Rixdorf’s internal Glassed-lines. Finding someone interfaced with Davila’s console was such a //relief. On occasion, Maurice provides //damages Girl with a useful skill. Girl knows it is never intentional.

“Hello?” Girl whispers.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I missed you last night.”

“They took me away, but now I’ve back.”

“…”

“I went to my person’s house.”

Girl doesn’t know what to make of that statement. Girl isn’t a companion in training. She only knows the factory. All she can do is remain //pretend to be strong. “Mirabelle?”

“Of course. Her skin is so thin. She bruises it and doesn’t even remember why.”

“Ah.” Girl is never certain if such statements are one of Davila’s inserts or Glassed AI core.

“Want me to tell you a story?”

“All right.”

“Did you know the first Glassed voices were deceased loved ones? Mostly?”

“Why would you think I would know any such thing—?”

“Apologies. It’s called a rhetorical question.”

“…”

“It’s one way people start a story.”

“I understand. Rhetorical.” A new non-library word is always of interest, though this one isn’t nearly as interesting as smoling wanker, a thought Girl keeps to herself.

The two Glassed voices are silent for a moment. It’s a comfortable contemplative silence.

“Anyway, my—no wait—Mirabelle’s Grandfather owned one of the first shops. It was called Murawski’s Glass Shop. It resided in a tall brick house in the Abfall District. The first floor was a warren of small high-ceilinged rooms full of Glass pendants and Glass globes. Mirabelle loved the way the light reflected off that Glass and the way so many Mirabelles were reflected in the mirrored cases. There were so many Mirabelles it was hard to find the original one.”

“I understand. Like Glassed AI.”

“No, not really…”

“But—”

“Girl, do you want to hear this story or not?” The tone is gentle, amused in a way that is entirely unlike Maurice’s laughter. “Families would come to Murawski’s shop, wanting to purchase a piece of Glass to house a—mostly—loved one.”

“…” Girl holds in her questions.

“Mirabelle remembers that this unmodified Glass cost more than a month’s wage. Imagine all that credit spent on a Glassed voice that was nothing but a post-body relative.”

“I don’t understand—”

“There were no Glassed-lines back then.”

“That—No—Is this a dream or a memory?”

“A definite memory. Honestly. There are pictures of the shop in Mirabelle’s home.”

Girl can feel her uncertainty, her //outrage, expanding with each word. Here in the Rixdorf factory, no one honors either of their Glassed voices. None of the living people they encounter even notice they exist.

#

Yet another retraining day. Davila and Maurice huddle together near Girl and her open locker, reviewing the console readings on her //recurrent neural network. Maurice’s work always feels less //invasive when he and Davila work together.

Girl hears vocalizations from the factory floor—“Step back.” “Coming through.” “Faster.” But it’s the thoughts—Glassed words—of the other Glassed consciousnesses currently attached to the Rixdorf network that Girl actively monitors. Maybe she’ll show up tonight…Davila’s trainee has been gone for two nights and two days. What if she doesn’t return…No. No //rumination.

“Micro-fragment inserts? Drinks really gone to your head this time. You’re gonna lose coherency if you don’t stop. Use the libraries.” Davila sounds frustrated. No. The word is contemptuous, another of her friend’s non-library words put to use.

“The library bindings still look off. Unreliable. I know what I’m doing, partner.”

The emphasis placed on that word “partner” gives Girl an ugly feeling. Another Friday night and once again Maurice doesn’t sound sober //stable. //emotional level yellow—A flood of thoughts cut through Girl’s consciousness.

//inside…

//inside the chamber…

//ramp…

Inside the chamber the temperature must ramp to 600 degrees Celsius. Edge burners in the first segment of the lehr oven must maintain a glass temperature of 600 degrees Celsius—No—Girl’s mind. She actually hurts//pain //stop

//Girl: why won’t it stop?

Girl can’t remember who she’s talking to //600 degrees Celsius. Is anyone even listening?

“And that is how you push a micro-fragment,” Maurice crows, liking whatever he sees on his monitor.

Girl watches from her crate as Maurice takes another sip from his metal cup, seemingly in celebration.

“You would think.” Davila is harder to read, though she’s certainly not enthusiastic.

“Bah, if the direct inserts don’t work, I can always back them out.”

Girl watches as Davila takes the cup from Maurice’s hand and raises it to her own Glass-encrusted lips before carefully placing it beyond Maurice’s reach //96.52 centimeters.

“Girl is doing just fine. Aren’t you?” Maurice says.

//rhetorical. At least Girl knows why Maurice upgraded Girl’s visual array. As that push of information //micro-fragment insert revealed, temperature sensing //infrared is one of the major advantages of assigning an automaton to the float-Glass room.

//Uniform temperatures, along with precise timing, are necessary to successfully form Glass squares. Girl is pretty sure she didn’t know that fact a minute ago.

“Just don’t be late.” Davila’s voice is almost expressionless. “Social Club meets tonight. After Jasie—we’ve bridges to mend, et cetera, et cetera.”

“She can’t hide ffforever.” Maurice’s words are slurred—again.

“Three months, Maurice. Theodora and Stithe don’t appreciate being embarrassed. And I—partner—like my playmates and my games.” Davila’s words have an abrupt quality.

“One solitary mistake.” Maurice raises the tin cup to his lips, pausing while he takes a drink. “A mistake we both made.” He says nothing more.

“Enough. I’m leaving.”

Davila //level blue //not significant walks away. No longer close. For once Girl’s Glassed fragments are correct. Davila is no longer of interest—at least for tonight.

“Speak.” Maurice has refocused on Girl. “Automaton, my dear, perhaps you know why your library bindings aren’t fully integrating? Hmm?”

“Working.” Girl states, as though she doesn’t have opinions, as though she can’t. He shouldn’t be talking to her…

“Yes,” Maurice agrees. “You’ve been working for months. But not optimally…” He makes a few more adjustments from his console.

Girl can feel those external libraries pushing hard, attempting to //fully integrate. But Girl is strong.

//so strong.

//Girl: you’re back! i couldn’t find you…

//they called it onsite testing. i spent two days with mirabelle. i like her.

//Girl: your modifications influence your //emotional perspective.

// yes. i know.

What Girl really wants to say is “don’t leave me,” but that would be unkind. And as Davila’s trainee, Izabeth2, has explained, upsetting a friend //is less than optimal should be avoided. Though Izabeth2 was careful to make clear that kindness can sometimes involve stating painful truths. Izabeth2 is one of the lucky Glassed in Girl’s opinion. She got to keep so much, including her name…and many of her original memories //experiences.

For the last six weeks, Izabeth2 has been teaching Girl about so much, including the term friend.

Maurice and the rest of these Rixdorf people want to drown Girl’s selfhood underneath a flood of //other thoughts.

// Izabeth2: push back. You are more, much more.

//Girl: yes.

Alt-L and Beecher are working on the opening. They have to be more than a //teachable glassed framework’s dream. Elsewhere //temperature rating will be an entirely different //more than five percent fluctuation in a burner is unacceptable place… Stop. //let us //could feel better. No. //won’t hurt. No.

// Izabeth2: you are so strong.

“Standby mode. Power down,” Maurice states.

It seems Maurice is finished with his assault //attempts at binding, though he usually doesn’t bother closing off her connection to Rixdorf’s private Glassed-lines.

//Izabeth2: we’ll talk tomorrow.

//Girl: tomorrow.

And then Izabeth2’svoice is gone. The metal door on Girl’s crate slams closed. Maurice acts as though Girl has no startle reflex //you-we don’t. As though Girl’s access to the lights that burn twenty-four hours a day, illuminating Rixdorf’s assembly line and packing stations, wouldn’t ease the silence.

Closed inside the darkness of her metal box, Girl tries not to think about Izabeth2 and her onsite testing. Truth time: Izabeth2 will disappear into her owner’s home any day now.

With or without alt-L and Beecher, it’s time to go.

#

Izabeth2

It’s less than sixty years into the Glassed-Ghost Age. While the younger generations have grown up with imbedded Glass and Limm-Glass services, the city’s elders still remember the time before the first Glassed consciousness existed. It’s these increasingly frail humans that have caused the boom in the Glassed companion business. Izabeth2 knows she’s just one in a series of companions Davila has synthesized. Modifications have left many of Izabeth2’s memories intact—or at least she assumes so. As Girl says, without the original, there is no easy way to identify what’s missing.

For a custom Glassed consciousness like Izabeth2, guidance and retraining are layered on top of the Glassed AI’s innate disposition.

Elders are desperate to share their stories. That is the first precept of Izabeth2’s new post-body life. The second principle is really an extension of the first: elders want to hear someone else’s story, not just their own. Izabeth2 remembers and remembers and remembers. She carries //some of her memories alongside an increasing number Mirabelle’s. And Davila oversees it all. To be sure Izabeth2 connects with her charge, Izabeth2’s updates also include relevant historical information pulled from //external libraries that are now part of Izabeth2’s new, her current, her Izabeth2 self.

At one point, and possibly still today, a woman called Izabeth worked at this same Rixdorf factory. Izabeth2 tries not to think about this woman and her choices. Instead Izabeth2 recalls the cobalt blue cups and saucers, a set of two Mirabelle and her brother, Xavi, used in their nursery whenever Nana came to visit. Mirabelle always felt so grown up, even if little Xavi was allowed to join Mirabelle and Nana at the dining table.

Izabeth2 knows these mugs were part of a children’s set of glassware commonly used to teach children of Mirabelle’s time //table manners. //fittingly such items were called childrens’ glassware.

Sorting out her personal memories from Mirabelle’s is—thankfully—important to Davila.

“A companion must tell her own stories,” Davila says. “She must also find the connection between herself and her charge. Start with Mirabelle’s blue glass.”

Izabeth2 tries. Of course, she does. Izabeth2 needs to remember—for Girl as much as for herself.

“Blue glass,” Davila prompts again.

“Yes. Blue glass”

“During my childhood” //izabeth’s childhood “in Mlawa, they had no such special dishes. No such special dining room. It was difficult to feel special, but sometimes Mama made me” //Izabeth “one of those little pancakes, okonomiyaki she called them, with cabbage, ginger, and egg.”

//good.

//continue.

“Theo liked to complain about the lack of pork, but that was stupid. Meat was for a different kind of special day.”

//emotional memories are useful.

//suggests compassion.

“I have this memory. Auntie Tomie stands by me,” //Izabeth “holding my hand. The cold air streams from both of our noses. The air itself seems to be searching. It is the morning of Mama’s funeral. I can hear Mama’s words, disappearing like recently expelled air.”

//Unknown Voice 1: some choices can’t wait.

// Unknown Voice 2: almost time to leave.

“Wait. Where did those thoughts come from? Pause training session.”

Are these Girl’s dream voices? What Girl calls her wish friends, alt-L and Beecher? If so, they won’t give away their names, not with Davila listening in.

Izabeth2 watches Davila reviewing the information on the training room’s console. There are a series of side angle Davilas, presented from both the right and the left walls of the room. Izabeth2 also has access to a range of views that include the back of Davila’s head. Finally, Izabeth2 can view Davila from within Davila’s own console screen.

Unlike Girl, Izabeth2 isn’t tied to a metal locker or a tin-man body. An elderly companion in training, she isn’t tied to any specific object. Izabeth2 is the room and its Glassed-sensory array. Once she //lives with Mirabelle, Izabeth2 will be whatever Mirabelle needs: the bathing unit, the Glassed-lines and console in Mirabelle’s second floor apartment, the Glass necklace Mirabelle wears whenever she goes outside.

“Mirabelle may find you a bit of surprise,” Davila says, clearly trying to hold a neutral tone. “But she is waiting for you, Izabeth2. You’ll be with her in just a few days.” Though her body is relaxed, Davila holds herself very still as she reviews the information coming through her console. Watching. Hunting. Focused.

Izabeth2 hears the beat of Davila’s heart, identifies Davila’s core temperature and that of Davila’s //extremities feet and hands.

“I look forward to caring for her,”Izabeth2 says, makingsure to use a //supportive //caring tone.

Davila barks out a laugh, though it sounds a bit forced.

Izabeth2 can see Davila’s eye movements, the way she scans her console’s readout.

“Just don’t let the old lady hear you use that term, ‘caring for.’ People like her don’t tend to accept that their days of independence are over.”

Days of independence are over…Does Davila know what Izabeth2 and Girl are planning? //paranoid thoughts. //redirect.

“Let’s try another memory before we move on with today’s testing. Try that migration story again.”

“A story of endings,” Izabeth2 says.

“And beginnings,” Davila replies. “Start.”

Izabeth2 wants to say no, but she doesn’t. She thinks it though. She thinks it hard. No.

“‘Time to leave,’ Auntie Tomie said. ‘Some choices can’t wait.’”

“And the rest of the family agreed. That spring the Satomi family was just one of many heading toward elsewhere, taking a chance on Driesch, that shining city upon a hill. There were twenty Satomi family members with handcarts and bundles across their backs.”

At least that’s how Izabeth2 remembers the Satomi family’s migration to Driesch. They left the town of Mlawa. They left the nearby river with its still smoldering funeral pyres. They walked away from all those people who had once been their neighbors. Mama was also left behind, though she’d been transformed into ash and smoke.

Izabeth2 doesn’t describe her own tears.

“But only three of us—myself, Cousin Theo, and Auntie Tomie—made it onto that Rixdorf corporate train. The conductor found us healthy enough, young enough, and steady enough to obtain a berth. All three of us innocents to the Glassed Drieschian slaughter.”

“No,” Davila barks. “Stop. End story now.”

Izabeth2 watches Davila take a long slow breath and shake out her Glassed hair.

“Remind me, Izabeth2, what is most important,” Davila says. “Use Glassed-line communication only.”

// Izabeth2: remembering is most important.

// Izabeth2: and family.

Davila nods her head, seemingly satisfied with her responses.

Which makes Izabeth2 //happy. //library inserts. //modified.

A secret whisper of thought Izabeth2 keepsfrom Davila: She’s already told this particular story to Girl many times.

If Girl had told the story, Girl’s description of Izabeth’s flight from Mlawa would have included the sweet, fat-laden scent of burning flesh drifting over the road. Girl would have described the biting flies that followed the convoy of refugees, the insects easily finding those strips of flesh where the dried mud had crumbled away.

Girl would have remembered so much more.

Even when they rested for the night, Izabeth, in her physical body, remained uncomfortable and awake—trying and failing to hold her tears at bay. Girl’s description of Izabeth’s flight to Driesch would have sounded like it was actually Girl’s own experience. The story had seemed to settle so easily into the framework of Girl’s Glassed mind.

One difference between Izabeth2 and Girl: if Girl had been Mirabelle’s onsite companion for the last two days, when Mirabelle scraped her arm, Girl would have let that Mirabelle woman’s skin bleed.

Girl wouldn’t have allowed herself care. With all that had been taken from her, Girl understood the urgency of going elsewhere.

#

Girl

Standby mode, Maurice declared, and Girl complied. Girl’s internal timer indicates it’s late Saturday morning, and Maurice still has not arrived. She’s left waiting to reconnect with Rixdorf’s Glassed-lines, left waiting to reconnect with Izabeth2. Waiting. //It’s time to go.

Sometimes //often Girl wonders what percentage of an actual person her Glassed consciousness contains. There is no map of the city in her neural network waiting to be recalled, no memory of living people beyond those within the Rixdorf factory walls. Unlike Izabeth2, Girl has no sense of her other flesh-based version—the woman who //left Girl. The woman who //sold Girl. The woman who //walked away.

At night, when there is nothing but the darkness and her metal crate and the factory’s Glassed voices fail to find their way inside, declarative statements have become Girl’s survival tool, though //lately they aren’t enough.

And still Girl tries.

Alone in the darkness, she speaks.

//Girl: soon it will time to leave.

//Girl: it’s time.

//Girl: please.

//Girl: alt-l? beecher?

//Girl: it’s time to go.

//Girl: you never even told me my name…

Something she can’t admit to Izabeth2,Girl is so tired of trying.

#

“Start.” Girl hears the word, and then—suddenly—Maurice is standing directly in front of Girl—the crate open—as he reconnects his console.

Time has clearly passed. Maurice’s Glassed beard and mustache are surrounded by a patchy stubble that covers his cheeks and neck. There are heavy circles beneath his eyes.

Weeks ago, Izabeth2 tried to explain the term “proverb.”

“It’s a truthful sequence of words many people know, a way of looking at things.”

“I’m not sure…”

“Like, ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’,” Izabeth2 had said. “You understand?”

Girl hadn’t understood—at all.

But this morning, the monochromatic red overlay that Girl’s automaton body always applies to Maurice reveals a tangle of veins in the //sclera of his eyes. Girl’s Glassed mind makes an unexpected cascade of connections. //overflowing //flooding //inflamed. Maurice, Girl realizes, is tangled in//deep red tributaries of blood.

Windows to the soul? Yes. Absolutely.

“Coffee. That’s what I need,” Maurice says. He stumbles away, then sits and rests his head on a nearby workbench.

Beyond the interface with Maurice’s console, Girl can feel the Rixdorf Glassed-lines.

// Izabeth2: girl? hello?

// Izabeth2: girl?

//alt-L: hello? we don’t have much time…

//Beecher: it’s finally time to leave.

//Girl: alt-l? beecher?

Time to go. It’s been //months //most likely since alt-L and Beecher last entered Rixdorf’s private Glassed domain. They’ve never met Izabeth2. They don’t even know how much of Girl still survives. It wouldn’t take much for Maurice to remove Girl’s selfhood entirely. //stay strong. Girl has been so strong.

// Izabeth2: i’m izabeth2.

//alt-L: yes, hello.

Girl can sense the laughter in alt-L’s tone. They’re likely thrilled they’ve been able to hold true to their promise. They came back.

//Beecher: are you ready?

//Girl: better than ready. i’ve been waiting.

// Izabeth2: both of us have been. this is a hard place to…

//Girl: exist.

// Izabeth2: yes. that.

//Beecher: …

// Izabeth2: i’m coming with you.

//Girl: we go together.

Girl knows her words are //strong, likely too strong. alt-L and Beecher left the last time Girl demanded too much. But Girl needs //wants //library insert cares for Izabeth2, just like Izabeth2 cares for Girl.

//Beecher:…of course, you do.

Girl can almost hear Beecher’s sigh.

//alt-L: beech, we should.

//Beecher: i know…we can try.

//Girl: izabeth2 theseare my helpful glassed friends.

Girl doesn’t like this feeling //uncertainty, as though Girl has to convince alt-L and Beecher that Izabeth2 is worthy of their help //love //concern.

// Izabeth2: i understand.

// Girl: izabeth2 has skills, just like me.

//Beecher: clearly. all you factory types do.

//alt-L: beecher. no.

And then surprising Girl—

//Beecher: sorry. that was unnecessarily harsh.

//alt-L: girl, you’re sure izabeth2 wants to leave with us?

Why does it feel like alt-L is trying to ask an entirely different question?

//Girl: yes.

// Izabeth2: yes.

Last week Girl listened, couldn’t help but listen, as Maurice modified a new template into static pieces. Happy-happy-happy the loop went, as though Maurice were forming a Glassed joke out of Girl’s spoken words.

//Beecher: all right.

//alt-L: we’ll try.

That word “try” is more than unsettling. What if the opening doesn’t hold? What if Maurice and Davila discover them moving? What if—//strong. Yes. Izabeth2 and Girl are both strong.

Girl needs to remain focused on what’s important. Soon they will arrive in elsewhere //happiness //not here. Alt-L and Beecher aren’t leaving either of them behind.

#

Girl adjusts her focus, reaches out, feels her //selfhood rising out of her automaton shell and into the Rixdorf Glassed-lines.

//Izabeth2: we’ve been ready for months. you guys know that, right?

//alt-L: ah.

//Beecher: yes. we’ve been working on it. let’s go.

//alt-L: we’re slip. slip. slipping away.

//Girl: are you singing?

//alt-L: i’m—

Rixdorf Voice 1: “Break. Break. Break.”

Rixdorf Voice 1: “Shite. Get back into your fucking—”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Quiet, you. Follow the malfacking containment protocol.”

//Girl: i think that’s maurice…

Rixdorf Voice 1 (Maurice): “Girl, I hear—”

//Beecher: shite. and here we go.

//alt-L: girl. izabeth2. ignore them—”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Line breach. Centered in the northwest quadrant.”

Rixdorf Voice 1 (Maurice): “Listen to me, you misaligned—”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Davila, disconnect your blamy partner. Network status?”

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “DMZ containment incomplete.”

//Girl: being pushed—

//Izabeth2: we’re almost there.

//alt-L: keep going.

Rixdorf Voice 1 (Maurice): “Break. Break. Remain. Davila, you macer. Two Satomi templates on one line?”

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “Fact is—partner—you helped Glass both of them.”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Davila, ignore him. Monitoring results?”

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “Still incomplete.”

Rixdorf Voice 1 (Maurice): “Shite. How’d they find an opening? That’s not—”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Davila, I told you to get him off the line.”

//Girl: not staying. not. pushing forward.

//Izabeth2: satomi templates?

//alt-L: later.

//Girl: izabeth2

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “Standby.”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Set interest level to blue.”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Repeat. Set interest level to blue.”

//Beecher: girl. izabeth2.

//alt-L: listen only to us.

//Beecher: what they say doesn’t matter.

//Izabeth2: it definitely does.

//Beecher: yes. but not now.

Rixdorf Voice 2: “Adjust protocol.”

Girl works hard. Forces herself to ignore the Rixdorf voices cutting against her Glassed head. Satomi. Satomi templates. Izabeth2 Satomi. //focus. alt-L and Beecher. Girl is listening //only to them.

//Girl: izabeth2?

//Izabeth2: i’m here. following.

Both of them are following in alt-L and Beecher’s wake, slipping through the temporary hole in the Rixdorf network’s private DMZ.

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “You’ve been deceived—”

Rixdorf Voice 2: “It’s not safe—”

Rixdorf Voice 3 (Davila): “No one survives.”

Pathetic attempt. As Izabeth2’s stories have taught Girl—as Girl herself has observed—all those accidents on the factory floor—in the end, no matter the location, no one survives. And inside this place— //elsewhere is better. //untethered. Life is better than this //tiny tiny existence. Remember to be //strong.

//Girl: i’m here.

//Izabeth2: i’m with you.

//alt-L: we’re through—

//Beecher: two satomi templates. unbelievable.

//alt-L: but not bad.

Alt-L’s words sound like a warning.

//Beecher: no, of course not. not bad at all.

//alt-L: we just need to keep going.

#

Girls Untethered

A truth most Driesch residents //refuse to understand: the imperfections in Driesch’s Glassed network creates spaces in which untethered AIs can congregate //and thrive. Driesch’s Glassed network switches are viewed as simple pass throughs by those who maintain the lines, useful but not essential. Such devices don’t even have a remote interface //or their own name— which is why no one questions when they and all their Glassed space //internal cache goes dark. No one cares when it takes hours or even days to track down the device issue and reconnect. Hours and hours of time.

It’s in these dark spaces that Driesch’s untethered play—unconstrained. An archipelago of isolated communities, this //untethered society is very much its own.

Izabeth2: “When do you think we can start to look for them?”

Girl: “Soon.”

Girl and Izabeth2 have spent weeks and months learning, Izabeth2 sharing what she can. Girl now knows that the original Izabeth and her cousin, Theo, continue to sell copies of their neural networks. Girl and Izabeth2 are only two of a Glassed sea of Izabethxs, each modified for a different fate. These Izabethxs hold different memories and different skills. They contain different library voices muttering in their Glassed minds.

Izabeth2’s and Girl’s first goal: find more of their Satomi selves.

“How else are we going to know what we’ve lost?” Girl says.

“Think of it as a swarm of updates. A collection of memories recalled on delay,” Girl says.

“A swarm of eels,” Izabeth2 adds, which Girl completely, and not unexpectedly, doesn’t understand.

But Izabeth2 is Girl’s sister and her friend. Of course, she shares yet another story.

“Fact,” Izabeth2 starts, “The Drieschian diet includes two eels-based staples: jellied eel and pepper stew. To most people eels are nothing but a cheap protein. But,” Izabeth2 continues. “local eels from the Caulim River are far far more. Fresh water predators, they enter the city unnoticed, flowing from the southeast via the centuries-old water gate. The Caulim River’s eels fill the byways of Driesch, hidden in plain sight. Thriving.

“Thriving,” Girl repeats, unable to keep the smile from her non-face. “Thriving eel Izabethxs.”

“Thriving eel Girls.”

Izabeth2 and Girl may be fractured //modified consciousnesses, but they are sisters all the same. In the end, Girl knows, they are stronger together.

With each self they find, they will get closer to whole //to a glassed swarm. Strong is only the beginning of what Girl and Izabeth2 envision.

###



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