Thursday Prompt for 09/21/2017
Five Vignettes, a tribute to a novel.
The question took years to coalesce before I brought it forth to Mr. Synapse.
Before then, I had a privileged pup-hood. My brother and myself shared a tall ceiling room with a window made of coarse wire gauze to allow the breeze in and block the encroachment of any tropical biting insects. The window had a grid of decorative wrought iron forged in the shape of textured vines acting as bars. Heavy iron stays anchored the twisted iron into the outer wall. My brother was a few season's older with the long muzzled, slim build our people possess with brindle coloring and thin pelt. I was somewhat shorter with a brown and white coloration. Our room's window overlooked a colorful garden and courtyard. One of dozens within the sprawling Estate.
Picture a linked complex of buildings laid out in a manner not unlike that of a Eukaryote organism. An outer wall serving as a membrane with various monitored entryways with a ring perimeter meadow studded with bronze statues of various quadrupedal mythological creatures and fountains. A visitor walking along a meandering pathway would encounter a statue menagerie of draconian creatures with canine features, lion faced Foo dogs and the most prominent in number and variety of poses; the three headed dog from Terran mythology.
Like a Golgi Apparatus, the Estate's many sub-buildings provided various functions, from entertaining Elite members of our world's society to hosting vendors eager to buy pharmaceuticals sought by the wealthy as amusements. Potions produced within a group of labs clustered like ribosomes within the Estate's center. And like a nucleus, the Estate had an inner organizing center structure ran by a dedicated research staff headed by my 'father', who had the title of Monsieur. My great Aunt Naomi, an elderly sight hound white with age, held the unofficial title of Steward. For she was the one who interacted with visitors, dealt with staff and organized the entertainments for visiting Elites, along with managing the herd of highly decorated canine ladies who attended those parties.
During our early years, we rarely interacted with Monsieur and Aunt Naomi. The only constant in that period of rotating staff attendants and housekeepers was the Estate's Servitor who was our nursemaid, nanny and Tutor. Known as Mr. Synapse. He was a he, even though he had no distinguishing gender.
Mr. Synapse had been part of the Estate since it's beginning eight decades prior. His exterior was originally a bipedal, powered exosuit for asteroid miners. Within the over two meter tall suit, the interior volume for a living occupant had been filled with an Artificial Intelligence neural network imported from Terra. Four fingered grippers acting like hands replaced the original mining tools. Instead of a helmet, a curved, sheet like, projection screen was mounted on the shoulders. It served to project the holographic image of a long muzzled head who's countenance was that of an elderly sight hound.
Although the suit's exterior was originally designed for vigorous activity, due to the smaller power supply and requirements from his AI network, Mr. Synapse moved with the ponderous grace of the elderly. In other cities, a sentient 2.2 meter tall exosuit with a huge, holographic projected head strolling slowly down an avenue would draw stares. In our port town, Mr. Synapse had become as familiar a fixture as the local architecture, few hardly paused to take notice. For he was just another individual patiently standing in line at the local street market buying vegetables.
A vendor of mangos would speak in the animated manner of hawkers up at the holographic, long snouted, canine head of Mr. Synapse. In turn, the eyes of his projected countenance tracked about, long ears flicker, four finger grippers picking up a mango poised in front of an almost solid looking nose twitching from sniffing the sample fruit, jaw moving, a droll reply with a question, for the fruit's ripeness seemed wanting. Solidifying the illusion that the projection had functioning eyes, ears and nose. Mr. Synapse's sensors were actually located on a colored array embedded in his upper chest.
When our Servitor was not buying groceries, he would accompany my brother and myself to the Library for our thrice weekly tutoring sessions. Held in a reserved room under the great dome of the Library, we were subjected to a tedium of lectures, written exams and the part I dreaded most; oral stand up exams where we answered topics to various open ended questions. For the most part, I had a passing interest in the sciences, particularly biology. While my brother's eagerness to embrace history and the Martial military arts was duly noted by Mr. Synapse.
One day during spring, when May Orchids were in frozen mid lunge like dragon heads, to attract flitter birds, a difficult tutoring session had just ended with our Servitor standing tall, holographic head pointedly glancing down at me as he gave a topic for me to speak of.
After I finished, I asked how well did I do. His response to my question was a silence lasting several heartbeats.
"You are not showing interest in the sciences as you should," Mr. Synapse commented in a disappointed tone that my response to how DNA functioned in living cells was lackluster. He expected me to espouse on the subject.
"Perhaps he'd rather be out in the park, staring at that young gal sitting in the bench," smirked my older brother, tail wagging. Already he had grown taller than me by a good head and neck, long of limb from entering Adolescence.
"That's an activity I suspect you'd rather be doing," Mr. Synapse replied to my older brother, "I believe it's time you had a talk with your Aunt Naomi."
I did not know at the time, but that moment in the Library marked the end of my pup-hood. My older brother was moved out of my room to somewhere else on the estate. No longer did Mr. Synapse take me to tutorial sessions in the Library.
A few days later, on an appointed hour, I was led by a servant clad in blue overalls to an office deep in the center of the Estate. Wood paneled with only a plain desk, chair and a bench like sofa under a window with the afternoon sun streaming in. By the door, awkwardly placed, was a framed painting of Cerberus staring out balefully.
May I ask what will happen? That had been my question to the servant, only to be briskly informed that I'd be interviewed by Monsieur. The servant left, leaving standing me alone under the watchful eyes of the triple headed hound in the painting.
A side door open and in strode a tall sight hound in red shirt and tan pants. Carrying a satchel laden with equipment. Tall ears forward, tail hooked up in dominance. A hint of a snarl on the face of my 'father' with brown and white coloration mirrored like mine.
"Cinq!" barked Monsieur, "I want you to sit."
I was about to say that was not my name. When he repeated the order, pointing to the bench like sofa..
"That shall be the name I call you. Lie down," came the new order as he pulled up a chair from the desk and sat. I laid back as he opened the satchel, lifting out what looked like scalp electrodes and wires.
"Relax. Gaze up at the ceiling," he commanded as the electrodes were stuck on to the top of my head and then hooked up to a hand held device which hummed and a little display glowed. So intent in following his orders, I did not notice the small, opened bottle being held by my nostrils. It's odd odor, reminiscent of the pharmaceutical vapor jars sold to Elites, caused my eyelids to relax.
On command, I recited the Cyrillic alphabet. Images and alien thoughts flitted about as I either dreamed a wide awake dream or experienced it asleep. The dark leather of the sofa vanished, becoming the metallic deck of a ship. Above a control panel, a bronze plaque depicting a bird on fire. Then, walking through a site of numerous and oddly familiar buildings undergoing construction. Speaking with a voice lower pitched through a chest larger than my own. Holding a notebook stamped with a double helix.
Reality returned to a dimly lit office. Monsieur's voice drifting downwards, "Someday you'll want this."
I have no memory of being led out the office. But in my room, I recall drifting off to sleep with gibbous moonlight streaming in.
The following weeks became a blur from additional interviews with Monsieur. Often I would lie awake in my bed with a headache, tail curled between my legs. With no memory of what transpired the prior evening, except a vague recollection of staring up at the ceiling of his office with the electrodes placed upon my furred scalp.
Humid summer flew upon wings which whisked past a milder sub-tropical Autumn. By the time Dutchman Pipes had ceased to bloom in the outer gardens of the Estate to announce the passing of Solstice, my routine had become a daily pilgrimage to various laboratories for sessions. At intervals, new clothes were given to me as the prior pair had grown short of leg and arm. The Interviews with Monsieur tapered off and ceased. I had no recollection of the month or day of their cessation.
As I wandered the labyrinth of pathways within the central buildings of the Estate; names of departments, their functions and key staff members blossomed forth, fully formed upon my tongue, when the need arose to address a member or inquire about a department as if I had known them since the beginning of my days.
At the same time, I noticed upon awaking, an odd soreness buried deep within my joints. Simple exercises partly alleviated the discomfort. Voicing my concerns to a house servant were dismissed as 'growing pains' experienced by Adolescents.
To stave off the disorientation and malaise from the pain within my joints, I focused on work assignments.
Days were spent in a laboratory fogged with the scents of bio-genetic chemicals. Surrounding walls and doors to cabinets were replete with prominent warning stickers of bio-hazards; the symbol being a broken circle being invaded by the deadly Trinity of toxin, bacterial and viral arrows. Unlike those tutoring sessions in the Library, I had a devouring interest in what lay before me. Alert and attentive to instructions from lab attendants on the details of cleaving, duplicating and manipulating genetic material.
Within the nucleus of the Estate, I sat upon a stool, ears pitched forward, tail curled around a leg, bent over upon a lab bench, labeled #5. While the other four benches had framed notices and safety procedures upon the wall, only Number 5 had a poster print artwork. A reproduction of some artist's depiction of the mythological Terran creature Cerberus. This incarnation had Cerberus with three heads and a python for a tail. Three wolfen heads with yellow eyes of differing expressions. The right turned up and outward in a ferocious, fang ridden snarl. The center looking ahead in a calm, analytical manner, the third gazing slightly downwards, panting a toothy, leering grin. The fourth was at the tail end of a silvery scaled python body acting as a tail. Curled up over the heavy built, black furred body, the fourth head, resembling that of a silver, cybernetic dog head than a snake as it lofted above above the trio.
Four heads gazing down upon a fifth, brown and white with a long snout; my own. A long eared head tilted down, taking notes and observing a SEM display while micro probes slowly cleaved a frog nucleus within a cell to initiate Mitosis. Making notes in a notebook, where I hoped to progress to next week's task. Stimulating a mammalian stem cell into becoming a functional blastocyst.
On a morning when Buttercup Anemones were blooming in the perimeter gardens, I was strolling on the main pathway leading towards the main gate of the Estate, when I encountered my brother leading a procession.
Stunned, I watch them approach, then halt. My brother wore a uniform of blue, patterned brocaded vest and prominent buttons. He tilted his head up at me.
"Well, you're a sight for sore eyes." His snout gazing up and down on my form, evaluating. "Tall and thin as a beanpole!"
"Brother! How are you?"
"Doing well, I'm the assistant Concierge under Aunt Naomi. In charge of Entertainments." He cracked a toothy smirk veering into a leer. Then he glanced at a beeping device upon his lapel.
"Can't stop to chat. Duty calls. Write to me when I have finished basic training!"
My brother waved goodbye, striding off. Following in his wake was a short train of canid ladies, Demimondaines. Silvery clothing costumed until they seemed like striding cybernetic towers. Their ears had been clipped to points as sharp as spikes. The tips sprouting thin stalks glowing with solid state light. The same treatment had been done on their whip thin tails looking like lit, spinal notochords. Eye pupils aglow with fluorescing hues and altered breasts proportioned above the norm. Emphasized by composure and their gait.
So focused was my interest in studying this alien species, I did not notice the last being trailing behind them; Aunt Naomi in a simple black dress carrying a cane more for fashion than use. She stopped in front of me, aiming her withered white snout up at me.
"Cinq!" Aunt Naomi called out, "Comment ça va?"
Even though she did not address me by my name, I replied all was well. She pointedly observed me gazing at the receding parade of Demimondaines.
"Be advised young one, that what they do is for business. For they are willing to sell to those wanting to buy. And all that's offered is merely fantasy."
"Why is Brother dressed so?"
"As an Outcrossing, he has no legitimate stake in the Estate. I am merely employing him till his service in the Military begins next Month."
She narrowed her eyes, nostrils flickering as she sniffed the air. "May I be bold to state the need for you to broaden your horizons. My 'Brother' is working you too hard."
Before I could reply, she announced that tomorrow afternoon, I would accompany my Aunt on an outing to the park. A Debutante by the name of Phadedria, the daughter of the Estate's Pharmaceutical director, was needing help with her biochemistry studies.
"But I'm not a Tutor," came my protest.
"You know far more than what's ordinarily possible. Nevertheless, you'll be there."
She smirked. "And brush up on your poetry as well."
A few days after tutoring Phadedria, I came down with a fever. Regrettably it was not due to being entranced by her finely featured face or scent, but a bite from a tropical insect.
As I lay on my bed, joints aflame and swollen, panting and drenching the sheets with dehydrating sweat, a concerned servant summoned a physician, who then summoned Monsieur, Aunt Naomi and Mr. Synapse.
The three huddled in conference around me. For the fever had uncovered a more ominous condition. My vision blurred, but I could clearly hear the conversation while I lay in bed.
"Along with the viral fever," The voice came from Mr. Synapse, "He has a joint and bone disorder that affects the connective tissue in his joints and long bones that are continuing to grow. It's similar to Marfan Syndrome."
"A genetic disorder?" My Aunt Naomi replied. Her voice aimed at Monsieur, "Well my 'Brother', your attempts at memory annealing to ensure personality relaxation have backfired. The singular gene line hides a defect!"
"We can start over." Monsieur dryly noted.
"Break out another, eh?" Aunt Naomi smirked. "Sell this one to the junk heap with the others? I might not live long enough to help you raise another."
"There is an alternative." Mr. Synapse said, "The defect was uncovered through repeated relaxation from duplication. It's latent within the genome."
Mr. Synapse paused, then continued, "With your permission, may I suggest trying epigenetic techniques that can halt the progressive degeneration."
"Proceed." Monsieur replied.
So began a series of bed ridden treatments. Multiple injections to stave off the fever. Then more for the disorder. Being made to stand and painfully walk to loosen stiff joints. Days and weeks becoming as turbulent as a leaf swept into a rock strewn cataract.
When the procedure was complete, I awoke in a room of dark floorboards and plastered green ceiling. Rain droning against a glass window. My limbs felt sore, but none of that deep agony within the joints. Mr. Synapse was sitting on a sturdy bench next to the bed, projected head dipped as he held a book in his large grippers, reading. I turned my head, studying the side of his exosuit trunk and the name plate stamped on the side. A familiar landmark which I looked at as if it were new.
He twisted his head towards me. "Awake?"
I said, "Did it work?"
"The epigenetic treatments succeeded. The epiphyseal plates on your limbs are closing. Connective joint tissue regenerated. Bone growth of your major limbs has ceased. Your height will be taller and of thinner build than originally planned. But at least you'll be staying."
He paused as the door to the room, opened. A short canine servant in red overalls politely eased partway in and announced. "Mr. Synapse, we're ready to begin."
Mr. Synapse acknowledged the query. The servant left. He swiveled his head towards me, "I must go, I am scheduled for deep level maintenance and will be offline for 2 days."
Just as his exosuited form leaned forward to stand up, I interrupted, "Mr. Synapse, could you stay for a moment? May I ask a question?"
Mr. Synapse paused, "A genuine inquiry," he replied. "This is a new development. When I tutored you, you were remiss in asking questions."
As I studied the titanium alloy nameplate with it's engraved specs. [i]Terran AI Ltd. Simulated Syn. 7.3 E9 [/i]. I pondered on what those last numbers meant.
"Are those numbers on your name plate in billions?"
"The number is an exponential abbreviation. Which shows the number of synapses this unit mimics. Approximately 7.3 billion."
Mr. Synapse stood up, closed book held in a gripper as he started to leave.
Again, I interrupted with another query, even though I knew the answer. "Didn't you mention once, the programming was done medically?"
Mr. Synapse turned around and glanced down at me. "You are full of inquiries today. In brief, the procedure began with the volunteer undergoing trepanning surgery to open multiple holes in the skull. Leaving the Dura Mater exposed. The subject then placed his head upon a rig where assorted particle beams scanned through the holes. Surrounding plates collected the holographic diffraction patterns of his synapsyl network and later impress them upon my neural net. The procedure is fatal to the volunteer."
I nodded my head. Ears splayed slightly as I finally summoned the nerve to ask Mr. Synapse the third question.
"Are you simulating...Monsieur?"
The ears of the projected head quivered, "Call me, call the person simulated from that time, your...great-grandfather. He...I...Monsieur are dead."
At that moment, the projected countenance of Mr. Synapse's head sparkled like pixel static on a fading digital video channel. His head reformed again. Ears laid back.
"Decades ago, I was briefed before the procedure that this simulation would likely be capable of deep emotion in certain circumstances. Until today, I thought they were mistaken."
He turned towards the door once again. I called out, "Mr. Synapse..."
"I'm sorry, I can't stay. For once, you have questions. For once, I have no answers."
Mr. Synapse strode out of the room. Floorboards groaning and creaking from his weight.
It was the last trinity of questions I asked of him.
Thursday Prompt for Sept. 21, 2017
A writing prompt hosted by Vixyyfox on Furaffinity. This week's prompt word: may
Expository overload and vague reveals: five linked Vignettes using the prompt word as verb and noun.
Done as a tribute to a novel by Gene Wolfe.