The door opened easily, the reinforced steel door unlocked with her palm print and swung inward. Lights flickered on, fixtures humming for the first time in a decade. Fae’s stomach sunk as she walked into a time capsule; she heard the footfalls of Scottie and her younger self running through the hallways. Meredith Tully told them lunch was done. Trygve Tully sat and watched the news on the couch in front of her. Fae was afraid of what she would find inside, where she had found them so long ago. But the spot behind the couch was empty. Holes riddled a small patch of the concrete wall while others sat gaping in the couch. All that was left of the Tullys was a brown smear on the carpet and the family photos on the walls.
Kita was excited to explore a new place, but only sprinted a few feet away, always running back to Fae, then running out again. Fae followed her, walking through each room, making herself suffer now, but the original feeling of dread as she walked in the door quickly dissipated. Instead, memories she had long forgotten flooded back. The good times returned. The joy came back. Fae felt a familiarity she hadn’t felt anywhere else, not even in her own home. She walked past Scottie’s room upstairs and noticed everything was where it should be: the Slate on the desk, the bed she had slept in sat against the wall like it always had. The room was smaller than she remembered, but it was cozy.
She kept moving through the second floor and rounded the corner outside Trygve’s workshop. It was the one room they had never been allowed into as kids. The door hung slightly ajar, a deep dent near the latch allowing it to be opened. Fae felt odd standing in front of the door as if she expected Trygve to chastise her for breaking the rules. Kita nosed the door then cautiously entered. Fae’s fear disappeared, replaced by awe.
A long workbench sat in the center of the room, another workbench on each side against the wall. At the end of the room were a series of open shelves holding tools. Lengths of cable billowed from some drawers while screwdrivers and computer components littered the floor. Drawers of tools were toppled over on the three workbenches. Screws, nuts, and bolts were sitting on the tabletop while others had rolled off and landed on the floor. Larger tools like saws and drills sat on top of cracked open computer cases. Glass from the displays that had dangled from the ceiling was strewn across the workshop.
Fae walked into the room and tried to avoid all the broken glass and tools. Kita carefully picked her way around the table towards the back wall, then came back, following Fae around the room. She was amazed. Fae remembered that Trygve had built Scottie’s desktop Slate, even some of the furniture in the house, but she had never imagined his workshop was this well-equipped. She cleared off a spot on the central workbench and took her bag and jacket off. Grabbing a broom hung on a hook in the corner, Fae started pushing everything on the floor into one of the corners, then she started going through the half opened cabinets on the back wall. Most of the drawers in the cabinets had been emptied on the workbenches, so she started to pull the rest out, putting them in order on the workbenches.
It had taken her hours, but the tools were sorted, the cables and components back in their labeled containers. The broken glass was swept in a corner to be taken out later. Fae had laid her jacket on the floor and Kita had softly slept on it for the last hour. Standing on the center workbench, Fae focused on the broken displays hanging from the ceilings, using one of Trygve’s screw guns to detach them. In the cleanup, she had checked the wiring to make sure nothing had chewed through any cables, but everything seemed perfectly fine. She just needed a display.
Once the broken glass was detached, Fae dropped the display cables down, adding an extender from one of the bins so the cable reached the tabletop. She grabbed the Slate display from Scottie’s room and brought it back to the workshop and plugged it in. She tried to boot the Slate, but nothing happened. Double- and triple-checking the cables, Fae made sure everything was connected to the proper ports. Power was flowing, but it looked like the hard drive had been removed.
Fae looked at the stack of hard drives from Vera’s bag, not knowing what was on them. For a moment she thought about wiring her Slate to run the hard drives, but anything she looked at was logged, tracked and most likely sent to AURA. She looked at Vera’s Slate and powered it on. The scratched screen made it hard to read, but it worked and had a full charge. Oddly, the screen only showed a diagnostic screen similar to the ones Fae used to work on AURA or any of the minor PIs. A blue circle icon swirled in the top right corner. “Device Not Found” blinked in the center of the screen.
Fae crossed the room and picked up the small railgun, opening the targeting display. The same blue circle icon swirled on the tiny holographic display. Fae looked at the gun closely for the first time, tracing the multitude of wires up and down the length of the gun with her finger. The gun looked like some object a child had fashioned from scrap metal, gluing wires and leftover electronic bits and bobs onto it. A few larger gauge wires ran from the display to a small processing unit on the other side of the gun that connected to a strangely shaped plug. Rummaging through Vera’s bag, she found the corresponding plug and connected it to the gun and then to Vera’s Slate.
The circle icons swirled, then synced up, swirling in tandem. A progress bar started to fill up as a new message appeared: “Devices paired. Syncing data.” The Slate and railgun flashed a powering down notice, then their screens went black. Then flashed back on as a screen of code ran across the display. Another progress bar appeared and, as it filled, revealed four letters and the words they stood for like an acrostic poem:
Artificial. Intelligence. Virtual. Assistant.
The words disappeared and the letters A.I.V.A. lined up in a row and blinked a few times until they disappeared as well. The tinny speakers of the Slate popped some melody as the startup animation started, then the standard Slate interface disappeared and the circle icon appeared, then swirled into a computerized face.
“Hello, I am an Artificial Intelligence Virtual Assistant created by Vera Lark. You may call me AIVA.”
Fae stared at the digital face, a blue crystalline doppelgänger of Vera’s face built out of glowing triangles that moved as it spoke. It looked around the screen inquisitively, it’s eyes the same glowing blue as the rest of it searched the screen’s edges then looked directly at Fae. A green light on top of the Slate blipped on signifying the webcam was being used.
“You are not Vera Lark. Identify yourself.” The eyes turned a deep red.
Fae stammered out her name.
“Records indicate a ‘Fae’ had been in company with Vera Lark.” AIVA whistled sharply exactly as Vera had and Kita popped up and ran over to the display. “Kita, friend or foe?”
Kita barked twice, her tongue dangling out the side of her mouth. The kind blue eyes returned.
“You have been identified. Where is Vera Lark?”
All at once the crush of Vera’s death struck Fae once again as she remembered her lying at the bottom of the shaft.
Before Fae could answer, AIVA answered for her. “I see. That explains why this location is unfamiliar and you are alone with Kita.” AIVA lingered, angling her head down for a moment, then said, “It is sad that she has passed, but we expected this eventuality. Did she leave you with any instructions?”
“No, she died before she could.” Fae stopped for a moment, tripped up by AIVA’s pause. Was the shred of emotion she heard only in Fae’s head, or did AIVA sound stricken by the news? “AIVA, are you a true artificial intelligence?”
The hovering face blinked and shifted like it was uncomfortable, then it moved closer to the screen like it was a panel of glass.
“What I am doesn’t really matter: only what i can do. Projected or Artificial, my intelligence is nonetheless real. In the sense you are asking, however, yes. My intelligence is silicon-based and is a melding of emotion and data. I am alive just as you.” AIVA sized up Fae through the Slate’s camera.
“Does that scare you?”