In which the natural man learns that God created the Minäs because he created Oso to create them!
Agnes was silent as Oso wheeled her along the corridors of Tomi Corp. She was temporarily in a wheelchair, as the brain surgery had caused some vertigo, and it was difficult for her to balance while using her old-fashioned prosthetic. Oso had told her he could fit her for a few different types of prosthetic legs than the standard model she had used since childhood, but for the moment, she was stuck with the clunky one. Although Tomi Corp had long moved past prosthetic legs and into the realm of growing biological legs for Minäs, they had not yet moved into the realm of human limb transplants.
Rather, Oso had poured all the company’s efforts into restoring human brains. And now, here she was: the first human subject, alive and well. And it was time to take her home with him. Her paltry few possessions that hadn’t been destroyed in the fire, or had been collected in the years since then, had been moved into one of Oso’s spare rooms. As he’d looked forward to his future plans, he had purchased a six-bedroom home with a complete guest house attached to one side. It was in a pleasant part of Albuquerque, off Rio Grande near Old Town, and the backyard modeled the look of the rural Rio Grande area with its emphasis on trees. The front yard was the better place, however, as it was a courtyard, paved with river rocks surrounded by native grasses and bushes.
Currently, Samson lived in the guest house. Agnes would move her things into a bedroom that had its own bathroom. He had taken great pains to ensure that the living quarters would be comfortable, and yet not too isolated, as she was an old woman who needed to be watched and cared for.
He loaded her and her paltry belongings into his car and began the drive home, while maintaining a steady stream of chatter. Agnes, however, remained silent. She stared out the car windows as a young child might, fascinated by the sights that had become old hat to Oso.
He turned off the interstate at the Rio Grande exit, and he sighed deeply. He hadn’t realized how tense he was until he was almost home. Bringing Agnes to his house and caring for her was the right thing to do, the just thing to do.
He’d spent the last two months visiting with her in the hospital wing of Tomi Corp, post-op. For her part, she’d lived in a quasi hospital environment for years, and Tomi Corp wasn’t much different. She was different, though. She’d passed the one month threshold, and now the second. She was still on pain medication for headaches, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs. Her brain was clear, though. It had been for a good few weeks. As she described it to him, her brain felt sharp.
And she remembered him. No, she didn’t remember the twelve-year-old who’d thrown apples at her or shot at her from a giant robot BB gun, but she remembered him from visit to visit. She had begun to store short term memories. It was as if she were one of his Minä creations, most of whom were birthed as adults. Except she wasn’t. She could never be because she remembered her early childhood, after which there existed a gulf between childhood and now. A big, blank, foggy sea of nothingness.
“Do you know who you are?” he’d asked her during one of his afternoon visits.
“Yes, I’m Agnes Walters. That was my real papa’s name, but he died. I think I had a second papa.”
“Do you remember your second papa?”
“I only remember that I don’t want to remember him.”
“Do you know where you are?”
“I’m in a hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
“Is that where you’re from?”
“No, I’m from Virginia. I don’t know how I ended up here.”
“Do you like it here?”
“I don’t know. The sky is very bright and blue. I’ve never seen such a big, bright blue sky. Every time I look out my window.”
“I’ve always found the sky reassuring, but I’m from here.”
“Are you a New Mexican?” she’d asked.
He’d smiled sadly, as the Socorro memories flooded his synapses. “Born and raised here, by parents who were born and raised here.”
“Are they still together? Do you still see them?”
“Yes, they live an hour south of here. In Socorro, where you used to live.”
She was silent for a long time, and he didn’t press her, but allowed the silence to fill the room, until she had re-oriented herself—had determined whether Socorro was a familiar place. “Is New Mexico like that?”
“Do families stay together in New Mexico?”
“Some do, some don’t. Just like anywhere else in this country. New Mexicans can trace their lineages back many generations, though. We’ve all been here a long time.”
“I don’t feel like I’ve been anywhere a long time.”
“Yes, I know, Agnes. That’s a result of a lobotomy you had when you were a child. You had terrible grand mal seizures, and your doctor thought it was the best course. It’s not your fault. But I’ve restored your memory storage. We can’t go back and recreate moments in your memory bank, but you can now remember things.”
“Yes,” she snapped. “You don’t need to explain it to me every time. I remember now. And I remember your face. I’m sorry if I don’t know yet if I like you.”
Oso nodded. “That’s understandable. I don’t expect you to like me.”
“But I’ll be living with you.”
“Yes. I have a son, a Minä, and a—a nanny for my son.”
“A Minä? Is that a type of bird?”
“No. Minäs are a type of artificially intelligent humans.”
“Not exactly. They’re made of flesh and blood. They’re biological creatures created in labs rather than by nature.”
She had frightfully penetrating ice blue eyes at times. “Aren’t you suggesting you’re their creator?”
“Yes. Not all by myself, but, yes.”
“Aren’t you a part of nature?”
“I—” He stopped, mid speech. He didn’t know how to answer the question. “Let’s just say they’re not created in the usual fashion.”
“No, they’re not created, uh…” He stopped to ponder what she knew about procreation, as she had mentally skipped from childhood to old crone. “In the biological fashion.”
“You just said they were biological.”
“I did. They don’t have mothers who carry them in their wombs. That’s what I meant.”
“They’re created by God, then.”
“No.” He shook his head. The conversation was beginning to frustrate him, and he searched around the room for a way to change the subject. The curtains were open, revealing the brilliant blue sky, just as she had spoken of earlier. “The sky is very blue here, Agnes. It gives me hope.”
“God gives me hope. He created you, and you created these Minäs. So God created the Minäs because he created you to create them.”
“Sure, I suppose you could explain it that way.”
He’d left it at that and introduced her to some Minäs who were still living at Tomi Corp post infrasound birthing, although he didn’t introduce them as being artificial intelligence. She knew, though. He could tell by the way she interacted with them.
When he turned into his drive, more tension released from his body. Once she was living in a regular home, she would begin to enjoy a normal life. Whatever that meant. It wasn’t lost on him that what he considered a “normal” life included a brain-damaged woman who’d been given the first brain surgery of its kind, a nanny who should have been his wife, a son who belonged to another woman, and an artificial human. What was normal, anyway? His childhood had hardly given him an inkling of what that meant.
Except that his parents were still together, and had, more or less, raised twelve offspring to adulthood. They had merely accomplished this in an unusual fashion.
He wheeled her inside his home. It was a modest home, in his opinion. By modest, he meant it wasn’t a McMansion. It was an old Spanish colonial with vigas, latillas, a number of kiva fireplaces, and a combination of wood floor and tile.
“What is this place?” Agnes asked. “Is this where you live?”
“Yes, this is my home, and it’s yours, too, for as long as you want to stay here.”
“It’s a lovely home,” she said quietly.
He helped her from the wheelchair to a standing position, and then helped her to steady herself from vertigo. He gave her a hand and walked with her in the living room, where he heard commotion. In the living room, Samson was on the floor wrestling with Adam.
“Samson, Adam, I’d like you to meet Agnes.”
“Samson and I met at the hospital,” Agnes said. “When the nurse was helping me walk.”
Samson held his hand out politely. “Yes, we did meet. It is a pleasure to meet you again, Agnes.”
“Adam is one of my four children,” Oso said.
“Mr. Beñat, you don’t need to explain your life to me repeatedly as I’m sure you used to do. I remember the conversation we had about your children.”
“I’m sorry, Agnes. It’s an old habit I need to break.” And then to Samson: “Is Bernadette still here? I need to pay her.”
“She’s in the kitchen preparing dinner,” Samson said.
“I know who Bernadette is, too, so you don’t need to tell me.”
Oso patted Agnes’s hand. “Let’s go meet her, then.” He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, from the aloof manner Bernadette had taken on over the last two months. Maybe, now that she could see how healthy Agnes was—how well the surgery had worked!—maybe now, Bernadette would forgive him.
He helped Agnes walk into the kitchen, where Bernadette was chopping an onion.
“Berna, I’d like you to meet Agnes.”
Bernadette looked up and wiped tears from her eyes with her sleeve. Onion tears, not the real variety. She gave the barest hint of a smile. “We met a long time ago.”
“That’s what Mr. Beñat told me.”
“Oh, really? What else did he tell you?”
“He’s told me lots of things. He told me we all lived in the same neighborhood, until I lost my trailer in a fire. He told me my stepdad died in the same fire. It’s good to finally not be confused about that. Can I help you cook dinner?”
“Do you cook, Agnes?”
“I helped my mama cook when I was a little girl. I don’t remember who did the cooking in the in-between years. I used to help her make spaghetti casserole.”
“That’s a coincidence because I happen to be making spaghetti. But I don’t know what spaghetti casserole is. Maybe you could show me.”
“I remember she used leftover noodles and sauce, and then put them in a baking dish with cheese and bread crumbs. Maybe white cheese—maybe.” She stopped and looked puzzled. “I don’t remember, it was so long ago, and I haven’t done much cooking in the meantime. There was something else. Maybe sour cream.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Bernadette said.
Oso was pleased to see her smiling at Agnes. However, her polite smiles at an old woman didn’t mean she had forgiven him, and it became clear she hadn’t when she looked up at him with a withering glance.
He shrugged and yanked off his tie. It was time to change out of his clothes. He certainly didn’t have time to fight against the resentment of a woman who had chosen to remain in his house, knowing Agnes would be coming home today. She’d even started their dinner!
Clearly, curiosity and the link with the past had caused her to stay. But as far as he was concerned, she wouldn’t capitulate because capitulation would mean weakness. Nobody wanted to appear weak. He stopped cold at the entrance to his room. Was he projecting? Surely not. And yet, she had apologized to him and freely forgiven him over the years. Even when he was a complete asshole.