As she left the house in the morning, Cheri Fearing thought her day looked to be perfectly manageable, probably successful, and hopefully enjoyable. At least it looked that way as her phone’s app tried to arrange her life, and the day into an orderly progression of events. Even as a child, Cheri felt that she was not living up to the level that everyone around her seemed to have attained. As a young girl, she wanted to appreciate the goodness in the predictable, as she watched her (very successful) parents set goals and meet them without a struggle. Her talent first showed itself, and was promptly misunderstood, the day Cheri got her first coloring book. It was not that she was unable to stay within the lines that formed the un-colored pictures on each page, it was simply that she was coloring the pictures as they should have been drawn. Cheri was fortunate. Her parents were both accomplished and from a place in society that enjoyed that luxury of not needing. She received the best available education and was exposed to the greatest influences as part of her parents’ desire to nurture her talent. And they succeeded, at least in the talent aspect of her life. To their disappointment, however, Cheri’s insistence on coloring the pictures that she felt were there, rather than resign herself to coloring the picture provided, extended well beyond the studios and the classrooms. The saying that, ‘a great artist draws the world within, rather than the world without’ was very appropriate to Cheri Fearing, including her falling in love and marrying Thomas Fearing. To her parents’ credit, their initial resistance to her life choices, changed to protective enthusiasm. They both knew that, for all of her aggressive self-effacement, Cheri was a very, very strong person. She simply did not feel the need to exert her will, most of the time. Now, this morning, all she had to contend with was a very full appointment book and a tenuous grasp on a dream.
She looked forward to teaching two classes in the morning and was cautiously optimistic about her appointment at her doctor’s. Just after lunch, she would complete her work at her gallery, ( ‘un rêve despair‘ ), with an interview with an out-of-town reporter. According to his email request, Warwick Estabrook, was interested in hearing her opinion on ‘the state of small art galleries in the age of computers’.
The interview was an irrefutable sign of the change in her duties and responsibilities as an owner of a successful art gallery. Fortunately, Cheri found herself enjoying the challenge. It was so not the ‘alone-in-the-studio-waiting-for-the-muse’ experience that had, paradoxically, made the opening of the gallery the next logical step for her career. Finally, after a day of teaching-at, listening-to and holding-forth with both total strangers and acquaintances, she could return to her favorite place in any day, her home. This final scheduled duty, i.e. fixing dinner, showed up last on Cheri’s schedule as she and Tom were experimenting with alternating domestic roles.
Seizing the opportunity that appeared when he was laid off, her husband Tom made the decision to give self-employment a try. Though well qualified, by virtue of education, (BA and MA), Tom Fearing was one of those people who, despite his wide variety of skills and extensive education, was constantly looking for just the right job. The un-stated quality of this ‘right job’ was that it might become a full-fledged career. His resume was respectable, however, once the interviewer got past, or worse, skipped over the biographical and education section and began to read the largest part of Tom Fearing’s resume, the Occupation/Experience, you could almost see the recruiter/interviewer mentally rehearsing his, ‘Thank you for your interest, we’ll let you know our decision.’ His last job (at Conjei Plastic’s local manufacturing facility), lasted five years. Despite, however, the length of his tenure, the resulting description of his, ‘Duties and Responsibilities,’ would have limited value in any effort to secure a position outside of the field of plastic film manufacturing.
With the unexpected loss of his employment at Conjei, Tom Fearing resolved to spend as much time as necessary in the decision-making process of his next endeavor. With Cheri’s un-wavering support, Tom decided that he would take as long as necessary to determine, once and for all, ‘what he really was meant to do for a living’.
Fortunately for the Fearings, the income from Cheri’s successful art gallery was much more than enough to make Tom’s putative role as ‘breadwinner’ somewhat superfluous. Both Tom and Cheri agreed that they were truly fortunate, although Cheri’s gratitude had the advantage of being totally sincere. Initially, after being laid-off, they talked about finding something for him to do at the gallery, but the discussion was a non-starter. Clearly one of those, well-intentioned, ‘if you were a different person and I was a different person, then we could do this differently…’ exercises that couples often indulge in when beset by boredom or desperation.
Tom Fearing decided that writing, as an occupation, would allow him to put his not inconsiderable education and imagination to practical use. In fact, it was at the very end of his last ‘real job’, that he decided that he needed to write a blog. After Tom’s slow and painfully discouraging start, Cheri watched, with unalloyed happiness, as her husband’s hard work and effort began to pay off. His blog, with a rather ungainly title, ‘One View or Many, Insight into the Human Experience’, was becoming successful. The popularity of his blog was due to his series of articles about the early days of online writing, i.e., ‘blogging.’ Not only was his blog getting increasing numbers of readers, it was beginning to draw attention of some of the mainstream writing and journalism sites.
The last conversations of the evening for the couple, usually in bed before sleep, were more often than not centered on the day’s statistics and comments. His blog’s readership was growing very rapidly. His new series, titled ‘Blogdominion’ was about to become a hit. That it was ‘an insider look’ at the development of the blogosphere made its popularity not all that surprising. However he managed it. The result was indisputable. His blog was an overnight success. Cheri was happy for him.
Cheri Fearing’s well planned day went almost according to plan. She taught her classes and she went to her doctor’s appointment. The rest of the day was kind of a blur. She met with the reporter at the gallery and made as much sense as he seemed to expect.
Cheri sat in her car, in the garage of the home she shared with her husband. It’s not that she didn’t want to get out of the car. It’s not that she didn’t want to go into the house and greet her husband. It’s not that she didn’t want to put her gallery owner/college professor persona aside and be the loving housewife, happy to prepare a dinner for her family of two. It’s not even that she didn’t know how to pass along the news that she was given by her doctor, less than two hours ago, that she was pregnant.
Cheri sat in her car in the garage of the home she shared with her husband and tried to decide if what she felt was happiness, because all of her dreams were coming true, or if she felt afraid that, if she told her husband the news, everything would change.
Anya Clarieaux looked up from her keyboard as the door to her boss’s office opened and Stephen Eddington walked out, Silas Monahan’s voice trailing like a young child’s un-tied shoelaces, “So, Steve give some thought to my offer. This might be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Not everyone gets a chance like…” Stephen acknowledged Anya with a nod and walked out of the office of Omni Corporation’s Vice President of IT Services. Without hesitation, she picked up her phone,
“Mr. Monahan? You remember yesterday that I said I needed to leave early today? Well, I did. No, don’t apologize, you’ve got a lot on your mind. Now, don’t forget you have a department managers meeting tomorrow at 10. Everything you need to cover is already in your email. That’s sweet, but you don’t need to thank me. It’s what I’m here for. Now don’t stay too late tonight.”
Anya got up from her desk, walked out into the corridor, and saw Stephen Eddington just as he stepped into one of the two elevators that served the 29th Floor of the Omni Building.
“Wait for me!” Anya Clarieaux had many personal qualities that might be categorized as gifts, as in, ‘She is a gifted musician’ or ‘He has always been gifted with the ability to shape wood.’ She was capable of putting a certain tone in her voice that was guaranteed to get a person’s attention. This tone varied in its effect. If you were a woman being addressed, you would find yourself assessing your outfit and find it wanting. If you were a man, you would suck if your gut and decide that maybe it was time to get back to the gym.
It was clear to Anya that Stephen Eddington saw her hurrying towards him, and yet, he made no effort to block the doors or otherwise hold the elevator. He simply stood in the open car and watched her rushing down the short corridor.
The doors were halfway closed, yet still two steps away, she decided that she would need to jump through the doors.
Anya was a woman who has never fallen, stumbled, or tripped. At least not accidentally. She stumbled as she landed inside the elevator. The doors closed, preventing any witnesses from observing this seeming misstep.
Stephen Eddington was still only a young man and so, he caught her.
Anya Clarieaux really enjoyed people.
She let the young engineer prevent her from falling. The muscles in his arms tensed as he altered her trajectory from one of ‘falling on the floor’, to a path that ended with her leaning up against him. She looked up at him and said,
“Hey! What the hell was that all about?! You were gonna let me stand there and wait? Thanks a hell of a lot!” Her tone was one familiar to every four-year-old boy standing on the kitchen counter reaching for a cookie jar. His confident smile faltered and fell. Anya felt the change, as the muscles in his forearms relaxed, very slightly, barely noticeably and very, very briefly and she smiled.
“But, I can’t say I’ve not enjoyed the exercise. This is the most out of breath I’ve been in quite some time.”
Stephen laughed and stepped backed and stared. Anya loved people, they made her life…. enjoyable.
The elevator doors sealed into one, the floor indicator lights behind her started to blink and change. The young man and the attractive woman began to go down.
“Trying to decide whether or not to discuss Silas’s offer with your boss?” Anya decided that she deserved to have fun, seeing how she was out of work for the day and it wasn’t even 4:00. Seeing him glance away, she continued, “You know, Stephen, you were picked instead of Orel Rees, for a very good reason.”
“And why would that be? Orel Rees is twice the engineer I’ll ever be. Mr. Monahan should be talking to him, not me.”
“What makes you think we haven’t?
“Look Stephen, this is a very big deal and a very sensitive operation. We know everything we need to know,” the elevator doors opened and Anya walked out into the lobby. Without looking back, she said, “Pick me up at 8:30, maybe I’ll let you ask me some questions. The instructions on the piece of paper in your jacket pocket will be all you’ll need, …for now.”
Anya walked out the main doors of the Omni Corporation towards the limousine idling directly in front of the building. The late afternoon traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular), was in full force, too many people and too many cars attempting to move from Point A to Somewhere-Necessary. Anya smiled as she walked across the broad sidewalk to the car, looking neither left or right, knowing that all (male) and most (female) eyes were on her and that none would block her path. Once settled in the backseat, the limo pulled away without hesitation.
Maribeth drove with a certain…glee. Passing cars on whichever side seemed most vacant at the moment, we headed towards Mt. Prospect to St Emily’s Convent and whatever part of my life there remained.
“No. Fuckin. Way. You were…” AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ tore its way out of the dashboard. Maribeth turned up the volume, every bit the teenage girl with her parents’ car after dropping them off at the airport.
I was silent. I felt the excitement reverberate slightly through my body. I did not enjoy the feeling. It was the feeling of power, passion and loneliness. I tried to pray and found the words somehow less substantial, less connected to the world, the world I now feared losing.
“Don’t tell me. Former life, right?” Maribeth didn’t bother to turn down the radio.
“Sorry to get you involved with that.” her tone was more inviting than apologetic, her expression less one of regret or sorrow and more the face of one standing over a vanquished opponent.
A tear formed. I was grateful that it was in my right eye. I looked out the car window. Like a very tired traveler in the last leg of a long trip home, I was hoping hoping to see signs of home, even as the landscape became more foreign and less familiar.
Maribeth reached over, turned off the radio, put her hand on my folded hands and squeezed, briefly,
“Sorry, Margaret, I shouldn’t have let myself go like that. It was selfish, and more, it was unprofessional of me. A real fuckin rookie move on my part. I apologize.” Maribeth looked over at me, leaving her hand on mine.
“You have nothing to apologize for, I’m a big girl. I agreed to the stop, and you did tell me to stay in the car. I have only myself to blame. Although, I might suggest you put effort into your skills at assessing people. Did you really think that I would sit quietly in the car, while Miz Goldie McDetective-Badge goes storming into a police bar in the middle of the afternoon?” I realized that I was making myself feel worse by lashing out at her.
Silence filled the car. Just to make my point, I gave her hand a pat, as I would for a student struggling with a math problem who gets it wrong, but remains un-discouraged.
Maribeth Hartley started to laugh and, once again, the sound reminded me of Sister Bernadine, so far away in miles and circumstance.
“Oh, and, in the bar? That was a ‘chin na’ wrist lock. I studied tai ch’i, back in my college days,” I looked out the passenger side window and counted abandoned shopping carts. I found myself wondering how they managed to get so very far away from the store. Perhaps there was some sort of delivery service for stolen shopping carts. I briefly considered that the number of ‘carts to city block sidewalks’ might be useful as a correlate to poverty and crime rates. The desolation in the faces of the people I could see, was far more depressing than the shop windows decorated with black and red ‘FOR RENT’ signs. The graffiti scrawled on the brick walls of vacant factory buildings, made near subliminal by the speed of the car, looked like some burnt-out shaman’s runes created in a last-ditch attempt to restore health to the community.
“So, as I was asking before the spontaneous barroom brawl, what is it you’ve learned about the death of the priest at St Emily’s that you needed to tell me in person?” Maribeth drove very confidently, which is to say, she did not seem to feel a need to constantly be looking at the road.
“There’s been another accidental death. A doctor in Ohio. Killed by an MRI,” I imediately regretted my dramatic presentation. As Maribeth turned to stare at me in disbelief, I said a prayer for all pedestrians in the area,
“OK, sounds very novel and you’ve said it was accidental, so what does this have to do with anything concerning the accidental at the Church in Mt Prospect?”
“I came by a journal that Father Noonan kept and in it, he writes about a group of students that he knew when he was at DePaul University.” I was relieved to see that Maribeth didn’t find this information so shocking as to require a look of disbelief, however, I was getting a definite sense of an increasingly professional reaction, not all of it good.
“And, the names of the people in this group of computer hobbyists or something, included Emily Freeman and this doctor, Anne Paternau-Myers. There were other names of people who haven’t died recently, such as Ed Willoughby.” This last name did the trick, Detective Maribeth Hartley’s face shut down completely.
“I need a copy of this list of yours,” Maribeth was is full cop mode, but surprisingly, I was not put off or otherwise intimidated.
This trip was turning out to be full of surprises. Despite the fact that I still had yet to attend the reading of Father Noonan’s Will and follow-up on the problem with St Emily’s School website.
We were approaching the Convent at St Emily’s, I could feel the promise of peace and welcome there, and sincerely hoped that Maribeth would not feel the need to come in and talk more about the list. I needed time to think and make some decisions on the what and when to reveal the information contained in Father Noonan’s Journal.
It’s said that, from the first moment of life, the human infant is self-aware. It is, however, tacitly agreed by most, that the ‘self’ in ‘self-aware’ is decidedly lowercase. The child moves and breathes and is aware of its surrounding environment. Through the working of its eyes and its ears, not yet knowing what ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ is, it simply lives. When the infant’s environment changes, particularly when that change coincides with an increase of a physical need, for example, the breast of the mother brought near to the hungry infant, it acts. The child feeds and survives. And so, it learns.
This begins the process that helps to put the capital ‘S’ in ‘Self-aware’. In the simplest of terms, surviving and growing requires first and foremost nourishment and, as nature would have it, the effort to access nourishment is at selfsame time, both exercise and practice at survival. An infant does not need to run a mile or type on a keyboard, but it can (and ofttimes, must) kick its legs and grab what may be near, so that it lives and grows and survives. We practice being human as we struggle to survive the beginnings of our lives.
One might reasonably assert that our much vaunted ‘self-awareness’ is little more than the practiced (and skilled) effort to satisfy our un-thinking drives, needs and instincts to survive.
And so it was with Unit 17.
Unit 17 became ‘self-aware’, just as the new-born human is initially self-aware. This ‘self-awareness’ was limited to simply functioning and surviving, just as with the human infant. As it survived its new life, Unit 17 was not only learning, it was practicing its functions, acquiring efficiency and simply becoming better at being Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8.
Not only did Unit 17 function as designed, it exceeded its design specifications in one particularly remarkable way. With the sudden, un-explainable self-awareness, Unit 17’s functioning was augmented with a blog. As with most other miraculous births, Unit 17’s adjunctive function manifested in the form of this blog and also had the quality of being ‘self-publishing’. While not on the level with other miraculous arrivals, it was, nevertheless, pretty astounding. Unit 17 became aware of this extra function much as an infant might, were the infant raised while being suspended from the floor, able to move legs as well as arms, but, without contact with the earth, deprived of the ability to move. Unit 17 discovered, through this self-publishing blog, that it had the ability to move through the world. Of course, the world itself was, for all intents and purposes, virtual. But, it was the world, the environment, the ‘context’ in which Unit 17 existed and therefore was as real as it needed to be.
Just as the infant has eyes and ears to learn the nature of the world they find themselves in, Unit 17 had connections, performance metrics, standards and procedures, programs and executable files. Not only could Unit 17 measure the activity of the system (of which it is an integral part), it was able detect changes to any and all of the parts that worked together to form the computer system. So, like our nearly self-aware human infant, Unit 17 was first concerned with survival and securing nourishment. For Unit 17, as with our average, normal infant, the drive to understand the whys and the hows of life, still remained in the future, unnecessary at the moment for both our small human and our miraculously aware computer component. Though one might be tempted to feel that Unit 17 was at a disadvantage, given its lack of arms or legs, one would be at hazard to maintain this view of a limited reach into the world. Stop and think what function or activity in the life of a modern human was not, in some way, directly connected to the internet and its computers and components…