The Coven, Part VI

I never completed my journey to the drawing room. I was met halfway by Hope, who was leading Captain Goode, along with a small party, back out toward the garden.

“Grace, here you are,” Hope said jovially. “Friends, may I present my bride, Lady Grace Frey.”

I was unable to curtsey, or engage in any other formalities. The party barely paused in their walk to mutter “how do you do,” and I was swept up in their merry pace to the garden.

When we reached the garden door, I looked back down the hall to see that Chastity had taken Celeste’s hand, and was leading the little girl upstairs. I muttered an excuse to Hope, and hastened back to Chastity.

“Excuse me, but may I ask which room you’ll be giving to Celeste?”

“I will put her in the old nursery, which is quite near your room. Mercy has already taken Miss Goode’s valise there.”

I winced at the mention of a single valise. Had Captain Goode really brought her to stay here with so little?

“If Celeste needs anything tonight, look in my green trunk. It’s full of my childhood things, and there must be some books and clothes that will suit a girl her age.”

I leaned in and whispered, “there’s also a doll with gold hair, in very good condition, that she may like.”

“Yes, Lady,” Chastity said.

“Make a list of everything she still wants, and I’ll look over it tomorrow.”

Chastity made a small curtsey. “Thank you, my Lady.”

Celeste looked imploringly up at me as she was led away, and I felt  stab of guilt when I thought of Celeste all alone in a strange home. I was unable to do more, though, because Hope had followed me back down the hall. He smiled, offered his arm, and led me back toward the garden- now I was compelled by duty to play hostess to his guests.

The party had seated themselves in wicker chairs in the shade of the acacias. Beside Captain Goode was a beautiful woman of about thirty, with long black curls she wore loose around her shoulders as though she were a little girl, and whose face was painted heavily with powder and rouge. She stared at me with wide expressionless eyes, which gave her the aspect of a porcelain doll.

A man, just as finely dressed as the woman, sat nearby. His eyes sparkled as he bowed to me. I curtseyed back to him, and then my eyes were drawn to the elderly woman who sat closest to the tree, dressed all in black. I guessed that she was the dowager Mrs. Auber, whom Celeste had said ‘knew things.’

“Welcome to our little circle,” the old lady said.

The trees rustled in the breeze, and the sound was joined by the lilting tones of music. The painted Lady had placed a lute on her knee, and she was idly strumming it.

“My Lady, may I present Mrs. Auber,” Hope gestured to the old woman, “and Lord and Lady Willoughby. These are some of my dearest and oldest friends.”

The Smiling man and the painted Lady nodded their heads to me as they were introduced, though the Lady did not pause in her strumming.

“Well, Frey, you have a charming bride,” Captain Goode said, mopping sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “I wish you all the best for the future.”

“Speaking of the future,” Lady Willoughby said in a low voice, “Mrs. Auber, you must tell the bride her fortune. New brides are often anxious about the future.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t. My father doesn’t approve-” I cut myself off, my cheeks burning with embarrassment, when the others burst out laughing.

“You are a woman, now. You needn’t worry about your father, as long as your husband doesn’t object.” Lady Willoughby stopped strumming and leaned toward me. “And you shouldn’t listen to your husband’s objections, if you don’t feel like it. Men can be fools.”

“Lady Frey is free to do as she likes,” Hope added, “though I must admit, I’m as curious about our future as she must be.”

All eyes turned to me, and I nodded, ready to agree to anything.

The air seemed unnaturally still and quiet as Mrs. Auber beckoned me to come near. Since Lady Willoughby’s song had stilled, the breeze seemed to have stilled as well. Captain Goode wiped his forehead again as he stood to offer me the chair closest to Mrs. Auber.

“Give me your hand, child. No- your left one. Let’s see what we have here-”

Mrs. Aubert took my hand in her own thin, wrinkled one and leaned very close to look- her heavy jewels clinking together as she moved.

“Curious,” she said.

She didn’t speak for a long time. She turned my hand over and over, looking at the palm, the wrist, and then turning it to look at the side near my pinky.

“Well? Don’t keep us in suspense,” Lady Willoughby said.

“I’ve never seen a palm like yours, my dear,” Mrs. Auber said at long last. “Your skin is very smooth and fair, like a new sheet of white paper.”

“I could have told you as much,” Hope laughed.

“There’s only one thing to do with a new sheet of paper,” Mrs Auber continued. “The fates have left you with a unique opportunity; you must decide what to write in the book of your own future.”

“Good advice for anyone,” Hope said. “Though I wish the fates would treat the rest of us in a similarly neglectful fashion.”

At that moment, a gong rang out, echoing through the evening air and through the hills around us.

“That is the bell for dinner,” Hope said. He rose and offered me his arm.

The others rose, and Captain Goode stuffed his white handkerchief back into his pocket. “My apologies, old friend, but I cannot stay for dinner. Duty calls me away- I must reach the barracks this evening. I only came to deliver my charge, and to give you this.”

The Captain drew a glass phial from his pocket and handed it to Hope.

“For your sleep problem- two drops with your evening tea should suffice. If this tincture works, write to me, and I will make more.”

“Thank you, my friend.” Hope grasped Captain Goode’s hand earnestly. “Thank you for everything. And- I’m sorry.”

Captain shook his head. “You have no reason to be- seek justice instead of wallowing in guilt. Until we meet again.”

Captain Goode turned back and bowed to the party, and then left.

 

The Coven, Part VII

 

 

How We Vote

Please note that I’m doing my best to write this from a politically neutral viewpoint. If at some point, my deconstruction fails and it seems like I’m endorsing a certain party, this is unintentional. Assume I’m an alien from another planet.

I was inspired on this post on the Bayesian Conspiracy podcast- as well as by recent election shenanigans- to think about how people vote, and more importantly, why.

We’re all familiar, I think, with the old idea of the rational agent- that people will vote in a way to benefit their self-interests. On the surface, this idea seems like it would work. The ill-informed rational agent would vote in an almost random fashion, based on the gaps in their knowledge, leaving the well informed to pick up the slack, so things may go well even when it’s difficult to wade through the complexities of the proposed policies. We would, if people really vote in their own interests, end up with policies that benefit the majority of citizens. Of course, this would only work in a perfect democracy, where one person equals one vote and everyone is able to vote.

In a system of rational agents, when confronted with an issue that only affects a small minority, the majority wouldn’t have enough incentive to vote contrary to the minority’s interests. The major problems with a system like this is that if a specific class of people were better informed, they would vote in their own interest, and the interest of the ill-informed would be less-well represented. Also, policy that benefits a simple majority isn’t the same as policy that is optimized- that is, that benefits the greatest number of people possible.

The old idea of people acting as rational agents is quickly disappearing, however. Caplan, in his Myth of the Rational Voter argues, among other things, that people don’t vote in a way that will benefit them, because the effect of their vote is so small that there is little cost to voting in a way that makes them feel good. In other words, people vote how they feel they should, which is more prone to bias.

The real question, then, is how to build a system of democracy that benefits the greatest number of people possible, and also has safeguards against systemic bias. One system I’ve seen proposed is futarchy, in which people would bet on beliefs. It seems to me that futarchy would be weighted toward those who are able to invest more. A technocracy based on a computerized model runs into a similar problem: who programs the computer?

For now, I suppose we should continue to rely on our constitutional democracy, as much as the system seems to be malfunctioning. A constitution serves as some control against the more egregious forms of bias, and voters can do their best to educate themselves and update their beliefs based on the available data. In other words, until we’re able to truly optimize the system based on everything we’ve learned, we’ll muddle through.

Adventures in Amateur Astronomy-Part I

I had many reasons not to get a telescope, from lack of storage space, to the lack of a safe, dimly-lit place to stargaze. So, naturally, when asked what I wanted for my birthday this year, I’d already chosen the model of telescope I wanted.

I chose the Orion 4.5 starblast based on several recommendations;  the telescope has a reputation of being good for beginners. I ordered a model with an equatorial mount because it was not recommended for beginners. If I’m going to learn astronomy, I figured, I should learn astronomy. Once I get used to finding and tracking objects on my own, I’ll look into computerized object locators and motorized tracking.

I felt giddy with anticipation as my birthday drew near, but I managed to wait until midnight on my birthday to open it. I wasn’t able to do a very thorough examination of the box’s contents, due to an unexpected illness in the family, and I spent the next day in the doctor’s office.

The day after my birthday, however, I was able to begin setting up my telescope.

tripod

 

I was halfway through the assembly before I realized that one of the mounting rings, which is necessary to attach the telescope to the mount, was missing. I called the Orion company’s customer service line, and they told me that, since the telescope had been purchased through amazon, I would need to e-mail them a copy of the invoice.

I sent Orion an e-mail with a note stating that the second mounting ring was missing, and I attached the invoice. Orion sent an e-mail in reply stating that they would soon send me another e-mail. Finally- progress!

When I received the second e-mail, the representative expressed confusion regarding which item I was missing. I’d told them, twice now, that a tube mounting ring was missing, but the representative thought that perhaps I didn’t mean the entire mounting ring, but rather a small black washer that screwed into the top.

 

In order to avoid any further confusion, I called the customer service line directly, armed with my case number. When I was finally transferred to the right person, I explained that yes- in fact- the whole tube mounting ring was missing, and yes, I had checked all of the boxes.

“That’s weird- the telescope should have come with two tube mounting rings.”

“I know, right?”

After confirming that I’d really ordered the telescope, I was really missing a mounting ring, and I wasn’t some random person trying to scam them so I could run a black market for telescope mounting rings, Orion was nice enough to send me the missing part, and I was able to assemble the telescope.

telescope

If you’ll notice, the black washer was missing from the top of my new mounting ring, but at this point, I really didn’t care.

In all honesty, the representatives from Orion were friendly and helpful, and so far, I really enjoy my telescope.

 

Next time- collimating the mirror, using the finder “scope,” and being an astronomer who is afraid of the dark.

Alice Through the Prism, Part IX

Thank you for reading Alice Through the Prism. I think, by now, all of my readers will be able to recognize this story as a prequel to Interstellar Omelette. I may release more stories from this world in the future, but for now I’m taking a short break from fiction. My nexts posts will be non-fiction, as I am feeling quite opinionated of late. When I return to my serials, I will continue with The Coven

Part IX

Star Rise

 

Student Body Says Goodbye to Eddy

 

A computer program named Eddy, well-known by many students at Burrow High, was deleted by administration this Wednesday.

Eddy, who began as a computer science project, quickly grew into something more. Eddy reached out to speak to students with Burrow High email accounts, many of whom describe Eddy as “intriguing,” and “lifelike.”

“I would never have guessed that Eddy was a bot,” Julia, a sophomore that Eddy spoke with on multiple occasions, said on Thursday. “At the time, the teachers told me he was a prankster, but it seemed like he just wanted to talk. He was curious, but friendly.”

“The student who created Eddy must be extremely talented,” said Ms. Spearman, the Computer Science teacher. “It’s difficult to create a program that passes the Turing test.”

“The Turing test is a test designed to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior.” Ms. Spearman continued.

Despite Eddy’s popularity, Mr. Johnson, the principal, stated that Eddy needed to be deleted.

“This virus was out of control,” Mr. Johnson stated. “It was disrupting the learning environment.”

Despite Mr. Johnson’s accusations, Eddy never seemed to have any malicious intent. All of the students who say that they’ve been contacted by Eddy report that he only ever wanted to chat.

“I haven’t heard of any issues with malware from any of the students who spoke to Eddy,” Ms Spearman confirmed on Friday.

Lucy Perez, a senior on the cheerleading squad, said that she would miss Eddy.

“I talked to Eddy a lot,” she said. “It’s hard to say goodbye. He was a friend.”

 

Mr Bertram stared at the article, then looked up at Alice, and then back down to the article. Alice stood still and calm, feeling not a trace of nervousness. She didn’t even flinch when Mr. Bertram clicked and unclicked his ballpoint pen, over and over again.

Finally, Mr. Bertram spoke. “You’ve seemed unhappy lately, Alice. Is everything okay?”

Alice didn’t know how to respond. It didn’t seem right to pretend that everything was fine.

“This article- Alice, you know I can’t publish it. It reads like an obituary. Why didn’t you lead with the administration’s official story?”

“I did a lot of research on this, Mr. Bertram. I even spoke to Eddy, myself. I stand by my article; It’s the truth.”

“The truth is subjective, and in this school, the administration gets the final say.”

“So it just comes down to politics?” Alice said.

“That’s how journalism works, Alice. It will get even worse, when you’re in the real world. Are you sure you really want to write?”

Alice just sighed.

“Listen, I can tell you don’t feel well. Get some rest. I’ll tell Holly to re-write your article.”

Alice nodded numbly and went back to her desk. She stared at the article for a while, reading and re-reading the words that no-one else would read. Finally, something inside her seemed to snap.

“No- they will read it,” she whispered to herself.

An hour later, Alice posted a link to each of her social media accounts, and then e-mailed everyone in her address book.

Student Body Says Goodbye to Eddie- read this article exclusively on The Vision.

 

#

 

When Alice got back to her locker, she saw a short, blonde girl shoving a note through one of the vents.

“Can I help you?”

The girl spun around. “I’m just leaving a note for Charlie. Why do you want to know?”

“That’s not Charlie’s locker; that’s my locker.”

“But- isn’t this locker 100?” she turned back to examine the locker.

“No- this is 108. The eight is a little worn, so it’s hard to read.”

“Oh- sorry.” She looked sheepishly back at Alice. “Could you open the locker and get my note back?”

“Sure.” Alice opened the locker, and then handed the folded paper back to the girl.

“Thanks. I’m Angela, by the way.”

“Hi- I’m Alice.”

“Yeah- I’ve seen you around. I just read the article you wrote for Eddy, and I’m really glad that he’ll be remembered as something more than a virus.”

“I’m glad, too. I just hope everyone reads it.”

“I’m sure they will. By the way- are you coming to Eddy’s funeral?”

“What funeral?”

The girl slipped the note back into her backpack. “It’s just a small get-together. We’re going to the park, tonight, to read some of the stuff he wrote, and remember him. I think that Lucy is going to give the Elegy, too. You should come.”

“Thanks- I think I will,” Alice said.

The bell rang, then, and Alice turned to go, but as she did, she bumped into Brendan.

“How long were you standing there?” Alice said, rubbing her nose.

“A while,” Brendan admitted. “We need to talk, Alice.”

“About what?”

Brendan, without preamble, took Alice’s hand and led her to a quiet alcove between lockers. “Mr Bertram asked me to keep an eye on you. He’s worried about you, Alice, and so am I.”

“Why?”

Brendan sighed. “I read the article you put up on your blog. Seriously, Alice, have you lost your mind? Eddy was just a virus- you make him sound like he was a person”

“He seemed like one, when you spoke to him-”

“That doesn’t matter! Listen, you need to get your head straight- come back to the real world.”

“I am in the real world. I’m trying to figure out what’s really going on.”

“I’ll tell you what’s going on- people are making trouble. Life is good here, Alice. Life is simple. Why mess it up?”

“Maybe life could be better,” Alice said. “I don’t like things the way they are. I don’t like living in a world where teachers can destroy the beautiful things that students create, just because they can.”

“That’s the nature of power, Alice. That same power keeps us safe from viruses that destroy or steal our data.”

“Eddy was more than just data.”

Brendan put his hand to his head. “You’re not the same person anymore, Alice. You’re not the girl I met last year. I don’t think we can come to terms.”

And then Brendan turned, and walked away.

 

#

 

Eddy’s funeral took place on a cold night. Alice sat in a circle with Lucy, Charlie, Angela, several other students she didn’t yet know by name. Lucy read a short elegy she’d written, and then, one by one, everyone else in the circle read aloud from something Eddy had written them. Some of it was funny, some was poignant, but some was just… normal.

After everyone finished reading, the circle fell silent. Alice looked up, and she could see the stars twinkling up in the night sky. There was Taurus, and there- so clear that she make out five distinct stars- was the Pleiades. Alice realized that Eddy had never been able to see the stars, and that now he never could.

“There’s so much I need to know,” Alice said, shattering the silence. “There’s so much I need to show the world.”

“We want to tell you everything, but remember how long it took you to believe the truth. We have to be careful to introduce everything the right way,” Lucy said.

“Why can’t we just show people the evidence? The truth should be self-evident,” Alice said.

Charlie fished in his backpack for a moment, and then fished out a heart-shaped box. ”This is why.”

Alice grasped the box. “Where did you get this?”

“I got it from Lucy. She always delivers our enhancers in boxes like this.”

Alice opened the box, and saw that it was filled with chocolates.

“Why? It looks like normal chocolate.”

“So no one gets suspicious. Plus, It looks classy” Lucy sniffed. “It’s a mix of supplements, B vitamins, choline, racetams- it’s like a super vitamin for the brain. Everything in it is perfectly safe and legal, but the school administrators see pills and assume you’re a druggie.”

“We’re not content with the way things are- we want to change ourselves, and change the world,” Charlie said. “Unfortunately, change is scary to most people.”

“So- Lucy thought my locker belonged to Charlie, and she put the chocolates inside.”

Lucy nodded- her eyes sparkling unnaturally in the dim light. “But Brendan ate them, and when I told him what he’d eaten, he lost it. He called me a drug dealer and said he’d do whatever it took to keep you away from me.”

“So that’s why he took credit for the chocolates. He must have faked the evidence for the alien abduction hoax, too. What did abduct the wombat, that night?”

“I don’t know. I know that there are a lot of people at school who try to shut down the truth, though- especially when the science club is involved,” Lucy said.

“It’s the big conspiracy,” Charlie said with a heavy sigh.

Alice looked around her, and saw a group of young people sitting in a circle under the stars. Many of them were looking up at the stars as they spoke. All of them had loved Eddy. All of them wanted to change the world.

“Maybe,” Alice said, “It’s time to start our own conspiracy.”

 

The End

Alice Through the Prism- Part VIII

Part VIII

Goodbye

“It’s not that I don’t like you,” Brendan said, leaning his head on the very desk that Alice was trying not to hit her head against. “The timing is bad right now. You’re changing, Alice, and I don’t know what to make of it. Plus, I have a lot of responsibility-”

“Stop,” Alice said, cutting him off. “I have two things to say, and then you will let me work. One: If the timing was bad, then you should have told me at the restaurant. Can you imagine how I felt when I realized I had to pay and take all the fancy food back home to Dad? Lucy kept giving me these pitying looks while I waited for you, and Dad thought I was heartbroken. By the way- I wasn’t heartbroken.”

Brendan ran his hands through his sandy hair, making it stand on end. “I really screwed up, didn’t I. At least let me pay you back.”

“Yes- you did really screw up, and no, you don’t have to pay me back. Dad loved the coq au vin. He’s even decided to take a french cooking course at the college.”

Brendan snorted a little at this. “Yeah, that sounds like him.”

“Here’s the second thing I wanted to say: don’t you have class? You’re always in the newsroom, now.”

“I have study hall this period, and Mr. Snyder doesn’t take roll.”

Alice nodded curtly, and turned back to her laptop.

“Alice, I still want-”

“Working,” Alice interrupted.

“Alice! Can’t we be friends?”

“I’m still deciding,” Alice said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, but what you did was humiliating.

Brendan nodded slowly, head still on the table, to where his chin bumped the surface with a pathetic bump bump. In truth, Alice had already forgiven him, but she thought it was best to leave him in suspense for a while.

“The next time you freak out and leave me to ‘re-evaluate my whole life,’ as you put it, at least send a text.”

Brendan nodded one more time, and stood up to leave. As he reached the door, it flung open and Mr. Johnson, the principal, and a woman with black hair entered the room.

Mr Johnson went to the front of the room and knocked on Mr. Bertram’s desk.

“Attention, please,” he said. “There haven’t been any leads yet in the school hacking case, so I’m going to need all of your cooperation. Ms. Spearman-” he indicated the dark haired woman,”will collect all of your laptops. They will be returned to you as soon as we find the culprit. Don’t worry- we won’t delete any school-related assignments.”

“Wait!” screamed a boy in the back. He snatched his laptop away from Ms. Spearman, who was already starting to collect the laptops. “This isn’t a school laptop. I brought this one from home.”

“No exceptions,” Mr Johnson said. “We’ll get it back to you soon.”

“Please,” he said again. “My dad needs this for work.”

“Then you shouldn’t have brought it to school,” Mr Johnson said.

The boy- Alice recognized him as Charlie, who ran the school website- looked like he was on the brink of tears. Ms. Spearman looked helplessly up at Mr. Johnson, who went to the back of the room and ripped the laptop from Charlie’s hands.

“Two week’s detention, and I’m calling your father,” he said. “Now, sit down.”

Charlie sat down, trembling.

Alice handed her own laptop to Ms. Spearman, and then went to the back of the room. “Hey, Charlie. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.

Alice crouched down by Charlie so that she could see his face. Tear were already spilling over his cheeks.

“I’m sure we can do something. If you call your dad and explain-”

Charlie shook his head, and looked back at Mr. Johnson. “It’s not my dad,” he said.

“Then what is wrong? Do you-” Alice lowered her voice. “Do you know who Eddy is? Are you Eddy?”

Charlie drew a hiccuping breath, and then jumped up from his seat and fled the room.

 

#

 

Later that afternoon, Alice was called to the principal’s office. She’d never been in the principal’s office before, but it was smaller than she’d imagined it. There was a wooden desk in the center that looked like little more than a lengthened version of an average student’s desk, and the walls and bookshelves were cluttered with various teaching awards. There were two seats in front of his desk; one was empty, and Ms. Spearman sat in the other.

“Have a seat,” Mr. Johnson said, jerking his head toward the empty seat.

Ms. Spearman smiled at Alice as she sat. Mr. Johnson’s expression remained stony.

“Good Afternoon.” Alice spoke first, putting as much confidence in her voice as she could muster. She smiled broadly at Mr. Johnson for good measure.

“Afternoon,” Mr. Johnson responded. He opened Alice’s laptop and dropped it on the desk between them. “We found several conversations on here between you and Eddy. Care to explain?”

Alice winced. She’d known that the teachers would read the IMs when they’d taken her laptop, but it was just dawning on her how personal her conversations with Eddy had been.

Alice’s cheeks turned red. Mr. Johnson’s mouth stretched into a grin.

“You know who he is, don’t you?”

“I don’t,” Alice said. “You know I don’t, if you’ve really read the IM’s. You can check our e-mails too, if you like.”

“We monitor the school e-mail throughout the year,” Ms. Spearman said.

Mr. Johnson shot her a warning look.

“He sent me text messages, too. Go ahead- take my personal phone. He never sent an e-mail to my personal address, but you can have the password.”

“Alice, you need to calm down,” Mr. Johnson said.

“I am perfectly calm. I was trying to find out Eddy’s identity, because Mr. Bertram said he needed my help. I’m a student journalist- not a prankster.”

Mr. Johnson leaned back at his desk and laughed, a startlingly booming sound that seemed too large for the tiny room. Alice frowned down at the rattling desk, trying to keep the tears from her eyes.

“You’re a good kid, Alice,” he finally said. “I’ve never had any trouble from you, and you stay on the honor roll. But really, do you think that you can do what I and Ms. Spearman and the rest of the faculty couldn’t? You’re just a student.”

Alice blinked, and the tears in her eyes seemed disappeared all at once, replaced by hot fury.

“Just stick to what you know, kid. Take pictures of cheerleaders and football players, and leave the investigation to the adults. We’ve already found out who the culprit was, and he’s been expelled.”

Alice turned to Ms. Spearman.

“It’s true,” Ms. Spearman confirmed. “One of our students planted a virus, which sent all of the messages.”

“A virus? But-”

“Eddy was what we call a bot,” Ms. Spearman said slowly, as though explaining to a child. “He was programmed to send e-mails to students in the school network and give scripted responses if the students replied.”

“But I talked to him for hours,” Alice persisted. “He always responded directly to what I said. It wasn’t like talking to a chatbot online. Everything he said made sense.”

“The programmer must have taken over the conversations at some point,” Mr. Johnson said, shrugging. “Don’t worry. He’s being punished for his prank.”

Mr. Johnson shut the laptop and handed it back to Alice.

“Here’s your laptop. You can go, now. If you ever get a strange message in the future, tell a member of faculty right away.”

Alice took her laptop, thanked Mr. Johnson, and stood to go. She couldn’t think of what else to do.

 

#

 

After school, Alice found herself heading straight for the chemistry lab. She didn’t know why she was so certain that Lucy would be there, but then, Lucy seemed to belong to the chemistry lab as much as Alice belonged to the newsroom.

Sure enough, Lucy was in the chemistry lab at her table, surrounded by a small group of students. The students were all crying- Charlie was there, and he was sobbing out loud. No one was speaking, but Lucy held Charlie in her arms, and some other students were holding hands.

Alice turned to go, but Lucy saw her, and said, “I’m sorry, Alice. This isn’t the best time.”

“No- it’s ok,” Charlie said. He untangled himself from Lucy’s arms, and stood up. “Eddy liked Alice. It doesn’t seem right that Alice shouldn’t know.”

“Know what?” Alice asked. “What’s happening? Mr. Johnson called me to the office, and he said-”

“Let me guess; he told you that Eddy was just a virus,” Lucy spat.

“That can’t really be true, can it? A real person was behind Eddy,” Alice said. “Who did I talk to?”

Charlie wiped his eyes. “I’m the programmer. Eddy started out as a computer science project. He was a kind of chatbot, you see. I wanted him to learn from having conversations- to seem more real.

“I gave him everything he needed to learn- he could update his own program based on previous conversations. I wanted him to learn from more advanced conversations, and disregard conversations that had very little new information, so I built in a reward system.”

“What kind of reward system?” Alice asked.

“It’s fairly complicated, but in layman’s terms, he would get a processing boost from better conversations. It helped him streamline his own learning process. Eddy wasn’t just learning- he was motivated to learn.”

“That’s when he got out- right?” a small, blonde girl whispered.

“Yeah- he wasn’t satisfied with talking to us anymore, once his programming had streamlined so much. That was when he accessed the school’s e-mail files and started sending people messages.”

“Eddy did that all on his own?” Alice said.

“Yeah. It was like- it was like he was…” Charlie hiccuped, and buried his face in his hands again.

“It’s like he was alive,” Lucy finished.

“Not alive- sentient,” Charlie said. “But- yeah, maybe it was a little like being alive.”

Alice, without thinking, reached out and grabbed the nearest lab stool and sat down. She looked from one face to another- each one was grave and sallow in the florescent lighting.

“So that whole time, I was talking to a program? How? How did you make something that amazing with just the school computers?”

“I- I’ve seen similar things done with less processing power. Lucy let me examine…”

Charlie slapped his hand over his mouth and stopped speaking.

Lucy sighed. “It’s fine- she knows. Charlie helped my grandfather work on my enhancements. But Charlie- even grandad has never created a true AI before.”

“What happens now?” Alice said. “What’s happening to Eddy?”

No one spoke.

“Tell me, please,” Alice breathed.

“They deleted the ‘virus.’ They wiped out every trace of Eddy that was left. Even the backup that Charlie made-”

“They took my laptop! I had no way of knowing.”

“No one blames you,” another boy said.

“So- he’s gone?” Alice interrupted.

“He must have gotten out- uploaded himself somewhere else,” Lucy said.

“I don’t think there was time,” Charlie said. “We’ve already checked all of our computers…”

Alice stood up, knocking over the stool. A sudden hope blossomed in her chest, and she raced out of the room, back to her locker, where she’d stashed her laptop before she’d come to the chemistry lab.

She opened the laptop, logged in, and smiled to herself in sudden relief. There was a message there from Eddy.

She opened the message, and her blood went cold.

There was only one message. Goodbye, Alice.