47.5 - Synthetic and Authentic

Synthetic and authentic memories.

Summer got here via thinking about dinner with the Amari family. They invited her to eat with them, which was sweet. She thought it must be nice to have people who care about you, and that led to thinking about Leo and Aria and Otto, and that was maudlin because they aren’t back yet and maybe they won’t be back soon or ever and who wants to think about that? So she thought about family, more generically. And that led her to her family, and from there to the nature of memory.

Because that’s the only place her original family exists.

Alycia Chin would probably be horrified. She’d probably moralize, pass judgement, rebuke Leo, mumble something about how awful or inhuman robots are. At least, the Alycia Chin that lives in Summer’s memory says those things. The real one is more complex - she has to be, this one was constructed out of a single conversation. But, on this one issue, Summer concedes Alycia might gain rhetorical ground. The topic of memory manipulation is probably very much on her mind, given recent events.

It’s not that the memories Summer has are a bad thing. Far from it. But her situation is unique. Leo left family after family behind. He might never be able to see them again. He might need to keep them safe from the curious, or vengeful. Maybe seeing him would be too much for them, or maybe they’d resent having a son who’s a superhero, or the child of a supervillain. Their lives were brightened briefly, then disrupted, as circumstances forced him to move on and on. Summer can’t visit the family she remembers for herself either, for different reasons. But that feeling - the necessity of separation - keeps her from regretting that reality.

The family Summer remembers is an amalgam of foster parents. There’s a father, with glasses and a beard and a smile. He reads the papers and goes to work and Summer doesn’t know where that is, but it’s okay because he works hard and comes home to his wife and daughter every day. When he does, there’s a mother waiting for him, sort of plump, with that 50’s hair but without that 50’s submission. She’s strong, and gentle, and loving, and tough, everything a little girl needs to look up to. She works too, but not at the same time, so someone is always there if the girl needed something.

The three move from time to time, piling into a beaten-up station wagon, a truck driven by anonymous movers. It always turns out that they’re moving to the same place as young Leonard, or Leon, or Leo. They go to California and Chicago and Halcyon. By coincidence, they always end up in a house next door to wherever Leo is living.

In her memories, Summer - still Pneuma back then - peeks over the fence, or through the hedge, and spots Leo. She spends her free time in other ways, sure, but he’s always there in the background. Sometimes he’s laughing, or running, but often he’s quiet, ready to cry, holding in sadness, waiting with apprehension for The Day Dad Comes Back. And young Pneuma never talks to him, or when she does, it’s fleeting and he doesn’t stay long. She runs back home to her own parents, curious or sad or flustered or just tired. They encourage her wordlessly to talk to a boy if she wants, but it’s just never the right time.

The family home has paintings on the walls. Mom and dad were artists when they were younger, before they took up other pursuits. There’s music on the radio, or a CD in the player. Dinner is always all-American comfort food, like macaroni and cheese, or spaghetti, or potatoes. Sometimes they go out for a barbecue, and Pneuma watches Dad expertly lever hamburger patties on and off the grill.

Winter is a time to relax and stay indoors. Pneuma helps to decorate the house. The family sometimes has a Christmas tree, sometimes not, but there’s always presents, and hugs, and quiet talks over egg nog.

One year, Pneuma got very sick, and her parents got worried. Was it flu? Was she going to be okay? She remembers being woozy, and not much else. The days passed quickly while she lay in bed, recovering. Summer knows, objectively and scientifically, that human memory is unreliable and prone to revision after the fact. But it’s both scarier and more magical that she remembers Aria being in the bed with her, being unable to see her sister’s face, and holding her clammy hand as the two girls sweated the disease out of their systems.

Does Aria remember it that way too?

That woman - Edith Warburton, the telepath Switchboard. If she probed these memories, what would she see?

Summer sometimes misses her mom and dad, sometimes badly. But so does Leo, she thinks. And in some ways, her synthetic memories are more comforting than real memories would have been. She has concrete recollections of reading magazines aimed at teen girls, of looking at makeup, of shopping for cute clothes. She can remember the contents of the articles clearly, and has since gone back to confirm them. There’s only one way she could have that knowledge: Leo, himself, went and did these things, in preparation for the creation of Pneuma. He laid the seeds of these memories out of love, so Pneuma would have a starting point in her quest to be a girl.

When all is said and done, Summer thinks, her memories don’t define her, but they aimed her along a certain trajectory, and they apply course correction as she moves. She’s constantly making new memories: dating and leaving Leo, spending time with Jason, the Menagerie, and so on. But her actions, her choices, also shape the sorts of memories she’ll develop. It’s a lifelong cycle, with her as both the potter and the clay, shaping herself and being shaped by herself. The clay could be from real mud from a real river, or artificial putty from a hobby store, but the resulting jar will still hold water. Her feelings are real, whether their origins are or not.

Jason and Alycia had their minds messed with by their parents. But our own brains mess with themselves too. So what if some of her memories don’t correspond to reality? It’s the same as any other human.


author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6628909

(There’s something I need to post for this in response, but not until I have time to research and write AND have a keyboard. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:)

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6629390