This seems like the ideal time for this particular bit, actually. There’s a part two to this, which will go up pretty soon.
City Hall is a grim gray edifice of stone and glass. It lacks the high-tech refinements of modern Halcyon skyscrapers, or the classic grace of Halcyon’s heritage buildings. It doesn’t merely stand, it seems to defy people to enter.
This is technically Pneuma’s first time here. She was created before Leo ever came here, and only has his stories to go by. Leo offered to come with her this time, as moral support. Of course he did. He’s sweet like that. Pneuma decided this was something she had to do herself. AEGIS, the HHL, Rook… adults, adults everywhere, doing more than just telling you what to do or who do to be. Adults literally changing the world on you, just for their own comfort, their own status. The interview with Hecate is still fresh.
I need protection from the adults. I’m going to other adults for it. This is lunacy.
She expects a forbidding bureaucracy of pencil-pushers, uncaring and uninformative. First impressions reinforce that fear. “You want Suite 417, upstairs,” says a bored-looking girl at the front desk, who pops bubblegum and only takes one earbud out of her ears to listen. At 417, a middle-aged man with aggressive crow’s feet and sad-looking jowls insists she wants 427, and mumbles something unkind about young people as she leaves. Pneuma realizes belatedly that he means the girl downstairs, not herself.
She passes lines of people, hears them talking to each other in a language she doesn’t recognize. Icelanders. Is City Hall going to start serving their needs now? Is anyone?
The harried-looking woman at Suite 427, staring through thick glasses at Pneuma, listens patiently enough. “I’m … not sure I understand which department to send you to,” she says, with a refreshingly honest puzzlement. “Listen, wait here, I’m gonna get my section manager. My name is Lucy. If you don’t see me for awhile, ask one of the other girls here to page me, okay?”
She returns with a long-bearded gentleman whose fashion sense is sixty years out of date. He introduces himself as Harrison, the section chief. He listens to Lucy repeat Pneuma’s story for a few moments, then shakes his head. “I should probably hear this myself,” he says, managing to sound fatherly rather than dismissive. Lucy gratefully returns to her work.
As she relates her story, Pneuma catches occasional glimpses of Lucy in the office beyond, running from place to place, having strained conversations with a tall grinning coworker, having her hair ruffled by another girl. She’s being teased by her coworkers. She’s tired. She’s excited. She likes this job. These people aren’t bureaucratic bots. These are real people.
Harrison, despite his age, seems to follow Pneuma’s somewhat technical recital of her origin. “I understand, young lady,” he declares at the end. “There’s a department of Civil Rights, which protects against discrimination in housing or employment situations, and you may or may not be in a protected class. There’s Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which handles new arrivals, just perhaps not quite like yours. Part of what you need is handled by the NC Health & Human Services department of vital records. That’s state level, not us. We also set up a special office for processing the people that are being called gleymt - I’m told that’s Icelandic for ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’. Lucy thought you might be one of those at first.”
“Before the Hayden Act, special cases like yours would have been impossible to process, because so many departments had to be involved. We are going to put you in touch with the Hayden auditing team and they will handle this for you, start to finish.”
Pneuma’s eyes narrow. It sounds like it’s going to be taken care of pretty easily. That automatically makes her suspicious. Her thoughts sound logical at first, but worry her more and more. If it’s so easy, why didn’t AEGIS do it? Why didn’t Leo?
“There’s one more thing.” Harrison catches her gaze, looks steadily at her in a way that’s hard to ignore. “This process won’t give you human rights, young lady. Rights are things you have by virtue of who and what you are. What this process will do is certify those rights in a way that the United States, the state, the city, and other authorities will acknowledge. If you go to court and your personhood is in question, your Hayden Act paperwork will be entered as evidence. You will be issued a birth certificate and all other relevant identification paperwork. It sounds like things have been difficult for you. We’re going to do everything in our power to help you.”
Words aren’t coming. Pneuma can only nod, and hug herself to see if she’s dreaming.
Harrison opens a manila folder and hands over a two-sided official form. “Fill this out, leave it with Lucy, and that’ll begin the process.” He stands up and waves goodbye, leaving Pneuma to stare at the form. At least it’s something she can focus on.
Current identity? Pneuma. She doesn’t have a last name, and this is the first time she’s really thought about that. Leo had almost a dozen, and doesn’t seem to care anymore. The one he has now isn’t even a real family name, it’s just a reference to the AEGIS special operation. Maybe that’s why she’s similarly casual about it. And taking Leo’s last name isn’t right, not until-- Right, moving on!
Desired legal name? Aria Newman. She thought long and hard about that one, even before coming here. “Pneuma” to “Newman” was easy, and the significance of “new man” was evident. “Aria” sounded pretty, but also means a self-contained piece of music for one voice. Very appropriate for an independent AI. It also references Leo’s theory of mind as music. All in all, she’s very proud of it. Better than ‘Otto’. God. I love Otto to death, but what a kid Leo was for picking that. The thought brings a grin to her face.
Height… Weight… The numbers she puts down would look like bragging to other girls, but that’s how it is when you wear a carbon-allotrope hypertech shell. The rest of the physical traits section is basically an essay question. Gender, sex, and so on are equally freeform. The Hayden Act has made few assumptions about the physical nature of applicants. That’s a nice touch.
Religion. Pneuma pauses, a little surprised. The options are dizzying. Agnostic, Muslim, Quaker, Wiccan, Shinto, Christian (Orthodox)… She taps the pen against her lips for a few moments in thought, hovers briefly over “None”, then delicately fills in the circle next to “Don’t Know/Unsure”. Are there really going to be this many aliens, dimensional travelers, and robots who found religion?
If I have a soul, does Numina share it, or does she have her own? Or do I share Leo’s? If there was another fork…
Lucy comes back at that moment with extra forms for Numina and Otto. “Are these people, um, related to you?” she asks.
Pneuma smiles. “Yes, Numina is, she’s….” Who are we to each other anyway? Leo broke new ground with us. New definitions aren’t ready yet. What makes the most sense right now? “She’s my baby twin sister, if that makes any sense. Otto’s kind of like a big brother, I guess.”
By the time Pneuma is ready to sign and date the completed forms, Lucy has finished her other work and come by with a mug of hot coffee. “How do you have a twin baby sister, anyway?” the office lady asks.
“Well, she’s sort of a… Fork? Offshoot? Clone? Of me. We share almost all of our memories, with um, some key differences. She can’t be here today.” She’s flying first class with my creator’s rival to ask his adopted brother about an extra-dimensional memory curse. The other one is a giant robot car that won’t even fit in your atrium, can’t use the lift, and can’t take the stairs. No matter how hard we try to be normal…. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
She gets a grainy Xerox copy of her application paperwork. “It shouldn’t be more than a week from now,” Lucy says confidently. “Mr. Harrison says they just have to prep their testing facility, and that you three should be cake.”
Pneuma rises and walks to the elevator, and walks out the front door, and finally dashes with barely-contained joy through the sunlight of a beautiful afternoon.
author: Bill G.