The last time Neil ever spoke to his daughter was a warm summer morning. Somehow, during these last few days, the promise of spring had been seamlessly transformed into the fullness of summer.
“Daddy, daaaaddy… daddy, daddy, daddy…”
The singsong girl voice trailed through the garden. It was untutored and simple, and all the more sweet for it.
She wasn’t really searching for him, Neil knew. He was always here on the back porch, elbow deep in circuits and wires, in the mornings. And then he’d make lunch for them, and then another session in the garage in the afternoon. Restoring. Rebuilding.
He’d go spare if he didn’t keep to his schedule. A man needed something to do.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy-dooo…” now the voice sounded dramatically forlorn, mimicking a popular melody. The girl’s Sphere was trying to hover unobtrusively in the background, and only supplied a low piano score to accompany her singing. It’s bird-brain AI had learned the hard way not to get in Neil’s way.
A second later the lithe form plopped down on the workbench beside him, scattering small tools. A small apple was thrust into his face, and he made sure to make an exaggerated sigh before he looked down at her fondly.
“Brought you an apple from the tree!”
“That’s sweet, Princess. I don’t think they’re ready yet, though. Just look at how dark green it is.”
“It’ll never be ready enough for you,” Princess grumbled, tossing the little fruit high above her head and catching it again. She gave him a mischievous grin.
“We could just kiff them from the food synthesizer, you know. Would take maybe half a microbeat.”
He growled and made a slow lunge at her. Usually she made a show of getting away, but today she didn’t even try and he easily caught her in a big bear hug. “Never! No synthesized food in this house, Princess. We eat the real stuff, you hear me?”
She giggled, but soon she was simply resting her head against his broad shoulder. A little listlessly.
“What’re you working on?” she mumbled.
“I’m trying to get this old radio to work again. Did you know that with this we could pick up signals from as far away as France?”
“I spoke to my friend Fatemeh in France on my sphere this morning!”
“Yeah… this radio’s outdated, that’s for sure. But… All these little nanobots everywhere, giving people anything they want at no cost… It’s not right, Princess. It’s important for people to work. If they don’t sacrifice something for what they have, they don’t appreciate it.”
She gave him a thoroughly unconvinced look. Kids. What could you do. He pointed to a circuit board by the soldering station.
“I’m trying to get the resistors working on this circuit, honey. They will lead electricity from over there to over here. You remember watts and volts from school?”
“School’s for boys,” she said derisively, wrinkling her nose. She wriggled to get loose.
Neil put her down in front of him – at eleven she was getting too large for him to keep in his lap if she didn’t want to be there – and tilted her chin up.
“Hey, where’s that attitude from. Did Mom say that?”
“It’s true, though, innit? When I become Woman, I won’t need any of the schooling.”
Neil fought down his irritation – lately all the nice times they had together seemed to be interrupted by things like this.
“No, it’s not true, Princess. School is just as important for girls as for boys.”
He gave her a warning little pat on her hip to underscore his words. She made a face, but then leaned in towards him again, burrowing her face into his neck. He frowned.
“Are you alright, dear? Let me feel your forehead.” He threw a glance at her hovering Sphere – the blasted thing was utterly protective of her, (they were of all the girls), but the machine hadn’t reacted to any increase in her body temperature. Not that he trusted it.
“I feel strange,” she confessed. “All warm. My stomach hurts a little, but not that much, and… it’s… it’s like it’s further inside than it usually is?”
A sudden thought swept through his body like a cold wave.
“Did you say something to someone?”
“Mm. I told Mom.”
”Which Mom? Was it your real Mom?”
She gave him a look – the same one she gave him when he couldn’t figure out how to connect to the news service on the holo.
“It doesn’t matter which one. It was Mom,” she saw his look and amended: “No, it wasn’t that one. The real one. I haven’t seen that one for a while. I think she’s up in Orbital. This one was smaller and darker and rounder. She gave me a painkiller zap, told me that this was all expected and nothing to worry about. But I still feel weird.”
No. Nonono. Not yet. Not now. He pushed her away a little, searched her eyes. Surely he would have seen it? Surely it wasn’t time yet – she was just a child! A small child. His child.
But you knew it could happen, a little voice said in the back of his head. You knew. She’s eleven.
It was too soon. Sure, some girls had their periods and were uplifted at nine already, but for others it didn’t happen until they were seventeen! Seventeen was six years away. He’d told himself that he had years left. But he suddenly knew that this was happening. Right here and right now.
He didn’t have years, or even months left. He had seconds.
What do you say to someone you love, the last time you ever speak to them? He should have prepared. Why hadn’t he prepared himself, both of them, for this?
“Daddy? Daddy, are you crying?”
“Princess, listen. You have to listen to me right now, ok? I love you, you have to remember that. I love you, alright?”
She looked scared, but nodded. He tightened his grip on her arms.
She was wearing a pink, frilly princess dress. Neil had used the fabricator to replicate it from the memories he had from his sister’s childhood clothes. That was years before the Great Becoming took Laura away from him and changed their entire world. He’d filled his daughter’s room with dolls and pink fluffy animals. He’d protected her as much as he could from her mother. Not that the bitch seemed to care that much.
He’d resisted them for years, but his genes must have been particularly good, because they persisted… And a man gets lonely after a while, you know? The woman who would later give birth to Princess – he’d somehow told himself that she was different. But in the end, she wasn’t. Of course she wasn’t.
They were all Woman.
“Princess, you have to remember that what’s going to happen to you isn’t natural! You have to remember yourself, this house.” He sobbed. “You have to remember me.”
She tore out of his grasp, red marks on her shoulders. “I’ll always…” she drew in a sudden breath as realization struck. “It’s happening, isn’t it? Now? I’m being uplifted. Dad, I’m becoming Woman!”
He nodded, put his hands on his knees, clenched them. “But you’re different, sweet pea. You’re so sweet and kind. You can resist them.” His hands were shaking. “I know you can. You won’t ever forget me, will you?”
“Promise!” He puller her to him. He ignored her initial resistance and held on as long and as hard as he could. Her breath was quickening until she nearly hyperventilated, but then she calmed down. Finally he felt her hand on his hair, stroking it.
“I think I see the schematics for the radio, now…” she sounded wary and exhilarated all at once. “It’s all in my head… And… I understand it, Dad. I understand it all. Oh, it’s so old, there are so many cooler things we can do with electromagnetic waves nowadays! But if you like it, I could fix it for you. I could show you. Oh! Oh, I could show you so much.”
He grabbed her chin, shook her. “It’s not real. It’s not real knowledge, whatever they’re filling your head with! You’ve never had to fight for it, you’ve never had to learn. I don’t care that they’ve made us immortal, I don’t care about the tech or the art or the spaceships. This zombie hive mind is unnatural – fight it. Fight it, Princess!”
She tilted her head, look far-away even as she studied his face. Her lips held a gentle smile, and when next she spoke, her girly voice had a strange adult diction.
“We are the most natural thing in the world, Neil.”
In a fit of revulsion he thrust her away from him, sending her tumbling down the steps to the gravel path way below. The stones bit into her knees and it took a moment before she got up.
That moment was all it took. Suddenly the small unobtrusive sphere unfolded spidery, tritanium-strong arms with laser beam weapons, and he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare.
He never saw the harmony officer coming. But, of course, they had to have observed him for a long time. They had to have known. Suddenly he was pressed face down on the gravel as a curvy dark woman pressed her knee into the small of his back to restrain him.
His little Princess was brushing the dirt from her knees. She had a frown on her pretty brow now, and was soon untying the pink bows he’d placed in her hair just this morning. She let them fall to the ground, one by one, except one which she used to tie up her wavy hair in a pony tail.
When she spoke, her words were echoed from the mouth of the officer above him.
“We will forgive this transgression upon the body of Woman because of the special circumstances.”
“But be aware that this is a one time occurrence, Neil. If you ever take liberties with Woman again, you will be brought in for mental rehabilitation.”
“You’ve killed her, you monster! My little girl. My little princess…”
The unison of female voices sighed, but then took on a gentler sound.
“She was never yours, Neil. She was always her own. And now, she is us and we are her.”
The Woman creature that had been his daughter, knelt down in front of him, brushed his hair out of his eyes.
“Neil, Unity has her mind now. She is happy. She is everywhere, already travelling to the edge of the solar system and beyond, from mind to mind. Neil, darling Neil… We will give you any object that our resequencers can produce. Any book or text. We will take you everywhere. You can have everything, except this one thing. Control of Woman. We wish it would be enough for you.”
He turned away from her, tears falling now. After a minute she backed away and the harmony officer released him. He slumped to the ground.
More female voices joined in the chorus above him, as they came to take her away. He kept his eyes averted.
“You know that Mom never forgot you, don’t you. We don’t forget anything.”
“You left us, not the other way around. Or you tried to, Neil.”
“But, of course, we are always here. Always and forever.”
Author’s note: A grateful shout-out to my great beta reader Johan Ahlsten!
I’d love to hear your comments about the story. What did you think of this futuristic sisterhood? Is this a utopia or a dystopia?