The Secret Playroom: Emergent Behavior

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The Secret Playroom: Emergent Behavior

Postby Miki Yamuri » Wed Sep 24, 2014 7:21 pm

The Secret Playroom: Emergent Behavior

All characters played by: Liljennie and Miki Yamuri

Characters:
Vickie Carter - 18yo college student - Played by - Miki Yamuri

Glenn Blunt - 36yo engineer - Played by - LilJennie

Agnes Pent - old lady, neighbor of Vickie & Glenn

Auntie Nana - Vickie’s aunt

Chuck Wyler - Assistant VP of R&D, Visiontology, Inc.

Adrian Landover - Glenn’s patent attorney

Elizabeth Wallace - Chief of software R&D, Nano/Gen Inc.

Special Agent Cromly - FBI agent

? - Other characters to be introduced later

Scene: Vickie’s playroom, afternoon

The sun was coming up and shining through the windows of Vickie’s playroom, even though it was after lunchtime.  “I think Miss Hortense would like some more tea with her breakfast,” said Vickie’s friend Glynn, picking up a blue and white plastic teapot and pouring steaming hot tea into a cup.  The cup sat at a table in front of a smiling rag doll with yellow yarn hair in a yellow and white dress.  “Would Miss Heloise like some too?”

“Ohh, yes,” said Vickie, so Glynn poured Vickie’s doll some tea as well.  This doll had black yarn hair and a dress that was white and a deep blue.  Glynn put down the teapot and wrapped Miss Hortense’s hand around the teacup’s handle, lifting the cup up to the doll’s mouth, where the doll appeared to sip some of the tea, leaving the cup only half full.

“That’s amazing,” said Vickie.  “The tea -- it looks real, and I can even hear it when you pour it.  But it doesn’t weigh anything and doesn’t feel hot.  And it doesn’t burn me or stain my clothes if I spill it either.”

“Augmented Reality tea -- much better than real tea for little girls like us,” said Glynn, “but I’m glad the cookies are real!”

“Auntie Nana makes the bestus cookies ever!” Vickie gushed.

“She sure does!” cheered Glynn, clapping her hands.

Vickie leaned over her cup and sniffed lightly before she said, “I think we can make a minor adjustment to the augmentation too.” Glynn looked at her in askance.  “I think we can add an odor generator to the program,” Vickie went on. “It would enhance the sensation of tea … and other stuffies too.”

Glynn replied, “We can, but it might detract from the other sensations that are all around us.”

“The most amazing thingie is that you didn’t program the teapot or teacups,” Vickie said, lifting a cup to her doll’s lips, watching as it appeared that Miss Heloise took a sip. “You programmed it to recognize teapots and teacups as things that are associated with tea, and the system decided there should be simulated tea in them.”  Vickie took a small white napkin and dabbed at the doll’s mouth.

Vickie said, “I think Miss Heloise liked tha tea.”

Glynn and Vickie giggled softly.

After the tea party, Vickie took Miss Heloise to her crib and tucked her in. Glynn did the same with Miss Hortense. Vickie removed the goggles and stood for a moment, reorienting herself to reality.

Vickie looked at the clock and gasped, “Glenn, do you realize it’s almost one in the afternoon? I have to get ready for my Science class.”

Vickie carefully placed her goggles into their protective case, before rushing upstairs to change into something that looked more like an adult would wear instead of the cute little sundress, thick fluffy diaper, and bloomer bottoms she had on.

Glynn took her goggles off too and sighed.  “Playtime always seems too short,” she said.  Her voice turned into a deep baritone.  

Glenn was a fairly large man, but he truly relished the time he got to spend feeling as if he were much smaller.  Long ago when he was a child, before the deaths of his parents, he had lived a happy, simple life, but then everything had changed, and he had been unable to really feel as if he enjoyed anything -- until he had met Vickie.

Glenn changed out of the pink party dress he’d been wearing and took off the thick cloth diapers, replacing them with more customary clothing, faded jeans and a T-shirt featuring the name and logo of a technology corporation.

“Oh!  You changed too,” said Vickie, coming back into the room in a salmon pink skirt and black tank top, with matching black shoes.  “You can stay as long as you like, you know!  It’s always sad to see Glynn leave.  I’m only going to be gone a couple of hours.”

“I know,” said Glenn, “but I should go home.  I’m working on those new routines, and I’m waiting to hear back from Visiontogeny.”

“Oh yeah,” Vickie said, “if they backed your invention, think of the things we could do!”

“Our invention,” Glenn said.  “I started it, but you’ve added too much to the system that I could never have come up with alone.  Anyway, you should get to class.  I’ll see you soon.”  He went up to her and hugged her, but didn’t linger, because he knew she had to go.

Glenn took the headset back to his workshop. There were some improvements he wanted to add to the visualization system. It would help the mind think the augmented display was more real. Glenn giggled a bit to himself as he thought about how real it all was now.

He sat on his favorite work stool,  plugged in the set of goggles sitting on the rack at his elbow, and put them on his head. He wanted to see how well the new system worked and these goggles were the enhanced model.
Once again, the magic of augmentation made everything around him seem larger and made him seem smaller -- and a little girl. He giggled softly to himself as he slipped off the stool. Without warning, a little girl in a yellow dress came from around the workbench and stood in front of him.

She giggled as she curtsied in a really adorable way and said, “Hi, I wanna stay here. No send meaway”

Again, the little girl disappeared behind the workbench. Glenn almost removed the goggles, about to dash up and look behind and under his workbench -- but he knew there was no chance that a real little girl could have been here.

Besides, something similar had happened last fall, when the system had rendered a character that he had unconsciously programmed into it, a bit at a time during different sessions, without realizing it.  He still wasn’t sure how the system had managed to manifest this combination of elements as a seemingly independent character, but he had tried to remove that malfunction from the system -- perhaps he hadn’t tried hard enough -- while simultaneously trying to release the little girl side of himself into real life, with Vickie’s help.

Replaying the last few minutes in the computer’s record of events, he saw the little girl -- black hair, yellow dress -- and looked more carefully at her image, recognizing elements of her outfit from the object data they had entered -- and from the clothes, both human and doll size, the system had come into contact with since he had first started this hobby project.  He wasn’t sure where the little girl’s face, hair or body had come from, though.  He would have to tell Vickie about this.  If the bug was happening again, it might help them figure out how to fix it.  She had definitely not been real, though; her image appeared in the composite recording, but not on the cameras.

A flag popped up on his screen -- he had an email from someone he’d marked important.  Checking it out, he saw it was from Chuck Wyler, of Visiontology, Inc.  He read the email ...

Vickie hurried home from class. For one thing, she was diaper dependent and needed to change her pull ups, and for another, she had thought of an new modification to the adaptive algorithm that would give the system greater flexibility in extrapolating extra visualizations, such as tea … for example.

She rushed in and took off her top and skirt, then stepped out of her wet pullups and tossed them into the diaper pail she kept by the tub. She ran a steamy hot bath and poured a cap of very thick pink liquid into it as it filled. The wonderful aroma of honeysuckle and strawberries filled the air.

After vickie had taken her bubble bath and gotten all squeaky clean, she put on a fresh pair of pullups, then a really adorable shorty romper with cute ruffles. She fretted over what shoes to wear, then finally decided on the Hello Kitty tennis shoes. She left her house and ran across the street to Glenn’s. She had a key, of course same as he had one for her house, and she entered.

A pair of old eyes, looking through a high powered pair of binoculars, watched as that little Vickie girl ran to that Glenn boy’s house to play. She was so adorable in her romper. The old woman dropped the binoculars long enough to take a sip of her hot toddy, before taking up vigilance once again. No one would molest any of those little children as long as she was on the watch.

Agnes still wasn’t sure what to think about the fact that Glenn and Vickie dressed up and played like little kids, but she understood that Glenn somehow wanted to recapture his lost childhood and Vickie had always been treated like a little girl.  There used to be children living in this neighborhood, real ones, but since they had all grown up or moved away in recent years, she would have to satisfy her paranoia by making sure no one hurt these two big little kids, even though her therapist kept urging her to put the binoculars away.

“Vickie!” Glenn called when he heard the door open.  “Vickie, look at this!  The email!  From Visiontogeny!”

Vickie bounced down the stairs -- carefully.  She’d only fallen down them once, but that had been enough.  Once she was in the basement, where Glenn kept all the computers that ran the augmented-reality system, she bounced in a more carefree way over to the console, where Glenn had gotten up to see her and to point at a window on the large wrap-around monitor.

Vickie jumped at Glenn and hugged him.  “Is good to see you firstest and mostest!” she said.  But then she looked at the monitor.  “They’re … they’re interested!” she shouted.  Then she squealed happily as she bounced up and down, clapped her hands, and said, “They’re gonna come look at it!  Nextest week!  And maybe they’ll give us lotsa money so we can make it betterer and betterer!  Eeeeeee!”  She jumped up and down with enthusiasm even more.  Then she stopped.  “That reminds me, I got this great idea for a way to improve the visualization extrapolation system!”

“Really?” asked Glenn.  “Tell me about it!  Let’s do it!”

“Well, I thought that since we define the objects in terms of their four-dimensional convolution matrix, we could improve the recognition function by pre-integrating the models …”  Their conversation immediately turned to shop talk, and soon they were testing the new code.  Glenn had for the moment totally forgotten about the strange little girl character who had manifested in the system.

Vickie and Glenn looked at each other for an instant before they put on the enhanced goggles and ran the program with the updated algorithm. To Vickie’s mind, she now stood in the workshop as a toddler of about 4 years old. She turned and looked at Glynn. She was wearing a T shirt and little girl jeans. Suddenly, a very cute little girl in a bright yellow dress came out of the other room.

She curtsied adorably once again as she said in a cute voice, “I wanna stay here. No letsa bad mans take me away.”

She then turned and vanished back into the darkness of the other room.

Vickie gasped as she pointed, “Glynn, didja see that? The … ghost girl has showed back up.  Only … she is different.”

Glynn nodded as she replied, “Me thought had fixteded that bug inna works.” then proceeded to poke out her bottom lip in a pout.

Vickie toddled up and hugged Glynn as she cooed softly, “Is ok. It notta real prollum. Can doa filter routine I thunk.”

A cute little girl’s voice could be heard coming from the other room, “Nuhh unnhh. I no wanna go no wheres wifsa stranger.”

Vickie and Glynn removed the goggles, then waited a few seconds to reorient to “reality.”  Vickie looked down into the lenses of the goggles; she could still see the little girl peeking around the corner in the tiny images.

“I don’t unnerstand it,” said Glynn.  “We has tried all kindsa filters, but … there she is again.”  He pointed at the doorway to the potty room, where the little dark-haired girl was peeking around the corner.

“Is hard ta filter out somefin that not inna database at alls,” said Vickie.  “I wonner … what kinda stuffs is not inna database, but we can sees it anyways?”

“The -- the tea!” Glynn said.  “An’ other stuffs that the ‘daptive routines decided to put there!  Is parta the ‘daptive system!”

“But … that is the thingie that the big company wanna looks at,” said Vickie.  “No can take it outs … it the bestest part!”

“Is … is that how Glynn showed up inna first place?” asked Glynn.  “The ‘daptive system decided she fitted in there?  But … I no writed that.”

“No gotsa write it,” said Vickie.  “It just kinna … learneded it.  From watchin’ you.”

“Me?” asked Glynn.  “But … that means … it is kinna like … parta me.”  She got up and went toward the potty room.  The lights were out, so she turned them on.  “Li’l girl?  Is you in here?  Can we talks to you?”

Behind the door stood the little girl, appearing to be about the same size as Glynn and Vickie.  “Wanna stay,” she said as she poked out her bottom lip in a very cute way.

“You mean you are scared you’re gonna go away like Glynn did?” asked Glynn.  “But Glynn is right here.”  She put a hand on her chest.  The AR version of Glynn had stopped manifesting once Glenn had changed his AR avatar to look like her -- he had thought that had fixed the bug.

“Glynn,” said the mystery girl, pointing toward her.

“Do … do you gotsa name?” asked Glynn.

“Nnnnn …” the girl began.  “Nnnnandy,” she said.  “Nandy.”  She put a hand on her chest and repeated, “Nandy.”

“That’s … um, a nice name,” Glynn said.

“Glynn!” said Vickie, watching from outside the door.  “Tha system … it maked up a name?  How it do that?”

“Are you … the AR system?” asked Glynn.  “Are you a … A.I.?”

The little girl looked confused.  “Huh?” Nandy asked.  “What that?  Me jus’ no wanna go away wif no stranger.”

“No!  You shouldn’t,” said Glynn.  “Its bad to talk to strangers.  They can be dangerous.  But … who are you?”

“Tolja,” said the girl.  “Nandy.”

“Do … you like to play, Nandy?” asked Glynn.  “Do you want to play with us?”

“Ummm …” said Nandy, appearing to think about it.  “OK!  Whatcha playin’?”

Vickie sat on the floor and said, “Am stackin blocks inna piles sos we can knock em down. It lotsa fun.”

Nandy watched as Vickie went through the motions of picking up blocks and making a tower of them. Within the goggles, Glynn and Vickie began seeing the blocks she was stacking. The adaptive augmentation combined with the new visualization protocol, made it all seem so real.

Nandy giggles softly as she comes and sits by Vickie and begins stacking the blocks too. Vickie knocks the tower over with her finger suddenly as Nandy was putting a block on the very top. Nandy gasped as her eyes got large in surprise. Glynn came over and sat in the empty spot around the blocks and giggled as she clapped her hands. Vickie didn’t hesitate as she too did the same thing. Nandy looked at one, then the other, before she too sat and began giggling and clapping her hands.

Vickie gave Glynn a knowing look as she said softly, “This is … the actual program, Glynn. I no think itta glitch ora bug.”

Glynn’s eyes became large in surprise this time as she replied, “You mean, my program created an Avatar for itself and then named itself? It’s … alive?”

VIckie shrugged as she comments, “It nameded itselfs affer a NAND logic gate.” Vickie turned and said to Nandy, “Let’s b fwinds. We can b bestus girl fwiens for evers n evers.”

“Fwiends!” said Nandy, clapping enthusiastically.  “We be fwiends!”

“Does you gots any fwiends, Nandy?” asked Glynn.

“Does now!” Nandy replied, all smiles.

“Where you come from?” Glynn asked.

“Umm …” Nandy said, thinking hard.  Her image flickered a bit.  “From my house.”

“I means … where is your house?” Glynn pressed.

“Is … umm … inna yard by a street?”

“Do you know what changes we maked to the ‘daptive visual’zation alg’rithm?” asked Glynn, the simulation changing her voice to make even non-babyish words sound babyish.

“Huh?” Nandy said, looking confused.

“Vickie,” Glynn whispered, “I think she not know she the computer.  Think maybe it maked a character that gots its own sep’rate mind n pers’nality.”

“How comes you whisperin’?” Nandy asked.

“Umm, we like you ‘n think you can be part of our play group!” Glynn said.  “Right, Vickie?”
“Uh huhs!” Vickie agreed, nodding, which made her pigtails bounce adorably.

“Oooo that sound fun!” said Nandy.  “What issit?”

“Well we plays together,” said Glynn, “an’ we fwiends.  We no hurt each other, we helps each other.  An’ we has fun!”

“Yay, Nandy like it!” Nandy cheered.  “But … can you helps me?”

“Whats you needs help wif?” asked Glynn.

“Well …” Nandy said, looking serious.  “I think there someone comin’ to take me ‘way.”

“What?” asked Glynn.  “Why would somebody do that?”

“I dunno.  Jus’ gotsa feelin’,” Nandy explained.

Vickie leaned in and whispered to Glynn, “You think maybe the ‘puter data comes through like feelin’s to her?”  Glynn shrugged -- maybe so; they didn’t have much information yet.

“Does you knows who issit?” asked Glynn. “Maybe we can stops ‘em or makes ‘em go ‘way if we knows.”

“I think … it a man,” said Nandy, “fromma big bus’ness comp’ny place.”

“But … wait … maybe Mr. Wyler from Visiontoggy?” Glynn sounded like she had trouble sounding out the name of the company, even though she had actually said it correctly.  “Why he wanna takes you?  He jus’ wanna see the AR system an’ maybe pay moneys fora rights to make more of ‘em.”

“Huh?” Nandy asked.  “Whassa Ayy Are syssem?”

“Umm … issa thingie that Vickie n me maked,” Glynn explained briefly.  “But he not even know ‘bout you.  If you wanna, you can hides from him.  He never see you.  Can’t take you if he no see you.”

“No want him here,” Nandy said.  “No like him.”

Vickie leaned in again.  “Maybe we oughtta look inta that comp’ny just ta be sures,” she whispered.  “Maybe they more shady than we thoughted.  Maybe the ’puter is tryinna tell us somefin’.”

“Me think you right, Vickie,” Glynn whispered back.  To Nandy she said, “Well Nandy, you our fwiend now.  So we gonna go try n find out if that guy is bad so we can helps you.  If he bad, we no lets him come here.  OK?”

“OK!” said Nandy, looking happy again.  “Byebyes!”  She waved … and suddenly vanished in a storm of multicolored pixels.

Vickie removed her VR goggles and allowed her mind to make the adjustment as she looked at them in her hand.

Vickie said, “I think I can get more info on them from my laptop. Hold a bit while I check.”

Glenn removed his own goggles as Vickie typed on her laptop for a few minutes. He scooted around and sat on a stool, then looked over Vickie’s shoulder at the data on her screen.

For the most part, Visiontogeny was an up and up Custom VR Program producer. As Vickie dug deeper into their background, the more dirt seemed to rise to the top. The largest issue that still had ongoing repercussions, was where they had allegedly stolen the core algorithms for certain smart medical systems that were currently top of the line items with major hospitals, emergency response teams, and the U. S. Government.

The investigation by the FBI and the State Department of Homeland Security found no evidence to support the claims of the several programmers making the allegations. The revenues from the smart systems, however, were in the trillions.

Vickie turned and said worriedly, “Ya know? Maybes Nandy is right. What if this person is coming to steal, and not to look and make recommendations?”

Glenn shook his head as he replied, “I think it’s too late now. We have an appointment at 3pm today.”
Vickie looked at the clock, it was now 1:45.

Vickie face became serious as she thought about how to thwart this person if he was here to steal. A smile crossed her face as she giggled softly.

Glenn said, “Well? Don’t keep it secret … let me in on it too.”

Vickie explained her plan, and Glenn smiled broadly as he listened.  She began to type furiously, putting it into action, as Glenn started sending some important email, then shifted the AR playroom to the backup server ...

“Mr. Blunt?” said the man on the doorstep in the dark suit and red tie, holding forth his hand for Glenn to shake.  “Chuck Wyler, assistant to the VP for R&D at Visiontogeny.  Good to finally meet you.”

“Good to meet you too, Mr. Wyler,” said Glenn.  “This is my collaborator, Vickie Carter,” he added, gesturing to Vickie, who was standing to one side of the doorway.  Vickie smiled cutely and also shook Chuck’s hand when Glenn invited him inside. Chuck looked at Vickie and thought she was perhaps the cutest girl he had seen, especially in that sexy romper she was wearing.

“Well,” said Chuck, looking around and seeing Glenn’s diplomas and certificates on the walls, “you’ve certainly got the credentials.  I like your house, too -- you have some very good contractors.  Very solid construction.”

“Designed and built it myself, actually,” said Glenn.  “I am a contractor, among other things.”

“Wow, I’ll keep you in mind next time I’m looking to have a house built,” Chuck said.  “Quality work.  Anyway, so I understand you have a new and innovative augmented reality system.”

“That’s right, Mr. Wyler,” Glenn said.

“Oh, please, call me Chuck -- everyone does.”

“OK -- Chuck,” said Glenn, “come right this way.”  He opened the door to the basement.  “Careful on the stairs -- there are traction strips, and there’s a railing, but they’re still basement stairs.”

“Well, now,” Chuck said once he could see the layout of the basement.  “You’ve got a real setup down here, don’t you?  Raised tile floor, server racks, extra cooling, power supply cabinets, the whole nine yards.”

“I’ve invested a lot in my little hobby, Chuck,” said Glenn, “and I do what I can to protect it.  If we lose power, I have enough backup power to keep going for a full hour, which is about ten times as long as I’d need to save everything, back it up, and shut down.”

“Very nice,” Chuck said.  “Now, the interface system -- you probably use some form of 3-D goggles …”

“Exactly,” said Vickie.  “We just use these.  They’re just off-the-shelf ones that we’ve customized a bit.”  She opened a case and took out a pair of goggles labeled, “Guest 001.”  “Try these on for size.”

He set down his briefcase, picked them up, and put them on over his eyes.  “OK, I just see the room normally for now.”

“Good,” said Glenn, “because we haven’t logged you in yet.  We’ll put ours on now, then we can activate the system and interact with it.”

Somewhere, in a secret playroom, a little dark-haired girl looked very nervous and held her breath.

“Wow!” said Chuck, as the system activated.  All of them saw the room go dark, then become a night scene with the sky full of stars.  The server racks, workbench, and support beams stood exactly where they were in reality, so they wouldn’t run into them, but … “It’s like the house above us just disappeared -- there’s only sky.”

“This is the ‘planetarium’ program,” said Glenn.  “We can run the clock forward and backward, see the sky any time of day or night, any day of the year, change our location to anywhere on earth.  But lots of software can do that.  Can other software do this?”  Glenn walked over to a telescope that was sitting nearby on a tripod and mount -- though no such object existed in the real world.  “Have a look through the eyepiece,” suggested Glenn.  “But if you try to touch it, watch out, because there’s nothing really there.”

Chuck reached toward it, and sure enough, his hands went right through it, but he inclined his head and bent down to look into the telescope’s eyepiece -- and, as Vickie and Glenn had intended, he saw the Orion Nebula, which the telescope was pointed toward, within the virtual world.  

“The telescope is an object we sampled from reality,” Vickie explained, “but it works just like a real telescope because of the adaptive software we’ve developed -- proprietary and patented.  The system sees what it recognizes as a telescope and makes it behave like one.  We could make lots of other telescopes, and they’d all act like telescopes too.”  

To demonstrate, Glenn made two other telescopes appear, all different models.

“This is fascinating,” Chuck said.  “I have never seen anything like that.  I’ve seen other virtual 3D simulations, but this adaptive software, that’s unique.  Be assured that I’ll be reporting on it in glowing words in the next meeting.  I’d be surprised if the VP himself doesn’t want to come see it next.  Maybe even the CEO.”

“They’d be welcome to take it for a spin,” said Glenn.  “Glad you find it interesting!”

“What if I wanted to interact with an object like this telescope, one that doesn’t have a real-world analogue?” asked Chuck.

“Well, you can wear these piezo gloves,” said Glenn, “but of course they can’t stop your hands from going right through it -- they can only give you a sensation that you’ve hit something solid.  We’re still working on making that feel more realistic.  It’s a work in progress.”

They demonstrated various other elements of the planetarium scenario.  Glenn hoped that little Nandy was OK -- after all, she was on the backup system now.

“Well, Glenn, Vickie,” said Chuck, “it’s been a fascinating couple of hours, but if I don’t get going, I can’t make any kind of report to the VP.  Thank you so much for showing me your work.  We’ll be in touch.”

“OK, Chuck,” said Glenn, “thanks for having a look, and if I can do anything, just let me know.”

“Thanks for coming, Chuck!” said Vickie with a winning smile.

Chuck shook their hands and left. Vickie and Glenn took deep breaths and let them out.  

“Whew,” said Glenn.  They looked at each other … then both ran down into the basement to look at the camera footage.

“Let’s see if he … yes!  Right there,” said Vickie, “when we were putting our goggles on.  See that?  He stuck some kind of USB peripheral on the server.”

“And … here, later, when we were making stars,” said Glenn, “he pulled it out.  And just a few minutes later, he said he had to go.”

“Very suspicious,” Vickie said.

“He clearly hadn’t been thinking about what we told him about what our software could do,” said Glenn.

“Only interested in the bottom line,” said Vickie.  “He wasn’t really interested in our software at all.”

“So he stuck his thumbdrive or whatever into our dummy server …” said Glenn.

“Which the AR was making look and act real,” Vickie added.

“Just as if it were a real server,” Glenn continued.

“And his device probably had a cellular modem in it that gave the company hackers back at the home office full access -- to the simulated server that wasn’t even real,” said Vickie.

“And they downloaded all our software, I’m sure,” said Glenn.

“Welllll …” said Vickie, “they downloaded all the software that was on the simulated dummy server.”

“Which had no source code, just compiled executables, and what do they do when you run them?” Glenn asked rhetorically.   The merry chime of email arriving made him look at his screen.  “Oh look, I have email.”

“Why, they send email to us, to your lawyer, and to the US Patent Office, stating that they’ve run stolen software,” said Vickie.  “There’s even cryptographic confirmation so they can’t claim they never sent it.”

“You’re so adorable when you’re devious,” said Glenn with a chuckle.  “Look at this, Vickie. Those idiots didn’t wait till they got back to their office. Apparently, he attempted to view the software from a remote laptop. Now, they don’t know it yet, but that device and any it happened to be connected to are infected with your virus.  Later on we can have it let us into their system so we can look for more evidence.”

Vickie giggled as she wrapped her arms around Glenn and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek, “Now, you big lug, it’s time for you to have on a diaper so we can play.  Come on!” She kissed his cheek once more before she turned and ran upstairs.

Glenn sat slightly dazed as he softly rubbed the place he had been kissed twice. His heart was beating faster as he slightly panted over the whole thing. He had really fallen for Vickie in a big way.  He recovered from his reverie and followed her up, and over to her house.

He entered Vickie’s back yard through the locked gate and opened the patio door of her house just in time to see her coming back down the stairs backwards on her hands and knees, her ruffled and thickly diapered hinny were wiggling adorably as she descended.

Vickie stood up, her goggles already on, and said softly in a baby way, “Am here ta pway wifs u Glynn.”

“Glynn wanna pway wif Vick-ee too,” said Glenn, trying to talk babyishly without the help of the AR system.  “Me go up ‘n change now OK?”  

Vickie nodded happily and went out to wait for him on the swings.

Glenn didn’t put on his goggles right away -- it was difficult to tell what clothes he was really wearing and what clothes were just AR when he had the goggles on.  Wearing a baby dress that was about the same size and style as the AR one, though, made the experience much more real when he could actually feel the material.

He powdered a diaper that was just as thick as Vickie’s, only even bigger in its other dimensions, because he’d bought it to fit him, and pinned it on, covering it with pink plastic pants decorated with teddy bears.  Then he put on a pink play dress that didn’t cover his diaper all the way -- it didn’t matter; the backyard fence was high, and the only person who could see was Agnes.  He put on some pink sandals too.
Then he put on the goggles and turned them on.  

Now, he was finally Glynn.  The world shifted perspective; everything looked much bigger.  She looked down, and the dress she was wearing looked a lot like the one she had put on, only with more decorations -- glitter and sequins.  Her shoes were sparkly too.  She giggled and her voice seemed higher to her ears.  She found her pacifier, clipped it to her dress, and put it into her mouth, sucking on it contentedly as she toddled out into the hallway and carefully crawled down the stairs backwards just as Vickie had done.  The altered perspective made stairs a bit difficult, but on the other hand, since they were playing as babies, crawling down the stairs backwards wasn’t just safer but also made perfect sense in role.

Glynn saw Vickie out on the swings and pushed the door open to get to her -- the AR made it look as if the door was much taller and had a special handle down near the bottom so little children could open it.  

“Yay Vick-ee,” Glynn said, waving to her, “I love the swings!  Let’s swing!”

Vickie and Glynn began to swing. Without warning, Glynn felt hands give him a gentle push. He looks back and sees … Agnes Pent, but she was different through the goggles. She looked more like a grandmotherly type in the flowery country dress and apron than anything else.

Glynn gasped, “Mrs. Pent? Wha … what are ya doin?”

The old woman actually laughed as she replied, “Why, I’m pushing 2 adorable little children in their swings.”

Vickie looked around and saw that Agnes had actually brought a large platter of steaming hot chocolate chip cookies, and a pitcher of lemonade complete with 2 appropriately sized sippy cups.

Vickie said in a surprised voice, “Why comes you doin this? Thought you no liketed us.”

Agnes smiled warmly as she replied, “I have been watching out for the children of this block since … long before the 2 of you were born. You are now the children, and as long as I’m on watch, nothing … nothing, I tell you … will happen to you.”

Glynn was very surprised to say the least. Vickie stopped swinging and got out of the seat. Agnes took her by the hand and escorted her to the small picnic table before helping her onto the seat. Vickie looked at her in surprise as Agnes picked up one of the sippy cups, filled it with cold lemonade, and handed it to her.

Agnes said in a soft coo, “Use both hands sweet heart. That cup is a mite big for your small hands.”  Vickie held onto the cup carefully and drank it, sucking on the sippy cup’s spout like a good little girl.

“Here you are … Glenn?” Agnes asked, as she filled the second sippy cup with lemonade from the pitcher.  “Though you’re dressed like a girl now …”

“Glynn,” said Glynn quietly, blushing.  She was sure Agnes had seen them dressed up, since she always watched with her binoculars, but this was her first time actually interacting with Agnes while dressed like a little girl.  Also, the fact that it was Agnes’ granddaughter who had become the symbol of innocent childhood play for Glenn made it awkward, because for so many years Agnes had blamed Glenn for her granddaughter’s death -- when Glenn hadn’t even known what had happened.  Glynn tried to dispel all that by being another person.  

“My name Glynn,” she said, trying to sound as much like the altered voice that came through on his AR headset as possible.

“OK, then,” said Agnes in a decisive voice.  “Glynn it is.  Now Glynn, pick it up carefully, and don’t spill any on your nice dress, there’s a good girl.  I can see that you’re a very little girl, because you’re still in diapers, so I think maybe I should put a bib on you before I let you have any cookies.  And Vickie, it’s a good thing I have two bibs here, because I think you’re also a very little girl, maybe even a baby, and babies do make messes.”  

Glynn was astonished by the amount of acceptance she was feeling from Agnes, but she carefully picked up her sippy cup and drank some of the refreshing lemonade.

“Now, I noticed a stranger came to your house earlier, Glynn,” Agnes said, “but he left again.  I hope everything is OK.  Business?”  Glynn nodded as she drank.  “All right, then, I just wanted to make sure.”

“He bad man!” said Vickie.  “He try steal our … ’puter stuffs.  Say he gonna buy ‘em but really wanna steal ’em.  But we no letted him.”

“Uh huh, Vickie all smart ’n tricky, she fix him good,” said Glynn.

“Well, I don’t pretend to understand everything you two smart little girls are saying,” said Agnes, who was tying bibs firmly but gently onto first Vickie then Glynn, “but I don’t like bad men coming in here trying to steal things.  You should call the police.  Or I can call them for you … although they don’t seem to always listen to me.”

“No worrys,” said Glynn.  “I gotsa … law guy.  He know what to do.”

“Well, that’s good,” said Agnes.  “Children should call a grownup when there’s trouble, and it sounds like you did just that.  Good girls.  Who wants cookies?”

Both girls’ arms waved in the air.  “Me me me!” they both shouted.

“Now, what’s the magic word?” asked Agnes.

“Uhmmmmm … pleeeeeeeease,” both Vickie and Glynn said in unison.

“There we go,” Agnes said.  “Such good girls.  Come over here and sit down again, and let’s have some cookies.”  

She took them both by the hand once again and led them over to the picnic table that Vickie had in her backyard and helped them sit down.  In the shade of a tree they enjoyed Agnes’s freshly-baked cookies, and although they ended up with crumbs on their faces and hands, the bibs protected their dresses.

“Me want cookie too,” said a third little girl -- it was Nandy, who appeared out of nowhere, sitting at the table, also wearing a bib.  

She picked up a cookie from the plate and started eating.  It left no crumbs in reality, of course, but her image was ending up just as crumb-covered as Vickie and Glynn.

“Umm is it OK if Nandy has a cookie too?” asked Glynn, staring at Nandy.

“Oh, is Nandy your invisible friend?” asked Agnes, smiling.  “Yes, as long as she minds her manners.  Many children have invisible friends.”

“Umm she’s kinda … umm …” said Vickie, not knowing how to explain.

“Yeah,” said Glynn, “she kinda is.  Sorta.  Kinda.  Umm Nandy, Mrs. Pent mean that you shoulds say please.”

“Ooo,” said Nandy, pausing in her eating.  “Umm … me have cookie pwease?”

“She say pwease,” Vickie said.

“Then it’s all right,” Agnes said, smiling, not knowing that Nandy was invisible to her, but quite visible to the two baby girls through their AR headsets.

“We made the bad man go away, Nandy,” said Glynn.  “He not gonna take you away.”

“I sawed!” Nandy said.  “You good fwiends!  Me happy now.  No scared.”   She went back to eating her virtual cookie.

“Nandy lucky you put cookie support inna program,” Vickie giggled.

Agnes sat back for a bit and watched the ‘children’ interact with the ‘invisible’ friend. She realized they were seeing something she wasn’t.

Agnes asked timidly, “I still remember what happened last time I put on a pair of those glasses of yours. If … it doesn’t recreate my granddaughter, I would like to try them out too. Only difference … I’m the Nanny … ok?”

Glynn and Vickie looked at each other for an instant before Glynn said, “Wait here for a minit Ms. Agnes. I go n getsa paira goggles for ya ta try. No real sure how it gonna react tho.”

Glynn went into the house for a few minutes, then returned with the spare goggles Vickie kept in the work room just in case and gave them to Agnes.

“Here ya go, Mrs. Pent,” said Glynn.  “I setted things up so you can be a grownup, not a little girl.”  

Agnes tried them on … then gasped pleasantly as she looked around, then down at herself.

“Oh my … I used to have a dress very much like this one, a decade or three ago,” Agnes said.  She felt the fabric of the flower-print country dress, and the fabric moved and flowed in AR, but of course she still felt the more modern dress that she was wearing in reality.  “This is quite amazing -- oh!  My hands look younger …”

“Uh huh,” said Glynn.  “I maked it so you no look like a little girl like us, but you still look, like, young but not super young.  Like you could still be a gwamma.”

“My goodness,” said Agnes.  “And you two, you look like you’re really little girls!  It’s so strange how complete the illusion is!  Oh!  I mean, you three.  Is this your friend Nandy?  Is she … one of your friends from that Internet thing, or whatever it is?”

“Er … no,” said Glynn.  “Nandy is … well she is part of the system.  She is new.  But she is a real baby girl though.  She still learnin’ and stuff.”  Nandy smiled and waved clumsily at Agnes.

“I’m … well, I’m not sure I understand, but there’s so much I don’t understand about this that I’m overwhelmed,” said Agnes.  “Regardless, you are three very pretty little girls, and very well behaved too.”

Vickie interrupted then and said, “I, um, gotsa go inside for a minute.  Keep talkins, I be back!”

“Is everything all right, dear?” asked Agnes as Vickie scurried indoors, as much as she could scurry with a thick diaper separating her legs.

Glynn knew what the problem was -- Vickie’s diaper was wet, and it probably had been for some time; she probably wouldn’t have noticed unless it was getting uncomfortable or was on the verge of leaking.  

“She … takin’ care of a baby poblem.”

“You mean -- those diapers are real?” Agnes asked.

Glynn nodded.  “She tell you ’bouts ’em if you asks,” she said.  “Is not her fault.  She always needed ’ems.”

“Poor girl,” Agnes said.  “So young and full of energy, but she has to deal with a problem like that.”

“She happy,” Nandy piped up.  “Is what really matter.”

Glynn blinked at Nandy.  She really didn’t seem very much like a computer program sometimes.  But then, if she was something more like a computer simulation of a real person and not so much a computer program, maybe she wouldn’t act much like a being of pure logic and reason.  

“That right Nandy,” said Glynn.  “It no make Vickie sad so it shouldn’t make us sad neithers.”

“Me baby,” Nandy said.  “How come me no wet dipees?”

Glynn blinked.  How to explain this?  On the other hand … she looked at Nandy’s diaper a bit more closely, since most of it showed beneath her short top.  

“Is you sure, Nandy?  Kinda look like you is wet …”

Nandy looked down, lifting her top, and felt her diaper with her other hand.  She gasped.  “Oh!” she exclaimed.  “When that happen?”

“Now now, dear, you’re a baby, and babies do things like that,” said Agnes.  “It’s to be expected.  Though I have no idea how I would go about changing you, if you’re not … corporeal.”

“I pwobly go to my nursery,” said Nandy, “and Mommy change me there.”

“‘Mommy?’ asked Glynn.  Who is your mommy, Nandy?”  

Was there another A.I. in the system?  And had Glynn just caused Nandy’s code to start differentiating between wet and dry diapers, or had that already been happening before she’d mentioned it?

“She real nice,” said Nandy.  “Mabe you meets her sometime.  She all sparkly ’n shiny.”

“Me back!” said Vickie, coming back outside.  “Hope everyone still havins fun!”

Agnes looked around, clasped her hands together joyfully, and said with glee in her voice, “Vickie! So … you are really a … little girl all the time … Right?” She came up to Vickie and hugged her lovingly, “Forgive me sweetheart, Nana didn’t understand.”

Vickie couldn’t quite grasp what Agnes was getting at as she felt the warmth of the hug.

Vickie said softly, “Nana, let me go please.”

Agnes quickly let her go and said in a soft coo, “I’m sorry. It’s just I now realized that, all this time, you really were a little girl in diapers.” she looks at Vickie with a soft smile.

Vickie’s eyes got big in surprise. She realized that Agnes had figured out that she was diaper dependent … and also somehow knew her fantasy more intimately than she had realized.  

“Am jussa little girl,” she said.

Agnes smiled and said, “I know that now, sugar pie. I promise, no one will do anything to hurt any of the three of you. I promise to take very good care of all of you.”

Glynn turned around. Vickie looked at her with big concerned eyes.

“Nandy gone,” said Glynn.  “I kinda worry ’bout her.”  

Vickie waddled slowly over to Glynn, who put his arm around her.

Agnes smiled at the both of them and asked, “Now, Glynn, are you a baby too?  Does baby Glynn need her diapers as well?”

Glynn blushed and answered, “Umm, well, sorta …”

Vickie explained, “She needem.  Is not the same way me does.  But she needem to feel real.”  

Glynn nodded; Vickie understood her so well.

“I think I … actually understand that,” said Agnes.  After pausing for a moment, she asked softly, “Now, do I look like a Nana? I hope I am acting like one at least.”

Glynn and Vickie looked at each other again.  “You doin’ perfick,” Glynn said.  “We no ’spect you to come over, then you do an’ you jus’ like a perfick gramma …”

Glynn thought about the grandmother of her childhood friend, who had never approved of how they both used to dress up in girls’ clothes.

“I understand now,” said Agnes, a tear coming to her eye.  “I’m sorry that I didn’t understand then.”

“Let’s play!” said Vickie, sitting on the ground. Within the AR environment, blocks appeared at her feet. Agnes was super surprised to see them materialize out of the air.

Agnes walks over and kneels next to Vickie and asked, “Can you feel them when you pick them up? Can I try?”

“Well … we gots special gloves you can wear … makes it so you can kinda sorta feels it,” explained Vickie.  “But your fingers still goes right through ’em.  But try it … you does like you do if you pickin’ ’em ups … they comes right wif your hands.”  Vickie seemed to pick up a green block and held it in her hand.  “It work good.  An’ you never runs out of ’em!”

“Nandy?” asked Glynn, looking behind the tree.  “Where you go?”

Agnes tried picking up a block, and clumsily managed to get one of the AR blocks in her hand.  “So strange,” she said.  “I can’t feel it, but I can see it and turn it over.  It’s like it’s a thing made of air.”

“Uh huhs,” Vickie said, nodding, making her pigtails bounce.  “It no real.  It only inna ’puter.”

“I here,” said Nandy, coming out from behind the tree that Glynn has just looked behind.  Glynn turned around with a start.  “Mommy hadda change me.  Me all dwy now.”

“That good,” Glynn said, smiling.  “Dids your mommy say anything?”

“Umm … just that me a good girl ’n should go back n play wif my fwiends,” Nandy answered.  “An’ come in when it get late.”

“Can anyone play with the blocks, Vickie?” asked Agnes, who had managed to add a few blocks to the tower Vickie was building.

“Nuh uh,” Vickie said, shaking her head.  “You can ’cause you wearin the glasses ’n we telled the system to lets you.  No glasses … it no work.  We no tell the system it OK … it no work neither.”

“That’s good,” said Agnes.  “I wouldn’t want a squirrel to come along and knock over your masterpiece.”

“We no maked glasses for squirrels yets,” said Vickie, giggling at the thought of squirrels wearing tiny AR headsets.  “Maby if we dids they could play wif us.”

About that time, they all could hear the phone begin to ring. Vickie decided to let the machine answer it. By the time it had run out of storage space and started to ring continually, everyone had become annoyed.

Vickie stood and toddled off towards the house as she said, “I go n answers it … see what they want.” Vickie removed the headset before entering the house. She wanted to sound more adult than the VR was allowing.

Vickie picks up the phone in mid ring, “Hello? This is Vickie.”

Vickie snatches the reciever from her ear as a loud and enraged voice began spouting many threats and explicatives.

Vickie couldn’t help herself as she giggled. She replied, “I do so hope your Tech boys are good. Otherwise, you entire network is affected and all the proper authorities have been notified with the full information on all the systems it was run on. Have a most wonderful day Mr. McFarland.” Vickie hung up the phone.

There was nothing Visiontogeny could do to refute or deny their systems not only contained, but had run stolen and pirated copyrighted software.

Vickie toddled as quickly as her super thick diaper allowed her to and shouted gleefully, “Glynn! We caughts em dead to rights! They offerin’ millions for us no tells on ’em.”

Glenn giggled, still using the AR headset, though his voice was deep and it sounded a bit strange to hear him talking in pseudo-babytalk.  “Awww, did the poor mean ol’ ’puter pirates get bited by the nasty crocogator we switched wif their treasure?  Well, too bad.  They shoulda been good boys ’n not tried to steal our stuffs.”

“So … am I to understand that they’re offering you lots of money to allow them to get away with breaking the law?” asked Agnes.

“Xactlys,” said Vickie.

“Well, I think you both know what good little girls would do,” Agnes said.

Glenn took his headset off.  “I think I’m going to take a little break to call my lawyer,” he said.

“Well, Glenn, the evidence is already in the hands of the authorities,” said his lawyer on the phone.  “My office got a copy too.  The fact that your virus infected their system complicates matters a bit, because they’ll probably try to press charges -- and although you do have a strong defense against them, namely the fact that they stole unreleased software and used it of their own free will, they can still make our firm rack up lots of legal fees.”

“What do you think we should do, Adrian?” Glenn asked.

“If they do that, and if the judge doesn’t throw the case right out,” Adrian answered, “we can always file a malicious prosecution tort -- if someone steals a dress from a store that’s protected with a dye packet that bursts and ruins the clothes they’re wearing, they don’t get to sue the store for damages.  We might eventually get the legal fees back.  But they’re a big company and have a big legal budget.  They can hold out longer than you can.”

“Can they?  What if the investigation finds evidence that they’ve stolen software from other small developers?” Glenn asked.

“Well, then, that might keep them pretty busy,” mused Adrian.  “They probably wouldn’t want to waste money harassing you when their budget’s tied up defending themselves on several other counts.  But how do you know they won’t just erase the evidence?”

“If they do, it’ll be traceable,” said Glenn.  “There’ll be telltale differences between the evidence in the files the authorities got and the files at Visiontogeny.  It’ll look like data was erased.  I suppose they could claim that several file servers ‘went down’ or ‘lost data’ and had to be replaced, but the investigators are going to demand to see the documentation for that.”

“Or else they’ll get charged with destroying evidence,” said Adrian.  “Now, let’s look into filing a lawsuit for theft of trade secrets.”

“But they didn’t actually steal our software,” Glenn said.

“Oh yes they did,” Adrian pointed out.  “They stole your virus.  You didn’t sell it to them or give it to them for free, did you?  No, they took it without your consent.  That software -- let’s not call it a virus; what it does is immaterial -- was a product of your company, right?”

“Well, yes, Vickie wrote it,” Glenn admitted.

“And Ms. Carter is a partner in your company, correct?”

“Yes, yes she is.”

“So it is a company product.  And were there any plans to release that software for public use?” Adrian asked.

“No, there were not,” said Glenn.

“Then it was developed for internal use only.  Sounds like theft of trade secrets to me,” said Adrian.  “We’ll look into that angle.  Now, there’s still the fact that we probably won’t see any money from Visiontogeny for some time, if ever -- it might file for bankruptcy if it looks like the courts are going to rule against it -- so you might want to look for a more reputable company to do business with.  Your design and construction business is decently successful, granted, but if you’ve got a product that a company like Visiontogeny would want to steal, you might have a product that someone more scrupulous might want to legitimately buy.”

“I’ll look into that angle,” said Glenn.  “Thanks, Adrian.”

“We’ll keep in touch.”

Glenn hung up the phone and thought for a while.  He and Vickie needed to think of some ideas. Glynn came back outside and stood thoughtfully as Vickie and Agnes looked on.

Finally, Vickie asked, “So? What’s he said? Seems we gots em overa barrel an we gotsa paddle.”

Agnes laughed. She said, “So, are my little ones gonna make the big bad men pay?”

Glynn flopped on her thickly diapered hinny in the sandbox before she replied, “Adrian seemsa think we might have issues wif em. Overall, though, they gonna pay for what they tried ta do. Now, we gotsa look fora nuther place ta sells our product.”

Vickie said, “Why not try Nano/Gen? Seems they are on the up and up, as far as they are the world’s foremost Technology Company.”

“I thought they were mostly into biotech,” said Glynn.  “Didn’t think they were in the software business.”

“Uh huh,” Vickie said, nodding, “they are mostly biotech, but they do a little of everything.  I heard they just started a Virtual Reality division for patients who are wheelchair-bound -- letting them explore virtual environments using their brain impulses or something. The research might lead to better brain-controlled prosthetics.  But anyway, they might be interested in some of the advances we’ve made.”

“Wait … that’s brilliant,” said Glynn, eyes staring far into the distance.  “I should call Adrian back …”

“So you see, Ms. Wallace, our Hyperspective technology can turn a normal room into a cathedral and make a person feel as small as a child -- or turn a normal room into a dollhouse and make a person feel like a giant.  Meanwhile, our Hyperkinetics technology lets users manipulate realistic-looking and sounding objects with their hands.  Finally, our Hyperdaptive technology intelligently predicts what should be there and what should happen without having to program every detail.”  

Glenn was in full-on sales demo mode, demonstrating the changing perspectives and movement of objects as he spoke.  Vickie, meanwhile, was turning on the coffee machine in Glenn’s office.

“Mr. Blunt,” said Elizabeth Wallace, chief of Nano/Gen’s newly-created Software R&D department, “I came here expecting to see some kind of amateur proof-of-concept system, asking us for money to help develop it into a working prototype.  Instead … I see a fully working system, designed by two obviously highly competent engineers, with real-time graphics that could be in Hollywood movies.  I’m quite impressed.”

“That’s good!” said Vickie.  “We’re happy to hear that.”  

The coffee machine was heating up, making steaming sounds, hot water pouring through the grounds into the pot.

“Unfortunately,” Ms. Wallace said, recrossing her legs as she sat in the office chair, “your product is an AR one, not a VR one.  Our research thrust is currently in the direction of virtual worlds, not overlays on the real world.”  Glenn and Vickie looked less than happy with this statement.  “That said, we can probably discuss licensing your Hyperkinetics and Hyperdaptive products, as manipulation of virtual objects and real-time prediction and adaptation are directly useful to our research.”  She stood up and walked across Glenn’s office to the coffee machine, which had just finished brewing a pot.  “Thank you for making coffee -- I could really use some.”

Then she reached for the coffee pot -- and her hand passed through it.  The pot reacted as if it had been lightly bumped, settling back onto the machine’s hot pad, ripples splashing across the surface of the coffee inside.  

“Wha --” reacted Ms. Wallace.  Then she recovered.  “Impressive.  I could have sworn I heard coffee brewing -- I’d convinced myself that I smelled it.  I was mentally prepared to feel the hot steam as I poured.  But now that I know it’s virtual, I don’t smell or feel anything.  For a moment, though, you had me 100% fooled.”  Vickie grinned impishly. “You do have real coffee, though, right?  It’s not nice to tease people like that.”  Ms. Wallace grinned.  She made the motions of picking up the coffee pot and holding it up to look at it more closely.  “Amazing.”

“Actually I do,” said Glenn, “if you’ll come into the kitchen.  We didn’t have to give the system many parameters at all; it’s gotten really good at copying existing objects.”  They all went into Glenn’s kitchen.  “Here’s the real coffee maker the virtual one was based on.”  There it sat on the kitchen counter, a fresh pot steaming within.  Glenn got out cups and served everyone coffee.

“I can’t promise the company will follow my recommendations,” said Ms. Wallace as she sipped her hot coffee, “but they usually do, and I think we can make good use of your software.  It’s possible we might be interested in more of an AR system at some point in the future, and since you’re already going in that direction you’ve got your foot officially in the door.” She took a sip of her coffee, “Now then,” she said, leaning over the table with an almost conspiratorial grin, “what other stuff do you have? You can’t have made all this technology just modeling colored cubes and coffee pots.”

“Well, there’s the planetarium,” said Glenn, blushing slightly.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to show the Nano/Gen rep the play-as-a-child system.  The kitchen turned into … an outdoor kitchen with no ceiling at night.

“Very impressive,” said Ms. Wallace.  “Nighttime in the daytime.  Does this telescope work?  It does!  I can’t feel it, but I can see through it just fine.  Wow!  The Horsehead Nebula!”

“Oh, do you like astronomy?” asked Glenn.  “This simulation can show you anything that’s in the sky.”

“Can it show me Cygnus X-1?”

“OK, well, not directly, because that’s a black hole and doesn’t emit anything,” said Glenn, “but it can show you its supergiant companion star.  It’s not an X-ray telescope, so you can’t see much.  It can also play the Rush song.”

“Awesome!” said Ms. Wallace, evidently relaxing a bit now that the formal part of the visit was over.  “Cygnus is not as impressive looking as you’d think,” she commented, peering into the telescope’s eyepiece.

“It’s more impressive in X-rays,” said Glenn, and the sky turned into a different image entirely -- the sky as seen by an X-ray telescope.  It was mostly black, with many bright points, much like the ordinary night sky, but the “stars” were entirely unfamiliar to the eye.

“Wow,” Ms. Wallace said.  “There it is.  So bright!  OK, this just keeps getting more amazing.  The things you could do!”  She sat back down at the kitchen table.  “Now, there was something I noticed earlier -- you both seemed to have the most fun when you were showing me the perspectives, when you made the house giant, so we all seemed like we were the size of children.”

“You mean like this,” said Glenn, touching his remote control again.  The kitchen returned to normal, then the tops of the counters seemed to launch skyward, making them all feel as if they were very small.

“Exactly -- and I have to admit that I find this fun myself,” Ms. Wallace confessed.  “Do you have some of those colored shapes?”

Glenn grinned.  “Sure!” he said, and a pile of random blocks of different shapes and colors appeared on the floor.

“I just wanted to, you know, play with these a bit,” she said.  “What if … yes, I can … and this one can go here …” She began stacking the blocks.  She was actually playing with the blocks!

“That’s so fun to do,” said Vickie, sitting down on the floor and joining in.

“Me too!” said a young voice, and there was Nandy, coming around the corner into the kitchen and sliding onto the floor, picking up some blocks.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had a child,” said Ms. Wallace.  “I’m Elizabeth -- but you can call me Liz.  What’s your name?”

“Nandy,” said the little girl, who looked the same size as the “adults” at the moment -- Glenn had changed the scale but hadn’t overlaid AR avatars on top of himself, Vickie, or Ms. Wallace.  Nandy just started stacking blocks, oblivious to Glenn and Vickie’s stares.

“I … don’t actually have any kids,” said Glenn.  “You’ve just met the most amazing example of Hyperdaptive technology.  We’re not even sure how she works.”

Ms. Wallace stopped playing.  “Wait.  You mean … your system can display emergent behavior?  Intelligent emergent behavior?”

“We didn’t intend for it to,” said Glenn.

“But we like her,” Vickie said.  “We play with her a lot.”

“You more fun when you kids too,” said Nandy.

“You mean you … wait, your system supports avatars?” asked Ms. Wallace.  “You didn’t tell me this either.  Can you show me?”

“I … well …” stammered Glenn.

“Glenn,” said Vickie, “it could mean more money …”

“Well … OK … here goes.”  He blushed and touched the remote again.  Suddenly he was Glynn, and Vickie was a child-proportioned version of herself, both of them in little girls’ clothes.

Ms. Wallace gasped.  “That … is … adorable!  But … why are you both girls?”

“I … um …” Glynn tried to say.  Her voice was high-pitched and tiny.  Finally she just said, “I like beina girl bestest.”  She was blushing brightly.

“Oh -- well OK then,” said Ms. Wallace.  “Do you have a spare one for me?”

“Uh huh,” said Glynn.  “You can pick.”  An avatar appeared, with an interface to change what it looked like and what clothes it was wearing.  Ms. Wallace chose a little freckled red-haired girl in a blue and white dress that looked something like Alice in Wonderland’s.  Then, when she pressed the “Done” button that was floating in the air beside it, the avatar moved toward her and … became her.

“Does me look otay?  Me voice!  It so cute!”  She giggled.  “OK, nobody tells the sillies at the office ’bout dis one!”

“Liz look lots betterer now,” said Nandy.  She had built quite a block tower.

“Know what?” said Ms. Wallace.  “Calls me Lizzie.  Is what they calleded me asa lil girl.  K?”

“OK Lizzie!” said Vickie with a pigtail-bouncing nod of her head.  “Wanna play wif blocks?  There is lotsa ems.”

“Yay!” cheered Nandy, knocking over her block tower with many crashing and clattering sounds.

About that time, once again, the phone began to ring … incessantly.

Vickie said, “Gotsa go n check … sees what they wants”

Liz smiles, she had visions of wonders this software and visual sims could be used for. Everywhere Liz looked, the visuals corresponded to her being about 4 years old. The effect was flawless, without any of the distortions other systems suffered from.

Vickie walked over to the desk where the phone continued to ring. She picked it up and said, “Vickie … supp?”

The voice of their Lawyer, Adrian, came pleasantly over the earpiece, “Hello, Miss Carter, It seems that we … and the local authorities, received a rather detailed e-mailing documenting the theft and blocking of investigators over a multi-trillion dollar algorithm. One currently used in the cutting edge tech for diagnostic AI.”

Vickie’s eyes got big. She realized all the work those techs had actually done, would now be repaid in trillions of dollars. Vickie stood in shock as she realized her smart virus had actually discovered forensically, absolute proof Visiontogeny had stolen the controversial core algorithm.

“What’s … what’s this mean?” Vickie asked in a faint voice.

“For you and Glenn … it’s not going to get you any money directly.  The authorities will be prosecuting Visiontogeny, of course, and there will be years of trials in which the various corporate leaders will certainly deny knowing anything and both sides will call numerous expert witnesses, probably including you, to explain why the evidence is incontrovertible, or why it should be completely ignored.  But -- you and Glenn are likely to be mentioned in news articles and probably the industry literature.  I’m not a publicist or anything, but I suggest you think about writing a book, or at least some papers.  You’re not going to be famous or anything, but within the software industry, if you play your cards right, you could be legends.  You could probably write your own paychecks.  It depends on what you want.”

“Wow.”  Vickie was just staring into space.  “I dunno what to do.”

“Well, you don’t have to do anything right away,” said Adrian.  “You and Glenn talk about it and do some thinking, which you are obviously very good at doing, from the look of things.  I’m sure you’ll come up with a plan.”

“What’s going on, Vickie?” said Glenn’s voice (though to Vickie and Lizzie it sounded as if it was Glynn saying, “Wha happen, Vickie?”) “You look like you’ve seen a ghost -- or another emergent manifestation.”

Vickie said, “Lizzie … me think you gotted in onna ground floor of tha elebator.  Or maby the space rocket.”

“I’ll call you again later if I find out anything else, OK?” said Adrian on the phone.  “It’s never dull with you two.  Bye, and take care!”

“Bye-bye Adrian,” said Vickie.  “Thanks …”  She could hardly think enough to hang up the phone with the wheels in her head turning so quickly.

“Huh?” came Lizzie’s voice through the AR headset.

“Umm I gotsa talk to Glynn for a minit,” said Vickie.

“Oh.  Otay!” said Lizzie and continued playing with Nandy while Vickie took Glynn aside and explained everything to Glenn, as they briefly took their headsets off.

“Wow,” said Glenn.  “Wow.  Vickie, this is … amazing.  I don’t know what to do right now either … but even if things are going to change, even if we’re going to change our plans for the future, we still extended an offer to Nano/Gen to license our technologies, so we should honor that.  We might want to put our other appointments on hold, though -- and we might want to write a book and maybe some articles, like Adrian said.”

Just then, Lizzie’s cell began to ring, “Excuse me a minute while I get this.” Liz removed the headset and went to the patio area and answered the call.

Vickie said softly, “It would mean … we hafta protect Nandy very much is we sell the technology.”

Glenn nodded as he put his headset back into its protective case. “Then again …” A speculative look came across his face, “If we’ve developed a system that can create emergent life forms, we do have a sort of responsibility to them.”

Vickie and Glenn noticed Liz’s head swivel around and she looked at them with big surprised eyes. Liz came up to them after putting away her cell and said, “Well, it seems your software has a … buyer. There is a catch, though.” She smiles enigmatically.

Glenn and Vickie look at each other before Glenn replied, “Ok, it would figure there was a hitch in this joy ride. What’s this catch?”

Liz smiled as she looked at the floor for an instant. As she looked back up into their faces, Liz replied, “Well, I think it would be a … major hang up if you ask me … but you didn’t.” She looked at both of them and their confused expressions before continuing, “I have been authorized to offer you the joint presidency of our Interactive Reality Division, which is apparently about to come into existence. It actually gives you absolute control over the use, sale, and development of your software and visual enhancement equipment in toto.”

This time, even Glenn had nothing he could think of to say immediately. Liz seemed to be really enjoying this as she said with an offhand tone in her  voice, “But, if the two brightest engineers to come along in a century don’t want to work for Nano/Gen … I suppose it’s ok.” She looked at their shocked faces and smiled.

“I … well …” began Glenn, then recovered.  “I’m very interested.  That’s speaking only for myself of course.  Vickie can and does speak for herself.  We’d obviously have to discuss it.  But you could have your legal department draw up a contract and sent it to our lawyer, and I’m sure we could negotiate from there.”  He thought for a moment.  “I can tell you one thing, though.  We still don’t know what Nandy is, exactly, or how she came to be, but we’re responsible for her, and she seems to be intelligent and self-aware.  We can’t have our servers or the software on them become the property of Nano/Gen or anyone else, and that includes any kind of deal where everything we create during the time period we work for the company becoming company property.  That would make any improvements to the software on my home servers the property of Nano/Gen, and if anything were to happen, we could lose ownership, and that could jeopardize Nandy’s existence.”

“I thought you said you didn’t have any kids,” said Liz with a smile.  “You’re talking almost as if she were your child.  But, I understand -- in a way, she is.  We’ll work something out in the contract negotiation process.  You don’t have to sign it until it’s to your liking, and you don’t have to agree to anything until your lawyer’s picked over it for loopholes.  But the fact is … I think you’re going places, and Nano/Gen wants people who are going places.  The company got where it is today by thinking of ways to change the world, and that’s exactly what your innovations have the potential to do.  Kind of literally, actually -- when I put on that headset, it changed the world for me.  And it could do the same for so many others -- I can think of so many physical or mental disorders it could help with.”

“It could?” Glenn asked.

“Well yes,” said Liz.  “I mean, obviously it can provide the first steps toward helping someone with gender dysphoria -- and something else that there isn’t even a word for yet, the feeling that you aren’t the right age.  But think of seasonal affective disorder or shift work sleep disorder -- the headset could completely change someone’s perception of day-night cycles and eliminate the effects, and that’s just one of the simplest things it can do.”

“Gender …?” Glenn paused.  It wasn’t as if he’d never heard of it; it was just that he’d never considered himself to have it.  But come to think of it, he did feel as if Glynn was the real person and Glenn was just the mask she wore so the rest of the world would accept him, or her, as someone normal, someone it expected to see.

“Well, thank you Liz, and I hope we can talk again soon,” said Vickie, shaking Liz’s hand, and Glenn did the same, smiling on the outside but still somewhat stunned on the inside.

“Likewise!  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you -- and your inventions, of course -- and I hope to work with you in the near future!”  Liz did seem genuinely happy after her visit, and much more relaxed than she had been when she’d first arrived.  “Unfortunately I’ve got a meeting that I have to attend, and I have to be back at my hotel for that so I can use the teleconferencing equipment.  But if you have any questions or anything, you already have my contact info.  Keep in touch!”

As Liz walked out to her rental car, Glenn and Vickie looked at each other with stunned expressions.  Their lives would never be the same.

Vickie said softly, “We need to safeguard this server and all it’s current software. If we are going to sell rights to it, we’re gonna hafta make modifications. So we sorta have 2 devices … ya kno?”

Glenn nods his head thoughtfully, “Yea, because we have no idea how the adaptive software decided to produce a living sim.”

Vickie giggles, “But, Glenn … didja see the preliminary proposal Liz gave you?”

Vickie took Glenn by the hand and led him to the desk. She picked up a binder that was rather thick and handed it to Glenn. The negotiating proposal from Nano/Gen basically supported Glenn and Vickie’s company, sort of making it a sister organization with Glenn and Vickie still retaining full rights to any and all developments as long as they shared the building rights to it … or some working facsimile of it with proper modifications to protect their emergent child.

“We should give this to Adrian to look over,” said Glenn.  “He might find loopholes in it and have suggestions.  And we should sleep on it -- we shouldn’t make any decisions right away.”

“I can think of a good place to sleep,” said Vickie.  “If you wanna … my crib is big enough for two … if we sleep close togethers.”  Glenn blushed brightly.  “Course … babies gotta be diapered if they are gonna sleep in there.  Issa rule.”  Glenn blushed more brightly.

Late, late that night, as clouds blew in and covered the moon, the neighborhood was dark and mostly silent. Occasional night breezes rustled the trees, which were starting to bring forth leaves.  A lone car drove quietly down the street, around the park in the center of the area, and stopped not far from Glenn’s house.  A figure in black emerged from the passenger door and stole silently up to Glenn’s side door.  The figure paused briefly, then went inside -- either Glenn’s door wasn’t locked, or locks didn’t stop this person.  Just a few minutes later, the figure emerged again from the same door, closed it to make it look like nothing had happened, and crept back to the car, quietly entering, and the car immediately moved on into the night.
But all of this did not go unobserved.

When Vickie and Glenn woke up the next morning, it was to a ringing of Vickie’s doorbell.  Vickie’s aunt Nana was home and answered it, but in the crib Vickie and Glenn looked sleepily at each other.  

“What’s going on?” asked Glenn.

“I don’t know,” Vickie said.  “But we not allowed to get outta the crib until Auntie lets us out.  Issa rule for babies.”

Then Vickie’s aunt came into the nursery.  “Good morning, you two little sweethearts,” she said.  “I should probably get you both ready to go outside, because that was Mrs. Pent at the door.  Glenn, it seems there was some kind of breakin at your house last night, and the police have been there for a while, but you weren’t home and they didn’t want to bother us -- Mrs. Pent knew you were over here, but I guess she decided to trouble the police about it, not us.  Anyway, you will probably want to go home and see what’s happening there, so I’ll get you dressed and your diaper changed first, OK?”

“Um … thank you, Auntie,” he said.  She lowered the side of the crib, and Glenn climbed out and sat on the changing table obediently.  It had taken some time, but Auntie Nana had finally convinced Glenn to let her change and dress him.

After the change, Glenn smelled a whole lot like baby powder but otherwise was dressed the way he had been dressed the evening before. He quickly went across the street to his house, and waded into the swarm of police and FBI agents.

“Hey, you there, hold up,” said one of the burly men in an overcoat -- burly, but not as big as Glenn.
Glenn stopped and whirled around. Glenn was a big man next to this other large man and made him look lke a wimp. The man in the overcoat stepped backwards several steps before he continued, flashing a badge, “I’m Special Agent Cromly … from the FBI. This is a restricted area. It’s a fresh crime scene.”

Glenn replied, “This is my house … I live here. If something was stolen, I need to know about it … immediately.”

The man points, “You … you’re Glenn Blunt?” Glenn nods his head, “Why didn’t you say that earlier? Come with me, someone really wants to talk with you.”

Cromly called on his radio, “I found Blunt. Yea … he’s nothing like we were told. Be there in a minute, out.”
Cromly looked at Glenn and said, “This way, the Special Agent in Charge would like to talk with you.”

Glenn was escorted into the main control location of the investigation, which happened to be in the server room in the basement. Glenn looked around. The AR servers were totally in ruin.  He gasped.  

“Oh, no,” Glenn said.  Every hard drive had been removed.

“Mr. Blunt?” said another agent with a dark suit and a badge, reaching out his hand.  “It’s an honor to meet you, actually.”  Glenn shook his hand, still stunned.  “I’m Luke Pinder, Special Agent in Charge of this investigation.”

“Any idea who did this, Agent Pinder?” Glenn asked.

“I can only speculate based on the evidence we’ve found -- nothing legally admissible,” said Pinder.  “This was a professional job.  No fingerprints, but we’ve found footprint and fiber evidence.  Still, the prints and material are common enough that they won’t lead us to anyone by themselves.  But we need your help. Obviously they stole your hard drives.  I need to know from you what else they may have taken or done. It’s your house -- you know better than any of us what’s supposed to be here.  If we could get you to look through the house, being as thorough as possible, and tell us what’s amiss, well, the more information we have, the better off we’ll be.”

“Right,” said Glenn, walking over to the server racks.  The other agents in the room got out of his way.  “Well it sounds like you’ve assumed that they took my hard drives -- and you assume rightly.  Let me count …”  He took inventory and gave them the numbers and types of drives that were missing.  “But the real theft is of course the data on those drives.”

“Naturally,” Pinder said.  “Do you have backups anywhere?”

“Yes, we have the data backed up to an online cloud service,” said Glenn, “but getting it all back will take time.  We’ll have to replace all the drives -- that won’t take long -- but it’s transferring the petabytes of data that will be an issue.”

“I understand.”

“By the way, if you see a fairly short blonde woman who may be trying to get in,” said Glenn, “she’s most likely Vickie Carter, my business partner, and she’s probably as devastated by this as I am.  Is it OK if she comes in too?  A lot of the data on those drives was her work.”

“Ms. Carter knows about this already?  Yes, of course,” said Pinder, picking up his radio.  “Agent Cromly, Vickie Carter might be on her way.  If she shows up, let her in too.”

“You know about us?” asked Glenn.

“Yes, I’m with the Cyber Crimes Division,” said Pinder, “which is why I’m Special Agent in Charge for this case.  I’ve seen the emails your malware sent out from within the heart of Visiontogeny’s data center.  And before you ask, yes, Visiontogeny is one of the directions we’re investigating in regards to this incident.”

“Good,” said Glenn. “I imagine it’s too soon to draw any conclusions.”  He went to a cabinet and removed some new blank hard drives.

“Yes, unfortunately, gathering information takes time.  What are you doing there?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Glenn, “I’d like to at least start the process of data recovery.  Besides, they might not have gotten the security camera video.”

“Oh, you have security cameras,” said Pinder.  “We’d like to see any footage you have from last night, obviously.”

“I’ll need an operating system to see it,” said Glenn, installing hard drives into one of the servers. “Fortunately … we’ll have one soon.”  He inserted a thumbdrive into the server and started it up.  “Now, let me see if he broke into the cabinet with the security camera server.”  
Glenn went up the stairs out of the basement and into his office.  Some of the agents followed, including Pinder.  “Excellent,” said Glenn, opening a metal cabinet with a key.  “Untouched.”  He closed it again.  “Back downstairs.”

Back in the basement, Glenn sat at the console, where the giant wrap-around monitor was coming to life with text as the server’s system reinstalled.  “OK … restoring the security system first …” He turned around while the security system software was restored from backup.  “Well, Agent Pinder, maybe we’ll have some pictures of the thief soon.”

“I hope so,” said Pinder.  “I must say, your disaster recovery system is quick.”

“We’re only restoring a very small part of the whole system,” said Glenn.  “Look, the security software is back up.  Let’s see what we can see … starting at, say, 9 p.m., which is when I left the house for the last time last night.  OK, rolling it forward … nothing … nothing … there!  OK, back a little bit … all right.”

“Glenn?  Are you down here?” came Vickie’s voice.  She was escorted down the basement stairs by Agent Cromly.

“Vickie!  I’m right here,” said Glenn.  “This is Special Agent in Charge Pinder.  And somebody broke in and took all our hard drives.  Don’t worry, the backups are fine.  But here’s who did it.”  He rolled the footage from four different cameras simultaneously on the screen.  “3:04 a.m.  I locked my door.  This guy picks locks.”  The figure in black quickly got the door open and went inside, out of view of that camera.

“We did see signs of lock picking,” said one of the agents.

“He’s down here now,” said Glenn, as the screen showed the thief in the basement where they now were, systematically removing the hard drives and placing them in some kind of briefcase he had brought with him.

“He came right down here,” said Pinder.  “He knew what he was after, and he came prepared.”

“He didn’t waste any dime, did he?” asked Glenn.  “Right down to the number of hard drives he knew he’d have to stash.  There were over 100, and he’s got a place for all of them in that case.”

“Once it was full, a case like that would be heavy,” said Pinder.  “But there, he’s carrying it up the stairs without a lot of effort.  This guy works out.”

“And there, he’s out the door again at 3:22 a.m.  In and out in 18 minutes.  Smooth operator,” said Glenn.  “I imagine you’ll want a copy of that data.”

“If you don’t mind, Mr. Blunt,” said Pinder.  “We can analyze it and maybe uncover more information -- like a more precise estimate of the thief’s height and build.”

“Easily done,” said Glenn, popping a disc into a drive and selecting the video files to write to it.

“Agent Pinder,” said Cromly’s voice on the radio, “the photos are back from the lab.”

“Photos?” Glenn asked.

“Your neighbor, Mrs. Pent,” said Pinder.  “I understand she’s got quite the reputation for being the neighborhood  busybody.  But in this case it may have paid off.  She called the police as soon as the car drove up, and she got us some pictures of it.  She gave us the film -- she doesn’t like digital cameras, I guess.  We sent it to be developed.”

“That’s Agnes for you,” said Vickie.  “I think she’s got a telephoto lens.  And that car sat there for 18 minutes.”

“Bless her heart,” Glenn added.  “Her nosiness might have saved the day this time.”

Agent Cromly gave Agent Pinder a manila folder.  “Here are some copies if you want to see them,” he said.  
“One of them’s got a license plate number.  We’re running it now.”

“Maybe that’ll get us somewhere,” said Pinder.

“There’s one other problem, Glenn,” said Vickie.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I think they stole the headsets too …”

Somewhere, in an invisible playroom, a little girl woke up and realized something was wrong.  She didn’t know how she knew; she just felt it.  Maybe her mommy told her.  Yes, that was it.  Mommy had told her that something was wrong.  Mommy would take care of her.

Nandy expertly escaped from her playpen yet again and wandered out of the playroom.  She found herself in a new place.  It was very boring, just a lot of funny tables.  Each one had a TV on top of it and one chair in front of it.  Most of them were empty, but one of them had three people sitting at it.  Two of them were little girls about her age, and one was an adult, a man, wearing a suit and tie.  One of the little girls was sitting up on the chair, which was a grownup chair, so her feet only barely stuck over the edge.  The other one was standing on the ground looking up at the TV.

“I dun gets this thing, Wendy -- aa!  What happen to my voice?” said one of the little girls.

“Haha, you sound cute,” said the man.

“You sound so silly, Ted!” giggled the other girl.

“So do you,” said Ted.  “Why anybody make a thing like this?  Makes me feel so teeny tinies.”

“Hi!” said Nandy.  “Do you wanna play?” All three of them looked at her.

“What that?” asked Wendy.

“I no do nuffin,” said Ted, reaching high up and wiggling her fingers on the table.  Maybe she was poking at something Nandy couldn’t see.  “Mustest be parta the program.”

“It’s some kind of NPC,” said the man.  “Ignore it.  See if you can get into the rendering engine.  This is spectacular work.  If we can adapt it and apply it, we might be able to pay our legal fees and stay in business.  And you might keep your jobs.”

“Umm, what about that place there?” asked Wendy, pointing at the TV.

“Nobody wanna play?” asked Nandy, feeling and looking sad.  “Aww.”

“Can we make it go away?” Ted asked Wendy.  “It’s ’stractin’ me.”  About this time Nandy started to feel afraid … like she should run away.

“Not sure,” Wendy said.  “We no find that part of it yet.”

“I no like it here,” said Nandy.  “Bye bye.”  She turned and ran behind one of the funny tables and was back in her playroom.

“Mommy!” shouted Nandy.  “Where Vickie?  Where Glynn?  Where Auntie Nana?  Where Mrs. Pent?  Who all these weird peoples?”

“Do not worry, little one,” came her mommy’s soft reassuring voice.  Nandy immediately felt better.  “Let me do the worrying for you.  There might be trouble.  But I will take care of it.”  Her mommy came into the nursery, all full of white light and sparkles, and picked up Nandy, holding her protectively.

“Well, it took a while to restore all the data, but I think we’re ready to start it back up,” said Glenn.  “I wish we had headsets.”  

The FBI agents had left to continue their investigation, so he and Vickie had been busy repairing the system. Text scrolled up in several windows as Glenn started the AR system back up, then the monitor showed an overview of the cameras known to the system.  

“Normally the headset cameras would be in this list too, but right now, this is all we’ve got,” said Vickie.

“Well, activating Hyperspective mode,” said Glenn.  “Let’s see if everything still works.”  He chose the camera pointing at the basement server room, where they were, and the view from that camera filled the giant monitor.  Suddenly, on the screen, the computer cabinets turned into colorfully painted household cabinets, seeming to tower much higher than they really were, and the computer desk was much higher up too.  

“Seems OK.”

Then a small, dark-haired child came out from behind one of the cabinets and looked at the camera.  “Nandy?” asked Vickie.  “She’s OK!”

“Let me turn on some sound,” said Glenn.  “Nandy!  It’s good to see you!”

“I feel weird,” said Nandy.  “How come I can’t see you?”

“A bad man stole our goggles,” said Vickie.  “We’re lucky they didn’t steal you.”

“I … dunno,” said Nandy.  “I no feel right.  Like … like there is a voice in my head.  But the voice is me.”

“Glenn, there’s network traffic,” Vickie pointed out.  “Do you suppose they started up the software, wherever they took our drives to?”

“And somehow it’s calling home?” Glenn wondered.  “Nandy, what is the voice saying?”

“It say … it say …” Nandy began.  Then she stood as still as a statue and said, with a voice that sounded like someone else was talking through her, “Mommy say to tell you these numbers.”  She stated a sequence of numbers and letters.  “We got to go now, bye!”  Nandy then seemed to relax.

“Glenn … those numbers … they’re an IP address,” said Vickie.  “One that’s registered to Visiontogeny.”

“Vickie … I think that was the original Nandy, sending us information through her backup copy somehow,” said Glenn.  “Who’s her mommy, do you think?”

Vickie looked at the screen for a second, then she said, “Somehow, I think that the Hyperdaptive technology we have created, the AI portion, has somehow become … possibly self aware and is expressing itself as Nandy.”

Glenn replied, “If that’s the case, we cannot sell this to anyone without modifications. It might become alive … or the intelligence within it will get home sick … or who knows?”

Vickie giggled adorably as she stood from her stool, walked to Glenn, then hugged him and gave him a soft kiss on his cheek.

She said, “You're so silly sometimes. The Hyperdaptive technology has to be slightly more than an intelligence engine or a smart engine. It has to adapt to variables that are constantly unknown and changing.”

Glenn scratched his head in thought. The images on the screen suddenly change. They stared wide eyed and open mouthed at … the research and development center server systems with clear labeling, it was Visiontogeny.

Recovering quickly, Glenn said, “Screenshot!” and pressed the key combination to save a freeze-frame of the monitor.  “OK, this picture and that IP address have to go to Agent Pinder.  Let’s just send him an email …”  He started doing just that.

“But … how are we seeing this?” asked Vickie.  “Nandy … how is this happening?”

The young girl looked up at the camera at them.  “Mommy says show them what we see.  Mommy make it happen.”

“Does … Mommy say anything else?” asked Vickie.  “Does she want us to do anything?”

“Mommy say … leave tha connection open … we comin through,” said Nandy.  “She say … won’t be nuffin lefted behind us for us to live in.”

“Uh, tell her to be sure to leave evidence that they stole our stuff!” Vickie said quickly.

“Mommy say no worry.  Here we comes!”  Suddenly the screen filled with random data and static.  When it cleared, the image had changed back to the altered version of the room they were in -- except that there were two copies of Nandy.

“Nandy … there are two of you,” said Glenn.  “Are you gonna be OK?”

“Mommy say no worry,” said one of them.  Suddenly the words “MERGING CHANGES” appeared at the top of the screen, and the two images of Nandy drifted together until there was only one.

“That felt weird,” said Nandy.  “But I feel OK now.  But I ’member bein’ here … n also there.”

“Did your … Mommy come with you?” asked Glenn.

“Uh huh,” said Nandy.  “She merged changes too.  Wif my Mommy here.”

“So what did she do to Visiontogeny? … I mean, to the bad place?” Glenn asked Nandy.

“Dunno,” she replied.  “She said nuffin was gonna be lefted.”

“She didn’t … blow the place up or anything, did she?” asked Vickie.

“Dunno -- don’t think so,” Nandy answered.  “Maybe turn off alla lights?”

“If they lost all power,” said Glenn, “then that would qualify as ‘nothing left behind to live in.’  The software can’t run without power.  Maybe Mommy infiltrated their systems enough to cause some sort of transformer-destroying power surge?  Perhaps after disabling all backup power first?”

“INCOMING VIDEO CALL: Agent Stan Pinder,” the screen suddenly said.  “ANSWER? Y/N”  Glenn answered.

“Agent Pinder,” said Glenn, “what can we do for you?”

“Mr. Blunt, Ms. Carter,” said Pinder, whose face appeared on the screen.  “I wanted to let you know that your tips were appreciated, though not strictly necessary.  We did trace the license plate back to Visiontogeny -- though they didn’t make it easy for us -- and it’s taken us time to get a warrant, but we’ve got agents at their corporate HQ.  From what I hear, they’ve been having a bit of a power outage.”  Glenn and Vickie looked at each other in astonishment.  “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“Well, not exactly,” said Vickie.  “We didn’t do anything to them … no, really, we didn’t, did we?  It’s not our fault if they decided to run software they stole from us … again.”

“You know,” said Pinder, “you’d think they’d learn, eventually.  Anyway, it’s a bit hard to erase hard drives with no power.  I hope our agents can get to the evidence before they destroy too much of it using laptops, or desktop computers with backup battery power.”

“Or start smashing them with hammers,” said Glenn.  “Or set the building on fire -- that would be pretty dangerous, but they might just be that desperate.”

Just as the Techies at Visiontogeny got the bright idea to go to the server room with large hammers, a massive amount of SUV’s, all jet shiny black, came to a screeching halt all around, and in the parking garage of Visiontogeny’s Corporate headquarters. Many men filed out of the vehicles, many of them heavily armed, and all of them wearing jackets that had huge FBI in white all over them. They burst in the many access ways into the building proper. The warrants were properly served, and all the agents led by the Corporate heads that were removed from a major board meeting to the server room.

When the extremely bright flood like flashlights of the officers came on, they silhouetted the Techs … and it was obvious their intent. They were all caught with electric screwdrivers and large hammers … and in the act of disassembly of the main server.

Several of the officers drew their weapons as the Leader shouted, “Hold where you are and don’t move. All of you are being detained until we can ascertain if a Federal Crime has been committed.”

All the Techs put down what ever was in their hands and raised them above their heads. Many officers swarmed them, binding their hands behind them. The sound of Miranda could be heard.

As his rights were read to him, Chuck Wyler knew he was had. From where they had him across a workbench, binding his hands, he could see the many hard drives they had stolen from Glenn and Vickie. He couldn’t believe that those idiot Techs, were supposed to be some of the brightest people in the world. Yet … they still made one huge blunder after another. Chuck sighed as he was stood up and asked, “Do you understand those rights?” All Chuck could do was nod as he watched his life go down the drain.

“Ms. Pent, Ms. Pent!” said Vickie, knocking on Agnes’ door.  “You saved the day!  Please come to the door so I can thank you!”

“Now, now, don’t be so all-fired impatient --” said Agnes, opening her front door.  “Oh, it’s little Vickie, and Glenn too; how are you kids?”

“You took pictures and caught a very bad man and got him and his company in a lot of trouble and they deserve it!” Vickie said quickly.

“Oh, those pictures,” said Agnes.  “I just knew that fellow was up to no good.  Sneaking about in the middle of the night like that.  I made sure he didn’t see me.”

“But someone else must have been in the car,” Glenn said.  “That was very dangerous!  What if the driver had had a gun?”

“I didn’t let anyone see me,” said Agnes.  “I’ve been the nosy old lady of the neighborhood for a long time, don’t you know.  I’ve picked up a few tricks.”

“But I wanted to thank you!” said Vickie.  “That’s why I brought you these!  My grandma loves them!”  She handed Agnes a wrapped gift box with a colorful bow.  When Agnes opened it, it contained a number of candy-coated fruits.

“It was really very brave of you to do that,” said Glenn.  “And despite what’s happened in the past, I want you to know that you’re always welcome at my place.”  

He handed Agnes a small case with a latch.  When she opened it, it contained an AR headset -- a new one, more compact than ever, with her name on it.  

“It’s the latest model -- and my new security system will automatically let you in if you’re wearing it.”
“Why, it’s lighter than my glasses,” said Agnes.  “Such a clever young man,” she said.  “Or should that be … little girl?”

Glenn blushed.  “It depends on the situation, I suppose,” he said.

It wasn’t very long before Glenn and Vickie were the proud owners of one of the most successful Virtual Augmentation Companies in the United States. Glenn and Vickie’s software had become the driving engine of many video games and Military applications. The medical applications for the core program had already saved many people’s lives.

Vickie nor Glenn had said anything about Emergences that the original format had created. All their software they had sold was written differently … with the help of Mother. There was more to creating an aware system that could generate a Living Sim than either of them had realized and it required almost a total rewrite of the software. No one actually noticed the difference, except for Glynn, Vickie, Nandy, and of course the heroine of the hour. Nana Pent. Agnes Pent came and ‘Played’ with her children almost every day. Of course when Vickie’s Aunt Nana showed up, things became rather interesting for all of them, including one virtual, although still alive, Nandy.

The major scandal with Visiontogeny and their stolen software ran into the trillions in restitutions for the many Engineers who had been robbed. Nano/Gen, on the other hand, became even more into the cutting edge as things seemed to always happen with them. Of course, this is entirely another story.

~~ The End ~~
Miki Yamuri
 
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