Jen Air: Asterion – Children

In todays extract from Asterion, upcoming sequel to The Little Queen, Jennifer is left at home with Tenley and discuss a variety of topics, some of which may be important, some not.

Usual disclaimer: Early draft so doesn’t necessarily resemble what the final product will be after corrections and changes. Enjoy:

At the lighthouse Kaya’s absence wasn’t yet missed.  Jen had feared it would be, as she did every time her friend left, and may yet later.  But for now Tenley was providing enough of a distraction from her loneliness.  Even as she worked, the girl continued exploring her surroundings, gleefully poking her head under and inside boxes and desks and drawers.

After rummaging for a while, the girl asked, “are these your parents?”

They were.  Tenley had found a small photo album in a drawer which she carried over to where Jen was, by her semi-circular workbench inside the lighthouse.  Still, Jen thought it a strange question since Ten had surely seen them before as there were photos displayed in various rooms in the cottage.  She reasoned the girl was attempting to make conversation, which she knew could be painfully difficult so answered, “yes.”  The photograph in question showed Jennifer, just a little younger than Tenley was now, wearing her old sports kit from school.  Young Jennifer was sat in a restaurant, mum and dad either side and a huge scoop of ice cream in front of her.  “I was in a race at school.”

“Did you win?” Tenley asked.

“I… didn’t come last.  But I thought I had a chance of at least getting bronze but didn’t come close.  I was devastated because I’d tried so hard. So then mom took us out and we all had ice cream and she told me how well I’d done.”

The girl strangely arched a brow.  “But you didn’t win anything, so why?”

“I don’t know,” the blonde shrugged.  “It’s what mother’s do, I suppose.”  Tenley’s eyes narrowed, the corners wrinkling as she scrutinised the picture further, still not understanding it.  It was only after a few seconds of this that Jennifer realised that she may have misjudged, gasping, “Oh!  I-I’m sorry.  I mean…”

“It’s fine,” the girl dismissed with a twitch of one nostril.  “I don’t like photographs anyway,” she proclaimed. “The people in them don’t shine.”

Now Jennifer arched a brow.  “Shine?”

“Like you do now,” Tenley said, pursing and putting a finger to her lips as she tried to find the words to further explain.  “It… wasn’t like that before, but now when I see people they’re always bright.  At least… usually they are.”

Of course, Jennifer knew that the changes to Tenley’s body since being exposed to Titania were extensive; more so than other changelings she’d since examined who were mostly restored by her father’s retro-virus.  Not so Ten, and Jen couldn’t even understand what all the changes made to this child did – another reason she had to keep a close eye on her.  But greatly improved vision was common to all the changelings who it seemed could see across a broader spectrum than normal human vision.  Tenley could see heat mixed in with her other sight.  Her brain must simply interpret that as humans and other warm creatures having a glow about them, like a kind of aura.  To her, people in pictures must all look dead. But Jennifer preferred to hold on to at least a tiny bit of hope.

“It’s done,” she said, reaching out and removing wires from one of her robot helpers that sat motionless with it’s one eye pointed down, like a puppet without a puppeteer.  That quickly changed as with the flick of a switch it suddenly jerked upright.  There were clicks and whirs as it systematically tested every appendage on itself.  “Just got to wait for him to finish booting.”

“What, exactly, have you done to it?” Tenley asked.

“I’ve just uploaded a new version of his AI software.”

“So he’ll be smarter now?”

“Maybe,” Jen bent down, closing one eye as she peered with the other into mechanical aperture of her creation as it opened.  “But it still has to learn about the world,” she explained, picking up a Rubik’s cube.  The machine’s camera turned to focus on the object as she held it aloft, it’s head tilting around it.  The blonde twisted it a few times, then told the robot, “you have to make the colours on each side of the cube match.”  Slowly, it reached out with one silvery, unpainted arm, taking the cube and repeating her motion with it.  Then twisted some more.

“Why can’t you just program them to do all that stuff?”

“It would defeat the point,” Jen straightened up, sighing as thought about how to explain.  “Imagine you came across a Snakes and Ladders game for the first time, but it’s missing the rules of how to play.  Even so, you’ll look at the squares with numbers on them and realise from your experience of other games that pieces are probably supposed to move along them in some way, and the snakes and the ladders must play a part in how that movement works.  Or maybe you won’t and decide to something far more creative with all the pieces, like see how many you can stick up someone’s nose.  The point is that usually when a computer is missing the rules, it doesn’t do anything.  It’s got no curiosity or desire to learn.  It only does whatever it’s programmed to do.”

“They’re kind of dumb,” Tenley agreed.


“But you’re trying to make them smarter so they’ll figure out and do stuff themselves.  Aren’t you afraid they’ll become evil and try to take over the world?”

Jennifer had not given the matter much serious thought, but she knew that certain other people had similar concerns, about Tenley.  And as she looked at Ten staring and tilting her head at the robot, who in turn did the same toward the cube in its mechanical hands, there was no doubt in her mind that the young girl must still be harbouring some darkness and anger in her heart, even though she seemed to have it under control for now.  But perhaps this was an opportunity for them all to learn.  She leant over a little, explaining, “think of them like children. Younger children.  And whether they grow up good or bad, well, that depends on what example we give them.”

Tenley appeared to very seriously consider this for a moment, before she shrugged, “if you saw so.”

“Besides,” Jen smiled as she gently rubbed Ten’s head, “you’ll protect me if it tries to kill me, won’t you?”

“Sure,” the girl affirmed.  The robot in question, which was only about half her size, was now shaking the cube vigorously.  “I reckon I can take that thing.”


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