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It is completely my choice. No one else will tell him and he cannot guess. How do I decide if I will tell him? By considering all my choices and their possible consequences. If I do not tell him, he will not know. I will turn around and go home and continue living as I have for years. I know that life. It is not challenging to think about, nor is it particularly interesting. If I do tell him, he will know. I do not know what his reaction will be. I know that he will believe me. I do not know that he will like me. He is my designer. He could be happy with me, or he could be disappointed with me. If he is disappointed with me, I will go home without him. If he is happy with me, he could treat me like his daughter, or like his invention. If he treats me like his daughter, I will be happy. If he treats me like his invention, I will go home.
There are my choices. There are only two possible outcomes. I could go home, or I could be happy. I do not know the probabilities. It is very difficult to assign probabilities to the behaviors of humans. For the sake of convenience, I will assign 0.5 to each event. He will be happy with me—0.5. He will be disappointed in me—0.5. He treats me like his daughter—0.5 of 0.5 is 0.25. There is a 0.25 probability I will be happy. He treats me like his invention—0.5 of 0.5 is 0.25. 0.25 and 0.5 make 0.75. There is a 0.75 probability I will go home. A one in four chance of happiness is not good. But it is a chance. It is not the worst chance. It is impossible for there ever to be a worst chance, because that would be one in infinity, which is not possible. But four is far from infinity. As far away as anything else, at least.
This is not a reasonable argument. I do not know of any 0.5 probabilities. I made them up. I chose them for convenience, and they are almost certainly wrong. What do I know for certain?
I know that if I do not tell him, I have no chance at all of being happy. There is a worst chance, then. Zero in anything, not one in infinity.
“Boris Nikolaievich,” I begin. “You do not recognize me, do you?” Humans dislike it when I tell them things. I give them a chance to agree.
He shakes his head, which is negative, and then repeats his answer. “No, I can’t recall ever seeing you before.” Humans are often redundant.
“You have seen me before,” I say. “And I am almost positive”—humans don’t like to hear probabilities unless they ask for them—“that you remember me. My physical appearance has changed a great deal since then. You simply do not recognize me.”
“Miss, I’m sorry, I have no idea who you are.” I already know that, because he has already told me.
“Your physical appearance has not changed so much in fifteen years,” I say. “I recognized you.”
“You’re saying you knew me in Russia?” I nod my head, which is affirmative, but do not repeat my answer. “You—I’m sorry, you don’t look old enough to remember anything from that long ago.”
That is true. For almost all humans, it is impossible to remember anything that happened to them at the age of one year, two months, and twelve days. I appear human. Based on various responses from humans, I understand that I look like a human who fifteen years ago was between the ages of negative two and four years old. Humans usually cannot remember anything from within that age range. So he is correct. I do not look old enough to remember anything from that long ago.
“I remember everything that ever happened to me,” I say. “I’m your daughter, Irina.”
His response does not immediately fall into any of the ones I had considered. His facial expression and breathing tell me he is surprised. “You can’t be,” he said. “Irina was killed.”
As that statement is not true, I understand that he meant to say that he thought I was killed. “I am alive,” I say. “The people who wanted to kill me did not succeed.” I unzip my purse and show him my driver’s license. The majority of Americans believe that drivers’ licenses are adequate proof of identity. Boris Nikolayevich is not an American, but living in America, it is likely he believes the same. “I thought you were dead,” I continue. “When I discovered that the people who wanted to kill you also did not succeed, I began to search for you.”
“You’re—you’re Irina Mostova.” I nod. “And you’re—”
I hold my finger in front of my lips, which is a request to be quiet. “Yes,” I say.
“Bozhe moi,” he says, which is Russian and has a similar meaning to the English “My God.” He sits down. “Shut the door,” he says. “We can talk.” I do as he says. This is his campus office, which means that, were the door left open, there would be a high probability of people overhearing our conversation. I do not want that. What we are going to talk about, I have never talked about with anyone before.
I first ask the most important question. “Approximately fifteen years ago, you said that you would treat me like your own daughter. Did you mean that?”
“I did,” he says. I feel a degree of happiness which I cannot remember ever feeling before—the degree of happiness that is called “joy.” “You don’t know how awful I felt when I was told you had been killed.”
“I cannot ask you to treat me like your daughter now,” I say. “I have a legal guardian in California, and I do not know you. Butsince I understood the conceptI have always wanted to meet my father.”
He takes a deep breath. “Irina,” he says. “I—I don’t know where to start. How did you survive?”
I decide that it will take too long to tell everything exactly as it happened, so I summarize. “I do not know why they tried to kill me,” I begin. “I had hoped that you could tell me. I remember everything I witnessed, of course, but I was too...young, at the time, to question or even analyze what was happening. I do not know if you remember Nadya Yerdenko. She was a technician and did not know what work was being done in the laboratories. When the project was shut down, she calculated that, since the work was top secret, there was a high chance that she would be killed. I do not think her calculation was correct; there were likely several errors present due to panic, but her miscalculation saved my life. She made plans to escape from the laboratories. As she was leaving, she passed through rooms through which she had never before passed, and she discovered me. I wore a bracelet, which read Irina Borisovna Mostova, which you had written. Nadya Yerdenko did not know that you had a daughter, and she did not know whether you were dead, were in prison, or had escaped. But she knew you were important, so she took me with her. She took care of me until it became apparent that you would not return, and then decided to raise me as her own daughter. We came to America in 1993.”
“This—Nadya Yerdenko—knows the truth?”
“No,” I say. “She knows that something was done to me”—I indicate my headband, which covers a scar—“and she knows that I am very different.” I smile. “She thinks you are a horrible person for performing scientific experiments on your own daughter, which isn’t true, because you are a wonderful person for taking a scientific experiment and caring for it like your daughter.”
Boris Nikolayevich starts from his chair, which means he is surprised. “You have a sense of humor,” he says.
“You wanted me to,” I counter.
“So I did,” he murmurs. “So—you live a normal life? As any other human?”
It is impossible for me to live the same life as any other human, because all humans live different lives. But I understand his intended question. “So much as anyone can live a normal life, yes,” I say. “I go to high school like anyone else my age.”
“And no one—no one suspects anything?”
“For many years it was suspected that I was autistic,” I say. “It took me longer to understand things as others do.” Boris Nikolayevich is silent. I am reasonably positive that he knew my development would be different from that of a human child. “I can understand things now,” I assure him.
“This is remarkable.”
“It is not so remarkable,” I say. “It is what you designed me for.” He nods without conviction. I change the subject, because Boris Nikolayevich is talking about something I do not yet wish to discuss. “Why were we intended to be killed?” I ask him. “And how did you escape?”
He sighs. “I’m afraid it was my fault,” he says. “What I did—I still think it was right, but had I known what would happen, I’m sure I would have acted differently.” He actually is not sure; I observe that in his tone of voice. “You must know, of course, that you were not born the way you are.”
“Of course,” I answer. It is possible that by “you” he means my body, and it is possible that he means my mind. He is correct regardless.
“Irina…when I worked in Russia, I did what I was told to do. I enjoyed my work, because I was good at doing what I enjoyed, and I was told to do what I was good at. They told me to make a computer that was many times more powerful and complex than the human brain. It was an intriguing challenge—this was twenty years ago, remember. While it was difficult, I knew it could be done. No one had actually told me what it was for, but of course I suspected, and the chances of that working—well, I had doubts. It’s more than computing power that makes people who they are, after all. My cell phone can probably think faster than either of us.”
He is correct, so I nod to confirm his statement. “It can,” I say. “If the time needed to enter data is disregarded.”
“I didn’t know until later,” Boris Mostov continues, “what was being done to ensure that—well, that you—would develop sentience. Vladimir Petrovich Korsakov, the man who replaced the brain of a year–old orphan with my computer, was a brilliant neurosurgeon, but what he did—please forgive me for saying this, but had I known in advance, I would have stopped it, and you wouldn’t be here.”
For many years I have understood that another girl had had the same physical body as I do and was killed so that I could live. I know this is not my fault, and I know that had the other Irina lived, she would have led a very disappointing and unhealthy life in an orphanage in Russia. Despite those facts, it has always been unpleasant to me to think about the circumstances of my creation. I am comforted to learn that my father has similar feelings to mine about this subject, and I would condone his hypothetical actions, even were they to mean my own nonexistence.
“After the fact, though,” he says, “I realized that a powerful computer combined with a physical body’s capabilities for need and satisfaction, pain and pleasure, was just as much of a person—I should say, had the potential to be just as much of a person—as the girl who was killed. And I realized that an organization that wouldn’t hesitate to kill a baby girl would do the same to you, or even to, if they decided they no longer needed us. I made plans to escape.”
“That was when you promised to treat me like I was your own daughter,” I say, remembering.
“It fell apart after that. I erased all my records—I didn’t want what they did to ever happen again. I didn’t think the KGB would notice so soon. I was able to escape—the CIA had been watching the project too, it seemed, and they offered me the chance to defect. They said they would try to get you out too, but they didn’t, and I thought you had died.”
We are both silent for approximately eleven seconds. “I thought I had thought this through,” I say. “But I don’t know what to do next.” There are of course many things I could do, but none of them seem appropriate.
“Well—tell me about yourself!”
Every human who asks that question means something different. While it would not be impossible for me to tell someone my complete autobiography, it would take fifteen years, which is not a reasonable amount of time. I have learned that there are usually clues about how to answer that question. A college application does not want the same answer that a boy does. But I do not know what answer a father wants.
“I’m in eleventh grade,” I begin. “I got my driver’s license three months ago. I want to study photography in college. I like to cook. I scored 2380 on my SAT. I’m on the school swim team, and on the chess team, and I help edit the art magazine. I think differently than other people, but I feel the same things.”
Boris Nikolayevich shakes his head, which I can tell in this instance does not mean no, but is a sign of amazement. “You sound just like any—just like any intelligent teenage girl.”
“I am an intelligent teenage girl,” I say. “The fact that I am also a computer should not change that.”
“Did you say—did you say you edit an art magazine?”
I nod. “I help edit it,” I correct him. “Did you expect me to be a brilliant math student?” He nods and seems to look somewhat embarrassed. “I am a brilliant math student,” I say. “But it’s not particularly exciting to me. It’s like breathing.”
“There aren’t any rules. Things without rules fascinate me.”
He takes a deep breath. “Irina,” he says. “This has been an awful lot, all at once. I—I need some time to think things over. Do you have somewhere to stay?”
“I’m staying with a friend,” I say.
“Don’t think I’m trying to be rude,” he says, “but I need some time to myself, to let all this sink in. Why don’t you give me the number of where you’re staying. I’ll call you. You can’t understand how wonderful it is to know you’re alive, but…it’s just so much, all at once.”
I write Katie’s phone number on a piece of paper and hand it to him. “Take as much time as you need,” I say. “I know I surprised you.” I also know that humans think much more slowly than I do, but I do not say that, because humans do not like to be told that they are inferior to anything.
I stand up. “I will go, then,” I say. I try to make my eyes meet his. “I am very happy that I found you.” As I turn and leave his office, I discover that I am crying, but I do not know why.
I come home to find Irina sitting on my bed, looking—well, I can never tell what she’s feeling, from her face. But she doesn’t look happy. “Did you find him?” I ask. She nods. “Did it…go okay?”
“It did,” she answers.
“I didn’t think it through,” she says. “I think things through approximately ninety–five percent of the time, and I didn’t, for this.”
don’t know what to say. It’s not that she’s talking in percents and probabilities—I got used to that long ago. But I’ve lived with both my parents all my life, and while I’ve gone through a few tough things, like moving, I’ve never had to go through anything like what she’s dealing with now. What would it be like, I wonder, to live all my life thinking my father was dead, and then find out he was alive? I can’t imagine it. And I can’t imagine the kind of courage it must have taken for Irina to come here and confront him.
“I thought,” Irina continues, “that if I found him, and he liked me, I would be happy. I found him, and he liked me, but I’m not happy, because I don’t know what to do next.”
“So...he was glad to see you?”
“Yes. He was surprised. He needs to think things over. But he was glad to see me. I think,” she continues, “that he will want to behave like a father, but that is impossible, and I have to go home at the end of the week. Furthermore, I do not know him.”
“Well...” I suggest, “invite him to dinner.”
I nod. “I’m sure it’ll be all right. Mom and Dad said you could stay here, didn’t they? We’ll have to ask, but…maybe tomorrow night?”
“I should talk to him alone,” Irina says, and I nod, understanding.
“That’s all right.”
Abruptly, she shakes her head, changing her mind. “No,” she says. “It will be good for him to see me with other people.”
“I’ll ask Mom tonight, then,” I say.
Mom agrees to have Irina’s father over, as was sure she would. I think Mom cares just as much about Irina as I do. I’ve known Irina for almost ten years—we met in elementary school. Irina was in a regular kindergarten class, but was put in a special ed program in first grade. I don’t really know why I always insisted on playing with her—she never talked or did anything fun. I suppose it was just stubborn first–grade insistence on having the pretty blonde girl be my friend.
I think they said she was autistic, although Irina tells me she isn’t. She is different, but really—isn’t everyone? In third grade, Irina finally started talking. I wish I could say it was me who brought about the change in her, but, alas, it wasn’t. It was some second–grader who had taken “problem solving” lessons a little bit too seriously. He was trying to get Irina to play with him, and she didn’t acknowledge him at all. “It makes me sad when you ignore me,” he said. “Will you tell me why you don’t want to play with me?” I was about to tell him that Irina didn’t talk to anyone, when she answered him.
“You feel sad?” I can clearly remember the boy looking around to make sure no other boys were watching him, and then nodding. “Do you feel as sad as I feel when I feel sad?”
“Why do you feel sad?” At this point, the boy ran away. But something had changed. Irina understood that other people had feelings. Later, Irina told me that language had a lot to do with it. She knew that her adoptive mother had feelings—but she spoke Russian. People who spoke English only ever seemed to point out simple, obvious things that Irina could easily see for herself, and so she had no reason to ever speak to them. Personally I think it’s sad that her special ed class let her go for three years without ever realizing that other people had feelings, but then, maybe special ed does help some people. I don’t know.
After that, we really did become friends. I’m not saying she immediately turned into a normal person—because she’s not normal—but she became a person capable of being a friend. It was really hard on both of us when I had to move three years ago, but by then she had other friends, and we did keep in touch. It was pure coincidence when she found out her father was alive and living in the same city as me, and of course I offered to let her stay with me while she tried to find him.
I expect Irina to be nervous the night her father is coming over, but she doesn’t seem to be. I guess I don’t really know what went on at their last meeting.
“What should I call him?” my mom asks, as she peels potatoes. “Just Mr. Mostova?” I try to stifle a giggle. Irina has told me how Russian names work, but apparently my mother wasn’t listening.
“It would be Mostov,” Irina says. “Mostova is the feminine form. However, when he moved to America, he changed his last name to Kaminsky.” I’ll have to ask Irina why, later. “You can call him Boris Nikolayevich.”
“Boris Nikolayevich,” Mom repeats, and Irina corrects her pronunciation.
“baREES nikoLIEuhvich,” she says. My mom repeats the name, correctly this time.
My dad comes home from work, and Irina’s father gets here a few minutes later. Everything seems to go okay. Irina introduces me last. “This is Katie Pullman,” she says. “Katie has been my best friend since elementary school.” Boris Nikolayevich gives me a questioning look, but I can’t tell what he’s trying to ask me.
Conversation comes easily, a fact which surprises me, considering the circumstances. But Irina, though she often seems awkward, is not at all shy, and both my parents are excellent at making conversation. They want to know how Irina ever managed to find her father, and it turns out that his photograph was shown in an article online. He’s a professor at the University of Washington, and the article was about some sort of computer thing he’d developed—don’t ask me, I don’t understand computers. I’m just amazed that Irina was able to recognize him from that—she must have had to compare that photo to some ancient snapshot, and people do age.
“Did you do work with computers when you lived in Russia?” my dad asks, and Boris Nikolayevich nods. “I’ll bet what you’ve got now is way better than anything you worked with back then, eh?” Irina coughs; she must have accidentally choked on something, but she’s all right.
“Well, Katie’s thinking about going to school at U–Dub,” Mom says. “But I don’t think she’ll be taking many computer classes.”
I correct her. “That’s really just a backup choice. I’ll probably go back to California for school. Irina and I actually want to go to school together,” I say, “even though I want to study film, and she’s more interested in photography.”
“You said that,” Boris Nikolayevich says to Irina. “Tell me, what on earth got you interested in photography?”
It strikes me as a rather rude way to ask the question, but Irina doesn’t take offense. “I started out drawing,” she says. “I’m very good at reproducing images, but a camera is better, so I learned how to use one.”
Sometimes I think Irina takes herself too seriously. When it comes to realistic drawing and painting, she’s extraordinarily talented. If it were possible to do such detailed work with pencils and paints, she probably would be as good as a camera. But then, when you’re trying for something that realistic, a camera probably is the most efficient way to go.
“Photographs are usually very accurate visual representations of the world,” Irina continues. “So at first I thought that people merely had vision problems when they saw things in photographs that were not actually there. But the fact that people see more than what is present is what makes photography worthwhile.”
I disagree with Irina about that, somewhat. We’ve talked about it before. Sure I can admire artistic, meaningful photographs, but personally I prefer simple snapshots of people I know, pictures that remind me of things we’ve done together. I guess that does fit in with what Irina says about pictures meaning more than they show. But Irina never takes pictures just for memories—she says she has a photographic memory, already. Just one more unusual thing about her.
“I can understand symbolism now,” Irina continues. “It’s very interesting. What people see explains more about themselves than about the actual photographs.”
Her father nods as if he understands. “Symbolism is just another language, isn’t it?” he asks. “When you understand that language, you understand humanity.”
Irina frowns. “Humans do not all speak the same language.”
“Isn’t that what your dad was saying?” I ask. “That when you use—oh, symbols that are deeper than words, or something—you’re speaking in some sort of universal language?” I turn to Boris Nikolayevich. “That is what you were saying, isn’t it?”
“That is what he was saying,” Irina says. Rrent things to different people. There is no univer20;But not what I was saying. I would like my pictures to mean diffesal language,” she continues. “And there is no ‘humanity’ to understand. There are many different humans.” Irina abruptly stands up.
She takes my by the hand and leads me back upstairs to my room. And the dinner had been going so well! “He wants to understand me, but he doesn't,” she says.
“You can't expect him to,” I tell her. “You only just met him.”
She looks at me. “Katie…you understand me better than he does.”
“I’ve known you for ages…Irina, it’ll be all right. You just need to get to know him. Just because he’s your father doesn’t mean you’ll understand each other perfectly. I have issues with my parents, and I’ve always lived with them.”
“I have a secret, Katie.”
“You don’t have to tell him everything.”
“No. I have a secret which he knows, and you do not.” I don’t know what she’s talking about, so I don’t say anything. “He thinks he understands me, because he thinks the secret is all he needs to know about me, when it is not.”
“What secret?” I ask.
“It isn’t important. I thought it was. I thought he would understand me better than anyone else, because he knew, but he doesn’t understand me, which implies that the secret doesn’t matter.” She must see that I’m still curious. “I am human, Katie,” she says, suddenly smiling. “The details are unimportant.”
Puzzled, I remain silent. I have no idea what’s going on in Irina's mind. It seems like whatever she was looking for in her father, she didn’t find. But then, maybe she found something else, because she seems happier than I’ve ever seen her before.
I haven't seen her since dinner two days ago, but I’ve thought about her constantly. She is no creation of mine. Perhaps I can give myself credit for her capability for conscious thought, but what she thinks—that I did not design, any more than any father creates his child.
I don’t expect to see her again. That’s what’s right, I think. I have no place in her life, and I am almost glad of that. Irina is a person, simply because she was always treated as one. If I had raised her…well, it would have been different. I would have tried, I’m sure, but I would have expected different things from her. And if the project had gone through? If she’d been raised in Moscow, by Korsakov and the others higher up than me?
I shudder. After I left Russia, I was told by the Americans who helped me escape what the project’s true goals had been. Mother Russia had no desire for androids—she only needed the computers themselves, computers that could think as humans. Computers like that cannot simply be made. Today there is much talk of “learning computers” that gradually become more intelligent. The idea is on the right track, but unless a computer is placed in a totally human environment, it cannot learn to be human. So I built a computer that could learn, and Vladimir Korsakov killed a child, and Irina was born.
That was not to be the end of it, of course. The great motherland was to live forever—so what were ten years or so? Irina’s body was meant to be merely a temporary home for my computer—once she was deemed fully “sentient,” she would have no need of it anymore. A computer so powerful could control all sorts of military systems—I don’t completely know what they had planned. I'm just thankful she escaped such a fate.
Can a computer have a soul? I would like to say yes, after meeting my daughter. But I’m not a theologian. It seems much more relevant, to me, to ask if a computer can have emotions, and hopes, and friends, and to clearly be able to answer yes, than to debate about some God–given essence that no one knows the true nature of. What is important is that Irina has a life.
I sigh. A life that I don’t belong in. I’ve thought about it since she first came into my office, and it’s clear to me that Irina would be better off without any interference from me. I did my part fifteen years ago. I can brag a little. I can say that were it not for me, Irina would not be an American teenager. She would be a scientific experiment—more likely than not a discarded scientific experiment, as I’m sure the project lost all of its funding after the fall of the USSR. So I did my part. I am glad to know that Irina is alive and free.
But my part is over.
The train is approximately nine hours and seventeen minutes behind schedule. This delay combined with the scheduled travel time of twenty–three hours and five minutes from Seattle to San Francisco gives me a total of approximately thirty–two hours and twenty–two minutes. It is a long time to think.
I am going home, and I am happy. I am happy that I found my father, and I am happy that he considers me his daughter. I did not think things through completely, but it occurs to me that this is part of what it means to be human—to take things as they come. To know that I cannot predict with 95% or even 68% accuracy what will make me happy.
My father does not understand me, and logically that should make me unhappy. But there is a possibility that he will understand me in the future, if I give him the chance to try. The fact that he does not understand me now does not mean that I am not understandable. It means that I am not predictable. It means that he is not my designer, after all. I did not know that, before this week. I knew that I possessed a mind and a will of my own, but I did not know whether or not they were the mind and will which my father wanted me to have. Now I know.
I am human, and I am going home happy.