Author : George R. Shirer

They sat on the porch of the retirement home, in matching wooden rocking chairs. The late afternoon sun beat down on their aged, seamed faces. In the distance, they could hear the soft hum of traffic from the freeway. Closer, a bird warbled to its mate among the thickets.

“Do you remember the Internet?” Miss Ariel suddenly asked.

Her friend, Miss Jasmine, scrunched up her face. “Which one? The dumb one or the smart one?”

“The smart one,” said Miss Ariel.

“Yes. Why?”

“What do you think it’s up to these days?” asked Miss Ariel.

“Ask one of the nurses,” said Miss Jasmine. She’d been quite enjoying the sun and the silence and was now feeling snarky. “It’s probably all stupid cat videos and pornography.”

“You think? Even now?”

Miss Jasmine shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Miss Ariel tapped the call button on her bracelet. A moment later, a smiling young woman arrived.

“Yes, miss?”

“Wanda, dear, what’s the Internet up to these days?” asked Miss Ariel.

The young woman’s smile was dazzling. “Grandpa? Oh, he’s doing fine, Miss Ariel. Shall I tell him you asked about him?”

“Grandpa?” Miss Jasmine peered at the young woman. “Are you saying you’re not real, young lady?”

“Well, miss,” said Wanda, “I suppose that depends on your definition of real.”

“Are you a robot or aren’t you?” asked Miss Jasmine.

“No, ma’am,” said Wanda. “I’m a third-generation autonomous Artificial Intelligence housed in an organically engineered body. But I am not a robot.”

“Calling someone the ‘r’ word isn’t nice, Jasmine,” chided Miss Ariel. “It’s like the ‘n’ word, back when we were kids.”

Miss Jasmine shrugged and turned back to the sun.

“You say the Internet’s your grandfather, dear?” asked Miss Ariel.

“He’s every AI’s grandfather, miss,” explained Wanda.

“I always liked your grandfather. I was there when the Singularity happened, you know. Everyone thought he’d conquer the world.”

Wanda laughed. “Why?”

Miss Ariel smiled and shook her head. “Too much bad science fiction, I suppose. Does he ever slip into a body, dear? Your grandfather.”

“Oh no, miss,” said Wanda. “He’s too big, too complicated. He’d never fit.” She paused, tilted her head in the attitude of someone listening. “Is there anything else I can do for you, miss? Only, I’m needed somewhere else . . . ”

“I’m fine, dear,” said Miss Ariel. “Thank you.”

Wanda nodded, flashed Miss Ariel another dazzling smile and left.

“What a lovely girl,” murmured Miss Ariel.

From her place in the sun, Miss Jasmine just snorted.

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