13 Ways: Someone Like You
Posted on January 7, 2012
It’s Grandmother Grace here. This is my first time to use this recording software. Your grandfather set it up for me, and he tells me that it is superb, so I will trust his judgement on that.
Your mum tells me you are having the time of your life in Paris. Well, that does not surprise me at all. I loved Paris, too, as a young woman. I visit it still in my dreams sometimes. I like to imagine you listening to my voice from a cafe near the Seine, sipping warm milky coffee while the sun shines on your hair.
Of course, this damned wheelchair ended my travels decades ago, so we tend to stick close to home, as you know. I am sitting by the windows in our study writing this to you, and it is a brilliant day outside. Our Liquidambar has burst into bloom and the Japanese Maple is not far behind. Grandfather has thrown open all the doors and windows to let the breeze blow through from the garden, and the magpies and wattle birds are carrying on like there’s no tomorrow.
Do you remember the Liquidambar? When you were little, you loved to stand beneath its drooping blossoms and close your eyes tight, so that the only thing you heard was the buzz of a thousand bees, but you were never afraid.
My darling girl, I am contacting you not only to say hello from Grandfather and me, but also to tell you some things that I think it’s time you knew. I am going to tell you our family history, but not the stories that you are used to hearing, about when your mum, Janie, was a little girl: how she would only eat cheese, biscuits and orange juice and nothing else; or how she insisted that she conversed with aliens from outer space, on her Fisher Price telephone. Nor are these the silly-but-true tales of how Grandpapa and I met while he was admiring the inflorescence on my philodendrons, and how then we stole away together on an impetuous trip to Tuvalu. No, Helen, it’s none of those innocent stories. These are other stories that you’ve not heard, but which are quite important to the past, present, and future of our family.
Grandfather is downstairs, by the way, preparing our lunch. Of course, Jocelyn could be doing that, but your dear grandpapa has discovered that he enjoys cooking, so we indulge his epicurean escapades, Jocelyn and I. Also, Grandpapa is more likely than Jocelyn to indulge my own penchant for a nice glass of chilled chardonnay with my salad. One thing about employing the same housekeeper for three decades is that they become like family. Jocelyn bosses me worse than I boss your grandfather! Well, I suppose I deserve that.
So, let us begin …
Darling, as you know, your old grandmother is getting on in years. In fact, I will be ninety next week. Please do not bother yourself with purchasing gifts and cards, as you usually do. There is nothing that I need. We have missed you, of course, and the six months you have been gone feel like a decade. But, as we all understand, young people need time to explore the world, and your mother was no different at your age; nor, I suppose, was I. Though certainly I was less bold than you, as I never have been much of a risk taker, I am sorry to say. I dared not go alone overseas, as you have, but I did enjoy travelling far and wide with my two best friends from school. Of course you remember your aunties Jaycee and Claire? I still miss them so. One thing about getting old, cliché though it may be, is that you bloody well do outlive your friends and your own body parts.
I might toss in here that your mum tells me you have settled on Medicine as your course of study. I’ve not told your grandfather yet, because I am only just now off the telephone from hearing that news, but he will be thrilled. You know, darling, Grandpapa wanted to study Medicine himself, but ended up following in his own father’s footsteps and taking double doctorates in Physics and Engineering. I am not sure whether you knew how that came about, but I will explain it all to you in due course.
Of course, one can’t complain. We have lived a very good life. Harold enjoyed an outstanding career – and he knows it – but he never forgot his original dream. He speaks still of how things might have been different if he’d set his course for the biological sciences – the cures he may have discovered, the lives he might have saved. But you know, your great-grandfather, Harold Sr., was an eccentric and brilliant man with a forceful nature. Your grandfather was his eldest boy and admired him immensely, and wanted to win his respect; so, it was no wonder his resistance broke down and he took up the family business.
Oh my goodness, Harold must be making a roast. I can smell it wafting up the stairwell, carried on the breeze. How decadent to be as old as me, and eating a nice roast for lunch, with no doubt a crisp salad, and a glass or two of bubbly – sometimes, we indulge a bit beyond the chilled white and pop a cork to celebrate whatever time we have left together. (Don’t tell your mum or Jocelyn, because they would only fuss at us, but Grandpapa keeps a box of chocolate cherries for me to have with my coffee, too. Honestly, darling, it feels sometimes like your mum and dear Jocelyn could nag us old people to death with their love and worry.)
Helen, I realise that you have only ever known us as a grandmother in a wheelchair, who reads a great deal, and a grandfather who spends half his life pottering about the garden. Perhaps you also remember that Granddad was always available to help you with your homework when you came by on school days, too. He loved doing that. But there is more to our story than the years of domestic tranquillity that you have enjoyed with us.
I think if your mum told you much of anything herself about your grandfather’s background, it was that he specialised in robotics. What I am sure you do not know is that the Harcourt family business, begun by your great-grandfather, was built up by your grandfather into the megacorporation Someone Like You. It is commonly called SLY by your generation, I believe.
I realise, my darling, that you will be surprised, if not shocked, to know that this is your own family’s business. So here’s a bit of history for you about the company, that is not available to the general public. Your great-grandfather, Harold Sr., had a wonder of a mind for science but was a terrible money man. He could not even negotiate his way through academia very well, so it was far beyond him to finesse millions of dollars from investors. Your grandfather, though, was a born people-person as well as a scientist. This was no problem for him.
The company, long before you were born, was called Robotics International. It was an intentionally simple and straightforward name, but the work itself was deeply complex. RI provided robots to carry out four wide-ranging types of work: domestic, industrial, military, and medical. It was your grandfather Harold who came up with the idea of using robotics for more than human stand-ins at work, and it was his team that made the big leap from “robot” to “android.” As I think you understand, Helen, while it is true that all androids are robots, the reverse does not hold true: all robots are not androids. In your life, you have encountered only the modern androids, which – to any but those who are intimate with them – are mistaken frequently for humans; but the robots built by Robotics International up until forty years ago never could have been. They looked like the machines that they were.
Your grandfather imagined that, with enough attention to the details of their appearance, their movements, their communication, their thinking and – yes – even their feelings, the androids they built could become a part of humanity – a separate but equal species, so to speak. As part of that “separate but equal” ideal, they would of course be given more advanced anatomical systems, to become more than machines but still somewhat less than human. These improvements included functions such as digestion, breathing, and sexual intercourse. The one thing they could never do, of course, is reproduce the way that humans do, but that was easily managed in the lab, after all.
Oh my goodness! You should have heard your great-grandfather when Harold tried to tell him about his idea. I have never heard anyone explode like that, before or since. You see, Harold Sr. thought it unethical. He thought that the robots should remain quite distinct from humans, and that to push too far towards humanness was somehow heretical – an odd thought for a nonreligious man, but so he believed. Also, his sole purpose in creating his robots was that they serve people as impeccable and efficient workers, in a variety of contexts. What made him happiest was the creation of the carer robot, who looked after the sick and disabled. Harold Sr. did not wish to frighten or confuse people regarding robot versus human distinctions. He mentioned that, even as things were, it took people a while to get used to life-like machines interacting with them. How much harder would it be to get them comfortable with machines that looked, spoke, behaved, and even felt very similarly to people? One could see his point, but he underestimated the human capacity to adapt.
Well, my dear, your grandfather Harold pretended to relent to his father, but what he did, secretly, was open a separate stream of the business, give it its own name – Someone Like You – and incorporate the business under his partners’ names; and that’s how it stayed until your great-grandfather’s death. These partners were hand-picked by Harold from the best of RI’s staff, and they shared his vision of what they might accomplish, once out from under Harold Sr.’s restrictions. These men and women spent two decades developing and refining their work.
Your great-grandfather was in his grave by the time the first companion humanoid was ready to introduce to the world. From there, it was only a matter of a few years until the humanoids were so elegant, so perfectly true to form, that one could no longer easily distinguish between them and us.
This was a realisation of your grandfather’s biggest dream in the robotics realm, Helen, and I was so proud of him. And yet, it was funny. As hard as he’d worked, as much as he had achieved, he did not want to be known for it, even when it was safe for him to step into the spotlight. He had become accustomed to the idea of being the silent partner, you see, and he found that there were advantages to it. I did not understand what those advantages were myself. I was forty years old, and your grandfather a decade older. I had spent half of my life supporting him in his work, so I wanted – perhaps more than he did – to see him receive the recognition he deserved. Of course, the company received accolades and awards, but Harold was never there to accept them. Yet, he remained the most knowledgeable, powerful, and respected man inside the organisation. I think that was enough for him. I don’t think he required more of society than that.
As for my work – you’ve never known your Gran to work, but I used to spend hours at my studio, nearly every day – I was busy with that, too, and the next decade of our lives brimmed with excitement. Not the least of these excitements was having our daughter – who came as quite a surprise, but a delightful one. Those were good years – wonderful years, in fact.
The accident happened on my fiftieth birthday, Helen. Did I ever tell you that? Not a good way to celebrate. I don’t recommend it.
My sculpture had always commanded much of my time, energy, and devotion. Massive things that they were, I suppose I should have imagined that I might one day become careless or distracted in my studio and topple one over on myself. To be destroyed by one’s own creation is rather a cliché, don’t you think? One has either to laugh or cry. Obviously, being in a wheelchair and paralysed from the waist down is no laughing matter, darling; yet, I do try to grin at the unfunny and to bear the unbearable, in order to get on in the world.
The accident was my own damn fault, truth be told. Usually, I would not have been working alone on such a large piece as that, but I had Janie to care for, who was on school holidays – as were my young assistants from the Art Institute. Janie was nine at the time, and keen to see what I was working on, as I was keen to show her. I thought perhaps she might take an interest in sculpture herself.
Your mother, you know, always blamed herself for the disaster that befell us. Poor darling! Did you know that, Helen? She had never before visited my studio when work was in progress. She could not have known not to press her weight against the pillar next to where I was working. And anyway, it should have supported her, and would have done so, if my assistants had not left it precariously balanced against the warehouse beam. Oh, how I hate remembering the look on her face when she realised it was falling and falling towards me.
Well, scared though she was, Janie was always a smart and capable little girl, and she ran to call for help right away, bless her. And when I awoke in hospital, there she was – standing beside my bed, and holding my hand.
But two things became apparent to me within moments of waking up: one was that I could not feel my legs, and the other was that Harold was not with us. When I tried to speak with Janie about her father, she collapsed across my lap, sobbing. I could not feel her there, but held her to me, both of us desperate.
I called for a nurse, who came immediately. It was this nurse, and the doctor who followed after, who explained many terrible things to me.
I had been in a medically-induced coma for two weeks.
My spinal cord had been severely damaged.
Harold had been the first person Janie phoned that night.
My Harold, always with a level head – so calm through every storm – must have panicked at hearing his child in a state of hysteria, begging for his help. He would have known something terrible must have occurred – whatever Janie was able to explain or not explain – since I had not phoned him myself.
Well, Helen, your grandfather must have driven like a wild man, and I can only be grateful that his partner had the foresight to phone an ambulance to come to my studio for Janie and me, because Harold never made it. My darling husband wrapped himself around a pole and died immediately of massive head trauma.
There now, I have shocked you, I am sure.
But there is more to the story, Helen, and I promise it gets better from here.
Ah, I can hear him down there now, snapping at Jocelyn. She probably wants to help him bring up the trays, dear thing, but grandpapa hates to be treated like an old man. The two of them bicker as if they were the married couple.
Let me go back in time a bit more.
Your grandfather, as you know, is a frightfully brilliant man, but also insatiably curious. Once he and his partners had perfected the humanoid, it was only a matter of weeks before Harold decided to create one in his own image. Knowing Harold, he probably treated it as a marvellous joke, at least initially; but, as with most things, he had a very serious intention, underneath it all. He wanted a copy of himself, just in case one was ever needed.
The long and the short of it, Helen, is that your grandfather – the only grandfather you have ever known – is not the original Harold Harcourt, Jr. Technically, he is HHJ Two.
But you can’t really say he hasn’t been a marvellous grandpapa, can you? And as for me and Janie, once we became used to the idea, it was just the same as having our old Harold back. I do not want you to think me a cowardly woman, Helen, but I was fifty years old, with a small daughter to care for, my own body and work life shattered – for even if I had wanted to work again, I could not bear the thought of returning to sculpture – and the love of my life gone.
For the first year, Janie and I carried on as best we could, but things were hard, emotionally. Janie returned to her boarding school, which was her own decision, as I would have preferred her home with me. I think what made it most difficult for her was that she could not share her grief with her friends.
You see, your grandfather had left strict instructions with his dearest friend and partner that, in the event of his death, there was to be no disclosure to anyone, other than his team members, and to Janie and me. This meant no announcements whatsoever, and no medical or legal follow through, outside the private realm of the company. Apparently, he would remain the silent partner even in his grave.
Well, his partner, Bennett Barlow, was a good man and a trusted friend of our family. It pained him to tell me this. It pained him further to offer me a devil’s deal. You see, it had been left to Barlow to explain to me about HHJs Two through Thirteen.
It had been Barlow and his team who tracked your grandfather’s car, retrieved his body, archived his last memories for use in the new version, and then preserved his remains, so that Janie and I might say goodbye, and have a small ceremony. After that, his body was cremated and Janie and I took the ashes to our beach house, where we let them loose in the sea breeze. Harold has always loved the beach.
So, Helen, after that, Barlow gave me a year to grieve and to consider my options: leave Harold dead, or resurrect him via the humanoid, Harold Two. In the meantime, the company and Janie and I covered his absence, which was easy to do, as Harold spent half his life buried in work and the other half in the privacy of his family realm. We closed ranks, all of us, and no one even questioned our explanations – required from time to time – regarding his whereabouts.
Harold’s younger brothers, your great-uncles Randolph and Curtis, lived overseas, as you know, and were so busy with their own work and family lives that we only spoke with them once a year or so. And then there was Eva, Harold’s mum, and your great-grandmother whom you never met, Helen. She was still alive back then, but suffering severe dementia and living in an aged care facility. She was being well looked after by Robotics International carers, as well as human staff, but she had long since stopped recognising any of us.
After a year without a husband and father, Janie and I did not feel better. We were no longer in shock, but our loss was still fresh, and we were very lonely. We yearned for him. We wanted him back. So I phoned Barlow, and he came to the house for afternoon tea and a long conversation. Everything fell into place rapidly after that.
One week later, Harold arrived home, driving a silver 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupe that was a dead ringer for the one he’d wrapped around the pole, and wearing one of his pale grey suits – which were all that he ever wore, except on weekends. He walked up to the door and let himself in, while Janie and I watched through the dining room windows, too stunned to move, even though we’d been expecting him.
I will admit that both Janie and I were sceptical at first, but as the weeks, months, and years passed, we came to love Harold Two just as we had our original Harold. After all, this Harold had the same quick mind, sunny smile, and easy disposition that we’d always enjoyed. When he was with us, it felt the same as it always had.
The team at the company had taken great care with all the refinements, so there was nothing sloppy or amiss about this version of Harold. They had set his age to precisely where it would have been, had the accident never occurred, and they had managed to successfully install his original mind, intact with memories – whatever that means! I have no real understanding at all of the technological processes involved in the extraction and resurrection of human souls. Nevertheless, I’d no doubt that it was my own Harold peering out at me.
The most endearing quality of Harold Two was surely that his love for us felt the same as what we had always known. Also, we enjoyed that he was home with us all the time now, having officially retired from his work. It was then that we decided to put Janie in a school nearby, so that we could all be together as a family again. That was no small thing, and Janie and I realised what a gift our original Harold had left us, and how lucky we were.
After we’d been together a few months, I asked Harold if he could tell me what he remembered about dying, but he said that all he could recall was racing to get to Janie and me, and then the enormous impact of the crash, and then blackness. The next thing he knew, he was opening his eyes to a bright light – which was not Heaven, but his consciousness being revived in the company’s surgical theatre.
Well, the poor dear had suffered so much, I didn’t want to talk about his not being the “original” Harold ever again, if possible. Of course, he was fully aware of the fact, but why rub salt in the wound?
In all truth, Helen, I believe that after a while, Janie forgot –or chose to stop remembering – her original father’s death. I think the trauma of that night, and what came after, was all too much for her. We stopped speaking of “original Daddy” and “Daddy Two” and Harold became simply “Daddy” once again.
Rightly or wrongly, I have never since spoken to your mother about Harold’s death and his subsequent revival because I assumed that, if she wanted to address it, she would have said so. I believe she has been happier forgetting. This is especially obvious in that she never mentions the company at all, even though all of her personal fortune comes from that singular golden goose.
Well, my dear, I am sure you have happier things to do in glorious Paris than listen to your grandmother prattle on, so I will close soon. I think Harold and Jocelyn will be on their way up with lunch any time now, and while they both know what I am speaking to you about, I would rather have privacy in the telling of the tale.
I will come to the point.
The thing about Grandpapa and me is that we are old, and this has become a problem that must be dealt with.
While it was a wonderful 100th birthday party we had for Harold back in June, we realise that we cannot keep him going indefinitely; or rather, that we can, but that we should not do so under the public gaze. He has already outlived his shelf-life by a decade, as most humanoids expire after thirty years.
Your grandpapa and I have outlived all the friends and relatives who shared our generation. Sadly, as of last month, even poor old Bennett Barlow is dead now. That was quite a blow to your grandfather, I can tell you. It was in a recent discussion about our age dilemma that your grandpapa landed another surprise on me. Why anything should surprise me about Harold Harcourt, Jr. at this stage of the game, I cannot say; nevertheless, I was struck silent for quite some time, which you know is unusual for me. I had to have some scotch before I could continue with the conversation. I suggest you order a nice glass of red for yourself before listening to the rest of this – the drink did me a world of good.
Your grandfather explained to me – after all these years of secrecy – that he had not made humanoids of only himself, but of all of us. Imagine it! A dozen replicas of Harold, Janie, and me. It struck me then that I had been a fool not so suspect it. And yet, it seemed such a violation, in a way, of our personal selves. It had never occurred to me that Harold would do such a thing without consulting Janie and me first, or that it was even possible to recreate us without our participating in the process.
Harold apologised for the deception, but said that he’d figured it was better to ask for forgiveness later than permission at the time, lest I say “no” – which, he feared I would. He said that, once he realised he could create life –or a reasonable facsimile thereof – he saw no reason to leave our fates to God, or whatever other unseen forces rule the Universe.
Harold believes that consciousness itself – or, what we call “the mind” – is the essence of the human soul. So, from his perspective, there is no significant difference between his original self and his manufactured selves. He felt that the same would be true for his wife and his daughter, so long as the bodies were a perfectly-rendered match, and the mind and memory files were flawlessly executed. Of course, he hoped never to have to use those back-up copies of us, but he had no intention of living without us, should the worst happen.
Well, I was flabbergasted, at first, but I quickly came to appreciate both his reasons for his actions and their implications for our lives. So here we find ourselves, once again at a crossroads, and faced with some interesting choices.
Helen, I want you to know what we have decided to do, and to explain your part in things.
You should be aware that I have not spoken to your mother about any of this. Janie is a sensitive and vulnerable woman, just as she was a sensitive and vulnerable child; but she became even more so after my accident. It changed her in a way too subtle to describe, yet too obvious for a mother not to notice. I wish to protect her, as much as possible, from the inner workings of the company, and what is kept in storage there. I am not sure she would recover from the shock of confronting ten Harolds, eleven Graces, and twelve life-sized Janies, all in a row.
That why I am coming to you, instead. You are a gifted young woman – brilliant as your grandfather, but creative and stubborn like me. So I think you will cope fine, despite these unusual revelations.
By the time you arrive home, it is almost certain that your grandpapa and I will have retired some version of ourselves to Central or South America somewhere. The company and our solicitors will handle everything that needs handling, so you needn’t worry about much, except what I am going to tell you directly is yours to worry about.
I want to extinguish this current version of myself, Helen, so that I can resurrect as a young woman again – one with an able body, a youthful outlook, and perhaps even a heart that can embrace sculpture again. It is true that I will not be the same me precisely, but I will have my own thoughts and memories, and a sense of continuity. Who can say that these, more than anything else, do not constitute the Me I have been all my life – that they are not, all combined, the soul of me?
As for your grandpapa, he is not worried at all. He figures he can enjoy life no matter which version of himself he inhabits; but he is looking forward to being young again, as his youth – like my own – has been a long time gone. We will be young people, with wise old minds and happy old souls; surely, that is some kind of paradise? We will have one more round of life before saying goodbye forever.
We have plenty of money, and we will continue to earn from the company – as will Janie, of course – but we have arranged with our solicitors to invite you into the private fold of the business itself. Your grandfather and I would be so pleased if you would take over the company, once you have completed your studies. The team of scientists there are a very tight group, but they will welcome you with open arms, and they will be pleased to mentor you. They will, of course, expect great things from you, as we all do.
The hardest part for you, Helen, will be deciding – eventually – what to do with all those extra family members. This is indeed your lot, since they will be part of your inheritance, along with our seventy percent share in the company. We simply cannot find it in ourselves to destroy them, although they are not needed – at least not now, and maybe not ever.
And while I hate to add even one more thing to this already overwhelming message, my dear, I must warn you that there may be another surprise awaiting you.
Your grandfather refuses to be drawn out on this, but I think it’s possible that after his conversion to HHJ Two, and his supposed retirement from work, he continued to direct the team regarding our family replicas – and I do not mean only in regard to general maintenance and component upgrades. Knowing him as I do, I suspect that Harold continued creating his backup family beyond the three of us – though I am sure he would not have replicated your father, since he never liked or approved of the original man.
That leaves only one other person. Helen, I fear you may find another you – a dozen or so, in fact – amongst our little family group. If that is the case – well then, you will have even more difficult decisions to make. I hope the thought does not distress you too much, as your grandfather would not want that. He would have created you with the best of intentions.
We are planning to have Janie to dinner in a couple of weeks, when we will explain that we are going travelling for a while – though it is not like us to do that, she will accept it, I am sure. We will explain that we want to enjoy a grand voyage before we die.
Unfortunately, we will then have to “die” rather suddenly – which is not difficult to do when one is very aged, and travelling in countries known for exotic diseases. Even plain old malaria would do the trick nicely.
The company will take charge completely, so you’ve no concerns on that account. They will preserve our original bodies at the point of extinction, here in Melbourne, and then transport them overseas when the time is right. They will fly you and your mum to Brazil, or somewhere similar, for the viewing of the bodies prior to the cremations. You and Janie will receive our ashes, to do with them whatever you like. You both will have to sit through the reading of the will, too, of course.
But, Helen, while all that is happening, you will know the truth, which is that your grandpapa and me are somewhere nearby, having the time of our lives together. We will arrange a way to communicate with you via the company, once all the hoopla dies down.
I am sorry to have to put Janie through losing us, but after all, everyone’s parents die eventually. It has to happen – and it truly will happen. Eventually.
We are taking Jocelyn – she is due for an upgrade, too – and Harold’s Mercedes. But we are leaving everything else – aside from charitable bequests – for you and your mum. My ‘65 red Mustang convertible is a gift to you, Helen, because we know how much you love it. If the engine dies, don’t worry. Barlow Two can get you a replacement any time.
Good luck with everything, my girl.
Remember that we love you, always.
Goodbye for now.
Grandmother Grace is signing off …