by Dan Swanson
A few days later, John and Jay Garrick were talking privately.
“I talked to Lana, and she did some investigating in and around Gotham City,” Jay mentioned. “She hasn’t found any evidence of insect mind-control, other than her own.”
“I’m pretty sure she isn’t working on mass human mind-control either, Dad. If I’m right, she’s experimenting with artificial intelligence.”
He looked so unhappy that Jay asked him, “What’s really bothering you, son?” John looked surprised. Before he could respond, Jay continued, “C’mon, John, who knows you better than I do?”
“Dad, I ought to be out looking for her. She’s committing crimes, and I know about it — and I’m supposed to be a super-hero, and super-heroes aren’t supposed to let the bad guys commit crimes.”
Jay became serious. “Unless you think she is really up to something dangerous, I’d like you to continue to keep a low profile until the election — or at least until we get through this current tabloid firestorm. (*) There are a lot of super-heroes in Gotham City. How about just filling Batwing in and letting him handle it?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 3: Dirty Tricks.]
“C’mon, Dad, Jason couldn’t handle her mental powers!”
Jay was thoughtful. “He’s been trained by the best. I wouldn’t be so sure. Still, who could?”
“Probably Amanda; she could command her star sapphire to protect her mind. Maybe Mina, too, since has her own telepathic powers, but they still didn’t stop Coral from falling under Faust’s spell. (*) But together they’d be stronger.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Junior JSA: The Junior Injustice Society.]
“Well, ask them to look for her, then, and to come to you for help if they need it. Or, if you think it’s necessary, take action yourself.”
John thought about calling in his friends for quite a while — a few seconds from a normal perspective, but much longer to the super-speedster known as Whiz Kid. Originally, he thought it was a cop-out, but he reluctantly decided to follow his dad’s advice.
But it didn’t pan out; the two young heroines searched for a few days and didn’t find anything. And then the Savant-related thefts stopped, and Coral and Star Sapphire went on to other, more exciting cases.
The unease in the back of John’s mind didn’t lessen when the thefts ended. Eventually it reached the point where he couldn’t stand it any longer. His father had told him to act if he felt it was necessary. He made preparations to make a social call on his one-time girlfriend.
Whiz Kid awoke with a start. The last thing he remembered was speeding toward Gotham City, looking for Henrietta King. How had he gotten into bed? Had the whole thing been a dream? But something was wrong.
“Wha–?! This isn’t my bedroom! What’s going on here?” With those words he leaped out of bed and, vibrating furiously, ran through the wall of the room to see what he could find out.
Well, actually, he tried to do so. His vibrations didn’t work, and he slammed into the solid wall at top speed and slumped to the floor, stunned by the impact. It took him a few seconds to recover, which was almost as stunning — if he had really run into a wall at super-speed, he would have expected more damage, both to himself and the wall. Something was definitely not right here.
He realized that he ought to have broken his shoulder, at least. He flexed his shoulder, and the pain was almost gone. Then he stopped moving, once more stunned beyond words. His hand was not really his. He had a jagged white scar on the knuckles of his left hand, and the scar was gone. He also realized he wasn’t wearing his own clothes. When he realized who had to be behind this, he heaved a sigh of relief.
“Henrietta, I don’t know what you’re up to, but I know it’s you. Put me back in my own body now!” he yelled.
The door opened, and Henrietta King walked into the room, but a subtly different Henrietta. Her hair color was slightly lighter, and she was a little taller, with a more voluptuous, womanly figure. “Why, John, I built that body just for you. Don’t you like it?” She pushed a button on the wall, and a section of the wall turned into a full-length mirror.
Like Henrietta, John realized that he was subtly different. His shoulders were a little wider, his face shaped slightly differently, with more of a square jaw, and he was slightly taller as well. Actually, it wasn’t bad, and then he realized what she had said.
“You built this body?! Henrietta, I want to know what’s going on, now!” He put all the fire he could muster into his voice, remembering the times his parents had raised their voices with him while he was growing up. Henrietta didn’t seem to react to the tone of command in his voice, but she explained anyway.
“We are both part of a computer-created simulation, John! I created these bodies ‘specially to resemble us and then temporarily moved our consciousness into them. Neither body has any super-powers — I wanted to see how the two of us would interact if we were just a normal couple.”
“So you downloaded us into some kind of virtual reality? And don’t you think putting the two of us alone together is kind of artificial?” Privately, he was astounded at the level of detail she had managed to program into this single room and their bodies. This environment was absolutely indistinguishable from three-dimensional reality, and his body felt real, though he had run smack into a solid wall without picking up a bruise — he seemed to be partially invulnerable. He wondered with a smirk what other improvements Savant might have made over the originals.
“Why, John, I wouldn’t call this a virtual reality at all. I’d call it an artificial reality — which is a totally different thing.” There was mischief in her smile; he was missing something, but he didn’t know what. “And who said we’re alone? Come with me!”
He was confident that she didn’t have enough computing power to extend this illusion much beyond a couple or rooms, and then it struck him again. She could be mistress of illusions if she chose. “Henrietta, you told me before you’d never used your powers on me. I demand that you stop using your powers on me now!”
She laughed, gaily. “Silly boy, I already told you, I don’t have any powers in this body. This really is part of my simulation.” They stepped out of the bedroom and through a beautifully furnished house. As she led him through the front door, she waved her arm to encompass the whole scene outside. “What do you think?”
John was stunned to see that they were on the outskirts of a tremendous city — very futuresque and extremely detailed. Cars without wheels floated down the streets, and there were dozens of people in his field of view. “Mercury’s winged sandals! This is amazing!”
Henrietta kept John so busy he didn’t have time to think, dragging him on a whirlwind tour and using a control panel on her belt to call a flying car for their use. John noticed that he and the other people around all had similar controls on their own belts. Before they got into their sky car, he studied the people around them.
“So all these people are simulations? They look pretty realistic.”
She smiled, pleased at his interest. “Why, thank you, John. I developed a set of parameters to define a person — five thousand in all, and each parameter can vary over a wide range. Sort of like a genetic code for my sim-people, if you will. My computer then designed each of these by varying each parameter according to a set of rules. Five thousand different parameters isn’t really enough to fully specify a human being, but once they become self-aware, it will be hard to tell the difference.”
“Are you out of your mind? You’ve designed self-aware simulations? What’s going to happen to them when you turn the simulation off? It will be the same as killing them!” John was recalling his recent conversation with his parents about playing God. And here Henrietta was, playing God with a vengeance. John estimated that he could see several hundred of these sim-people, and a city this size could easily be home to millions.
“How dare you judge me?” Henrietta’s voice was flat and cold, conveying her anger that he would disapprove of her efforts. “I’ve told you repeatedly that this is not a computer-generated artificial reality. I thought by now you’d have figured it out.”
The sky car zoomed upward. Miles above the city, John noticed a shimmer in the sky, and as they drew closer he realized that the city was enclosed in something. He had trouble with the contours for a moment, and then something snapped into place; he was looking at a bottle — a big water bottle — from the inside. He must be less than the size of an ant.
“Yes, John, the truth. Not a virtual reality, an artificial reality. Not a computer simulation, but a computer-created city in a bottle, populated with computer-created artificial beings. The city of truth — the bottle city of Candor!”
Above them, a sliding door the size of a football field slid open in the bottom of the cork to the bottle, and Henrietta guided their flying car inside. They were in a the single biggest room John had ever seen, probably a quarter-mile high and several miles across. As the sliding door closed, she landed near some kind of control and monitoring station, which had many television screens. The view on the screens constantly changed, showing all aspects of life in a futuristic city that John assumed must be Candor.
The young scientist in John was fascinated, although the humanist in him was silently screaming. How dared she play God like this, not only creating a species of living beings but then spying on them? He realized he needed to find out more before he made any judgment. Henrietta clearly wanted to show off her new toy, so John hardly even had to ask questions.
“The Candorians are living beings, their bodies composed of artificial organic materials I originally grew in my lab. Because they are so small, the internal structure of the bodies is much simpler than humans, so even though they look human, inside they are not. But they are completely mammalian, warm-blooded, reproducing sexually and bearing live young who require significant attention from their parents. The process of making babies is pretty much identical to the human style, and they seem to enjoy it at least as much as humans do.”
She smiled seductively, and John blushed. She thought it was appealing and very cute, and she realized that she was deliberately teasing him — and thoroughly enjoying it. But she changed the subject slightly anyway, as she was also having fun boasting about her accomplishments. John had the intellect to understand what she had done as few other men would.
“An organic brain this small would be too tiny to be intelligent. The brain of every Candorian is non-organic, a highly advanced nanotech device, almost alive in its own right. I hesitate to call them computers, as they don’t compute — they think, just like we do. I’ve built in a subconscious and generally tried to model them as closely as possible to a human brain. I’m pretty familiar with human brains, given my powers, and I think I’ve done a good job. You’re thinking with one of these devices now. What do you think?”
Again John was stunned. As far as he could tell, his mind seemed completely normal. This technology was incredible — far beyond anything the science he knew was capable of.
“I’ve programmed each Candorian with a plausible shared history, and they each have a complete set of memories of their lives. As time goes by, their artificial memories will fade and be replaced by real memories, and they will never know that they are artificial creatures. And the next generation will be created the normal, human way. In fact, it’s happening now.” She pointed to one of the screens with that same seductive smile, and he blushed again and quickly looked away.
“Pregnant Candorian females require a special diet so the inorganic brain can grow as the baby develops. Each brain is closely matched to the body it develops in, and they can’t be transplanted to other bodies, so Candorians have limited lifespans just as humans do. But there are distinct advantages to the simpler biology. There are fewer things that can go wrong with Candorian bodies — they are much healthier, and they heal faster. And because of the square-cube law, they are much stronger in proportion than humans and much more damage-resistant.”
Without warning, she hit John across the face with a wicked backhand blow — not a slap, either. She was incredibly strong, and he tumbled backward until he banged into a wall. In his own body, bones would have broken, he would have been in incredible pain, and he would probably have had a bad concussion, at least. In this Candorian body, he felt almost no pain and suffered no damage that he could tell. He wasn’t sure how he felt about getting hit by his sometime-girlfriend like that, though, even though she was just proving a point.
He was going to have to do a lot of heavy thinking, but he decided to put off his emotional reactions for a short time. Then he wondered if his ability to separate his emotions from his thought processes was a human ability or a Candorian ability.
“In human terms, of course, Candorians are about as strong and tough as fleas. But in their own milieu, we have Superman-style powers!” To demonstrate further, she jumped and easily touched the ceiling a quarter-mile above, then landed lightly. “Square-cube law — I can fall miles and touch down more lightly than a feather!”
She leaped toward him and touched him, fairly lightly this time. “Tag! You’re it!” And she leaped away. John was at the point of being overwhelmed by Candor, and he welcomed the chance for some mindless exercise. For a good half-hour, they chased each other through that gigantic hangar. Henrietta had more experience in her Candorian body, but John was used to having super-powers. For a short time, she was mostly able to escape being tagged, but he quickly became more adept. They swapped being it for a while, and finally John launched himself perfectly, intercepting her in mid-leap, and the two wrapped their arms around each other and eventually tumbled to the ground together, laughing.
The laughing stopped when they reached the ground, but there was still mutual activity as it became something a bit more passionate. After a few minutes, however, John reluctantly pulled away.
“What’s the matter, John?” Henrietta was distinctly displeased at his reaction.
“There’s just too much going on right now, Henrietta. I can’t stop thinking. I’m sorry. You know we shouldn’t be doing this…”
“John, we aren’t really doing anything except sharing a fantasy! This isn’t really you or me. Think how incredibly free we can be, right here, right now! There’s no one who can tell us what to do, nobody we have to behave for, nobody will ever know except us! You know, as a human, I can barely stand to have any man touch me — even you. But here, John, I can leave my trauma behind and be whoever I want to be! Don’t you see how perfect it can be? We can have here what we can never have outside!” She was practically pleading.
And the argument was very persuasive. In a sense, this experience really was nothing more than a shared fantasy. Nothing they did here could affect their human bodies. What happened here would stay here. And yet he knew it wasn’t that simple. The memories wouldn’t stay here; they would follow him for the rest of his life. Still, would that be so bad? He felt that he and Henrietta deserved to be happy together, and he knew she was right — it would be difficult for them to share anything outside in the real world. Why not take advantage of this opportunity? He had to admit, it was one of his fantasies on the verge of coming true.