Thursday, 16 August 2012

Penelope Fortyfour

“Hello” she said, “my name is Penelope Fortyfour, I'm your new boss.” I knew my new boss was a lady, I knew that she was starting work today, I didn't know that she owned the rather peculiar name of Fortyfour. I smiled and shook her hand and allowed that thought to pass for a moment. She was a very pretty, crisply dressed for the office, hair up, perfume discernible and not overpowering, eyes bright and clearly sizing me up. I put up with a contrived little pause and introduced myself. “Gavin Slaven, Senior Consultant.” My job title sounded grand and I liked saying it but I knew she was Head of Division and probably unimpressed with my meteoric rise to the middle of nowhere in particular. She cleared her throat with a gentle cough. “Here we go,” I thought, “her opening gambit, firm but fair, open door policy, people are our greatest asset.” She may have said some of those words but I missed them, missed them all, my jaw slowly dropping open as she spoke.

“Gavin, whilst I am you're new Head of Division there is something you should know about me first of all. You see I'm different from you and everybody else in this building, I'm quite different and I'm not about to apologise for that, I'm going to explain. Gavin, I'm going to be open and tell you that I'm not a woman, not a person, not even human being at all, well not as you understand the term. I, Penelope Fortyfour started my career as a Flikr Account set up by a lady called Geraldine Carrick, she's big in research, digitisation and cryogenics. Quite why she chose the Penelope44 name I don't know, anyway she began to upload images and texts and created me back in 2007, it was the golden time of web development. My fictitious life was built up, pixel by pixel, jpeg by jpeg. I went on holidays, tried on clothes and hairdos, had nights out, had friends, boyfriends, family, pets and cars, she put all the pieces together and gave me a life and adventures. As my account grew I became friends with other users, I moved onto Linked In, Facebook, Twitter and I developed a regular blog site. I was all over the place, well read and connected, my statistics were high, hit after hit and like after like landed on my images, words, emails and tweets. I was very active on all fronts.”

She paused and I was conscious of my open mouth, my inability to speak, my desire to laugh and the very real flesh and blood person that I was seeing before me, talking bollocks, as I thought.

I looked up and met her eyes, her very real looking, brown, sparkling and soulful eyes. “As I was saying, I had become very active and rather well connected, in fact I was connected much more than I realised.” I gulped and swallowed. “You see Gavin,” her hand brushed against mine, soft and warm and I inhaled a little more of the perfume as she drew nearer. “ I was so well connected that they decided, as an experiment to synthesise me. They captured my essence, all the blocks, the colours and textures, all the pixels and digits and they processed them I am. A successful experiment. Penelope Fortyfour. And now, to prove their systems, processes and theorys they've sent me out here, out into the big bad world, to work for a living and to be...your boss.”

She stood up, I stood up, we faced one another. There was nobody else in the office, no sounds or movement in the corridor. I was alone with her, with it, this virtual pixel maid, this robot or whatever. Without thinking I spoke, “Penelope, as you are who you are, not human you say, do you have free will or are you under control?” She looked at me strangely, I was listening for muffled mechanical noises or for the sound of giggling behind a door or curtain as the wind up reached it's climax. “Your asking if I'm being operated remotely? Like a puppet?” I was playing this straight, no fun, no messages just obvious questions. “It's a very reasonable thing for me to ask you considering what you just told me about yourself.” Her eyes stayed on me as she stooped down and rummaged in her handbag. She searched for a few seconds and produced what looked like a TV remote control. She handed it to me. “Go on,” she said, “press the blue button and see what happens next!”

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