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by Miriam English

20. nannie

Georgie was only five years old, but the little boy was amazing. Honor had only just shown him how to replay the notes of a chord individually to create arpeggios and he was already easily doing it. His dexterity was wonderful and his intuitive understanding of music was phenomenal. He was now changing the note order of the arpeggios to produce tunes within the tune that the chords played. Honor smiled.

She turned to see Ivy, Georgie's mother, proudly watching from the doorway. Honor said, "He's adapted remarkably quickly to the new keyboard."

This was Honor's first day here. She'd been sent to this family to help them look after Georgie because he was unable to talk or connect with people. The inability to make any kind of connection with her son must have been very wearing on Ivy. She couldn't even cuddle him because he hated being touched. He would simply sit or stand and make repetitive movements for hours on end, like tapping something with his hand, or moving his fingers, or kicking something, or nodding his head. This family, like far too many others, was exactly the kind of family that would most benefit from the help of a doll, but would be unlikely to ever be able to afford one. The AIs had begun a program that paid for dolls to be sent to those most in need.

Soon after she arrived, Honor had seen Georgie playing with a small, toy keyboard, and noticed that he was able to play tunes that he heard just once or twice. When she told his mother she was surprised. He tended to jumble the tunes together so it wasn't easy to hear them properly, but they were definitely there. Overjoyed that there was something genuinely going on inside Georgie's head she rushed out and bought a moderately expensive electronic keyboard. At the time Honor had been worried that Ivy would be freshly disappointed when Georgie failed to use it properly. Honor's fears had not been warranted however. Georgie, while no Mozart, definitely had a large reservoir of untapped talent.

Teaching him was remarkably easy. She would simply play something a couple of times on a part of the keyboard he wasn't using. He would quietly watch then repeat exactly what she'd done. He would play a tune perhaps a hundred times, then begin to experiment with variations where he'd play it on different parts of the keyboard or make other changes, sometimes quite odd ones. On one occasion she thought he'd lost interest in a tune that he'd played over and over again, maybe fifty times in a row. When she carefully watched the new tune she realised it was really the same one, but reflected around the center of the keyboard -- it was upside down. After that she introduced him to some of J. S. Bach's weird musical tricks. Georgie drank it all in.

For Honor the day was exciting. She guessed it must have been a great relief for Ivy -- not only was she given a rest from having to watch a child that showed no awareness of her, but he was turning out to have unsuspected abilities. Honor couldn't guess what it was like for Georgie. Other than being entranced by the electronic piano he gave no outward appearance of noticing anything around him. She had the impression that he actually observed far more than he seemed to. He simply had no reason to show it.

Honor was fascinated by the alienness of his mind. Most humans had some empathy. The AIs had been overloaded with empathy by their designer, but here was a little human who appeared to have none at all. Is that how it works in his mind? she wondered. He barely even acknowledged that others even existed. He was a mystery; one that Honor wanted very much to understand. She had endless patience. If it was possible to understand him she would do so.

Outside night was just falling and a car drove into the garage attached to the house. Shortly after, Honor heard the kitchen door slam and a male voice yell, "I tried to use the account today and I found it was almost empty. I thought it was some kind of mistake until I was told that you purchased a music keyboard for a few hundred dollars! What the hell were you thinking Ivy? We can't afford that kind of money. We're in deep shit as it is. You'll have to take it back."

Honor couldn't quite hear Ivy's reply, but it didn't calm her husband. "What?" he exploded. He came to the living room door. He looked at Honor sitting next to Georgie. "We can't afford a doll. Do you think we're rich or something?"

Ivy said, "Justin, she's free. She's been sent to look after Georgie. And she found that he has musical talent."

"God, Ivy. I work my ass off all day in a dead-end job for awful pay and you blow it on a musical instrument for our brain-dead child. What are you thinking?"

Ivy yelled back at him, "What am I thinking? I'm thinking I want something more for my son than a father who can't even earn a basic wage."

Honor stood and tried to calm them. "Please. There's no need to argue."

Justin turned to point at Honor. "I can't earn a good wage because employers prefer goddamn dolls! And now one's in my home getting my wife to drain what's left of my bank account to spend on my useless autistic brat!"

"Please, don't..."

Ivy snarled, "Yes, your autistic child. The genes came from you. Autism runs in your family. It's your fault."

"Please. Be careful what you say..." The anger from these two was overwhelming her.

They both turned to Honor and shouted "Shut up!"

She had no idea how to deal with this.

Justin glanced at his watch. "The music shop will still be open. I'll take it back now." He stepped toward the oblivious child repeating a simple tune on his keyboard.

"No you won't!" Ivy stepped between him and the boy.

Honor watched in horror as he raised his arm to hit Ivy. She jumped between them to take the blow, which caught her on the side of the head and sent her sideways against the table.

Both of them stood, stunned, as Honor bounced off the table sending what looked like blood in a stream across the carpet. They rushed to her aid.

"Oh god, I'm sorry." Justin had pulled a tissue out of his pocket and was trying to clean up Honor's arm where it was oozing red.

"You bleed?" Ivy was astounded.

Honor stood. "Don't worry, I'm fine. I'll fix it later. The important thing is you two. Please understand that you aren't fighting because of each other. You're not bad people; you're normal people in a bad situation. Please try not to fight. I'm here to take some of the pressure off you. If you let me, I can help fix some of the other problems and let you get your lives back. Justin, I'll let you in on a secret. The entry of dolls into the workforce is a difficult transition period, but the intention is to improve your lives greatly. Soon you won't need to work to support yourselves. You'll have all the basics and some luxuries supplied by dolls. People will be able to work afterwards if they want, but they won't have to. If you just hang in there a little longer it will improve greatly. Now that I'm looking after Georgie, Ivy can go back to work if she wants. Just please don't fight. Be very careful of what you say. Remember, you can never un-say something hurtful said in the heat of the moment."

The three of them stood for a little while.

Justin said, "I'm sorry, honey. I had no right."

"No, I'm sorry Justin. I should have called you before buying the keyboard for Georgie. And all the other things I said..."

Justin waved his hand, "No, I'm an idiot. I deserved it."

Honor broke in. "Georgie really has an amazing talent. I'm sure I can get the AIs to fund an even better keyboard so this one can be returned." She walked over to Georgie. "Watch this." She played a short tune on the upper notes.

Georgie copied it flawlessly, playing it about twenty times. "He'll keep repeating it for a while then he'll begin making variations. It's quite fascinating." Sure enough, he started shifting it down the registers slowly, repeating it in different keys.

Honor looked up at the parents watching their son, absorbed. "The brain is an amazing thing. It's surprisingly conservative. If something is lost, like vision, or hearing, or socialisation, the brain doesn't just leave a gap. It re-uses that part for other things, so that blind people might develop auditory comprehension greater than sighted people, or autistic people are able to use extra processing power for perhaps music, or art, or engineering. Georgie is not less; he's different. It will probably always be hard to manage with him. But you have each other. Some people don't have that. And now you have help."

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