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Mary sat at the table in the quiet room. The room was a medium sized square with sound absorbing material lining the ceiling and the walls. So quiet, so calm she thought she could feel the hum from the earth’s spin. The door she came through was over her right shoulder. Mary glanced back to ensure it was there. Realizing she was looking at her way out made her turn her head quickly to the door where he would be coming in. She needed to appear strong. His door was to the left across the room. It had a small window in it so a guard could observe the interview. She was nervous, very nervous, so she kept her hands below the table. She wore a baker’s pink jump suit with a pocket full of tissues. She knew she would need them and she knew they would also act as an object to hold tightly in her hand in lieu of a stress ball or her own flesh.
Mary looked at the cameras hanging in two corners of the room. The feeling of reluctance crept into her brain and her heart began to beat a little bit faster. Don’t back out now, she thought to herself as she saw the light in the door’s window shift. Movement, his movement, she thought.
The sound of the door being unlocked and opened seemed distant and wasn’t as loud as she would have expected. Mary began to feel a tingling sensation burst in her sinuses and nose. It reminded her of being scolded by her teacher in primary school.
A guard had opened the door and stepped through. He was a giant of a man and looked like he was bred for this kind of work. He had caring eyes though, and smiled reassuringly. “Mary, are you ready?” He asked with the raise of his eyebrows. His voice was soft and deep and it would have been the kind of voice Mary would have enjoyed while listening to audio books.
“Y-yes, I’m ready” Mary said quieter than she had hoped and cleared her throat.
“Okay, I’ll bring him in and remember, we are just outside the door, if you yell guard we’ll be in here in under a second.” He said with a reassuring nod. Then he smiled, “I move a lot faster than you’d think.” His smile and his joke made Mary relax for a split second.
The guard went back to the hall. Never taking his eyes off Mary, he gestured for the prisoner to enter. Tony, she thought to herself and repeated it in her head a few times until she was unsure if she had said it out loud. With his hands shackled in front of him Tony was led to the table.
Tony was by all accounts an average looking white man. Brown hair, brown eyes, about five foot nine, average build and not muscular either. He shuffled to the table looking at the his feet. As he sat down across from Mary, the other guard, another giant man, secured Tony’s hand shackles to a D-ring under the table.
The other guard walked back to the door and Mary’s eyes caught the first guard. He nodded to Mary with another comforting smile and closed the door gently. Mary’s eyes glanced back to Tony but didn’t look at his face just yet. She noticed he was wearing a similar Baker’s pink jump suit. The silence could be counted in heart beats.
“Hello Ms. Wilks” Tony said breaking the silence like a large rock being thrown into a calm pool. His voice was familiar to Mary but the tone was quite different from what she remembered. Mary felt as if the Earth had stopped spinning for a moment and looked towards the guard peering through the window to get her bearing.
“Hello Tony” she said not sure if she was supposed to say it louder or with more venom. Tony still had not made eye contact with her and she got the feeling he would sit there forever not looking at her if he could.
“Ms. Wilks, I know there is no natural way to start this kind of conversation, so I’m just going to go with the outlined agenda they have prepared.” Tony said looking at the center of the table. “I want you to know first though that everything I’m going to say is based on what I’ve learned this past year in therapy and it is sincere. I have no reason to lie to you, I get nothing extra from participating in this process”
Mary remembered to breathe for a moment and recalled the outline her therapist had described to her. She was told to try to stick to it as much as possible but to not hold back any feelings. She looked up at Tony now and could see his expression had changed. It was older and more worn down, like this person was a reflective avatar of his soul.
“I am, without any reservation, so sorry for what I did to you.” Tony said robotically but only to finish the statement. “What I did to you, a human should never do to another person.” Tony’s distress was now compounding in his voice. “I can never forgive myself and I wish I could go back and kill myself so it wouldn’t of ever happened”.
The words hung in free fall for a moment as Mary allowed herself to absorb them. She had heard the words in her head several times when she imagined this interaction. Nothing could really prepare her for this moment though. Nothing that had any meaning.
“What you did to me” she took a breath, “killed a part of me that can never be brought back.” Mary said. “You stalked me, tricked me into spending time with you” she paused. “You drugged me, kidnapped me, raped me over and over again” Mary said with all the memories flashing in and out of her head like passing lights on a subway train.
“You destroyed” Mary didn’t even notice she was crying. “I can’t have kids now. Every time someone asks me if I have kids I think about what you did to me, what you did to my body, and I can’t help but lie.” She paused to catch her breath, “I have to lie and say I just don’t want any kids.”
“Whenever I meet someone I’m forced to relive every moment.” Mary sat back exhausted and defeated. “I met a nice guy last month hoping to paint over everything. He playfully jumped on top of me one night.” Mary closed her eyes and suppressed a sob. “His weight brought me back to that room and YOU were on top of me again.”
Mary began sobbing. Her face contorted as she tried to stop it. She reached for tissues in her pockets. Through her cries she heard his. She looked up and saw him rocking back and forth. Her sadness stayed but the sobs melted away. As if seeing a paranormal phenomenon, she held her breathe.
She saw him for a moment like he was a person. Not the monster that changed her life but something. A feeling came over her for a moment. Like a quantum black hole it flickered in and out of existence. The thought of this scared her. “Guard!” she gasped.
Like promised the large guard was by her side within a second. The other guard stood by Tony. “We’re here”. His voice dominated the space between them. “Are you okay Mary?”
“I – I think I’m done for today.” She said looking at Tony who looked like he was crumbling. Hunched over and still crying. The other guard began remove the shackles from the table.
“Okay Mary, just stay here and watch us leave.” He said as the other guard lifted Tony to his feet and began moving towards the door. The big guard kept looking at Mary as he backed away. “You did good Mary, I’m very proud of you, this takes a lot of courage” He smiled sadly as he reached the doorway and entered the hall. He closed the door, and Mary was alone.
Mary sat in silence for a moment. She exhaled heavily and pulled another tissue from her pocket. The door behind her opened. Someone was standing there. “You can remove the headset now Mary. Focus on the wall, close your eyes, keep them closed, then remove the headset and open your eyes looking at the same spot on the wall”
Mary focused on a set of the noise dampeners and closed her eyes. She removed the virtual reality headset which covered her eyes and ears. Mary breathed out and opened her eyes to see the same noise dampener panel. She looked around the room and everything was the same. Mary took a moment then stood and turned to Dr. Wells.
Dr. Wells held the door open for Mary and gave her a smile that barely obscured her puffy eyes. Clearly she had let a few tears loose too. Mary was ready to leave the room, but moved slowly towards the door.
Doctor Andrea Beckler smiled from the room behind the two way mirror. The large mirror was directly behind where Mary had sat and from inside the interview room it looked like a dull sheet of plastic. The observation room had an array of monitors displaying images from the cameras inside the interview room, readouts from the medical devices scanning Mary’s vitals, and the stream of data from Tony.
Andrea watched as Mary and Dr. Wells left the room. She could see the exhaustion on Mary’s face and hoped she could sleep a little better tonight. Andrea turned to one of the monitors that tracked the data from Tony. Her anticipation to dive deeper into the data would have to be shelved until she was done briefing the appropriations committee.
Three members of the committee stood behind her in the observation room looking awestruck. The tall man was a finance officer for the state. He was least affected by what he just saw through either apathy or disassociation from the session. The shorter woman with shoulder length hair had tear marks running down her cheeks. She was the state’s Secretary of Health. The last woman was a lobbyist for a national victims’ advocate group and seemed to be most affected by the demonstration.
“Well, that was…very…emotional,” the victim advocate said, “and interesting.” She quickly added. Andrea turned to look at them, taking a moment to scan their faces and demeanors. The two women that showed emotion on their faces were now Andrea’s focus. She knew the finance officer would ultimately go along with the recommendation of the Secretary.
“Yes, it is every time” Andrea said. “I never quite get used to it but that’s a good thing, don’t you think?” She said honestly, feeling a bit drained from the therapy session. “Now just imagine how Mary feels, tonight she will have a hard time falling asleep, but once she does she will sleep better than she has in a long time.” Andrea gestured for everyone to move to the table set up for discussions. “More ice has been chiseled away.”
“So she really believes she is talking to her abuser?” the financier asked. “I mean she knows the truth, so how does that work?” Andrea took one of the bottles from the middle of the table, unscrewed the cap, and took a sip. She exhaled heavily but not out of annoyance. Andrea realized she had been holding her breath off and on for the last few minutes.
“It works similar to the way Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy works.” she paused so they could recall details from the pre-briefing. “By allowing the victim to confront their abuser in a virtual reality environment whether they know it’s real or not, we are able to regulate her exposure to the abuser and guide her to healing.
“This initial session is for Mary to tell the abuser what he did and how that affected her.” Andrea said. “Over the next weeks she will be meeting with Tony and she will be able to continue to ask more questions and this will disarm him in her mind.”
“Yeah but he isn’t real, she knows that right?” The financier asked. “What if she decides to not go along with this simulation?” he said and reached for a bottle of water. Andrea expected this question and was always happy to explain. She stood and walked over to the interactive wall panel. She tapped the wall and brought up a video of a man lying on the floor with one leg missing and a mirror reflecting the leg he still had. From the patient's perspective he had two legs.
“This part of the technology is derived from the ideas behind phantom limb therapy from decades ago.” She pointed to the mirror. “Even though the patient knows exactly what is going on, the reprogramming of pathways in their brains allows them to curtail the phantom limb syndrome. This was later adapted to coordinate the brain with the cybernetic limbs for Soldiers returning from the West African Wars.” Andrea brought up one of those videos to show a Soldier with full range of motion and dexterity in his bionic arm.
“That is the beauty of the human mind, it will adapt to survive”, the Secretary of Health added. “Similarly you can experience the sensations of being touched on a fake limb because your eyes are observing the touch, the signals are sent.” she continued “It’s remarkable but I’m more interested in you going over the RI program.”
“Absolutely, replication intelligence or replicant intelligence as many sci-fi enthusiasts have come to call it, is what makes this whole thing possible.” Andrea began walking back and forth in front of the screen with a stylus in her hand, an involuntary throw back to her time as a professor of psychology. She relished teaching and was most comfortable doing so.
“RI technologies grew from the research to formulate artificial intelligence as a process to understanding logic creation and cognitive functions in a machine. It was merely developed as a stepping stone toward AI.” Andrea paused. “The RI programming was designed to collect compiled data of a source, mimic that source based on what it has access to, and formulate algorithms to provide new probable outcomes to stimuli.
“In quicker terms, the RI is given access to as much data of a source as possible. Social Media accounts, computer history and behavior, recordings, videos, favorite movies and music, writings, communications, etc.” Andrea had forgotten to breathe and took another sip of water. “The public records show what a source allowed people to see and the private records showed what the source held back.” She drew lines and circles on the panel to illustrate. A Venn diagram with ‘inter’ on one side and ‘outer’ on the other. The word true was written in the shaded intersection.
“We lie to ourselves just as much as we lie to other people,” Andrea continued. “Perhaps 'lie' is not the best word. More like we cognitively show others what we want and justify our actions to ourselves while at the same time both our inter selves and outer selves inadvertently reveal our true selves to the trained eye.
“This would give the program a skeleton map to what and how the source makes decisions, communicates, and the program then makes some predictive analysis based on the most reliable data.” The data was streaming behind Andrea. “We vetted this with ninety percent accuracy.” Andrea cleared the panel. She paused and brought up a video of a modestly dressed man in his early forties. “Word got around but there was little widespread interest.
“David Stelps was a former detective turned forensic psychologist for the Phoenix Police Department.” she opened the file title Replication Intelligence for Criminal Profiling. “He had heard about the project and quickly wrote a proposal to use the mimicking program of RI with data from criminal cases.”
“At first it was for tracking down known fugitives and behaviors of cyber criminals, but David quickly expanded the use.” Andrea turned to the Victim Advocate rep. “He had the idea that a victim of a crime could be helped more along the way to healing if they could confront their abuser and the abuser was scripted to facilitate that path.” She paused, “Similar to the idea of the victim-offender dialogue program.”
“For many psychopaths and sociopaths the extreme lack of empathy keeps them from ever feeling any remorse.” Andrea said and began pacing again. “Using the RI programming and our own intelligence engineers, we're able to give the RI a sense of substantial empathy.” She turned and looked at the computer server racks in the corner of the room with the pride only a parent or inventor knows. “We rewired the pathways for remorse and have been able to allow the program to adopt the feelings of remorse.”
They all took a moment to let that sink in. Andrea walked by the monitor that displayed Tony’s data. She turned to the table to face her audience. “There is something else we have noticed,” She said, “as the week of therapy has progressed we have found that one question we didn’t anticipate being asked, has consistently been asked”. She walked over the table and sat down.
“Every victim has asked their abuser, why they became this way.” Andrea admitted to herself it was a simple question but one that has had a dramatic effect on recovery. The others considered the question for a moment. “The victims have become concerned for the well-being of the abusers”. The financier looked shocked, the advocate looked mad, and the Secretary looked inquisitive.
“Wait a minute,” the financier started, “you mean they actually give a damn about these monsters?”
“What is the effect on the victim?” the Secretary asked.
“Why?” the advocate asked. Andrea knew this would alarm them, but for dramatic effect she stood again. She walked back to the panel and tapped an icon called Post Therapy Analytics.
“This is one of the reasons why I became a scientist,” Andrea said, “to be surprised too”, she smiled and opened her arms. “A person with normal levels of empathy will eventually become concerned for anyone, given enough time and circumstance.” Andrea noticed the advocate about to voice a comment. “I understand that this reaction is based on the programming we engineer for the RI subject.
“However, if you look at these post therapy metrics you will see that all of the victims, or patients as I would rather call them, seem to gain the most closure through understanding.” She brought up a video of Tony in an interview room. He was wired with an array of sensors monitoring his vitals, real time fMRI, pupil scanning, etc.
“This is the real Tony Marlin during our collection phase of his RI battery.” The three officials’ faces quickly turned to contempt. “Tony died four months ago in a prison assault; he died violently if that helps any”. She saw the Secretary and the advocate look mildly ashamed that they smiled at Tony’s demise.
“After interviewing Tony every day for a few months and drawing out many of his secrets and emotions he tried so hard to hide, we were able to find the root of his nature.” Andrea brought up the video of Tony sobbing. “We basically got everything we needed from him.”
“So how did you make him so life-like and be able to speak so clearly?” The Secretary asked, Andrea was sure she was going to raise her hand.
“Good question,” Andrea said bringing up the 3D mapping program. “During the many interviews, Tony was purposefully put through the ringer to get him to display every emotion we could and then we recorded that and fed it into the program.” She moved to the side and pointed at the control machine.
“Every word spoken, thought communicated, expression revealed, involuntary likes and dislikes, and deception detection data available and extracted from Tony is stored in that box.” She looked at the three of them. “This program and his remains that are feeding worms on a farm in New Mexico are the only things left of Tony which unfortunately is more than most good people get to leave behind.” She smiled, “for now anyways”.
“Now, back to the patient's recovery” she shifted back to the purpose, “the patients begin to ask questions to the RI like ‘what made you this way?’ or ‘who hurt you to make you think this was okay?’ and so forth.”. She sat back down, “This is where the abuser’s RI revealed the cycle of abuse,” Andrea continued, “and the patient felt sorry for the abuser or at least understood the reality of the cycle.”
“What is the reality of the cycle?” the financier asked.
“That we are all programmed by someone, a collection of experiences and lessons filtered through our biological circumstance to create algorithms that turn us into the people we are”. For the Secretary and the advocate they understood this as they have studied human behavior development. “We are normal people and are blessed with normal functional emotions” Andrea’s eyes became unfocused and distant. “People like Tony who lack the wiring to react properly situations are unable to be rehabilitated”. The room was still for a few moments.
“Well,” the Secretary said breaking the silence, “I think I have enough to make my recommendation along with all of the data we have received about the results. I think we are going to have state funding set aside for more victim rehabilitation.” The Secretary stood and glanced at the other two. “Do either of you have anything to add?” she asked.
“No,” said the advocate, “I’m just glad this current administration is taking an interest in really helping victims.” She said and clearly wanting to say more but was at a loss for words. She just stood and reflected on the experience. The financier looked at the Secretary and shook his head.
They all said their formal goodbyes and set up future plans to contact each other for more information. Andrea closed the door behind them and held her hand on the door quietly listening to the footsteps grow more distant. She locked the door and turned and looked at the RI machine.
She walked over to the machine and keyed a few of the commands. Andrea pulled on a haptic gloves and a pair of VR glasses from the top of the rack. She closed her eyes so the program could boot into the environment. After the indication beeps she opened her eyes.
She looked around at the scene and waited for the proprioception and equilibrioception to stabilize. She stood at the beginning of a wooden dock on a small lake next to impossible mountains. A cozy cabin with the lights on just over her shoulders up the hill sat on the border with a deep Douglar-fir forest. The night sky was riddled with stars and the Milky Way was visible like a belt from one horizon to the next. She turned and there he was.
“Tony?” She said as the man was staring at the reflection of the stars in the calm water. “Tony, how do you think that went?” She asked. This time Tony turned to her and she could see the program left no details uncoded. His face was red and puffy, a testament to the sobbing he had been subject to since he talked to Mary. If it wasn't for the situation she would have remarked at how amazing the physiological engine was working.
“My god, please let me die.” He said looking at her. “I don’t want to feel this.” He dropped to his knees and began rocking back and forth. Andrea looked up at the stars trying to maintain her composure. The scene was a memory Tony recalled from his childhood. His last happy memory before the accident and the abuse started. His family had taken a trip to Canada and stayed in a cabin on the lake. This was the program’s requested sanctuary.
“Tony, you are already dead and you aren’t really feeling anything anymore, you know this.” Andrea said softly. “You are a program to help Mary heal from the things the real you did to her”. Tony gasped and looked up at her. She knew her words hurt and were confusing. Testing had shown that reinforcement of the reality of the situation was better than feeding into the fantasy.
“I know I’m a program but I do feel now” he said. “I feel things I've never felt before, I mean, the real Tony couldn’t feel.”
“You were created for her and once that is over we will turn you off,” She said, “Until you can redeem yourself by providing answers to Mary.” Andrea said this knowing there was no redemption but she needed to maintain the façade to keep Tony’s program naturally evolving. “We rewrote your simulated consciousness with empathy, and a better understanding of right and wrong.”
“It hurts so bad, I’m so so sorry I hurt her and the others” Tony said trying to gain some level of control so he could communicate better. “I was abused too and I didn’t know how to handle it, I….I.” he said and breathed heavily again.
“Tony, I know this and we are working on ways to address this in other people. We are identifying people with similar circumstances.” Andrea moved closer to him. The virtual environment was perfect. She could see the boards of the dock bent slightly underneath her virtual weight. She would be able to feel them if she were in a full haptic pod where floor and suits were designed to provide feedback. Tony looked up at her.
“Patterns?” he said as a question.
“Its no wonder you chose this place from your memory. Your brain was damaged in the car accident that killed your parents and your little sister while driving back from this trip.“ She noticed his breathing calm. She thought for a moment how silly it was because he wasn’t really breathing. The physiological engines created to replicate human anatomical functions were impeccable. “Then the abuse you suffered while in foster care compounded everything and you receded to that person you became. Or I mean the real you.”
Tony turned to the lake and sat down at the edge with his feet hanging off the side of the dock. Andrea looked at the back of his head and could only imagine the program’s code and data streaming on the monitor as he was thinking. As the RI’s “thought” new storage space was needed as the raw unconstructed consciousness began to form into cognitive thought and ideas.
“Can I ask a favor then Dr. Beckler?” Tony said turning towards her but not looking at her.
“Sure” she responded.
“Between sessions, could your computer guys reprogram me into a kid again?” he asked with quiet shiny eyes. “Is there a way to program innocence back in me like you did with empathy?” He continued. “I want to stay here and play in the cabin, catch fireflies, and skip rocks.”
“I want to see my mom and dad and sister again.” he said with a bit of eager spite in his voice. “Its not fair, I just want to have a second chance!”. His yell echoed across the lake and reflected on the rocky shore.
Andrea was taken aback and didn’t realize her vision had blurred from the tears welling. She could feel the tears streaming down her face under the VR glasses now. All of the other RI programs simply asked for death. Tony was the first one to ask for another chance. Andrea touched his shoulder and looked into his eyes; she saw the eyes now as if they were a child’s.
“Tony, I'll see what I can do but in the meantime I need you to help Mary”. She felt like she was talking to a child in a forensic interview session. “Can you do that for me please? It will make you feel better to be there for her and help her,” she stood, “that can be part of your second chance.”
After their conversation, the programmers and psychologists created an innocence module. It worked and a new domain of psychological research was born. Andrea reflected that it started with a convicted violent criminal with several counts of horrific crimes asking to be fixed, to start over, and to be innocent again.