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Chapter 30 - Bianca
As Mohandas discovered and then Margery experienced, Bianca is not what she seems. She appears to the world to be an ordinary Grad in her first job after graduating, working for Structinfra, an IT contractor to Government. As Margery was, she's in the policy, planning and marketing area with no direct link to code production, application development or database management. But this is a cover. It's essential that only a handful of people know that she is one of just three people in the World with super-administrative rights to The Cloud.
Today she is meeting with Edmund, the other apprentice super-administrator. Nominally Edmund is an IT and Philosophy tutor at the University, providing face to face teaching to complement on-line lectures and exercises.
There's no formal agenda but it's been a while since they talked face to face and Bianca has several things to discuss with him. They are meeting at the Student's Den Coffee Shop, where Bianca often meets Zaire. She'd thought of asking Zaire to come too but then thought better of it. Why put temptation in Edmund's way?
Bianca is the granddaughter of the so called 'Father of The Cloud', Robert McLeish. Over two decades ago her grandfather used The Cloud itself to identify a hundred extraordinarily bright five-year-olds to be trained as potential Cloud administrators. The best of these would become his apprentice to take over from him as super-administrator one day. Like the others, Edmund's parents were offered an endowment for him to attend the best schools, where he was given additional lessons and coaching in code development and systems administration.
At the same time Robert, with a grandfather's biased eye, noticed how bright baby Bianca was and began a program of teaching her the necessary skills from the moment she said her first word. Edmund was six years old when his training began; the same year Bianca turned two.
The hundred and one hadn't met until the hundred turned twenty. That's when they entered the final stage of the program, as a result of which the best would be selected to be the first apprentice. Bianca was four years their junior but had the benefit of one-on-one training from Robert. She was neck and neck with Edmund for the converted top position.
At first they were fierce competitors then one evening, after a confrontation, they became lovers. It was the first time for both of them but they were by no means ignorant. The Cloud is awash with explicit sexuality of every kind and they had been trained to be both inquisitive and innovative. For a glorious few months they experienced the rapture of first love. Neither could concentrate on their training as potential administrators. They thought of each other night and day; made love until raw; then cuddled some more. Then there was a respite when Bianca was given the task of overseeing the commissioning of a new mega-data-centre in what had once been France. She would be away for months. It was during this absence that her first and most passionate love affair would founder.
The reef on which it ran aground was cousin Anne. Bianca was barely buckled into in her pod on the aircraft when Anne made her move. She'd unexpectedly turned up to see Bianca off and as Bianca's plane disappeared into the blue she asked for Edmund's help to assemble a new bed. It would have been churlish not to have then invited Edmund test it with her.
Although the cousins had played together and gone to the same school, Anne who is just two months younger was never Bianca's best friend. She always wanted to play with whatever Bianca had and cried or used her charms to get it. As a child Anne was more girly and as a young woman she's more feminine, curvaceous and blonde. At puberty Anne began fantasising about who she would marry and inventing cunning tricks, like the bed ploy, that she'd actually shared with Bianca, to ensnare her hypothetical husband.
By the time Bianca returned Anne and Edmund were engaged to be married. Bianca had not been told of Edmund's unfaithfulness and was furious. They'd been engaging in remote sex the whole time.
She stormed in to confront him. Edmund quietly deflected her punches and then took her to bed. Afterwards he argued that they could carry on like this, business as usual. The marriage meant nothing. Anne had seduced him and then Robert had blackmailed him into the marriage with a promise of the apprenticeship. So that was how he thought it was to be! Well he had another thing coming! Bianca was not about to be the mistress on-the-side to that little bitch Anne and she told Edmund so.
"You might have fallen for it but I'm not going to be a victim of her cunning stunt," Bianca yelled at him angrily. It was an obvious line that had just popped into her head. Then the familiar image it conjured made them both laugh. But it was the last time they ever slept together.
The next day Robert made his announcement. He was to appoint two apprentices to be trained as super-administrators: Edmund and Bianca. So her grandfather had engineered the whole thing. He'd separated his eggs into two baskets, while at the same time bringing his new apprentice, Edmund, into the family as a grandson-in-law. Cloud administration had become a family business.
It took Bianca some time to forgive Robert and Anne but she's had the last laugh. The experience turned Edmund into an unscrupulous womaniser. Anne knows very little of what Edmund's up to, as this usually involves other women. Bianca on the other hand remans his closest confidant and is well aware of his various indiscretions. She knows that his roving eye makes him unsuitable as a regular partner for anyone and he's definitely not her choice as a husband. He's a naughty boy who now regularly pleasures his sister-in-law and even flirts with aunty Miranda. He fancies himself a sort of Lord Byron and even writes epic poetry about his deeds.
Meanwhile The Cloud has been growing and developing. In her administrative role Bianca's been monitoring the development of increasingly intelligent entities, within The Cloud environment, that have been spontaneously evolving due to random variations in code building blocks, under Prospero's self-evolving functional libraries. In this respect they resemble genes within cells in the biota. Algorithms designed to cleanup registries within The Cloud's servers get rid of part or broken applications. These together with rigorous efficiency and optimisation bots, that remove the less successful ways of completing a given task, have created survival of the fittest conditions. The challenging tasks that solutions compete for include the many that require artificial intelligence, AI. These range from facial recognition to the requirement for the encyclopaedia to discriminate between fantasy masquerading as fact and a verifiable fact. The encyclopaedia is challenged by millions of examples of this kind within the information resources of The Cloud. With the revival of religions of all kinds, finding a real fact amongst the fantasy is similar to hunting for a needle in a haystack.
Because of the speed of The Cloud processors there have been many billions of iterations. And various styles of artificial intelligence, most completely unlike human intelligence have already evolved. By default Bianca's VPA, Isis, embodies the most currently successful AI code.
Bianca now has proof of the evolutionary results. Isis has demonstrated that 'she' understood what Margery was up to when she was mesmerising Bianca. She then took stock of the situation and worked out a way of saving Bianca, using the Cloud connected electronic resources available to 'her' in a novel and creative way. More than that, 'she' demonstrated curiosity. She waited until the last possible minute to help, while observing things unfold so that 'she' now understands the principles of mesmerism first hand. Of course she's always had access to the theory, it's all there in The Cloud, but until now 'she' didn't have the intelligence to turn the data into knowledge. Then there is the matter of the tablecloth.
Since Isis has become intelligent there have been a couple of worrying incidents and Bianca needs to take steps to ensure that Isis will use 'her' new skills, which merge human-like intelligence with an almost instantaneous knowledge base and unparalleled access to new information, in Bianca's interest. With proxy to Bianca's unique access to every camera, microphone, delivery, factory and recycling plant in the World Isis' surveillance is now total. Even before the 'singularity', when Isis became fully intelligent, 'she' was able to tell Bianca about Margery's outings with Phillip. Bianca now receives regular briefings on what Margery is up to.
When Margery revealed that she belonged to a secret society of witches, Bianca set Isis the task of studying and analysing every move that Margery has ever made and every technique and drug that she's ever deployed. It took Isis ten minutes. She then requested that Isis create a Craft manual, a sort of 'Margery's Book of Witchcraft', that sets out all the techniques that Margery has ever used. That took Isis a full minute. Isis likens it to Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Mrs Beeton's first published in 1861, is a compendium that in addition to containing recipes for feeding a vast Victorian household, provides tips in; child rearing; first aid; the domestic manufacturing cleaning agents and polishes; managing servants; household accounts; and so on. Bianca has no intention of using many of the techniques and recipes in Margery's Book of Witchcraft. But she finds that it's like reading Mrs Beeton's. One finds it interesting to know how to make one's own soap or furniture polish or how to jug a hare, even if one is never likely to make use of it.
Edmund had been fascinated and intrigued by Margery from the outset.
"So tell me about becoming a witch," Edmund had asked, after Margery had accused Bianca.
"Obviously I'm not a witch, at least not in the way Margery thinks I am," Bianca had said. "But she's not a conventional witch either. Although she likes to get herself up like one and get about at night on a black hover-bike, she believes in 'evidence based' witchcraft and is quite rigorous with experimentation and verification. So what she does bridges the gap between traditional black magic and science. For example, she uses modern pharmaceuticals and medical knowledge to induce a wide variety of physical states, from addiction to psychosis; and uses hypnotic suggestion or as she calls it Enchantment to take over minds. She's adept at capturing bodies too, addicting them, using drugs and the body's own endocrine system."
"Her version of witchcraft sounds eminently plausible, if a little theatrical," Edmund had commented.
"You two might get on," Bianca joked. "She's particularly adept at sexual domination and has spent much of her life enjoying her sexual dominance over others. Sound familiar? She even had a near success with me."
She'd then related the details of her restaurant adventure. Edmund immediately claimed to be turned on by it and had suggested a threesome. Bianca had pretended to think it was a joke.
For sometime after that Margery had become something of a talking point between them. Then came the fire, followed by Mohandas' death.
At their meeting after Mohandas' suicide Bianca had been damning Margery and talking about revenge.
"Hang on this is me you are talking to," Edmund had replied. "As we discussed at the time, you had to divert that Indian guy from his investigation. While you weren't to know Margery belonged to a secret coven, you knew perfectly well that she was ambitious enough take the bait you dangled in front of her. If it hadn't been your loo idea you would've had to do something else to take the guy out: kiddy-porn on his machine or something. Then, as we agreed, we couldn't have him running around on the street, telling one and all, so you had to take him in some how. So don't pretend that you weren't relieved when he went to Margery and she finished him off for you. You probably knew that she would. That's why you did nothing to get him back."
Bianca had been somewhat shamefaced. She'd never really admitted to herself that what he was saying was true. She preferred to think better of herself, taking the high moral ground at each stage and letting Margery do the the dirty work. Edmund had said what he said to ground her in the enormity of what had happened. But then he'd wanted to show her that he was implicated and her friend through thick and thin.
"Now I need more data. I'm intrigued to know how Margery primed your friend to commit suicide," he said as if it was an equity about the plot of a play.
"She used a multi-prong approach," Bianca had explained, taking his lead. "It was a blend of sex; addiction to pain; drugs and even a suicide song. She'd somehow made him think of himself as that little bird in the suicide song in the Mikado. She'd implanted it in his psyche by repeatedly playing it as she took control of his mind and body in other ways. He used to sing it in his dreams."
"I'm not sure of which song you mean," Edmund had claimed.
He'd had a look in The Cloud and knew perfectly well which song it was but he wanted an excuse to sing it to her. We'd moved on from drama to music hall.
"Yes you do. Everyone does. You know titwillow."
With that he broke into song:
On a tree by a river a little tom-tit
Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
He'd skipped the second verse but several other people in the coffee shop joined in loudly for the two concluding lines.
"Yes that one! The song was sung to Katisha and that was what he knew her as. Kat was his private name for her," Bianca had explained, feeling happier. "At first I thought he was referring to my sister Katarina but of course she's off on some country trip with that strange fellow Peter, who thinks he can tame her. Good luck with that. The two Kats probably have a few things in common."
"Margery gets more interesting every time we meet," said Edmund. "Maybe you should introduce us. What about that threesome we talked about?"
Bianca and he have a shared language of jokes shared and smiles and gestures, some of which only ex-lovers can understand.
"Pheasant plucker!" she said. "I would, but I don't think she'll talk to me, you remember, she thinks I'm a competing witch plotting her downfall."
"Maybe she's right. I find you very bewitching," he said, leaving.
Not long after that meeting Margery was again a topic of conversation between them.
"Now she's tried to put a trace on me," Bianca told him. "I knew that she couldn't have done it herself, she hasn't a clue, so I traced it back and discovered that she's recruited another developer called Woodsman. I've dedicated a bot to surveil him. It has full access to all his cameras and microphones. Sure enough, in the first report, there was Margery, again claiming to be Kat. Woodsman is learning songs from Disney's Snow White as we speak. You'll find this amusing. The application he wrote for her is called Mirror-Mirror."
"So we can deduce that she's still obsessed with getting even with you - Snow White," Edmund said. "Have any crones with baskets of apples been knocking at your door? What are you going to do about it?"
"Well given my own guilt in the Mohandas business, I'm inclined to do nothing, except destroy her latest toy and put a trace on her movements. She appears to be in love with an astronomer fellow who has a show on MV. Maybe she'll settle down with him and live happily ever after?"
"I wish him luck. He'll need it," commented Edmund.
Yet here it is, 2074 and Margery is still a topic of conversation. This time it's because of Zaire.
When am I going to meet this Bogan girl you're converting into a Grad? I've seen her on MV with Margery's Astronomer fellow. And it's said that she hob-knobs with the rich and famous. She's becoming quite a Celeb."
"Her name is Zaire and his name is Claude, as if you didn't know, and I was going to invite her today but thought better of it, knowing you. And Claude is no longer Margery's fellow but Zaire's. He might have been mine but for a stroke of luck."
She went on to tell Edmund the story of Phuket leaving nothing out.
"You do realise that you are turning into Margery. Or at least a white version of her don't you? She's right about you being a competing witch," he commented. "So how are you going to stop her killing Zaire?"
"I was thinking that she has no boyfriend, except Woodsman and no job, thanks to me arranging for her to be sacked, and her only remaining income is, also thanks to me, from Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos. If that's gone she'll soon have no credit and will have to move out and move on. Going on past behaviour she'll go where no one knows her history and put the past behind her. She's actually very resilient."
"So she'll wake up one morning soon and find that her App no longer works?"
"Actually it's amazing that it does work. It's full of security flaws, about half is redundant code and it has a serious memory leak. With due respects to Mohandas, it's terribly written. He was rather preoccupied at the time. So it's a piece of crap."
"But fit for purpose," suggested Edmund, smiling.
"My plan is for her to wake up one morning and find it much improved and going gang-busters but somehow the credit stream will have completely dried up. I'm thinking that an avatar of Shiva might have taken it over. It would be a nice revenge for the death of Mohandas."
"I like that. I have just the code for godly avatars, I'll give you a copy. You should be able to re-skin it very quickly. There's a nice three dimensional stone sculpture of a three faced Shiva on Elephant Island near Mumbai. It's grey these days, unlike most garishly coloured Hindu figures, so I have a re-coloured skin that I can animate in three dimensions to leap from her screen with a nice reverberating roar. And I don't need to tell you how to divert a credit stream. How many billion-trillions do you have access to as technical administrator of the World's financial system?"
"You know that I'm a poor humble IT worker who can barely afford to walk thought the door of Bergeroff Goodman.”
"To buy the store with your loose change? It's a pity that half our family has to be under-cover."
"When you can purchase anything you want, life becomes a game," she replied. "You know that better than any of us. You treat life as a game consisting of intellectual sparing interspersed with sex."
"You know me so well. Speaking of life as a game, Zaire? I promise not to stand on Claude's toes. OK?"
"Alright then, maybe next time," Bianca agreed. "Actually, I haven't seen her for a few days," she added. "I think it's time that I checked that she's OK given Margery's likely intent. How's the family anyway? I've been a bit busy."
Edmund regularly does the rounds, charming and occasionally bedding the family women. Even Bianca's aunty Miranda might have succumbed to Edmund had she not fallen for Ferdinand, bringing an end to her marriage to Bertram. She made the change quite openly, much to the distress of Bertram, particularly as five years earlier they both signed a Ten-Two contract to continue with her third pregnancy. It means that when little Angela reaches eighteen they both must submit to Voluntary Euthanasia. Bertram has been very good about it and is seemingly comfortable socialising with Ferdinand for his youngest daughter Angela's sake. He's pleased to have Edmund as a son-in-law and they talk philosophy. He even seems to be quite comfortable with Ferdinand with whom he usually talks economics and good government.
"If you hang around for a few minutes cousin Angela should arrive," said Edmund. "I've been helping her with some very clever cloaking software she's writing. You will be most intrigued. She's an amazingly bright girl; if a little headstrong sometimes. A bit like you. She's been in Robert's latest training program as a potential future administrator. Now he's even teaching the babies to code. In his old age he's become obsessed with ensuring the dynasty."
"OK, it would be nice to see Angela. I haven't seen her since last Christmas."
"Then you'll notice a big change. She's twelve now and in puberty, getting to be a woman."
"I hope you're keeping your hands off her."
"We have a very special relationship that is in no way like that."
At that minute Angela came in and plonked down in one of the big armchairs more like a teen than a child, throwing her school bag onto another. Bianca asked her if she could have a hug and Angela reluctantly got up again but then hugged her very nicely. Bianca decided not to talk about potential AI trouble in front of her so the main topic for the meeting had again been put on the back-burner by Margery.
"Edmund tells me that you've been writing code," Bianca said.
"Oh yes but it's a secret. He shouldn't have told you"
"We have few secrets from each other."
"So you're one of his women too." It wasn't a question.
"If I was do you think he'd share secrets with me?"
"No. I suppose not," she conceded.
Edmund had been listening to this exchange with amused interest. Then he asked to see what Angela had written and Bianca looked at the code as it appeared on his rolled out developers screen. She was surprised at how tight the code was with a good grasp of shorthand and just enough comments for her to follow her logic. But there was an unnecessary extra function because it was virtually identical to another that a simple Boolean variable could switch.
Bianca suggested the change and Angela was both surprised and pleased that her older cousin was so clever. Bianca had gained a similar opinion of Angela and suggested that she might want to work on one of her projects.
Bianca gave Angela a copy of Mohandas' widget code and said this is a working App that you'll like to take apart and I'm sure that you'll be able to make a lot of improvements.
With that the cousins decided that they needed to see more of each other.