The Humming Blue

Vida Cosmos might have helped give birth to the Hostess, but she had never planned on merging with Her. During Vida's all-too-brief life in the flesh she'd always been unassuming, living, at least to the naked eye, far below her potential. She lived to support her art habit, working demanding salt of the earth type jobs: press operator, machinist, waitress, cashier. She only fell back on her computer skills when she needed a lot of money quick.

Vida also possessed another unusual talent, one she only confessed to her priest and a few close friends: she could talk to trees. And it wasn't in a hippie tree-hugging way, she claimed trees were conscious and had their own language.

But someone somewhere must've blabbed about Vida's gift. Because one afternoon during her fifteen minute break, the HR manager called her into the office saying she had an important visitor "from the government". "Am I under arrest?" Vida asked, even though she hadn't done anything to run afoul of the law.

"No," the manager replied, "but the guy's real persistent."

So Vida walked in the office. There was a grandfatherly Black man with an impeccably groomed salt-and-pepper beard and an obviously expensive gray suit sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He looked her up and down and said with a shit eating grin, "Margaret Thatcher is 100% sexy."

"What?!" the HR manager and Vida exclaimed almost in unison.

The sharply dressed man addressed his next question to Vida's manager. "Do you mind if I take her off the premises for a bit? It shouldn't be any longer than a half hour."

The manager looked to Vida, uncertain of how to proceed. "Are you okay with this?"

Vida wasn't sure what to say. She was a little apprehensive, but whatever this man's business with her was, it was certainly more interesting than work. "Yes," she finally replied.

Vida and the man -- he quickly introduced himself as Thomas Caine, PhD, from the NSA, no less -- exited the store and walked to Caine's hulking black SUV. It had DC plates and deeply tinted windows. Those windows looked bulletproof.

Vida surveyed the other shoppers in the parking lot blithely going about their business. Her life was about to take a very surreal turn and nobody cared.

Caine opened the passenger side door and helped Vida into the seat. He climbed in the driver's seat and turned on the air, and something else, too which totally obliterated all sounds from the outside. Maybe some white noise?

The first thing Caine did was congratulate her. "Nice recovery back there in the office, Ms. Cosmos. You'd make someone an excellent spy."

He was referring to the Margaret Thatcher comment. It was actually the name of a secret group on Facebook for white hat computer hackivists. The name came from an Edward Snowden interview. He was suggesting using long pass phrases instead of shorter passwords for better security. He gave the Margaret Thatcher phrase as an example. Snappy enough to remember and long enough not to be easily guessed. Vida might have chosen not to devote her life to code, but that didn't mean she didn't like to geek out on occasion. "So that's what this is about?" Vida asked. "You want me to spy for you?"

"No," Caine replied. "I want you to help me with a pet project of mine."

"It doesn't involve stealing or killing, does it? Because if it does, screw that shit. I'm out."

Caine just laughed. "That doesn't surprise me. Back when the Navy tried to recruit you in high school, you told them pretty much the same thing. You declared you didn't want to be a murderer and then told them about your cousin Fresco who went to Vietnam and never recovered."

Vida shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Now she was spooked. How long had Caine been watching her? How much did he know? "How do you know about that?"

"You've made some astute comments in the Thatcher Group. You don't speak up often, but when you do, it's gold. I've been interested in you for a couple of years now, so I've done some research into your background. Don't worry. I didn't invade your privacy. All the information I accessed was publicly available."

Vida was stunned. "What's the project?" she asked after a long weighty silence.

"It involves artificial intelligence," Caine replied. "I want to make an AI with a soul."

Vida wasn't sure if Thomas Caine was crazy or what. "An AI with a soul," she repeated, trying to get used to the feel of the words in her mouth.

"You see," Caine explained,"computers aren't really smarter than we are. They're faster, have perfect memory, and a significantly larger storage capacity. Computers excel at anything that involves sifting through mountains of information, recognizing patterns, and making decisions