Eugene Crisp, Chief Storyteller at Proxy
It was a question that made Dr. Amelia Pope kill herself. The first time, anyway.
The question was, “What is the proper response to learning that there is, in fact, a God?”
This is the story of Dr. Pope, a company called Proxy, the quest to find a proper hook, and an answer to the aforementioned question. An answer that Dr. Pope herself gave as all of her thoughts drifted away, darkness replacing light.
Michael Hutchins, janitor at Proxy
The doctor was a really nice woman. Even us rank-and-file types, she always had a smile and a little nod for us, though you could tell she wasn’t completely there with you all the time, you know? Was in her own world, thinking some great big thoughts that were occupying her mind completely.
I think what really threw people off about Dr. Pope was how cold she could be about some things when most other people would go all hot. Rather than getting all mad and what have you, she’d go very calm, very chilly.
I heard once, and I don’t know if this actually happened, because I only heard it from someone else, and who knows where they heard it? But I heard once that she was run off the road by some jerk who was late to work and his wife was leaving him and he was just mad at the world, the way people get sometimes when their lives have gone sideways. Anyway, she must have cut him off or something, or at least he thought she did, and he got barking mad, honking his horn and swerving up next to her, nudging and nudging until she pulled off onto the shoulder of the highway.
Now, most people in that situation would be angry. I’d probably be ready for a fight, you know? That kind of behavior’s dangerous, not to mention lawless. But Dr. Pope, she just steps up out of the car and waits for the man to storm on over to her. He shouts and yells and makes all kinds of ruckus, spit flying this way and that, his hands waving all over the damn place. And Dr. Pope, she just stands there, calm as you please.
After maybe two or three minutes of roaring and swatting around, the man’s worn himself out and just stares at the doctor, waiting for her to respond in some way, to yell back, to threaten or slap or whatever else. So he can feel alive or something. But she just stands there, looking at him, no expression on her face.
It’s maybe ten seconds of that before he breaks down, apologizes, and gives one of those sniffle-snorts you hear when someone is holding back pain, only to have it kind of rip them open from the inside. He starts crying and telling Dr. Pope that it’s not her he’s upset at, it’s his soon-to-be ex-wife and his boss and whatever.
Right then, when she’s got this jerk pretty much rolled over and exposing his belly, what does she do? Does she kick him? Does she break the poor man down even further?
Well, then, does she pat him on the shoulder? Say, “There there, buddy, it’ll be okay?” Help him feel better?
She walks back to her car and drives away.
Cold as you please. Nice woman, but goddamn.
Dr. Sunder Davies, Simulation Department Head at Proxy
Oh yes. I’ve heard the road rage story. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I wouldn’t put it past her. Amelia could sometimes be as unyielding as a boulder in the winter, and about as forgiving. And she could roll right over you, too, if you got in her way once she’d made up her mind about something.
That said, she was fiercely protective of people. And not just her people, friends and family and such, like anyone else. All people. It was as if the world was her family and she was Mama Bear. Or maybe Mama Tiger, because it certainly wasn’t a cuddly experience for anyone she perceived to be hurting someone else. It was as if, to her at least, if you stepped on one person you were stepping on all of her little cubs and tigerlings, and that wasn’t okay. She made that pretty clear to anyone who belittled others in her presence, or tried to elevate themselves by pushing someone else down.
Olive Marin, childhood friend of Dr. Amelia Pope
Amelia was protective of folks when we were kids, you bet. It was a really inclusive thing, but also kind of brutal, if you ever stopped to think about it.
Here was this little girl who wasn’t exactly unfriendly, but certainly not…nice. Not your first choice to have at slumber parties, you know? But she was there for you when no one else was. And not because she thought it would give her some kind of social status or whatever. I don’t think she cared too much about schoolyard politics. It was more like she hated injustice and wasn’t built to tolerate it. Couldn’t see a wrong without trying to right it.
I remember this one time she stepped in when a pair of older boys were picking on this Latino kid at recess. We all knew these older boys’ parents were a little bit racist, and so they were probably just miming what they saw at home. But this one day they shoved this kid because he looked a little different from them, and Amelia stepped right up in front of them, folded her arms, and said something like, “You realize this is making you look ridiculous?”
The boys tried to posture a bit like boys will do, but they were also looking around at each other, and at all the other kids who had gathered around since they shoved that Latino kid, and it seemed to dawn on them that they were kind of acting like jerks in front of everybody. Or maybe they just felt a little silly for being stared down by a little girl who was spindly and small and much younger, and who they clearly couldn’t just shove out of the way. Not without completely losing face.
I always assumed Amelia’d either mellow or get really hurt at some point, because she was so set on her principles and refused to see reason when you’d tell her to just leave things well enough alone. We didn’t really keep in touch after school, so I didn’t know what she was up to. Some people get a little softer with age, and they fill the space the good Lord gives them by being a little bit flexible. That’s something most people learn to accept as they get older. Amelia, though, it’s almost like she became harder over time. Like the world pushing against her toughened her skin rather than the other way around. I guess we need people like that as much as the other, but I sure am glad I don’t have to carry that kind of burden.
Dr. Robert Chalmers, Pediatric Psychologist
Amelia’s parents first brought her in to see me when she was seven years old.
At that age, Amelia was already showing signs of character traits you don’t typically see in children. Some patients develop such traits in their late-teens, but even then, very seldom.
Amelia had a level of self-awareness that was remarkable, and this helped her stand out from most of my other patients. Much of the time it was as if I was discussing philosophy with a first year college student, rather than trying to help a troubled child cope with a world in which she didn’t quite fit.
I recall that during one of our visits she was incredibly frustrated by injustice and intolerance, and was having trouble comprehending how her peers could fail to see the misalignment of the world that she clearly and intensely perceived. She couldn’t fathom how other people looked past that other, perhaps deeper level of human interaction. A level in which all the pieces fit together, sometimes in a beneficial way, but more often non-optimally.
Amelia would often interject on someone else’s behalf, and sometimes even place herself in harm’s way to make a point. She was trying to educate her peers, and even adults, about how to behave, I think.
For Amelia, day-to-day life was like listening through the ears of an impresario to a musical score containing a hint of discord: she felt compelled to tune the strings and set things right. To make the world a more perfectly orchestrated place.
Eugene Crisp, Chief Storyteller at Proxy
Dr. Pope was not a large woman. Not muscular, nor menacing. Looking at her, without context, you would see a Caucasian female of fairly unremarkable proportions and aesthetics. Sharper-than-average cheek bones cutting across a cherubic, inverted-teardrop face.
Dr. Pope’s power was derived not from sinew or imposing frame, but from an understanding of what was happening around her as it happened. She grokked what other people were thinking with whipcrack speed, and simultaneously determined how other people thought she was thinking. She could unravel a tangle of intentions and perceptions, which resulted in a well-labeled subway map of facial expressions, body language, meaningful emphasis, and subjective definitions for the words being used.
Dr. Pope was remarkably attuned to the minutiae that many of us take for granted. She embraced this awareness, and after high school stepped out into the waves, far from shore, allowing the current to take her far from the small New England town where she grew up. This roil eventually deposited her, sand dollar-like, on the shores of the Pacific Northwest.
It was in Seattle that Dr. Pope initially found firm footing in the entertainment sector; video games, specifically. She liked that it was an industry in which very intelligent, creative people wove together experiences for the average person. An industry full of outliers struggling to communicate grand ideas and concepts.
It was also an industry in which, despite the grand technologies, resources, and minds involved, even the most established industry leaders seldom delivered more than me-too efforts, or in her words, “Trope-laden mind-candy.” These companies churned through zillions of dollars to develop products that were unchallenging, addictive, and lacking substance. Mental junk food.
It was the video game industry’s inability to communicate clearly, and their squandering of technologies which might serve humanity by enabling enhanced interaction and better mutual understanding, that led Dr. Pope to study artificial intelligence. She saw immense potential in these systems, especially when paired with the multitudinous networks tendrilling across the planet. A.I. was a technology that, if developed and used correctly, could allow for new types of interactive media, revolutionary interfaces, and radically different platforms through which anyone with something to say could communicate more clearly.
She envisioned a world in which our online lives overlapped with our real-world lives to the point where it would be hard to distinguish one from the other. Virtual guardian angels would protect us from harm, while also helping us get the most out of our day. This would allow the aggregate wisdom of the human race to manifest as a virtual assistant of sorts, a friend customized for each and every person in the world. A faux personality that would help balance each person’s imbalances, smooth over jagged social interactions, and allow us to work with each other toward common goals.
All her life, Dr. Pope had felt like a pro-athlete endlessly circling a practice track but never going full-out and expending all of her potential energy toward a worthwhile goal.
After a few years of graduate school, then a few more to achieve her doctorate in artificial intelligence, Dr. Pope took on a lead technology development role at Crytical Games in Seattle. It was there that she decided to stop running laps.