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6

ANALYSIS: Rieke has shown exceptional personal growth, as her myraids of grown synapse-networks have shown. In the span of one year, she has matured into a 13-year old girl whose sensibilities and joy are well-developed, having bonded with her given family and their recovered son, Werner. The inventor's wishes have been proven right when he wanted to use the first prototype as a reincarnation of his comatose daughter, as opposed to the personality of what we thought would be the ideal child – docile enough to conform to their parents' wishes, yet have a feisty independence when they encountered illicit situations, should it ever encounter them.

One of our anticipated problems, the malfunctioning of Rieke (either physically or emotionally), has not grown to become a reality. We thought of all the mentionings of artificial intelligence turning hostile against humanity, and despite us insisting on safeguards yet being vetoed by the inventor, Rieke holds a bright and chipper attitude towards the people around her, which helps maintain an overall positive mood wherever she goes.

Another problem would be the discovery of Rieke's android nature and the hostile response – which gladly never came to fruition. Thanks to our collaboration with the academy board members, as well as the inventive resourcefulness of her trusted friends, she has remained safely a human girl in the eyes of the public.

There was an incident where she fought against one Khanh Nyugen, a student whose rough demeanour shows in her streak of academic strikes. With our concurrence, Martin Herzog had her expelled from the academy, and that appears to be the end of that.

Once we have completed diagnostics on Rieke, we will be looking forward to the release of our first batch of marionettes to provide for all the bereaved families, whose children have fallen to Sinclair's Malaise, or who are unable to have children due to pollution-induced poisoning.

-Dr Ernst Schultz; 21 July 2027

..

They have asked her a lot of interview questions and put her through many scanning machines – one of which has her lie down like a sleeping beauty while robotic arms open her components up for examination, her torso and arms and legs.

She is fascinated by the whole process, but also wants to go home, for there is little comfort to be had with the people in white suits, who are only interested in her as a high-functioning robot and not as a real person.

Then she is left alone, in that strangely familiar white room, where there is a sketchbook of her musings – her drawings of fairytale princesses, and her dreams of wanting to be a ballerina dancer someday. She doesn't remember writing those, yet her own handwriting is unmistakably familiar to the eye, and it occurs to her that all those vague memories she's had of being in a laboratory are real – they were meant to be wiped out when she's sent to the Herzogs, but they linger in her.

And so, the first batch of marionette children are announced, with families lining up and ordering their child by the dozen.

"At last, a love of your own!"

That is the slogan for Cybertronics' campaign, to have their products become accepted across the different continents. But there is growing anxiety from people about their artificial nature – how these growing androids are supposed to be acceptable replacements for real children, when companies like theirs have caused the problem of reproduction in the first place, with all their irresponsible pollution.

Is it supposed to be a kind of a joke? Could real children be expected to compete with the likes of them – with their abilities both physical and intellectual, their well-behaved manner, and above all their love? Questions like these are thrown during the press conferences and online forums, often with an underlying tone of fear, with Pygmalion and biblical references thrown about for added credibility; many are suspecting a dire shift in technology that will be for humanity what fire is for civilisation. A complete uncertainty about artificial sentience.

But the desire from many parents, just to have someone of their own to love is too overwhelming.

Each marionette is custom-made, with the potential parent(s) being able to choose things from their appearance, gender, to their personality. The clients are specifically warned that the marionettes are not like computers, where if something goes wrong – a traumatic event occurs for example, or they just don't like the marionette – you can't just wipe their memories and start anew, for their memories are holographicly-stored, with different aspects of their recorded moments layered together for efficient recall. They can only be sent back to the company for destruction.

These marionettes are equipped with safeguards, such as being able to feel pain and fear in dangerous situations, and guilt when they are made to harm people or other living beings. They also come equipped with service evaluation procedures, where data is sent in on a daily basis to Cybertronics' data-mining servers, to make sure every marionette is performing to a standard; Rieke's data serving as a baseline.

/

On a fine day near the end of August, when Rieke is taken for a walk near the river where the serving-bots clean the grass from the leaves, the professors delightfully give Rieke a special request from the inventor himself.

He would like to meet her, once more time. The one who's originated her.

She quivers at the thought, with heavy feelings of anticipation flooding her heart that she'd be meeting her real father.

For her trip, she is dressed in a dainty dress, with a bonnet and a parasol, and a private amphibicopter takes her over the seas that have been tainted green, a low-enough altitude that carries her beneath the gris clouds, so she could see the build-up of floating debris which are being piled into manageable sections by machines.

How could people be cruel to this world on which they thrive?

The hours pass, and she daydreams of another joyous school year with Werner and friends. Until they arrive by the east coast of Canada, the pilot obtaining permission to land in Prince Edward's Island, where the golden sunset casts its loom against the darkness of the east horizons.

By the landing platform, where the rotors of the amphibicopter send a thunderous breeze, an escort crew is already prepared to take Rieke down into the countryside, in an omnicab, where the inventor's estate is within a grape vineyard.

And just like that, the escorts drive away down the road, leaving Rieke alone in the night, with the glowing vines providing illumination.

She is lonely when she heads up to the estate's doors and rings the doorbell, and is greeted – by an electronic butler whose face is just a curved-screen panel, dozens of apps and schedules being visibly processed.

"Welcome back, Marieke," it says, with an expression of delight. "I haven't seen you in ten years; my, how you have grown."

"Hallo," she goes, not really understanding its familiarity with her. "Where is-"

"He is just waiting for you upstairs."

The estate is almost womblike in how lushly decorated the interior is, with portraits and illustrations lining the halls, the exotic flowers hung from the ceiling (which double as naturalistic lighting), and her heels clack cleanly on the rosewood floor. The glass cabinets hold awards – Hans Andersen earning the lifetime achievement awards for advances in AI, mechanical design, and ballet slippers of various kinds, red and violet and even in gold.

Finally, they arrive at his door – a silhouette of a blue dove, and lyrics from a poem:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a fairy hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Rieke gently unlatches the door and pushes it open.

A study room, with sheets of blueprint designs, magazines and essays all tucked neatly in piles. The light shimmers from the ceiling – as if it were the ending to a classic Disney animation, the daylight highlighting the glass casket, where her father lies, his body rasping breaths, his face withered by time, yet the love in his eyes still shines brightly as ever, as it did then when he saw her dancing in her ballet lessons.

"Marieke. My little angel, you've come back to me."

She saddles forth towards him.

"I would have never thought to see you live again," he goes, smiling, but with sadness welling in his eyes. "I know.. you were not meant to die that day, when that car ran you over. I'm blessed that you were sent to me like an angel, to show me how beautiful happiness may be, and I've sent you to your new family, my only daughter, so that they may know your love in the darkness they were left in."

"Daddy..?" she says, holding his hand.

"Not anymore. I may have created you, but your real mother and father is the one who can take care of you now – I am too old, too spent. I'm dying.. Marieke. My respiratory system is failing, and I don't have much time anymore. I wanted my last memory to be with you."

"No.. you can't die," Rieke goes. "They have cryogenics, you can still be saved-"

"My condition is too critical; it would do nothing for me if I'm to be trapped under ice forever, as a dim yet fading hope."

She is crying – it's the first time she feels her heart shattering within. "I don't want you to die. You're still my daddy, I don't want you to leave me alone."

"But I haven't left you alone. You have your new family now – see, Werner has grown so fond of you, he's missing you-"

And the butler's face is showing images of Werner in his bed, holding onto Rieke's pillow. Where he's sighing on the sidewalks, looking glum, silently uttering her name.

"It hurts.." Rieke goes.

"I've already spent enough time with you to know you will grow into being a real princess." The inventor is remembering when he first looked into her eyes as a newborn baby, from his wife who passed away soonafter, and felt only tenderness – that feeling which carried over through her whole childhood, brightening his life just by the way she is. "The only thing that's important for me now is that you'll live happily, for everyone you care about. Promise me, Marieke, you'll live on – even if it seems that the world is in despair."

She gulps. "I promise."

Then the inventor seems to make a nodding, as if to say "Good," feeling happy to see his final wishes come true, before life escapes his body into stillness, and Rieke is left clutching at his body in the quiet loneliness of the room.

June 2017

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