The Russian Dolls: A Short Science Fiction Story by Extropia DaSilva

TWO.

A child’s finger pressed gently on the button of a mouse, initiating a command to remove a graphic representation of a television, and place it back in the inventory slot from whence it came.

Emily, like all children, learned about her world and her place in it through the medium of play. Like little girls before her (she was seven years old) she had toys that were her companions and mentors, who helped her roleplay key skills she would need as an adult. Those toys had changed, somewhat. Where once there had been dolls and dollhouses, now there were relational artifacts — toys that actively responded to your play, almost as if they could read and react to emotional states. She was too young to understand the smoke-and-mirrors aspect of these toys, how their tiny sensors and microprocessors only had enough power to detect the facial expressions and tone of voice of the person they were interacting with, adopting facial expressions and mannerisms of their own while not actually having any inner-life at all. But then, whoever designed the animations and the software that triggered them understood human psychology so well, even most adults occasionally felt a twinge of empathy toward these toys.

Emily’s favourite toy was the computer game WeePeeple (at her immature age, she did not question the curious convention that things must be misspelled in order to be cool to the kidz-sorry). It fell into the genre of games known as ‘sims’. You designed your own inworld character, selecting a number of pre-designed noses, eyes, chins, ears, body shapes, and then adjusting sliders that reshaped each part, making it smaller or larger, fatter or thinner until your character conformed to whatever image you originally intended. The design interface that controlled this creative process had been refined over the years, so that this aspect of the Sim experience had gone from the Second Life era, when nobody but the most artistically gifted could craft anything but a butt-ugly avvie, to WeePeeple’s delightfully intuitive setup that let even little girls like Emily sculpt beautifully realised characters.

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