Author's note: While this story can stand alone, it is part of the larger Persistence of Memory universe.
Miranda looks terribly fragile in the bed. Her skin has always been pale, but today it looks like old-fashioned typing paper. Her head is swathed in bandages, and her closed eyes seem bruised. The bandages smell faintly of medi-gel. They'd had to shave her head for the operation. She hadn't cried when they'd done it, even though Fletcher said she'd been shivering and visibly terrified. She's a brave one, my Miranda, not silly like most girls. The machines monitoring her vital signs beep steady, reassuring rhythms. She'll live. That has never been in doubt. I paid a small fortune for her extraordinary healing abilities. Her mental state is the question. I've either given my daughter a true photographic memory or I've turned her into a gibbering idiot. Either way, it's the sort of thing I'd prefer to discover in person. Her left hand hangs off the edge of the bed, almost begging me to take it. I don't.
Loud footsteps echo behind me. Morgan clears his throat, as if he hasn't already given me sufficient warning of his presence. I don't turn around. "Come to view your handiwork, doctor?"
Morgan stands beside me. His face is lined and pale, and his white hair is askew. He looks like a very old man instead of one of the finest neurologists on Earth. No doubt he would say he's had a very rough sixteen hours. I don't pay him for the easy jobs. And for what I'm paying him for this one, he can afford a bit of fatigue. "Your daughter is doing very well, Mr. Ellison. Vitals are excellent. She awoke briefly about—"
I whip my head around. It takes considerable effort to keep my voice even. "Miranda woke up, and you didn't tell me?" I should fire him for this. I should ruin him. Maybe I will, when the next operation is complete. I need him for the moment, and that spares him.
Morgan must be able to see the fury in my eyes. He holds up his hands. "Your secretary said you were in an important meeting. And it was only for a few minutes. She would have been unconscious again by the time you got here." Even frightened, he can't quite keep the disapproval from his voice. I can practically hear the unspoken Other fathers wouldn't have left their daughter at all. Other fathers wouldn't have installed a greybox.
I'm not other fathers. I don't have the luxury of staying by Miranda's side, petting her while she sleeps. A company is like a garden. It requires regular tending. Miranda will need a considerable fortune if she's going to accomplish what I have planned for her, just as she'll need the photographic memory and the biotics. I'm willing to sacrifice to give her that. If everything has gone according to plan. If I don't have to lock her away as another failure. My other daughters were infants or toddlers when they were diagnosed as crippled or autistic. I barely knew they existed before I had to send them to Greyhaven so they wouldn't contaminate my next attempt. Miranda is different. I've gotten attached to her, in my way. I'll institutionalize her if I have to, but it will pain me. "Did she seem... normal?
"She knew her name. Better than I expected, at this point. We'll run full tests, and then I can tell you more."
I pat my suit pocket. "I have a test of my own, if you don't mind." Miranda is a mathematical genius. She's not quite ten and already doing algebra. She'll be starting trigonometry and calculus soon. I'm not the egomaniac the press prefers to paint me as, but I couldn't resist giving Miranda a few of my own talents. Permit a man his small vanities when he's trying to create the savior of the human race. It seems only right that this should be her first test.
Eventually, Miranda stirs and opens her eyes. She flinches when she sees me. I know she doesn't like me. Another sacrifice I've made. My daughter despises me. No use pretending otherwise. I'd set her a grueling regimen of study in every possible discipline—science, literature, even self-defense. I don't accept failure. I monitor her friends. Too many of her peers will grow up to be coke or red sand addicts or squander their lives and their fortunes on frivolous things. I won't have that for her. She hates me for it. She fears me, too. I've made it quite clear that I can take away the two things she values most in the world. I permit her her two little friends. Gail is clever and ambitious in the way only someone who comes from nothing and is sick of it can be, almost as smart as Miranda is. They'll challenge each other. Niket is steady, the voice of reason. And I can banish them both if she doesn't perform to expectations.
"Father," she says at last. Her voice is weak, but the words are intelligible. I decide that now is as good a time as any to begin the test. I remove the datapad from my pocket. "Miranda, can you read this?"
"Mr. Ellison, I really must protest. Your daughter needs time to rest."
"And I need to know whether this worked." Miranda and Morgan both flinch. I turn back to my daughter. "Read this silently. Once, no more. Let me know when you're finished." She scans the screen and nods, too frightened to lie. I take it from her. "Now recite the contents back to me, in order."
Her eyes go wide. The first experience of a greybox must be terrifying, especially to a child. She'll adept. She has no choice. "The square root of 79 is 8.8882. The sine of a 30° angle equals 0.5. The value of pi to the first ten digits is 3.1415926535." Her voice is shaking. "How did I know that? It was just there, in my head."
It worked. The greybox has performed specification. "Miranda, you've been given a great gift. Now we just have to teach you to use it. Raw ability is nothing without training." And if this operation can be successful, then my other plan may be as well. I need to discuss something with the doctor. Rest up. If you're good, I'll let Niket come visit you, but only if you're good." She beams at the mention of Niket. He and Gail are the only things that make my daughter smile. That makes them more valuable than they can possibly know. I nod at my daughter. Neither of us say anything. Words are too valuable to waste, and most of the usual pleasantries would be a lie.
"Did that parlor trick of yours prove success to your satisfaction?" Morgan asks me once we're standing alone in the corridor. "And, of course, we still have no idea what the long term effects will be. She could end up with brain damage or worse." His medical ethics are getting the better of him. Dangerous, that.
"Or she could end up with a memory to rival a salarian or a drell. If she does, everything will be worth it." I let myself smile. "If were lucky, she'll also have biotics to rival an asari. I don't suppose you've made any progress on that front?"
Morgan manages to look pleased and sick all at once. It's really quite remarkable. "Our... friends have managed to uncover a krogan procedure that could give you what you want. Eezo nodules were implanted throughout the nervous system. Biotic potential was as strong or stronger than that of those who had been exposed to element zero in utero."
The smile grows wider. I've funded Cerberus generously since its formation, and they occasionally do me little favors like this. And why not? We want the same things after all. And yet, I notice one small detail. "You keep using the past tense. Is there something I should know?"
Morgan shifts uncomfortably. "The krogan discontinued the procedure after being infected with the genophage. The mortality rate was too high."
"Could Miranda survive it?"
"Theoretically, but it's much too risky for an elective procedure. I can't recommend it."
I can feel a sudden, cold rage engulfing me. It's all I can do not to seize Morgan by his lab coat. "Elective? I don't have a choice in this!" Morgan is the only surgeon with even a chance of pulling this off. I need him to understand what I'm doing, that I have plans for Miranda that are bigger than any of us. "The aliens have so many things we don't right now. Unless we want humanity to dance to their tune until the heat death of the universe, we need to find a way to be competitive. If that includes risky procedures to make our own biotics, so be it. My daughter will be the first, but not the last. I want you to begin preparations. We'll proceed as soon as she's properly recovered."
There's more to it than that, of course. I'm sterile. The doctors recommended adoption, if you can believe that. I did one better. I spent a fortune to grow my own. If you're to go to all that trouble, you may as well make the children exceptional. We've left our genetics to chance for too long. The first two were abject failures, I grant you. Every innovator must learn to cope with failure. Miranda... Miranda is better than a biological child. Faster, smarter, stronger. One of the superheroes of my boyhood comics brought to life. There's nothing she can't do with the proper training. I mean to see that she gets it. My daughter, my legacy, will be the savior of the human race. She'll be equally capable of discovering scientific marvels or crushing the aliens who want to see us crushed. If I have to take a few risks, if I have to push her to the breaking point, well I can live with that.
"I'm not going to pretend I'm going to sleep well doing this. Borders on medical torture."
I looked through the window at Miranda. She sleeps, ignorant of the marvelous future I have planned for her. "We all have to make our sacrifices."