Westward, Part I

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Literature Text

Leopard always felt a twinge of paranoia when dealing with people from the past. The possibility that she stood out in behavior or appearance, or otherwise commanded the wrong sort of attention, was a fear that often lingered in her mind. But there was no second-guessing PDP 1-chan's intentions – she obviously just wanted Leopard to be her friend.

Penelope – as she had indicated her name to be – hadn't released Leopard's hand from her grip since she had towed her from the Lab; likewise, her strong pull hadn't eased a bit. If anything, it had become even more forceful, as if their destination was some great magnet to which she was attracted. “Move faster Miss Macintosh! We have to catch a train!”

“What? Train?” Leopard glared at the girl, “I thought we were just going down the street?”

Penelope fell silent for a moment. “There's been a change in plans. Mommy's feeling well enough to go out, so she decided she was going to take a trip to see some family in Maynard-”

It was Leopard's turn for silence as her mind processed this new information with unease. She had time to wrestle a typewriter but not tell me that she'd be dragging me to god-knows-where?, she fumed mentally as Penny prattled on, her mind processing only snippets of the girl's rambling.

“-figured you could come with us, 'cause you said you wanted to study computers and gosh, will you be able to meet a bunch today!” Interest piqued, Leopard was about to speak when Penny detached her small hand from Leopard's and raised her arms high above her head, waving in greeting as she neared a group of women waiting outside a commuter rail platform. “Mommy! Mommy!” She squealed, focus apparently locked on a bandaged-and-crutched black-haired woman resting on a bench under the canopy of a train station stop. Next to her sat a shapely blonde in a gingham nurse's pinafore and cap, and standing behind them a dark-haired teen who looked quite like Penelope's mother.  

“Hello Penny,” called back the black-haired woman, voice soft but still possessing a sort of upbeat, sing-song quality, “Yah got heah just in time, tha train's s'posed tah arrive any minute.” Penelope pranced up to her mother and plopped down on the bench before draping her arms around the woman's shoulders and nestled against her side, cuddling her mother in an apparent act of filial affection. As Leopard neared, she examined the woman's wrappings; a pad covered one eye, fastened to her head by a layer of bandages, and one arm was similarly encased. Her dress was long but low-cut enough to reveal a rather large scar running up from beneath the bodice of her dress. What on earth happened to you? Leopard wondered silently, a pang of pity creeping into her mind.

“Mommy, this is my new friend Miss Macintosh.” Penelope announced.

The woman gave a smile. “Hi theah Miss Macintosh,” her voice was gentle but affected by a thick Boston accent, “the name's Whirlwind, but everyone calls me Winifred.”

Penelope was about to continue the introductions when the train approached; the nurse and dark-haired girl helped Winifred to her feet and onto her crutches, and into the car. “Look after your mother for me, girls,” the nurse said, standing in the doorway as Winifred shuffled down the aisle and to her seat, “and call me right away if she has any trouble.”

“Don't worry, MTC,” the elder sister spoke, “We'll take good care of mom.”

With that, the car doors closed and the train rolled to life.

Penelope had indicated that they would arrive in Maynard in about an hour. In the meantime, she and her older sister – who'd introduced herself as Trixie – had been doing their best to entertain their mother and guest throughout the ride, barely pausing their stream of anecdotes, jokes and stories as the train trundled steadily westward though the sparsely forested, suburban landscape.

Leopard had spent much of the trip visually studying Winifred. Leopard was not sure of her chronological age, but she was relatively young-looking, perhaps matured to her 30s, lightly-built and was substantially taller than either her daughters or Leopard. However, her state of injury lent her an air of being older than her years; her movements were stiff, reactions slow, demeanor subdued and quiet for the most part. For the majority of the trip, she had rested still in her seat, head propped against the window, her eyes flickering open just on occasion or only issuing a response when one of her daughters comments called for it.

However, their current line of discussion – the topic of Winifred's family and children besides Penelope and Trixie – commanded a higher level of attention from the woman, who was steadily engaged in conversation for the first time since the beginning of their trip. She started off talking about her nurse and companion, MTC, who'd helped her immensely in the creation of her children and throughout life at large. Gina, Winifred explained, was her first daughter, now grown and working some bigwig job in the Air Force; Trixie was her second, more akin to a clone than a daughter proper and involved with the computer science community at MIT, where she worked with her third child, Penelope. Penny herself was the honorary founder of the DEC Faction, whose headquarters they were currently headed to visit. (Leopard gave a small smile of satisfaction upon hearing this – So she IS a high level computer-tan, just as suspected.) She went on to talk about Tessa, her adopted child and the only OS-tan in their hardware-centric clan, and only realized that she was referring to CTSS-tan when she made mention of her granddaughter Multics.

Winifred smiled broadly and talked in glowing terms as she chatted about her creations, her pride in engineering them quite apparent through every word spoken and emotion articulated; Leopard found herself swept up in the sentiment and the warm realization that having loved ones and caring for family was apparently an experience not limited to modern computers. At the same time, it gave her a vague, aching sense of yearning – while she had known nothing but love from her mother and siblings, the Unix side of her family was not particularly disposed to familial affection, a tendency she believed to be ingrained into the very fiber of their social and political structure. She often wished that things were different – that she could have a relationship with her family that wasn't built on pretense and the pervasive feeling that acts of benevolence were reserved only for those seeking something in return.

Any feelings of self-pity were brushed out of her mind when Penelope, upon rummaging through her mother's purse, pulled out a small picture album. “Miss Macintosh, look –! Here's a picture of me and Tessa!”

Leopard leaned forward and examined the black-and-white snapshot, the tiny and highly recognizable Penelope clinging to a much taller, olive-skinned and dark-haired woman.

“And this is me and Trixie,” Leopard's eyes followed Penelope's finger to a photograph on the next page;  two girls smiled up at her from the yellowed paper, both wearing conductor hats and holding model engines, “we're at the Tech Model Railroad Club here. That's pretty much our favorite place to spend time, isn't it?” Trixie gave a large grin and shook her head in agreement.
Penelope flipped a few pages backward. “And here's mommy and Gina at the park, when she was little just like me.” she explained, pointing out a portrait of Winifred and a dark-haired girl in what appeared to be a school uniform and beret. “Hmm, let's see,” Penelope flipped through the small book, “This is what she looks like now.” Leopard could barely believe her eyes when she saw the faded color image – the face looking up at her was a familiar one.


Leopard had been in possession of her time machine for barely a year when she decided to make her farthest journey into the past. So far, her trips had focused on times and places relatively familiar to her: observing her Macintosh kin in the late 1990s, on the heels of their near-miraculous comeback from almost total destruction in the OS Wars, and although she couldn't bear to witness the hardships of the Wars firsthand, her time spent in the antebellum period had been fascinating indeed. There had been several trips to visit the earliest predecessors of Macintosh-kind, during which time she had caught glimpses of their venerated founder, Apple I-sama, and her daughters, Apple II and Apple III. As badly as she wanted to take a closer look – or interact, even – she make painstaking efforts to conceal herself and not disturb the timeline in any way.

Leopard usually tried to make her jumps in areas of sparse population. Forests and parks were good places, in her experience; she had yet to be caught in the act, so to speak, and was confident in her ability to continue to evade detection. So when she located an out-of-the-way hiking trail in the foothills of Mount Umunhum – mere miles from her subject of study, the Stanford University campus – she assumed she had the perfect jump location. As far as she could gather, nobody came out here – not in 2009, certainly not forty years previous. What could possibly be of any interest out here? she reasoned, picking her way along the path until she found a suitable landmark – a lone pine tree, looking pathetically ragged and weather-worn in spite of its large size. Pulling out the pocket-watch, she set the target date to September 1, 1968 then pressed the button.

She arrived in the usual fashion – a strange pulling feeling, a flash of light and sense of wooziness as she got her bearings in the new time. A quick scan of her surroundings confirmed her suspicions; nothing had changed and nobody was in sight. Then she looked down. Supine against the foot of the tree rested a startled-looking tan-skinned woman in a light sundress; a thick novel lay haphazard beside her, quite obviously dropped when Leopard made her surprise entrance into her time period. The initial shock settling, Leopard realized that this person was not human, as she'd first assumed, but a software-tan of some stripe – although there were no external indicators, she felt it quite strongly, in the same way she assumed human beings could sense, almost by instinct, the humanity in others.

They stared at each other, neither daring to move for what seemed like a solid minute – although it was surely less than that. A tide of panic rose through Leopard's mind; she could only imagine how her accidental companion felt. Finally, the woman moved – sitting up, she slowly reached out and grazed her fingertips against Leopard's ankle. “So, you're real...” She spoke as if  this was a rather major revelation and not a matter of common sense. “Unless, the hallucinations have taken on a …  particularly novel tactile quality.” This made even less sense to Leopard, who continued to gawk at the now contemplative-looking woman.

“Yes, I'm real … and a little offended that you'd think otherwise. What was that about hallucinations?”

“Never mind that. Where did you come from?”

Leopard had no moral qualms with using fabrications to cover her tracks; after all, she was dabbling in a dangerous pastime, and if a bit of deceit could save timelines from shifting or lives from ruin, it was clearly the more ethical of choices. In practice, however … things were different. She saw herself faced with two options: telling an improbable-sounding truth, or an equally laughable lie. She chose honesty. “I'm from the future.”

The woman nodded. “Can you prove it?”

Leopard thought her explanation made as much sense as any, but some people are just hard to satisfy. “Wait here, I'll be back in two minutes. You can set your watch to it.” The woman gave a nod of affirmation – taking that as a prompt to go on, Leopard pulled out the device, set the target time exactly two minutes in the future, and popped forward.

“Far out!” She cried, gaping at the time-traveller. “You really are from the future … but, when? Why are you here – who are you?”

“The year 2009,” Leopard replied, “My name is Miss Macintosh, and I'm here doing research,” she gave her a confused look. “Research into historic computer societies.” That last bit of information did nothing to abate the computer's curiosity.

“I don't know what it's like where you come from, but … wouldn't it be a lot easier to simply crack open a history book?”

Leopard frowned as she considered her question. It seemed to her as though the past was shrouded with a peculiar form of mental fog – one which chose to engulf that which was inconvenient and leave plainly visible the sensational, relevant, easily palatable. Every computer and her mother knew the story of the founding of Apple or the exploits of the Macintosh and Windows armies during the great OS War, but the pilfering of the Xerox society and the fates of the myriad small cultures destroyed during the fighting were decidedly less popular stories. Hardly anyone could recount tales of their earliest minicomputer and mainframe ancestors with any semblance of accuracy. The earlier the computer, the more plagued by lost records and recollections they tended to be; until a point where all that was left was legend and apocrypha, the truth known only the most dedicated of historians.

“That's the problem,” Leopard said, sighing, “In my time, so many records have been lost. So little information remains.”

Her companion's expression became half-grim, half-incredulous. “Surely there are records of me? My accomplishments, vast as they are?”

Leopard stared blankly at her. “It'd be a lot easier to say if you'd tell me who you are. What you've done.”

“The name is WAITS – and I am the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.”
This is like 10 months old, so even I don't remember half of what's going on in it. Dunno why I'm posting it now, I feel like doing something with this dusty old project and I figured the first step is posting what I already have written. Even if it isn't very good.

This "chapter" is supposed to be longer, but I still have to write the rest of it, so yeah. Expect some DEC-tan menacing, Unix-tan menacing, SAGE-tan menacing, hippie WAITS, and more jarring time-travel transitions in part II.
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Samantha-Wright's avatar
You mean you were the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory!

(Inexplicable bias against Stanford. Still not clear on why. Go figure.)