Lilac

This story is a sequel to Threshold.


Our mother died, didn't she.

Lyle put his pocket computer down without answering the message.

It bleeped again.

She wouldn't silicize if she was a Saint of the Soul and you're two years older than me and that wasn't a parameter you tweaked so the sim must have pulled it from reality and she's dead.

Lyle's soup had gotten cold. He had sixteen emails flagged as paperwork he needed to handle for Mercy.

Bleep.

God's everlasting sorrow Lyle just tell me!

He picked it up. He tapped the screen.

Yeah.

He looked dubiously at the soup. He'd probably regret it later if he didn't eat any. He picked up the spoon.

Bleep.

Dad?

Lyle put the spoon down. Alive, not in the hospital or anything.

Any chance he found Sainthood less compelling after his reason for conversion was gone?

Lyle snorted. No.

Fuck.

He snorted harder. I thought Conceptuals were very uptight about swearing.

That's a common misconception. We avoid swearing by everlasting torment even though for some reason that's usually considered comparatively mi LYLE LONG DO NOT TRY TO DISTRACT ME I KNOW YOU AREN'T DOING A PROJECT.

Lyle laughed. Just a little. As though she were in the next room and could hear him if he were any louder. Sorry.

Does he know about me yet?

No.

Please tell him. I'll sound like some sort of bizarre novelty scam if I contact him myself.

We don't really talk, Lyle wrote.

Surely this is important enough? He has an unexpected extra child.

You're very important Lyle began, and then he erased it. He has the daughter he always wanted was also erased. He's not like you remember, he eventually sent.

I understand, but he's still the closest I'm going to get.

We really don't talk.

If you keep stonewalling me I will have to go with the bizarre novelty scam option.

Lyle set the computer aside. He ate the soup. He ignored bleeps. He washed the bowl and put it away. He couldn't breathe right.

Lyle, what's wrong?

Was he terrible about you being trans or is it something else?

I'm new to being a sister and I don't know what you need, but he's almost sixty and that isn't exactly optimal talking-people-into-silicization age and something could happen at any time, and what I need is to be introduced so I don't have to lose both parents when this time yesterday I thought I'd have them forever, Lyle.

Are you one of those people who hates text channels? Come into the lab and I'll go on a screen. I can show you my environment.

Lyle.

He picked it up. He tapped. I'll be there in half an hour.


She looked very real. There was an extreme closeup of her hands, complete with fingerprints, as she adjusted the simulated camera-drone in the "air". She had on the sort of outfit that you only ever saw silico avatars and fashion models wearing - very put together in blue and yellow, long coat. The environment looked like a prairie with a sprawling farmhouse sort of architecture rising out of it. Mercy was sitting on a picnic blanket, crushing a square of yellow wheat gone to seed. The sun was setting behind her, either as a decoration or a day-cycle simulation. "Hi, Lyle. Can you see me okay?"

"Yeah," Lyle said, slumping in his chair. "The place is pretty."

"It's a shared," Mercy said. "The Concept of Sisterhood is supplying my runtime for amateur in-house sim engineering of the place, and they're all so nice, it's just perfect."

"It's like, what, a nunnery?"

"No, no," laughed Mercy. "Conceptuals don't do nunneries. It is single-gendered but only residentially; I've seen men coming and going since I transferred in. It's a group home sort of place for silicized Conceptual Christians who don't want the isolation of private environments and prefer to live with others who have the shared values."

"Is everything you do about being a Conceptual?" wondered Lyle without thinking.

"No," said Mercy tartly. "But my social worker says that it is a normal side effect of having recently thresholded - insofar as there is any normalcy in these cases - that some of my traits will be more dominant than they should be until I've spent more time as a person and filled in the vague impressions that are passing for much of my history. And you as my sim programmer will of course know exactly what traits those will be - the very ones you oriented the sim around."

Oops.

"Yeah," Lyle muttered, looking away.

"So this is really a very good place for me to start out, while I'm finishing school if not longer, because it doesn't matter that I cannot for the life of me remember the plots of my favorite books even though I could have sworn I read a lot, or that I cannot ride a bicycle despite being able to tell you how old I was when I learned," said Mercy primly. "But I can recite with nearly word-perfect accuracy all the important works of my reverend namesake. So I get along very well with the Sisterhood ladies. And you know what else my sim was oriented around, Lyle?"

"Mom and Dad," he said.

"That's right. If you did not want to have to talk about Dad, you should not have simulated an alternate universe in which he kept his boyhood religion as an adult. I really hope not to ever pull this card again, because I do generally like existing and I am not angry at you for simming me. But I feel like putting me in touch with Dad is on your short list of further obligations given that you have done so." Mercy snapped her fingers twice and a screen hovered in front of her hand. She tapped it; Lyle couldn't see what she was doing from his vantage point, but when she was done she had a glass of lemonade. With a straw. She dismissed the screen by bumping her hand into its side, and sipped. "Well?"

Lyle looked at the farmhouse beyond his - sister. His twin, born days ago and two mental years younger, born after her mother's death and never having drunk real lemonade in her life.

"How's the lemonade?"

"Not bad. Food's fairly common to sim and there's lots of prior art, I didn't even have to adjust it, the Concept of Sisterhood is subscribed to a standard package. You're stalling, Lyle."

"I'll talk to him."

"Thank you. If you can just get him to the point where he will in fact read a message I send him then I'll consider your obligation discharged, I don't need you to walk him blindfolded into the lab for a surprise."

Lyle snorted. "I'll do my best."

"Thank you, Lyle."

"Don't get used to calling me that. I might change it."

"Oh?" she asked, inviting, blinking at him. He didn't like to look directly at her. She looked too pretty, she looked like a bad dream, and it was his own fault. Had he been hoping she'd make major cosmetic changes once she was rendered in silico? She might have conjured up "longstanding" insecurities if she'd spent longer in sim and expected to find some, but apparently as it was she liked how she looked just fine. If he just focused on her hair - he'd never worn his hair like that.

"It's - I don't know, maybe I'll tell you later. I might change it, is all."

"That's entirely your prerogative, of course," Mercy said. "Do you want to meet any of the Sisterhood?"

Lyle shook his head.

"All right then, I'm going to finish writing up my entrance essays so they know what classes to put me in come fall, and you're going to go talk to Dad."

He nodded.

She reached for the camera drone and the picture on his screen winked out.


His - their - dad had moved to a smaller apartment after Mom died. This meant that Lyle did not have to walk through his mom's garden smelling all her favorite flowers.

This didn't prevent the elevator ride from feeling like a walk through the garden, feeling like any minute one of his parents would yell out his name.

He might change it. Again. Insofar as "Lyle" was a change.

He walked to his dad's apartment. The old man didn't like text for anything important and was too hard of hearing for a phone call. The bus and a short hike was the lesser of available evils.

Are you one of those people who hates text channels?

Yeah, sis, I come by it honestly...

Knock knock.

Come on, asshole, I looked up your work hours, have the courtesy to be home.

Lyle knocked louder, and then the door opened.

And there was Dr. Arthur Long.

Who just sort of looked at him, because of course saying son was beyond him and Lyle's chosen name had not had any of its desired effect on his parents except to strike them dumb.

"What is it?" Arthur said, eventually.

"It's kind of a big deal," said Lyle. "Can I come in?"

And Arthur stood aside and Lyle went in and sat in the breakfast nook, acutely conscious of his binder and the picture from third grade on the mantelpiece and the name his father wouldn't say.

Arthur sat across from him.

"What is it?" he repeated.

"Uh, you know I major in sim engineering," said Lyle.

"I do."

"You know if you run a sim there's a chance the people in it will notice they exist and sort of - wake up. Threshold."

"It's confusing how you say 'wake up' for leaving a sim or being self-aware in one, but yes, I read, get on with it," said Arthur.

"Someone in my thesis project thresholded."

Arthur's eyes narrowed. "Someone. Did you sim me - no, your mother, did you sim Anne - you know it's against the Prophet's law -"

Lyle shook his head. "I mean, sort of, but you and Mom were incidental to the setup and didn't threshold. There isn't a you or a her running around in silico."

"What did you do?"

Lyle swallowed. Short list of further obligations.

"I simmed a version of myself in a world where Mom had converted instead of you."

Lyle wasn't sure if he was imagining the look of disgust on his father's face. "And - the sim woke up?"

The delightful avoid-the-pronoun dance now contagious to Mercy, who was perfectly, tweakfully feminine. "She," bit out Lyle. "She's a she, her name is Mercy, and she woke up. She asked me to tell you so that she could send you a message without being written off as a liar. I hope you know I wouldn't come here for a prank." Wouldn't come here for anything except owing his sister all the favors in the world.

"I - see."

"She's very nice. Very Conceptual Christian."

"A sim of a world in which you aren't completely godless, now that's an interesting look at your mind," murmured Arthur.

"She's really not me. And I'm not sure if she believes in God as an entity or just conceptually -" Why was he letting himself get drawn into this? Mercy could explain herself just fine. Mercy was a sim eng major too. Mercy was the daughter he'd always wanted, and if having Mercy got Dad to realize that the one he'd actually raised from infancy was a son then maybe they could have conversations that lasted longer than ten minutes without devolving. Lyle stood up. "That's all I had to say."

"L-" began Arthur, and he cut himself off.

"For fuck's sake, Dad," Lyle said, inevitably, "you called me Lyle for seventeen years. Why can't you do it now that it's not short for something else?"

"You know why, and you keep asking that question," Arthur said.

Lyle turned to go. Mercy couldn't call him negligent, now, there was no reason to stay.

"Your mother wanted to name you after a flower," Arthur continued.

"We don't live in a world where you can name boys after flowers," snapped Lyle, and he shut the door behind him.


I told him.

Thanks, Lyle.

I told you not to get used to calling me that, he wrote.

Why? It's a perfectly nice name. And didn't you choose it?

He paused. He paced. The pocket computer didn't bleep at him; she was waiting patiently.

Because I thought, when I picked it, that it being a lot like my birth name would help people adjust, and it didn't.

She didn't reply immediately. Maybe she was doing sim work for the Concept of Sisterhood or something.

He added, It actually did make it easier on my friends, I think, but it didn't help with my parents at all. Dad doesn't call me anything anymore.

Well, Mercy replied, I'll see if I can work on him, once I've established some basic relationship.

The hell of it is began Lyle, and then he looked at the word "hell" and erased it and replaced it with The thing is, I really liked my name. I liked everything about it except that it was a girl's name and I couldn't keep it and get people to take me seriously as a guy. Except Mom never did and Dad still doesn't.

I'll help you if I can.

Thanks.

But of course I won't consider you obligated to pursue more of a relationship with Dad if it's uncomfortable, even if I do make progress.

Thanks, Lyle repeated. And then, If you were more conventionally my sister you'd know what my name was.

I know what your name is, Mercy replied.

Yeah, but right now I like you more than anyone else in my family and it bugs me that Dad knows what he's just barely not saying and you have no idea. He might refer to me by birth name in his messages, even.

You may tell me if you like, of course.

Lyle thought about it. Then he tapped out, They named me after a flower. Did your version of Mom have a garden?

I think so. I think I can guess. Thank you, Lyle.

He smiled. You're welcome.