I never know what to expect from a Seanan McGuire’s short story: the examples I found until now touched such a wide range of subjects that each time it’s like opening a surprise package. The only constant is that the package’s contents are always intriguing.
In this case we follow the story of a neuro-linguist who designed a computer program able to turn spoken words into sign language and vice-versa, its first goal to keep an open communication channel with her deaf sister. This way anyone can talk with Tasha, the sister, through a computer-generated avatar and the persons on the other end might never know their counterpart has a speech and hearing impairment, and one of the benefits of the system – besides ease of communication between the sisters – is that the scientists’ children are growing up quite fluent in both regular speech and in ASL.
One day though, the woman finds her older child Billie talking to an unknown woman on the computer – a randomly generated avatar talking from Tasha’s home and apparently able to say only “Hello” over and over again. At first everyone is convinced that one of Tasha’s guests might have used the system without permission, and then they worry that something might have happened to Tasha herself – that is, until they finally speak with her and she says that nothing untoward happened in her home. Meanwhile, the mystery calls keep happening at random, and each time the strange woman’s speech seems to improve – but the family’s puzzlement and worry reaches new levels, making them think about hackers or worse.
The truth comes out in the end and it’s an incredible, marvelous revelation – and a very unexpected one. I will leave you to discover it on your own….
McGuire did it again!