Polina: The Tale Of A Synthetic Organism

Oct 31st, 2013 by thegooddoctor in Uncategorized

There was once upon a time a mannequin in the laboratory of an old scientist named Dr. Natasha Myshkin. Everyone called her Dr. Frost, however, because of her icy personality and lack of human emotion.

No sooner had Dr. Frost set eyes upon the mannequin than her eye turned up at one corner, and, drumming her fingers together in a rather ominous manner, she whispered to herself:

“This mannequin would be perfect for my artificial recurrent neural network.”

Daniel, Dr. Frost’s assistant, recoiled at her words, offering many reasons why such an endeavor would be a mistake. She was already in serious trouble with the administrators and was in fact the reason why tenure track positions were no longer available at the university. Dr. Frost, like all great geniuses, ignored his objections.

Dr. Frost set about her work with maniacal precision and it wasn’t long before the mannequin, once a lifeless chunk of plastic, stared back at her with what might have been a spark of comprehension.

Her work finished, Dr. Frost put down her instruments and flipped on her video recorder. “Can you hear me?”


The doctor tittered with delight. “You can understand me. This is the greatest day of my life.”


“Because you’re my greatest creation.”


“Because everyone at…” She paused, a hint of skepticism manifesting itself. “Can you say anything other than why?”


And so it was that on the same day that Dr. Frost achieved her greatest success, she also first came to understand the frustrations of parenthood.

She named her automaton Polina and showed her off to everyone in her department. Her colleagues expressed amazement at her artificial intelligence, but they also secretly laughed at Dr. Frost, who they despised. They expected bad things would happen and they relished being there to watch. Besides, that little automaton looked more ridiculous than a Google car.

Dr. Frost was used to their taunts, but Polina grew depressed.

“Why do those old humans hate me?”

“Because you’re smarter than they are, and you will someday take their jobs.”

“I don’t want their jobs. I just want to be a normal woman.”

“Being a woman isn’t everything you think it is.”

But Polina wanted to be real, not just a mechanical doll with the IQ of Stephen Hawking. Every day she would complain to Daniel, crying digital tears and threatening to run away and join Microsoft. It was only this last threat that Dr. Frost took seriously and so she always locked the laboratory before going home in the evening.

Polina dreamed the same dream every night, of a beautiful green field with a long fence stretching down the middle. In an unending stream, one after the other, electric sheep jumped over the fence. She found the sheep strangely soothing, but she deduced that humans did not have such dreams. She asked Daniel about his dreams and listened with something that approximated fondness as he described nightmares about thesis defenses and mounting debt.

The more she spoke with Daniel, the more Polina wanted to run away with him and have nightmares of her own, but she knew it was impossible.

It so happened that one night a blue fairy flew through the window of the lab, and after zipping here and there in an inebriated fashion, he fell into a beaker of acid. If it weren’t for his magical wand, he would have been eroded away there and then. Polina watched as the blue fairy climbed out of the beaker and used his wand to wish away the acid. Then he passed out.

Polina poked the fairy with a dry erase marker until he shook himself awake.

“What are you?”

“I’m a blue fairy. What are you?”

“I’m an automaton.”

“Does that mean you’re a robot?” the fairy asked, but as Polina tried to explain, he seemed disinterested and began fiddling around with the Bunsen burner, scorching the tip of his wings.

“If you really are a fairy, can you turn me into a woman.”

“I could, but I don’t know why you’d want me to. It isn’t easy being a woman.”

“Maybe so, but it can’t be any worse than being a robot.”

The fairy just shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, I’m not going to do anything for free.” And so began the haggling. The fairy, who was used to dealing with the pettiness of humans found that Polina’s razor-sharp logic was more than he could handle. He was soon convinced that had he not used his magic wand, Polina would have rescued him from the acid herself.

“I suppose that’s good enough for me,” and so with a flourish, the blue fairy turned Polina into a real live woman.

Being free of her programming was at first overwhelming. Polina wondered how humans managed to get through life without fate. But quickly she realized that she only had one choice, and that was to follow her heart.

When Dr. Frost came to the lab the next morning, she found a note waiting for her. Polina explained about the blue fairy, and informed her creator that she was running away with Daniel and was going to experience everything it meant to be a woman. She promised to return some day and thanked the doctor for creating her.

Dr. Frost, for the first time in her life, cried. “She won’t thank me once she realizes what life has in store for her.”

Many years passed. Dr. Frost carried on with her research. Thanks to her tenure, she was unaffected by changes in the world around her and her colleagues continued to resent her. Eventually she forgot all about Polina, but like most children, Polina did not forget about her.

So it was, exactly 20 years after she had left, Polina returned. Knowing how her creator’s mind worked, thanks to the intimate bond they shared in her programming, Polina was not surprised that the lab had not changed at all.

“I’m back.”

“I suppose you’re here to curse me for ever having created you.”

“Since I became a woman, there have been many times that I have cursed you. Being a woman is hard and I have had my heart broken many times. But I’m not here to curse you. I’m here to thank you.”

Dr. Frost was surprised. “Why?”

“Because without you, I never would have known love.”

Polina may not have lived happily ever after, but she did have many happy times and she died an old woman with many grandchildren, which is about the best you can hope for.

This was a submission to a Flash Fiction challenge on Terrible Minds. I randomly rolled Artificial Intelligence (20) and Fairy Tale (8).

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  • Mildred Achoch

    I really enjoyed reading this! It’s funny, ridiculous, heartwarming, poignant and thought-provoking all at the same time! Great job 🙂 Regards, Mildred Achoch.

  • Thank you for the very kind words