When she was five, Lyra’s father promised her any present she wanted if she could sit still for three hours, naked, in a vat of silicone. A thin layer was also carefully painted on her face, leaving her just enough room to breathe. The last thing she saw before closing her eyelids was her mother’s nervous smile, her gentle voice encouraging Lyra to hold still.
Lyra counted infinities as she waited in the clammy darkness. This was something her father had just vaguely explained to her after she kept badgering him with hypotheticals. She tried to imagine each infinity, a dizzying vastness made discrete. This was her first brush with a sensation she would later come to recognize as vertigo.
She doesn’t remember what she asked for anymore, after the three hours was up and the mold was carefully peeled off her face. Her parents both praised her endlessly for being so patient and well-behaved. She hadn’t minded it much actually. It was one of the rare times when she had all of her father’s attention.
Two weeks later, her father told her he had a surprise for her - something related to her modeling. Fidgeting with excitement, her back to him, trying to guess what it might be from the rustling noises he was making, she whirled about when he told her she could look.
Lyra froze, staring at her doppelgänger. It even wore the same brocade slip she was wearing. Her father touched something, and it tilted its head, lips parting in a mechanical smile. "Konnichiwa," it said in her childish voice, tinny and foreign to her ears.
Her mother tells her she burst from the room in tears. Her perplexed father had rushed after her, eventually calming her and soothing her with promises of ice cream.
She doesn’t know what she remembers anymore. When she was a little older and her father had colleagues over, Lyra soon learned to prepare an answer that, after so many repetitions, became the truth.
"Does it bother you?" No. Why should it?
Professor Kazuo Ono was one of the leading academics on AI and androids. He was an intense and lonely man, having wrestled with depression, more at home in the company of his creations than among real people. Part Pygmalion, part Adam, he sought to make a perfect companion that would understand him thoroughly, always be there for him, fill the longing in him. He was magnetic in front of an audience, capturing them with his vision of a robot who could act with, if not feel, emotion. And what was emotion if not neurons firing? With enough computation power, could a network not be made to simulate that?
At home, he was a gentle if remote presence. He never had an unkind word for his wife or child, but he also struggled to connect with them as people. If Lyra ever resented her doppelgänger it was because, in a way, that thing was how Kazuo thought of his daughter, heedless to the real flesh and blood who patiently waited for her father’s attention.
Helena Gladstone, however, was content to remain her husband's invisible assistant. Since their courtship, she had made him the center of her world. Gladstone was an old and respectable Muggle name. Somewhere along the line, magic had been bred into the family, and as they gained prominence in magical Britain, they began to consider themselves a wizarding dynasty. So strong was their hereditary gift that Helena's latent potential was never questioned. Instead, her parents encouraged her natural talent for fashion, art, beauty. Being a witch could come later, there was Hogwarts for that... until her eleventh birthday came and went with a decidedly absent acceptance letter.
Like that, etiquette lessons and social visits within their set stopped. Her parents never blamed her openly; if anything they became even more courteous to her, around her, the pointed graciousness reserved for Ministry guests. Ulysses, an unthinking and egocentric teenager four years her senior, was the one who bluntly called Helena an embarrassment. When his school friends visited, he made a point of avoiding her, lest anyone discover the Squib in their family. Squib. An ugly word, a playground insult, a label for people like herself. Helena shrank into obscurity, hiding in her own home. Overlooked and unseen, she started escaping into non-wizarding Britain, fascinated by the silent frozen newspapers, the packed bodies streaming underground, the ever-present slim rectangles Muggles clutched as tight as wizards grasped their wands. By the time she turned nineteen, the Muggle world was more familiar than the magical one. Aristocratic in bearing but warm and compassionate in manner, Helena excelled at her job as a salesgirl in a upscale dress boutique. Every Friday she was paid with a thick roll of gorgeous paper money, lighter and more convenient than Galleons.
Helena noticed the strangely-dressed man who walked into her shop immediately, although she was busy with a customer. Out of the corner of her eye, the Japanese man waited, frowning pensively from behind tinted, hexagonal lenses. When it came his turn, he asked her how much the mannequins cost in slow, formal English. She assumed he was a foreign wizard, possibly lost, and quietly informed him this was not Diagon Alley. Evidently surprised, the stranger pursed his lips, studied her appraisingly, then asked her how tall she was. Eventually, she realized he was no wizard, but there was some kind of magic about him nonetheless. She was charmed by the way he spoke, the android prototypes he brought to dinner a week later. They were exquisitely, accessibly enchanting. She learned that Kazuo Ono was a visiting professor at Cambridge. His papers were filled with abstract mathematics no less arcane than Ulysses's textbooks. Soon, they were married in the city hall. When his eighteen month sabbatical was up, he bought a pair of one-way plane tickets. They returned to the other Cambridge, settled into a simple life. Helena only grew more in awe of her husband as she saw the way his colleagues deferred to him, the way his audience lined up to ask him questions at conferences. For her part, she worshiped him quietly, secure in her place at his side, supporting and enabling his greatness. Lyra was born two years later, and Helena had a second focus in the world.
Over the years, their house filled with additional supple, slightly rubbery women, whose movements and voices became more and more natural. Some were loaned to museums, others to universities. Lyra watched everything her father did, read the press coverage of his brilliance, all the while ready for him to turn and notice her. Surely, one day, he would - she was his first creation after all, both in the flesh and in the silicone.
That day might have come, if her invitation to Ilvermorny hadn’t arrived first. Helena had all but forgotten her childhood, and Lyra had never done anything exceptional - apart from her fierce curiousity and the prodigious speed with which she picked up new things (arithmetic, violin, algebra, Japanese, Chinese, akido, in that order). Kazuo found the strange piece of mail when he came home. He set it aside as prank mail, but when Helena saw the parchment and the seal, it jogged memories long buried. White-faced, stammering, she confessed the story to her husband and daughter. Kazuo listened silently, wearing his usual contemplative frown, before retreating into his office. Relieved that he had taken the news so well (although unsure if he had heard anything she said) Helena had more immediate concerns as Lyra bristled with questions. She started to worry that evening when Kazuo didn't appear for dinner. His office door was locked. When she finally forced it open, she was eye-level with her husband's black sneakers. On his desk, a note echoed his formal, concise voice. He apologized that he could not continue to finish his life's work since he no longer saw any point in a world where magic existed, expressed regret that he had never found any relief in religion but perhaps if magic was real then God might also be real, and finally wished Lyra well, that perhaps she might accomplish what he could not.
Kazuo once candidly confessed to a reporter that he had considered suicide in his youth. The newspapers reported that after battling bravely with depression, the brilliant, troubled Professor had finally taken his own life, a tragic loss to fields of artificial intelligence and robotics, and of course to his widow and young child.
Lyra didn’t realize until a couple years later that it had been a suicide. She didn’t realize until several years after that, what suicide really involved. She knows that she never felt abandoned or rejected by her father; he had been fairly absent to begin with, and her quest for his attention now turned into a general quest for attention. In particular, she sought the kind of rapt, admiring audience he had always commanded. The way to attain that was clearly by being as brilliant - more brilliant - than he had been. It wasn’t until many, many years later, when she started at the Department of Mysteries, that it occurred to her (with something of a start) that her father had not been a wizard. If anything, he was far more enigmatic than any magic she had practiced.
And practice she did. She remembers the three months between her father's death and her start at Ilvermorny as a flow of strangers coming by to pay their respects. At some point, her uncle also arrived from England, a tall well-dressed man who shared her patrician features. She liked Ulysses Gladstone, the way he spoke to her like an adult, his intent interest as she explained her father's research did in a clear voice, his assertive clarity. When it was his turn to talk, she listened attentively. Soon she wasn’t just listening, but also watching mouth agape, as he demonstrated magic. He offered to adopt her, in a tone that was more demand than suggestion. He did, however, give her a choice between staying Stateside to attend Ilvermorny, or returning with him and enrolling at a more established school called Hogwarts. Hogwarts, Lyra scoffed, was a silly name for such an important institution; Ilvermorny sounded distinguished, possibly Welsh. That made Ulysses laugh. Lyra liked that she could make him laugh. He spent the rest of the summer introducing her to the wizarding world, buying her schoolbooks, answering her thousand questions. Before she left for Ilvermorny, he made her promise to write him, assuring her that her new eagle-owl would find him no matter where he was.
NATURAL LANGUAGE PROCESSING
The Horned Serpent glowed for her. Ilvermorny was a whirlwind, but she kept her promise. Although her first few letters were a dutiful obligation, she was soon sending Orestes off with another scroll before her uncle had even responded to the initial letter. She was a sponge, eager to absorb anything and everything about this new world. She learned that Gladstone sat on the Wizengamot, was angling to become Chief Warlock, and had powerful political connections high in the Ministry. She told him her favourite classes were Transfiguration and Charms. He advised her to enroll in Arithmancy eventually, based on her interest in the kinds of abstract mathematical problems her father had been working on.
It wasn’t until her winter break that Lyra guiltily realized she hadn’t written to her mother at all. Orestes was hastily sent home with a Christmas gift and a letter, despite his clear indignation at having to fly through the snowstorm. That summer, brimming with pride after acing her first year exams, Lyra was appalled by how wane her mother had become. Helena had always seemed like a wallflower to her driven daughter, but the woman was positively wasting away now. Lyra wrote to Ulysses again; their communications had tapered off during the spring term, but now she sought his advice once more. To her surprise, he was not nearly as caring and thoughtful towards his own sister as he was to her. His letter alluded to decisions she had made long ago, but in the most begrudging terms, offered to lodge Helena.
Lyra’s education flew by her. There were never enough hours in the day to learn everything she wanted to. Her reputation as a child prodigy became one of genius. She made few friends and seemed to look right through people unless she were competing with them, and Lyra was particularly competitive with the boys. In her first few years, they snickered and whispered behind her back although they shriveled under her chilly gaze. In her later years, having become a beautiful if severe woman, the eye rolling changed into lingering (sometimes blushing) stares, which Lyra ignored.
Which isn't to say she didn't have fun. She was remarkably invested (her peers would later remember her as "scarily cutthroat") in school competitions, leading Horned Serpent House to win the Transfiguration Tournament in twice in her fourth and seventh years, as well as the Arithmancy Achievement Accolade in her fifth year. Reading into the history of Ilvermorny and the role of local Native American magic, she started an informal club to teach and practice wandless magic. Lyra also took her first flying class as a third year, as part of her personal philosophy to try anything once; to her surprise she loved it. Her slim, lanky frame is suited to speed and agility, though she always wears helmet, goggles, gloves, and keeps both hands on her broom (even today, her Kobayashi Black Shadow is her preferred method of transportation). She tried out for the Quodpot intramural team the next semester. While ultimately not for her, she remained a keen Quodpot fan. Quidditch, on the other hand... well, to quote something she once read, "Who was the first Seeker, the King's idiot son who wanted to play Quidditch but couldn't understand the rules?"
Once bidding finally ended on their New England house, Lyra spent her last holidays at the family estate in Wales. She traveled to London (via fireplace), exploring the rich vibrancy of a much older wizarding society. She devoured the Daily Prophet, and all other publications she could find. After graduating, she spent two and a half years as a Curse-Breaker assigned to East Asian artefacts; she produced terrific results, but found the work too practical. A natural bent for Arithmatic theory combined with Gringotts connections turned her to arbitrage and stocks, a relatively new fixture in Wizarding finance. Before long, she started hypothesizing mechanisms to destabilize the magical economy (the Galleon was really very vulnerable to artificial inflation, fluctuations in Muggle currency exchange rate, and sufficiently fast trading) and generated sufficient alarm for Ulysses to privately contact an old friend, now Unspeakable. Lyra was offered an internship at the Department of Mysteries, an opportunity that would end with a full time job offer, or her memory wiped of the last six months.
MOTION & MANIPULATION
Everything she saw at the DoM was fascinating and worth a lifetime of study, but Sector Eight was love at first sight. The relationship between sentience and life had obsessed her father, until he had given up. It was her inheritance - her birthright - to finish what he had started, and she had the advantage of magic on her side. The rest is history.
Lyra joined the DoM and never looked back. Things are still going well. Research has not lost its seductive appeal. No, if anything, her eyes are bigger than her stomach, and she constantly juggles a handful of projects. She's dabbled in a few more application-focused side projects: cloning, cross-species Transfiguration, sentient plants. Her main project, human-like magificed intelligence (MI), has proven too complicated thus far. So she's taken a step back to magificied swarm intelligence. If you run into her in the DoM hallway these days, she is often trailed by a creepily sentient swarm.
Proud, cold-blooded, efficient and ruthless, Lyra's has frequently clashed with B.E.A.S.T. activists because of who her uncle is (Ulysses Gladstone supports the current Minister), and her general alignment with his views. It's a good thing they will never discover her work as an Unspeakable; she uses the Imperious Curse rather callously on animals, to understand how magic influences or overlaps with thought. She holds that the concept of “fundamental rights” (for any being) is asinine. There is no such thing as a fundamental or undeniable “right"; that is an extremely subjective point of view. Lyra has no tolerance for bleeding-heart idealism and she has been known to darkly mutter that her research willing, she'll overwrite this preoccupation with "rights" straight out of humankind. She likes to think herself totally impartial; stubbornness and arrogance, however, cloud her good sense more often than she will admit.
Lyra has a commanding presence, an uncomfortably intense gaze muted somewhat by huge thick-framed glasses. For all her disinterest in personal matters, her deepest longing has remained the same - to impress and move an audience the way her father did. Or perhaps, unrealized even by herself, she just wants to impress and move a single person deeply, to be the center of someone’s world, the way her father had once been center of her and her mother’s world. Ulysses is still good for a quick opinion, but he has his own layers of hidden agendas to orchestrate (besides, their recent conversations have been peppered with his unsubtle suggestions for her to start her own family). Her colleagues at the DoM are stimulating, just the right amount of collegial, and yet, Lyra has begun to find herself searching for something else her heart cannot name.
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