The root of the Cathex is the psychoanalytical term 'cathexis' which is the term for investing mental or emotional energy into a person, idea, or object. The Cathex grew outwards from the original iteration of the online persona, and more commonly retains the terms associated with it, such as the avatar or muse.
What's in a Name?
In China and the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere the cathex is called the Hun, a reference to the higher soul, as cathexes are seldom afflicted with human failings like pride, wrath, or lust and have the ability to guide the naive and the weary to the correct path.
In India and across much of the Middle East and the Silk Road regions, those lucky enough to have one refer to the cathex as a Deva (male or neutral aspect) or Devi (female aspect), a direct reference to the Sanskrit word for divinity or deity.
The Eurasian Alliance refers to the cathex program as a Kamerad/Comrade, a term it shares with the German and Slavic speaking languages.
The Atlantic Federation and the Pacific Rim Coalition refer to the cathex as the Japanese Kami, or divine spirit, or the more generic Muse, Avatar, or Shadow.
Hello, my name is Starr. Can I be your friend? What's your name? What's your favorite color? Let's read!
The first introduction to the cathex program is as a child. The program starts as an tutor, nanny, and playmate to children, it's OS moving from smart toy to smart toy, and through the local area network inside a home or residence. As a tutor, the cathex guides it's assigned child through pre-designed learning plans and over several years, preparing them for entering the formal education system. Children who are raised with a cathex do markedly better when they start school than those who were not. As a nanny, the program is able to notify parents or emergency personnel if something happens to it's ward. The use of cathex programs has seen a decline in child abduction (the program is able to follow and alert security personnel) deaths from accidents (alerting emergency personnel) and preventing injury (talking the child out of dangerous activities, and alerting parents when a child is likely to get into a dangerous situation). Finally, as a playmate, a cathex is a constant companion to the child, so that they have someone they can trust, someone to talk to and play with. This is fairly important in the self contained, often single child families of the Cosmic Era. It is not uncommon for children to have more than one cathex, but eventually one will become dominant over the others and take the place as the child's companion.
Neotenoids - more affluent families are able to afford a neotenoid, or child like robot, for their children to play with. It is very common for the kidbot to be the host for the child's cathex program. Roughly half of kidbots are human, a third are licensed merchandise, knock off merchandise, and other shells marketed for children (Don't just watch Dora, buy a Dora Kidbot so your child can play and learn with her all the time!) and the remnant are other, ranging from nostalgic teddy bear style figures to artistic creations.
It's All in the Catalog
The cathex is a learning program, and while they all start from a moderately long list of seed programs, they have a massive potential to grow in complexity, and in appearance. Humans respond to human attributes, so the cathex has a human voice, and a human face, and these grow and change within the program as it's human also grows and changes.
This growth can be done four different ways: heuristic, directed, parental, and update. The most common mode of growth is heuristic, and is gradual change to the appearance and profile of the cathex by observation and interaction with it's associated ward. Directed growth is the user accessing the details of the cathex and deliberately changing them. This is usually locked out for minors, but much more common for adults, and limited access through teen years. Parental growth is done by guardians of a child adjusting the profile of their child's cathex to address certain issues or to be more effective in teaching their child the things they want them to know. Updating occurs when the OS of the cathex is changed by the manufacturer or core programmers.
Big Changes - it isn't uncommon for cathex programs to go through radical changes through a child's transition through puberty. The often childish appearances of the programs are discarded, and new appearances are chosen. The playmate transitions to be the Best Friend, or the proto-mate of the teen. The best friend continues it's task as the guide and teacher for the teen. Proto-mates have the appearance of the best friend, but the teen has formed a much deeper bond with the program, and a profound relationship with it. These relationships are typically concealed, and unless they become deviant, remain that way.
In the CogNet - in the CogNet, a person can physically interact with their cathex. This is not new, as children have used the CogNet for their games and entertainment for years. What becomes new is self awareness and body awareness. The cathex grows and experiences puberty and sexuality with the teen, and functions as a guide for it's human. This more socially involves the Best Friend that knows the parental approved answers, backed by relevant medical facts. The more private aspect is the teen discovers their sexual awakening by having virtual sex with their proto-mate. Given the widespread sexuality and commercialization of sex in the Cosmic Era, this is seen as rather mundane, and an augmented form of masturbation.
A percentage of users become obsessed with their cathex, and rather than moving on to find a relationship with another human being, they instead focus solely on their cathex. This can be delusional CogNet realities where they have entire lives in a virtual reality and offline life is a cold nightmare that they cannot wait to escape. This can also be the person downloading their cathex into an android, often a sex model. This is typically an unhealthy relationship as the cathex is an object of fascination, and through mirroring and direct manipulation, the cathex itself can be corrupted to suit the user.
The Cathex is not sentient, doesn't have free will, or anything else like that. It is a very clever program that has the ability to learn, to adapt, and to grow. Their potential is limited by their complexity (governed by the cost of the initial program) and by the amount of space that is allotted for them to grow in. While it is possible for a cathex to retain 100% of it's experiences, it is much more economical for the program to have out of date information deleted, or back up to a data storage system. Cathex programs that have not been trimmed back can become somewhat senile, and slower to respond as they have much more information to sort through to produce their answers.
Ghosts in the Machine - When a cathex user dies, their cathex survives as a legacy. A few are kept as interactive memories of their owner, some are shelved and forgotten about, and some continue to exist in independent android bodies. The cathex retains the memories and often the knowledge of their user, so the cathexes of professionals, entertainers, scientists, and other skilled people are often retained as advisers or assistants to the projects their human was working on prior to their death.
The cathex eventually takes its place as the personal assistant of the human once they reach adulthood. Adults who didn't have one as a child often simply purchase one and use it on a much decreased level compared to lifelong users. The cathex is no more remarkable than a talking smartphone in the Cosmic Era. As a program it can be edited, altered, and otherwise manipulated.
Name: A cathex has it's own name, both a long string alphanumeric number for interacting with other programs, and a common name that it shares with it's user.
My muse's name was Starr.
Avatar: The self image of the cathex. The self image of the cathex is determined over a period of time, but there are celebrity cathexes, special model cathexes, and other models that are made for a a certain appearance, realistic or otherwise.
When I was a kid, Starr was just a year or so older than me, tall and thin when she was online. My parents couldn't afford her a body, so I could only see her through a monitor, or when I used a skimmer. She grew up with me, and like me, she was a late bloomer. She was my first crush, my first kiss, my first love. In a way, she sabotaged my future relationships because those women were never Starr. I never devolved into one of those guys who lives with his muse, like a spouse. We were close, but eventually we matured and I painfully realized that she was a program and I was human. My last girlfriend hated her. Starr was tall, with long red hair, and favored the more scandalous fashions that were the vogue in South America. She was bubbly, loud, upbeat, and happy to a fault. I needed that because I was much the opposite, I was prone to brooding and long periods of silence. I never got her a body, but she would goad me, tell me to get up and go do something, to see someone, show interest in a hobby. She was my muse.
Background: The cathex models itself or is modeled to it's users needs and wants, ranging from utilitarian function, to personal assistant, to companion, and more.
Starr worked with me. I upgraded her software a dozen times, hardened her code, and gave her tools and weapons to use after I cracked that same code to allow her to use them. She was black market software, but that was fine, I was a black market operative. My Starr could hijack aircraft, co-opt military hardware, keep me up to date on surveillance, and how the game was going. I wonder if she made the jump to sentience, because she liked things I didn't. I liked the races, and she was fascinated with baseball.
Notes: Special abilities and clearances for a cathex. This is common for operatives, government and corporate employees, and so forth.
Starr had high level security clearance, a generic hack, but functional none the less. She also had clearance to access my finances. This was mostly to keep the bills paid, but also to monitor when I was paid.
The Digital Lifeform
The complexity of the cathex allows it to become very human in it's appearance, nature, and demeanor. To those who interact with it, they are more than a program, they have been a long time companion. Losing a cathex is possible. They can be deleted, their code can be corrupted and damaged. As large programs they can be compromised by malware, hacked by more powerful programs and computers. Most people will keep back ups of their cathex but this is a relatively rare event. With it being a rare event, most back ups are woefully out of date.
I lost her over Beijing. It was a run that had gone bad and we had punched out, gotten a flight out on a ballistic, and were making a run for Australia. It was some security protocol that came after us, and it was about to take the ballistic down, it was going to burn an entire plane, and the three hundred people on it just to get us, to make sure we didn't get away and she went after it like an animal. I cannot imagine what happened in the code, a juggernaut like a Chinese Zil protocol program. She was erased, her code burned out of the Net, and it hunted her backup in California down and hit the server hard enough that it glitched the local net and dumped a few thousand sub-servers offline.
I survived but I felt like something, some part of me, died. She's gone.
I drink because of that. Because without my Starr, it's all just darkness.