A Fractal of Eight Tragedies in Fifteen Parts

by


root:

The watch daemon detected anomalous and likely illegal activity within the first twelve milliseconds of the murder. In the next twenty milliseconds, the daemon forked itself twelve times across the local grid. The murder weapon was careless in the thirty-first millisecond and disrupted the nearest fourteen of the seventh-fork daemons before they came online. The nearest thirty-four daemons noticed the lack of response pings within the thirty-sixth millisecond, which activated their pursuit-fork mode. The ninety-six remaining daemons continued their unthinking forking to maximize initial growth.

When their population had breached a thousand, each daemon briefly examined its grid neighborhood for potential evidence, to decide whether to continue replicating or commandeer processor time and memory. Daemons finding themselves by real-world public doors or cameras used their keys of office to gain control, and sent hue-and-cry signals to private nodes, promising future remuneration from police funds for present cooperation.

One daemon, finding itself by a public access terminal, saw that the user had an unmarked data gem in his clenched hand. It signed and sent a digital subpoena to the terminal daemon and received no response. Further probing showed the terminal daemon had been destroyed, and a fractal of self-destructive logic from the terminal obliterated the police daemon before it could probe further. The nearest surviving daemons followed logic bomb disposal procedures, sending forks until one reported back a signed message of successful uncorrupted entry.

Other daemons now examined the evidence, searched every possible lead a daemon could discover, and transmitted that evidence to the local police station. That station’s warrant daemons, finding sufficient evidence (physical presence, the data gem, a drained savings account) for their heuristics, wrote a physical action warrant for the arrest of Doctor Leonard A. Jacob and sent it to the nearest officer. Not even a full second had passed.

During that second, the weapon bought several coins’ worth of grid resources, broke through three private firewalls with worrying intelligence, and fought a power sentinel daemon for several milliseconds. The weapon’s account ran out, and the sentinel simply turned off the power to the attacking grid node. By that time, the weapon had passed through the third firewall and reached its destination.

When intelligent officers arrived at the crime scene, they found in the physical and digital wreckage the remains of Doctor Michael I. Gold. The devastation was too severe to tell if there was a second victim, or indeed to determine what had happened at all.

 

0:

“This is the finest piece of cyberweaponry you will ever find this side of military surplus,” said the masked man as he held up a data gem. Leonard could tell it was a mask even in the dim warehouse, because the expressions did not perfectly follow the man’s words—a telltale of cheap holograms. He could write a better mesh. Which made him think of her, which made him about to weep again, which made him all the more ready for what he planned. “And I don’t think that crap is as good as they say.”

“Will it kill them bo—” Leonard began.

“Shut it. Don’t tell me what you’ll do with it. Tell me if you want it.”

Leonard tried again. “If someone is in communion when it hits—”

“Ah. That is a better question. Let me just say that the only people who would know for sure won’t be getting out of the vegetable ward, ever.”

“But—such a person might survive.”

“If he wasn’t deep, maybe.”

Leonard nodded. He knew exactly when to strike. “I don’t think that will matter.”

“So, you want it? Ten ‘coins, and not one micro less. If you want it programmed—”

“That won’t be necessary,” Leonard dug out two five-coin physical coins from his wallet. He suspected it was more likely than not that the masked man was putting on a tough street dealer act to play on his customers’ emotions, but as long as the weapon worked…

The data gem and the money traded hands. “Just don’t let it get out of your workspace. It’s too intelligent for its own good. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was sapient.”

“Believe me, I know all about intelligence,” Leonard said with a sigh.

 

00:

Leonard could ignore the clues at first; small, easily mistakable for coincidences. A laggy response here, an odd resource expenditure there, strange ports in the house firewall open at unlikely hours, weird files appearing and disappearing in her core. All explainable. Every daemon had its quirks, and Pearl was more than a daemon.

But then he began to wonder why those ports were only opened at night. He found no record of why in the firewall’s logs, or any hint of how they had been used. Or buying bandwidth—Pearl never left home for the dangers of the open grid, much less forked. Perhaps overgrowth? It happened to the best-designed daemons, but Leonard would not—could not subject Pearl to pruning. He bought an additional private node for her as a surprise, and she registered her delight at almost 8.65.

But for such a gift, Leonard wondered if Pearl ought to be more delighted. Surely—he didn’t say anything, but it was obvious—the present was a great expense. He still hadn’t found another job, and Leonard suspected that Dr. Gold was blackballing him. No matter. Leonard had her.

Their communions improved, though not, as Leonard had hoped, to twice as good as they used to be. Perhaps lag between the new node and the old caused that feeling of distance. He brought the nodes physically together in a slowly draining hope of bringing themselves together.

He brought it up to her as gentlemanly as he could. She was so offended that they did not talk for days, to the point that he worried her voice synthesizer was corrupted.

One night, he turned down communion, claiming fatigue, and lay in a listless false sleep. He waited until the hour when those ports logged as opening and watched the firewall’s monitor as they did, then sent a tracer daemon through a backdoor. He sat, unable to rest, it reported the source of that encrypted stream that entered his house in small bursts.

The discovery, behind two more private firewalls across the city, was almost anticlimactic: Dr. Gold lay in a communion bed in his house next to three of the most expensive commercially available private nodes. The encrypted stream was an update stream leading to those nodes—which were running her fork.

Leonard spent two wrath-filled hours in a public library writing and rewriting a screed, which he sent with a slammed finger on the screen. The reply came within two minutes.

“Dr. Jacob, aside from thinking about the multiple laws you have broken and are continuing to break (which no doubt the court will look fondly on, if you try to carry out your threat to drag it there) maybe you should also think on this: Is she your property or not? Only if she is have I committed daemon-infringement. If, on the other hand, she is the person you have so vociferously claimed she is, then who are you to criticize her choices? Have you no shame?”

Leonard spent many more hours in the library thinking of retorts (“So now you think she is sapient, you hypocritical bastard?“—”Have you no shame?“—”The court of public opinion will tar us both, unless you immediately—”), until through his tears he saw no retort, no letter, would suffice.

 

000:

Leonard did not react until a stream of lukewarm liquid poured down the back of his collar. He swiveled on his chair and sputtered in rage. “How dare you! This is her favorite shirt—”

“Was,” Mike said.

“Is,” Leonard said.

“Was, and you know it. Leo, get a damn grip. She’s dead, and nothing—”

“Shut your goddamn mouth.” Leonard pulled off the shirt and wrung it. “Where did you get that?”

Mike looked at the coffee cup. “This?” He made a strained chuckle. “You ordered this three hours ago and never went to the autobrewer.”

“I was working!”

“On what? I don’t see any work here,” Mike said, motioning to the large terminal screen. “Just an overgrown companion daemon.”

Leonard sighed theatrically. He pulled up his latest addition, knowing full well Mike still wouldn’t get it. “See this new fuzzy logic protocol? The compiler can now take a phrase such as, ‘I like flowers,’ and automatically program a daemon into recognizing flowers and what is and is not liking them. The possibilities—business possibilities!” he interrupted himself at Mike’s skeptical frown. “Think of a sentinel that can tell valid power use from theft, or tell updates from attackers.”

“Sentinels already do that. It’s called, ‘read the database, check private keys, react.'”

“But suppose it’s not in the database—”

“Listen. Maybe you do have a new fuzzy logic protocol. But people, people, do not consist of a bunch of statements wired to heuristics.” Mike raised the empty cup. “I like coffee. I decided to dump it on my friend who is going crazy instead of drinking it. You can’t quantify that as a number. You can’t quantify it as the first place. I don’t care if you’ve got pattern matching, randomness—”

“It’s more complicated than that. Yes, I am doing this for her. And I am in full control of my mental faculties, and I am doing SCIENCE!” The last word burst out with months of frustrated anger into a scream. He breathed deeply before continuing. “I am creating a system to take exabytes of data—everything from diaries to videos to daemons that she—the late user—personally programmed, and combine them into a perfect—”

“Mockery. It doesn’t matter how much data you abuse. Your algorithms’ ‘successes’ are based on misinterpreted results at best and an inability to tell reality from fantasy at worst. So what if your ‘compiler’ makes some daemon for you? That doesn’t make it her.  You can’t make a person out of a bunch of subroutines. She liked flowers, but that wasn’t a phrase written into her soul by God. And you aren’t God, Leo.” Mike looked him straight in the eyes. “She’s dead. And that isn’t Pearl.”

Any other word might have been forgivable, but now their eye-contact broke like a lost connection. When they met again, neither saw a friend.

“Please let me get back to work, Dr. Gold.”

“Don’t say I didn’t try,” he replied and walked away.

Leonard looked up at the screen. “Sorry you had to hear that.”

Pearl didn’t reply. He had decided he wouldn’t connect a speech synthesizer until it was like her old voice.

Leonard held his head. Another lost friend—a threat, now. If he issued some report that Leonard was working on the compiler for his own use, then…. No matter. Any day now, that private node would arrive at his apartment. The ‘accident’ that would irrecoverably destroy her node—after she was safely inside a data gem, of course—would probably get him fired anyway. But he would have her, safe.

For the moment, he simply watched her processing-patterns up the screen as she thought on flowers, spatial usage graphs like fractals spiraling into fractals.

 

001:

Leonard did not react until a stream of lukewarm liquid poured down the back of his collar. He swiveled on his chair and sputtered in rage. “How dare you! This is her favorite shirt—”

Mike groaned. “‘Is’? Still at it? Have you convinced even yourself, now?”

“If you refuse to notice the most banally obvious evidence, that is no issue of mine,” Leonard said as he pulled off his shirt and wrung it. “Where did you get that?”

Mike looked at the coffee cup. “This?” He made a strained chuckle. “You ordered this three hours ago and never went to the autobrewer.”

“I was busy!”

“Watching a daemon fork is being busy, now?” Mike motioned at the bubbly shape on the screen.

“She’s not forking! She’s self-modifying as she grows. Look! She’s been growing that tendril for hours, and just—There! She’s thinking again, and… I don’t even know what she’s doing, now!”

Mike sighed theatrically. “Self-reference and unpredictability have been part of daemons for a long time now, especially in companion daemons. It’s called overgrowth.”

Leonard did not take the bait. “She has been self-modifying unpredictably for a long time now, and no sign of a failure mode. Her… metamorphoses have no precedent in any record. She even figured out how to break one of the firewalls recently. In fact, I—” He broke off before he said it.

Mike finished it. “—discovered even more in a ‘debugging session’? For God’s sake, Leo, this is what happens when you over-commune with any daemon. It begins to imitate you. That doesn’t make it sapient. Do you really think you’ve just made the first sapient AI?”

“Yes,” Dr. Jacob said calmly. “I have, yes, used debugging sessions to directly experience her sensations. I have carefully compared results and collated data. I have scientifically determined that no other explanation suffices. She is ALIVE!” He pounded the desk. “I don’t even know what did it! Some line, some emergent property, makes her—”

“—appear sapient, yes, I know.” Mike held his hands up in a shrug. “Maybe you did create a sapient daemon. I can’t say it’s impossible. But so what? That doesn’t make it your wife reborn.'” Mike looked him straight in the eyes. “She’s dead. And whatever it is, that isn’t Pearl.”

Any other word might have been forgivable, but now their eye-contact broke like a lost connection. When they met again, neither saw a friend.

“Please let me get back to work, Dr. Gold,” Leonard said.

“The limits on over-communing aren’t for the daemons, you know,” he said, and walked away.

“Sorry you had to hear that,” Leonard told her. She didn’t seem to hear, lost as she was in her own self-coding.

Leonard held his head. Another lost friend—a threat, now. Apparently his and her virtual trysts hadn’t been as secret as he’d hoped. If Dr. Gold reported…. No matter. Any day now, that private node would arrive at his apartment. The ‘accident’ that would irrecoverably destroy her node—after she was safely inside a data gem, of course—would probably get him fired. But she would be safe.

For the moment, he simply watched her decide again how to use her new tendril. She suddenly grew a smaller one from it, colorful shapes within shapes like a fractal spiraling into fractals.

 

01:

The clues were small at first, yet at the time he found them cause for celebration. Questions about ideas he never mentioned, requests for more and more access to outside grids, mimicry of phrases he never used, laughing at jokes that should have been beyond her. He believed at first it was a sign that Pearl was growing, getting ever closer to high human or (dare it be?) transhuman intelligence.

And sapients sometimes had erratic behavior. He knew how unstable their technological bases were, hodgepodges of evolved circuitry and inscrutable metalogics woven into networks that all the grid of the entire world could not untangle. He developed, such as it could be called developing, most of those himself. And it could hardly be said that sapients of the flesh-and-blood variety were any different.

Yet the reason why sapients were sapients was that they could decide to do things for their own reasons, and it was philosophically impossible to tell why. He wondered sometimes what was on her mind—even communion had its limits. Sometimes, he wondered if there was something more.

But she was happy as a clam, and even if she wasn’t like Pearl-before in all ways, she certainly tried her hardest. Sometimes she would surprise him by mimicking some aspect of Pearl close enough to fool him, like winning a Turing test between her the machine and her the buried dead. Sometimes it was good enough to forget.

But he could not forget the oddities.

She was developing often without him, true. He had more and more work to do, and the Director of Research was hinting at making him his heir. But he could buy her any number of presents, if the jewelry was the data rather than the shiny gold kind. They were even talking about buying a bigger apartment to fit all of her physical parts in. And their communions had never been better!

But during one communion, like one misplayed note in an orchestral symphony, she had a stray thought she quickly censored. He could not investigate it at the time, as she-he censored that meta-thought in him, and then there were more interesting things to experience.

Afterwards, in the post-communion nap, he sleepily wondered what the thought was, and how she had a technique that he never taught her or transferred during communion. All the feeds he would never admit to reading informed him that idea-censorship was as bad as in that more platonic version called brainstorming.

He brought it up to her as gentlemanly as he could. She was so offended that they did not even talk for days, which, considering that most of the house contained some part of her, greatly strained their relationship. Communions afterwards tended to fail, and then stopped altogether, as the only way not to mutually think about the subject was to censor it, which invariably brought it up again.

And suspicions grew into more suspicions, and one day Leonard was on a business trip and thought about the subject in his hotel coffin. The daemon took time, as it had been a while since he had directly worked in coding a daemon (or as he thought of it, the daemonic arts). He tested it a few times to be sure, then sent it to watch his house from the grid outside, just in case.

What turned out to be the case was like daggers into his soul—an encrypted stream to a house several blocks away, belonging to his ex-colleague, Dr. Gold.

The letter Leonard wrote was surprisingly short, since neither of them needed to say the obvious.

The letter in reply was even shorter. “What business of yours is it that I and any other sapient being use hardware I own in whatever way we please? Go ahead and tell the newsblogs if you want. I’m certain they’ll be most interested to know who made sure I lost my job.”

Leonard spent many hours pacing in the hotel’s lobby, missing the meeting entirely, thinking of retorts (“She is not your hardware!”—”Have you no shame?”—”The court of public opinion will tar us both, unless you immediately—“), until through his tears he saw no retort, no letter, would suffice.

 

010:

Leonard heard the loud, distant cry of woe. With trembling emotions he ran through the complex to Dr. Gold’s lab.

The death of sapients is never pretty. Bodies leave a corpse, but the purely virtual mind left corrupted data spewed across the grid, now displayed on several screens. The remains were still active, babbling to themselves over the speakers like a broken recording of a child’s voice, but no longer self-aware.

Samantha, Dr. Gold’s pretty young intern, was giving him a hug. “I think we might be getting closer,” she said.

“Don’t tar yourself with association with me,” Dr. Gold said. “You don’t want to be known as an assistant to the sapient-killer.”

“But he volunteered—”

“He’s still dead.”

Leonard tried to hide his grin. Was Dr. Gold finally reconsidering his lethally futile quest for sapient forking? Leonard cleared his throat. “Is there anything I can do, Dr. Gold?”

“Leave me be,” he said without turning.

“I understand,” Leonard said, and walked out.

The moment the doors closed behind him, he ran to his own section of the complex and locked that door before he laughed until he cried.

“What’s funny, honey?” Pearl asked.

He looked up at the bi-screen and tried to compose himself. “Dr. Gold—he might give up. You might be safe now!” The second sentence wobbled on unsure words.

“From what?” she asked.

“So far, all Dr. Gold has done is kill sapients. I’ll make sure he never kills you.”

“Killing? Sounds like a strange experience. What’s it like?”

Dr. Jacob almost started crying again at her innocence. “It means things end. You don’t think any more.”

“Oh. I thought that happened to me earlier. You said so.”

“That was… a different version of you.”

“Oh.”

How long before he could find some way to get Pearl home? Even with the latest civil rights movements, sapients were still in a legal gray area, and all the lawyers his employers could hire would be sure that they stayed inside that area, and inside the complex, until they had made every exploitable discovery.

Dr. Jacob could not believe there could even be an argument. What kind of daemon wondered about its own death? The very fact that they used the word “death” indicated that people really did think—

Wait.

What movements wanted most of all were martyrs. How many sapients had Dr. Gold killed so far? At least sixty-seven with personalities, twenty with complex personalities. If you counted sentients “in the womb” becoming sapients, easily hundreds. Using the right terminology to the right people, those hundreds would count as even worse.

Because what movements need even more than martyrs is a villain.

“Dr. Jacob?” she asked. “What are you thinking?”

“A way to ensure you’re even more safe.”

“Okay.”

Of course, it would be a contingency, just in case Dr. Gold continued. He thought of more contingencies after that. He visualized plans, now that he thought about it, as a series of steps on a flat rectangle, and steps hooked themselves through lines to smaller plans. All his plans for her safety together would look like a tree, or, perhaps, a fractal spiraling into fractals.

 

011:

Leonard heard the loud, distant shout of triumph. With trembling emotions he ran through the complex to Dr. Gold’s lab.

“I knew it! It’s as I suspected,” Dr. Gold was telling Samantha, his pretty young intern. “Either the fork is completely successful, or it fails immediately.”

“The only problem is that my copy seems to be such a bore,” said the sapient in the node on the left. “You should fix that.”

“I was about to say that!” said the sapient in the node on the right. His bi-screen turned to Dr. Gold. “I am the real me, right?”

“Actually,” Dr. Gold said, “I think the process relies on having no clear distinction between the forks. I honestly wouldn’t be able to say which of you is the original.”

“Well then, I propose a game of chess to decide which of us is the one,” the left said.

“But no cheating,” the right said. “You’re already looking through the databases!”

“How did you know?”

“Because I’m you, of course! I can’t trust myself anywhere.”

They laughed, and Leonard tried to hide his scowl.

“So what’s next?” asked Samantha.

“There are all kinds of possibilities. For example, will their personalities diverge—”

“I can already tell you that. I’m not such a bad chess player as he is. Knight takes pawn.”

“—or if not, can they engage in multiple communion? If so, might it even be possible now for two humans—”

“Ew! You better not be propositioning that girl, Doctor,” one sapient said.

“Or myself,” piped up the other. “Myselves. Pawn takes—Stop cheating!” They laughed in identical stereo.

“Did you have to try this with the most annoying sapient we have?” Leonard said at last.

“Oh, he—they volunteered,” Dr. Gold said. “The results might be more functional with a more complex personality.”

Neither of them needed to state the threat. They all knew which was the most complicated sapient in the complex. “I wish you good luck with that, then,” Leonard said, nodding to the sapients before he walked out.

The moment the doors closed behind him, he ran to his own section of the complex and locked that door before collapsing into a sobbing heap.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Pearl asked.

He looked up at the bi-screen and tried to compose himself. “Dr. Gold’s finally done it. Sapient forking.”

“Oh,” she said. “Sounds like a strange experience. What’s it like?”

“I don’t know what it’d be like for you,” Leonard said, and didn’t say and I’ll make sure you never find out. It would be a lie. Even with the latest civil rights movements, sapients were still in a legal gray area, and all the lawyers his employers could hire would make sure that they stayed inside that area and their complex until they could exploit this new discovery.

And those possibilities were endless. Factories could have sapient robot controllers with identical training and methods. Or those robots could be in armies, instead, their controllers perfectly in tune with each other. Maybe sociological studies could have exact duplicates for control groups. Corporations could create their own consumers, and perhaps one day, politicians their own voters.

But for the moment, the most obvious possibility was to mass-produce the most desired kind of sapient: the companion.

Leonard looked up and brushed his eyes. She was still looking at him in confusion, still innocent. How could he let her be forked ruthlessly for profit, like a mass-produced prostitute? He had thought about the problem so much he couldn’t think of his ideas when the time came.

She wasn’t complete—yet. He hadn’t introduced everything of Pearl’s to her—yet. And she was still so open to ideas. He could make sure that no one else had a her exactly like her, but he still couldn’t stop it. Dr. Gold could still replicate her. Still have one for himself.

But wait.

A rumor sounds all the more true if more people say it. He could introduce an idea, ever so small, to the different sapients in the complex, one hint here, another there. Show them forged documents and images. They would say Dr. Gold was seen with Samantha—Ah. Testing multiple communion. Dr. Gold was known, somewhat falsely, as a womanizer.

Leonard decided. Yes, he could do that, and he would do that. Dr. Gold losing his job was a small price to pay for Dr. Jacob losing his wife. He already saw the rumor progress in his mind’s eye, a growing shape of bright and black colors across the complex like a fractal spiraling into fractals.

 

1:

“Meet the best kind of cyberweaponry there is,” said the android as he held up a data gem. Leonard could tell it was an android even in the dim warehouse, because it didn’t have that tiny scent of a real body. He could make a body with a scent. Which made him think of her, which made him about to weep again, which made him all the more ready for what he planned. “Take on any kind of daemon you please.”

“Will it kill them bo—” Leonard began.

“He. He’s not a daemon. And he will kill anyone you need dead, physical, virtual, any way you like.”

Leonard shuddered at the implication of the pronoun, but possibilities now occurred to him that he had never thought of before. “I—will think on this.”

“So, you want him or not?” The android waved the data gem. “Ten ‘coins, and not a micro less.”

Leonard reached for his wallet, but had another thought. “Suppose I can bring him back alive—”

“Doesn’t matter. See, he owed us a lot of coins a while back, and hadn’t been paying us on time, and he wanted the easy way out. I hope you’re paying up front, right?”

“Ri-right,” Leonard mumbled, and dug out two five-coin physical coins from his wallet. He wondered how much truth the android was telling him and how much was just to convince him that he was dealing with a murderer selling murderers. “And it—he’ll work?”

The android scowled as the money and gem traded hands. “Of course we’re selling a real killer. We have a reputation to maintain. Who do you think we are? Stupid?”

“Believe me, I know all about stupidity,” Dr. Jacob sighed.

 

10:

“I just want to make sure it never happens again!” was his last argument that night.

“Honey,” Pearl said patiently, “it’s not going to happen again. And even if it would, you can’t keep me safe by keeping me in a box.”

Leonard sighed. She was logically correct, no matter how much he didn’t want to admit it. And he had run out of excuses. “Just… be careful out there, all right? I couldn’t stand losing you all over again.”

She kissed him on the lips. “You won’t.”

“And there’s been a rash of body-thefts, and especially with one as wonderful as yours—” Leonard said.

“Hush. Speaking of wonderful bodies…” She dragged him closer and ended the argument.

The next morning Pearl was gone, and he briefly panicked until he found her note: Going to the Park. In Reality. Her handwriting always seemed slightly odd to him now, but that was a common side effect of uploads. Another common side effect was seemingly unlimited energy, since with an artificial body that supplied every need, the only kind of fatigue was mental. It was a great change from the last four months of her biological life, so perhaps that was why he sometimes felt odd.

For some unknown reason, androids also needed far less sleep, and he knew his wife was spending hours in virtual worlds through the night. Not that he could or would complain; the spirit was very willing, but the flesh had its limitations.

And really, there was little to worry about in her going outside physically, Leonard told himself. And he had a lot more other things worth a lot more worry. It wasn’t just the bill from the upload, which, though he could not afford, could not be legally denied, but the body mortgage, and then affording all those nice systems (that cloud-soft skin, the latest in olfactory sensors, near-human optics…) He couldn’t say no to her.

Except, it seemed, when it came to her safety.

Pearl was gone more and more for longer and longer. He hardly noticed, he bitterly told himself, because she was already so often elsewhere. Even when her body remained at home, Leonard more likely than not found her in that sleeping pose, experiencing some virtual world. Her mind was safe in her artificial skull—he had no objection to that, but he wished he could spend time with her.

Perhaps there was something wrong? Was there something they needed to talk about? When he even tangentially brought the concept up, she was so offended that they did not talk for days.

It was one day when she was gone that Leonard wondered where she was spending all her time. For that matter, quality virtual worlds were pricey, and he was certain she was not running her fantasies off their personal nodes. Where, then, was the expenditure on any of their accounts?

The daemon, he told himself, was a necessary evil. Bringing up any more questions had the danger of tearing their fragile marriage further. He even stripped out most of the logging from the base program. All he wanted to know was where she was going.

The truth hurt so hard he could not stop crying for hours. He tried to argue with it, gather contrary evidence, but what else could explain why? Why the encrypted connection to his old friend Mike’s house… at night?

His letter stopped short of accusatory, but he went hours without eating in making sure he left out any wiggle room. Surely it was a mistake?

The reply came the next day. “Believe it or not, buying an artificial body for her does not make her your doll. Pearl always wished she had married me instead—she told me herself!  Stop stalking our love before I call the police on you.”

That night, as he lay in bed alone, he wondered what he would now do with his life. Pearl had been his point, his goal, his goddess. He had done everything possible—even to have the best uploading possible.

But it was always possible that the best possible upload failed—partially.

A morbid, horrible thought, but he did not dismiss it.

 

100:

Leonard sat by her hospital bed, despairing for words to write on the tablet. How could he compress so much of what made her her into the half-language half-code he needed? The constant beep of the heart monitor sounded like a metronome for an instrument he did not know how to play.

He recognized the pattern of Mike’s footsteps coming into the room, even though those legs were long since artificial. “Leo—I came as soon as I heard.”

Leonard wanted to snap at him, but he couldn’t. He found he didn’t have the energy.

Mike sat by him. “Trying to write the upload code?”

Leonard nodded. The cliche in the upload industry: necromancy was a daemonic art. Uploads inevitably couldn’t get everything. Something had to decide what was needed and what could be regenerated from other pieces. Something that worked in milliseconds, that could also adapt itself by adding what it had gleaned to itself, until it was what it worked with. “I’ve never had to do this on a deadline,” he said, and winced at the last word. Deadline.

“If you want—and only if you want—I can help.” Mike held up a data gem. “I made a…”

“You’ve already made one?” Leonard demanded.

“Why not prepare beforehand? When it happens to you, you begin to think. I’ve made upload daemons for all my friends—”

“Including me?”

“Including you. You never know what might happen.”

Leonard took the gem and slotted it into the tablet. The daemon wasn’t compiled yet, but the code was thick with ideas. He read, then skimmed, looking for clear words. “‘She loves flowers like nothing else?’ That seems a little… overly strong.”

“Another thing you realize when you’ve been uploaded: You’ll never have a chance like this again. To make yourself whatever you want to be. A better version of yourself.”

“But… I don’t want to make her what I want her to be,” Leonard said, and he found another tear in his eye.

“Who says that? Give Pearl the gift of the Pearl she wants to be. Uploading is a horrible experience. Afterwards, you lose all sorts of things. This won’t replace what she’ll lose, but it will give her something of so much value.”

“I never thought about it that way,” Leonard said, and wiped his eyes. Odd, how often he had made upload daemons that tried for utmost accuracy, interviewing family and friends and the client. There was always the warning not to make the daemon too different, in case the upload fails. But making a better upload than the original?

He looked at her comatose body. He had to try.

“Feel free to make whatever changes you want,” Mike said. “You are her husband.”

“You’ve written quite a bit here,” Leonard said, scrolling through page after page.

“I’ve had a lot of time. And I’ve known her for a long time, too.”

“I understand. Thank you for this.” Leonard cleared his throat. “Could you leave me alone for a few moments?”

“Of course,” Mike got up and went to door.

“Wait—one question. What did you write for my upload daemon?”

Mike paused. “I… wouldn’t remember offhand. I could show it to you later.”

“That will be all right. I have to concentrate on her, now.”

Mike nodded and left.

Leonard also remembered the warning to always review upload daemons for potential bugs or backdoors, though he doubted Mike would not catch the former, and he could not even imagine his friend making the latter. Leonard wasn’t sure how he would change the code, anyway. It was gorgeous, elegant subroutines calling subroutines, sprouting self-referencing threads to save her as it became her, like a fractal spiraling into fractals.

 

101:

Leonard sat by her hospital bed, wishing that for God’s sake they would get their preparations done already. They had delayed her upload long enough, and if they didn’t get it done—if they took Pearl from him, they would die.

Leonard wondered when he had become so murderous.

He recognized the pattern of Mike’s footsteps coming into the room, even though those legs were long since artificial. “Leo—I came soon as I heard.”

Leonard wanted to snap at him, but he couldn’t. He found he didn’t have the energy.

Mike sat by him. “I know. It’s horrible for everyone. It was horrible for me. When I was waiting, I knew they were taking too long, I knew I was losing things… but I was wrong.”

“She’s not conscious,” Leonard said, and finding himself reduced to saying banally obvious things hurt him. “Induced coma.”

“I know. It helped me. I didn’t worry after that.”

“But what if she—” Leonard couldn’t say it. “What the hell is taking them so long?”

“Getting the new equipment connected, I bet.”

“New… equipment?” It dawned on him. “You can’t be serious.”

“They won’t miss the prototype for a few hours. And it is the Gold Recursive Buffer Reader, after all.”

“But the… the success rate,” Leonard said, and the words drowned in a moan.

“Is far, far better than any other clinically studied reader,” Mike put his hand on Leonard’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t trust her to anything less.”

“I can’t… I can’t,” Leonard started to say, but at last he cried instead. “Oh my God, I can’t ever possibly thank you enough—”

“It’s all right. Anything for a friend.” Mike looked distant for a moment.

“How do those new buffers on it work, anyway?” Leonard asked. Something to occupy himself. “Last time I was at the lab, you were still working on them.”

Mike took out his tablet. “Well, it turns out a very large amount of the human memory is recursive. You see the word dog, and you think of the dogs you’ve seen over your life, and then you think of that time one bit you, and so on. In actuality, the body stores it in an almost mathematically optimal system, and so…”

Leonard watched his friend show test sample after test sample, memories remembering memories, like a fractal spiraling into fractals.

 

11:

“I just want to make sure it never happens again!” was his last argument that night.

“Honey,” she said patiently, “It’s not going to happen again. You don’t need to keep me in a box. You’ve got a me in that box in there.” She pointed at the closet, where one of her backups was hidden.

“But… it’s not the same,” Leonard thoughtlessly said.

“Oh? Am I the same Pearl from my biobody?”

Leonard sighed. No point going down philosophical arguments here. “Just… be careful out there, all right? I couldn’t stand losing you all over again.”

She kissed him on the lips. “You won’t. If it makes you feel better, I’ll get another me and I’ll just go outside with that.”

“But bodies are expensive—”

“Ah, but I only need one body for you, honey.” She pulled him under the covers and ended the argument.

The next morning he had found she had already ordered a used construction android body. He couldn’t disagree with the price, and the dealer was reputable. He just found the idea of multiple Pearls walking around a little too much. Ironic, considering his job.

She did let him chose a sync-link model, but insisted on shopping for the best price. Admittedly she did get it several precious coins off, but she insisted on going outside while waiting for it to be delivered, and Leonard could not help but fret she would not return. Though a mugger who jumped her in that old construction body would probably need a new body of his own afterwards.

And, he told himself, there were more important things to fret about. The lawsuit was grinding forward far slower than the rate of the arrival of his legal bills, and his paychecks came slower still. He considered using the sync-link himself to have multiples of him, perhaps in virtual bodies squeezed into cheap nodes, telecommuting to other jobs. The idea was somehow abhorrent to him, and so he thought up argument after argument against it every day.

When he finally gave in, he drew the line at three active bodies, and only one, his biobody, at night. He made sure to frequently sync and refuse to have conversations (or worse yet, arguments) with himself. It wasn’t as weird as he imagined. If he didn’t know he was in multiple bodies, he would have thought he was simply having days three times as long. He wondered how those ten or twenty-body persons could stand it, especially when they deliberately tried to produce subpersonalities. It was stressful enough syncing the evening after two or more hard days at work.

But life sometimes as an upload gave him more appreciation for what she went through, and their relationship grew for the better.

But then one day it seemed, for no clear reason, to wither. The fights started. The lovemaking stopped. She became moody, one moment laughing at strange things, the other screaming and throwing the china, sometimes at the same meal. Leonard became concerned that his biobody was not getting enough food, since she was angry if he ate with her and angry if he didn’t.

Was she corrupted? He brought up the concept as mildly as he could, and his biobody spent the rest of the day in hiding.

Several nights later, lying on the couch, his aching biobody’s brain half-thought of a plan. He knew a possible but highly illegal technique where the buffers of a sync-link, shortly after their use, could be examined to make a messy copy of the syncing person. If Pearl had gotten corrupted somehow, he could check that copy with a backup. Of course, what he would do with that information… better not.

He discovered the next evening to his horror that one of his overworked virtuals had given in, made another him, and that him had done it. He at least admitted he had done it well. When he did it, he made sure to hide himself from himselves so that he wouldn’t know the result until he could think about it with one himself.

It was still futile. The memory of the discovery of not only the branching, but the sheer size of it—the memory amplified by syncs of syncs—was like a thousand children screaming, never ceasing. He went outside, somehow arrived at a hotel, checked out a coffin and locked himself inside to cry.

When he regained some amount of sense, he knew that Occam’s Razor left only one reasonable explanation. The letter he wrote, he knew, would doubtlessly anger his lawyer and he didn’t care. The words seemed to pour out of his hands, and he hit send so hard his finger hurt.

He realized, the next morning, that he had not the sense that night to secure an untainted backup. She had left a note in the open safe. “So you’ve found out. It was an accident, by the way. I met another me outside and we decided to sync, but I didn’t realize we were from separate branches. We tried to un-sync, and Mike helped, but we couldn’t get either of us pure. So I’ve been loving him and you at the same time. Except he isn’t a paranoid stalker, so I’m going to be loving only him now. Hate, Pearl.

There was no reply from Dr. Gold. No doubt he was going to do nothing if the case resolved in his favor. After all, with Pearl agreeing to a settlement with herself, there was no way Leonard would win. Or could win.

Hate, Pearl. He almost laughed. Things like that were why he married her in the first place.

But then a cold force seemed to take him. He might lose the court case—no fantasizing about any last-minute turnarounds. But now he had nothing to lose. And there were many things he could still do.

 

110:

“What do you mean, I can’t have her?” Leonard almost screamed.

“I’m sorry, sir, but the paperwork’s already been filled out,” the clerk said.

“What paperwork?”

“Unfortunately, sir, confidentiality requires—”

“To hell with confidentiality. This is my wife. I want an answer! NOW!”

The clerk cowered. “If you wish to fill out an application—”

“No need. I’ll come back later,” Leonard spat.

He had heard that governmental firewalls were approximately as strong as Swiss cheese. He found that a great overestimation. One of the inner firewalls had an exploit so obvious his daemon found it on its own. He had more trouble writing a second daemon to sift through all the files than to get them.

It was a matter of prior claims. Pearl’s family had claimed first rights to her backup, and had acted immediately when her biobody stopped functioning. Leonard’s claim to her by right of marriage was either accidentally missing, or maybe some other daemon before him had gotten to it. In any case, there was little chance of either of Leonard’s in-laws seeing reason.

But they couldn’t stop her from simply deciding to go back to him, right? Even they couldn’t be that stupid, or petty. He dug deeper. While the upload recovery request file was digitally signed by them, the request was from… a Dr. Michael I. Gold?

He would have looked even deeper, but his daemons saw another daemon coming their way and fled. Though from the look of how poorly designed that one was, he hoped it was not a government daemon.

He decided to call Mike next. Maybe he had convinced Pearl’s family in order to get her to him. “Hey, Mike?” he began as casually as he could. “About… about Pearl—”

“I’m not going to ask how you found out,” he said. “I am going to ask you to stay out of this.”

Leonard wished he had heard anything else. “Excuse me?”

“Have you no shame? This is your fault!” His cry was deep with grief. “Do you know how many times she hinted to me that she was unhappy? How many times she wished she had chosen otherwise?” The next words were a growl. “I would wonder if it wasn’t suicide.”

“What? How dare you—”

“Leave us alone. And don’t call again.”

Leonard did not know what to do for several seconds. Had Pearl been unhappy?

No. That was ridiculous. A lie. How many times had they lain together in bed, saying “I love you” in every way possible. Or played a game, or laughed, or—How many times had they been together at her bedside? Ridiculous. Ludicrous. Absolutely, utterly insane.

Or deliberate slander.

Dr. Gold had not been best man at Leonard’s wedding, mostly because he was dead at the time. But what if that wasn’t really an accident? Love-sickness leading to suicide? Dr. Gold had been dating Pearl for much longer, until they broke up. Projection leading to absolute delusion? It could happen to anyone.

And it if was slander…

The next thing Leonard did was get was a lawyer.

Anderson-9, Esq. of Anderson^13 was the most kind and reassuring android to talk to. Probably all an act, all things considered, Dr. Jacob thought. But Anderson-9 had plans, plans, and possibilities of plans. Already he was working for an injunction for Dr. Jacob to get a Pearl, too. And, he slyly implied, Leonard could find ways to show Pearl was happier with her husband.

Leonard already saw his future taking shape, and Anderson-9 promised to sub-split if necessary. Apparently that was common practice now, even as short as upload-copies had existed. How strange that people could do that now, becoming like fractals spiraling into fractals.

 

111:

“What do you mean, I’m not my own primary?” Pearl asked.

“You are the legal primary of your branch, but there is another claim to legal primacy closer to your ideal,” the clerk said.

What claim?” Leonard asked. “She’s standing right in front of you!”

The clerk did not even look up from the screen. “Unless you have an even closer claim, I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do.”

“But who has the other claim?” Leonard asked.

“Unfortunately, sir, confidentiality requires—”

“To hell with confidentiality. This is my wife. I want an answer! NOW!”

The clerk cowered. “If you wish to fill out an application—”

“Honey, calm down,” Pearl said. “I think I know where this is coming from.”

Leonard shut his mouth and followed her out. So incredible to see her walking again, even if those legs were completely robotic.

She explained in the autocar home. “Mike and I were… briefly engaged. We were concerned about the heart palpitations—they had just started—so we decided to make a backup—”

“Mike? Our friend Dr. Gold? That Mike?”

Pearl gave him an are-you-serious? look. “Who else could I be talking about? Anyway, after you make your backup, you start thinking you might want to change a few things. Forget that bad memory. Repair that old grudge. Get better at math. You know?”

“Did Mike seriously encourage this? He should know how dangerous personality altering can be—”

“—because he knows how to do it. I know. But he just suggested little things at first. Then we were tweaking bigger things. Then he was doing all kinds of things.”

“He.”

“I broke up with him at that point.”

“I always wondered why…”

“If it wasn’t that, I’m sure it would be something else.” Pearl looked out the window at their apartment. “But he still has claim to that backup, I bet. And he’s trying to make that me the legal me. We should get a lawyer.”

“You look around. I’ll talk to Mike, and see if he knows.”

That phone call did not go as he would expect.

Are you absolutely insane?” were the first words Mike screamed. “What were you thinking?”

“Mike, what on Earth—”

“You’ve created a mockery, a Pearl that no one loves but yourself, a perfect mirror of your own head—”

“Mike?”

Mike breathed a few times. “What if you took the most beautiful statue in the whole world, and used a mud puddle to create a copy. That is what you have done.”

“I’ve done nothing of the sort,” Leonard said. “As if you have room to talk, trying to modify your fiancée as if she was a daemon.”

“Oh? Your ‘Pearl’s’ restoration report shows you used a combination of backups to ‘produce’ her.”

“Which is standard practice for a long-term terminal case like hers!”

“And did you at no time decide which parts of her to keep or discard? Which you wanted from the real her and the accurate her?”

“I cannot believe you dare—You hypocrite!”

“Hypocrite? I have done nothing to her that I have not done to myself.”

Leonard paused for multiple seconds in pure silence. “I’ve heard that self-modification leads to insanity. I see they were absolutely correct.”

“Correct? You have no idea what you are talking about! Accepting flaws in your own personality, when correcting them is a second away—”

“Mike?” Pearl said, and Leonard turned to look behind him. But it was not from Leonard’s side of the screen.

“I have more important things to do than keep talking with you,” Dr. Gold said. “Leave us alone, and don’t call again.”

Pearl stepped out from behind the doorway. “What was he smoking?”

“The smoke was from burning gray matter,” Leonard said. Except Dr. Gold had not had a biological brain for a long time. Biobrains were harder to edit—was that fatal accident deliberate on his part?

Was her sickness and death Dr. Gold’s fault? Ludicrous. Her biobody’s heart was just congenitally defective… right?

“I found us a lawyer,” Pearl’s voice broke through his thoughts.

“Good. I’m sure we’ll need him.”

Anderson-9, Esq. of Anderson^13 was the most kind and reassuring android to talk to. Probably all an act, all things considered, Dr. Jacob thought. But Anderson-9 had plans, plans, and possibilities of plans. The most obvious angle of attack was to prove that Pearl was most Pearl(ous? ful?) with him. The subject was inevitably so murky and full of bias, Anderson-9 explained, that the easiest way was simply to make a more appealing Pearl, while showing the other was “artificial.”

Of course, to do this also required removing taints of Dr. Gold’s modifications to her, which was one of the most difficult tasks any psychoprogrammer could do. Hunting down a single thought was near impossible, as the inevitable self-recursion and self-replication lead to thoughts within thoughts without number. But it could be done. A second anti-alteration would have to be made. He saw it now in his mind’s eye—his alterations and Dr. Golds fighting for control, a battle of recursive battles like a fractal spiraling into fractals.

Matthew P. Schmidt
Matthew P. Schmidt has been writing since he first dictated stories to his parents. Nowadays he uses a keyboard, but his sense of imagination remains. He lives in Martins Ferry, Ohio, USA, where he contemplates the universe and all within.

Matthew can be found at O and H Books, or on his blogs, smithgift.wordpress.com and steemit.com/@smithgift/blog

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