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Permutation City. 2

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She summoned up old and new versions of the enzyme, highlighted the regions where the tertiary structure was different, and probed them with her fingertips-confirming, palpably, that the cavity in the giant molecule where the reaction took place had changed shape.

And once the ring was cleaved? The fragments were the same, whether the original sugar had been nutrose or mutose. The rest of the Lambert pathway went on as if nothing had changed.

Maria was elated, and a little dazed. People had been trying to achieve a spontaneous adaptation like this for sixteen years. She didn"t even know why she"d finally succeeded; for five years she"d been tinkering with the bacterium"s error correction mechanisms, trying to force A. lamberti to mutate, not more rapidly, but more randomly. Every time, she"d ended up with a strain which-like Lambert"s original, like those of other workers-suffered the same handful of predictable, useless mutations again and again... almost as if something deep in the clockwork of the Autoverse itself ruled out the exuberant diversity which came so effortlessly to real-world biology. Calvin and others had suggested that, because Autoverse physics omitted the deep indeterminacy of real-world quantum mechanics-because it lacked this vital inflow of "true unpredictability"-the same richness of phenomena could never be expected, at any level.

But that had always been absurd-and now she"d proved it was absurd.

For a moment she thought of phoning Aden, or Francesca-but Aden wouldn"t understand enough to do more than nod politely, and her mother didn"t deserve to be woken at this hour.

She got up and paced the tiny bedroom for a while, too excited to remain still. She"d upload a letter to Autoverse Review (total subscription, seventy-three), with the genome of the strain she"d started out with appended as a footnote, so everyone else could try the experiment...

She sat down and began composing the letter-popping up a word processor in the foreground of the workspace-then decided that was premature; there was still a lot more to be done to form the basis of even a brief report.

She cloned a small colony of the mutose-eating strain, and watched it grow steadily in a culture of pure mutose. No surprise, but it was still worth doing.

Then she did the same, with pure nutrose, and the colony, of course, died out at once. The original ring-cleaving enzyme had been lost; the original roles of nutrose and mutose as food and poison had been swapped.

Maria pondered this. A. lamberti had adapted-but not in the way she"d expected. Why hadn"t it found a means of consuming both sugars, instead of exchanging one kind of exclusive reliance for another? It would have been a far better strategy. It was what a real-world bacterium would have done.

She brooded over the question for a while-then started laughing. Sixteen years, people had been hunting for a single, convincing example of natural selection in the Autoverse-and here she was worrying that it wasn"t the best of all possible adaptations. Evolution was a random walk across a minefield, not a preordained trajectory, onward and upward toward "perfection." A. lamberti had stumbled on a successful way to turn poison into food. It was tough luck if the corollary was: vice versa.

Maria ran a dozen more experiments. She lost all track of time; when dawn came, the software brightened the images in front of her, keeping the daylight from washing them out. It was only when her concentration faltered, and she looked around the room, that she realized how late it was.

She started again on the letter. After three drafts of the first paragraph-all eliciting the same response from Camel"s Eye: You"ll hate this when you reread it later. Trust me.-she finally admitted to herself that she was wasted. She shut down everything and crawled into bed.

She lay there awhile in a stupor, burying her face in the pillow, waiting for the ghost images of Petri dishes and enzymes to fade. Five years ago, she could have worked all night, and suffered nothing worse than a fit of yawning in the middle of the afternoon. Now, she felt like she"d been hit by a train-and she knew she"d be a wreck for days. Thirty-one is old, old, old.

Her head throbbed, her whole body ached. She didn"t care. All the time and money she"d squandered on the Autoverse was worth it, now. Every moment she"d spent there had been vindicated.

Yeah? She rolled onto her back and opened her eyes. What, exactly, had changed? It was still nothing but a self-indulgent hobby, an elaborate computer game. She"d be famous with seventy-two other anal-retentive Autoverse freaks. How many bills would that pay? How many typhoons would it neutralize?

She wrapped her head in the pillow, feeling crippled, stupid, hopeless-and defiantly happy-until her limbs went numb, her mouth went dry, and the room seemed to rock her to sleep.
<dd><br><dd>5 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>NOVEMBER 2050

Peer anchored the soles of both feet and the palm of one hand firmly against the glass, and rested for a while. He tipped his head back to take in, one more time, the silver wall of the skyscraper stretching to infinity above him. Cotton-wool clouds drifted by, higher than any part of the building-even though the building went on forever.

He freed his right foot, reanchored it higher up the wall, then turned and looked down at the neat grid of the city below, surrounded by suburbs as orderly as ploughed fields. The foreshortened countryside beyond formed a green-brown rim to the hemispherical bowl of the Earth; a blue-hazed horizon bisected the view precisely. The features of the landscape, like the clouds, were "infinitely large," and "infinitely distant"; a finite city, however grand, would have shrunk to invisibility, like the base of the skyscraper. The distance was more than a trick of perspective, though; Peer knew he could keep on approaching the ground for as long as he liked, without ever reaching it. Hours, days, centuries.

He couldn"t remember beginning the descent, although he understood clearly-cloud-knowledge, cloud-memories-the sense in which there was a beginning, and the sense in which there was none. His memories of the skyscraper, like his view of it, seemed to converge toward a vanishing point; looking back from the present moment, all he could recall was the act of descending, punctuated by rest. And although his mind had wandered, he"d never lost consciousness; his past seemed to stretch back seamlessly, forever-yet he could hold it all in his finite gaze, thanks to some law of mental perspective, some calculus of memory limiting the sum of ever diminishing contributions to his state of mind from ever more distant moments in the past. But he had his cloud-memories, too; memories from before the descent. He couldn"t join them to the present, but they existed nonetheless, a backdrop informing everything else. He knew exactly who he"d been, and what he"d done, in that time before the time he now inhabited.

Peer had been exhausted when he"d stopped, but after a minute"s rest he felt, literally, as energetic and enthusiastic as ever. Back in cloud-time, preparing himself, he"d edited out any need or desire for food, drink, sleep, sex, companionship, or even a change of scenery, and he"d preprogrammed his exoself-the sophisticated, but nonconscious, supervisory software which could reach into the model of his brain and body and fine-tune any part of it as required-to ensure that these conditions remained true. He resumed the descent gladly, a happy Sisyphus. Making his way down the smooth mirrored face of the skyscraper was, still, the purest joy he could imagine: the warmth of the sun reflecting back on him, the sharp cool gusts of wind, the faint creak of steel and concrete. Adrenaline and tranquility. The cycle of exertion and perfect recovery. Perpetual motion. Touching infinity.

The building, the Earth, the sky, and his body vanished. Stripped down to vision and hearing, Peer found himself observing his Bunker: a cluster of display screens floating in a black void. Kate was on one screen; two-dimensional, black-and-white, nothing but her lips moving.

She said, "You set your threshold pretty damn high. You"d be hearing about this a decade later if I hadn"t called you in."

Peer grunted-disconcerted for a moment by the lack of tactile feedback from the conventional organs of speech-and glanced, by way of eye-movement-intention, at the screen beside her, a graph of the recent history of Bunker time versus realtime.

Observing the Bunker-"being in it" would have been an overstatement-was the most computing-efficient state a Copy could adopt, short of losing consciousness. Peer"s body was no longer being simulated at all; the essential parts of his model-of-a-brain had been mapped into an abstract neural network, a collection of idealized digital gates with no pretensions to physiological verisimilitude. He didn"t enter this state very often, but Bunker time was still a useful standard as a basis for comparisons. At best-on the rare occasions when demand slackened, and he shared a processor cluster with only two or three other users-his Bunker-time slowdown factor dropped to about thirty. At worst? Up until a few minutes ago, the worst had been happening: a section of the graph was perfectly flat. For more than ten hours of real time, he hadn"t been computed at all.

Kate said, "Operation Butterfly. Weather control simulations. The fuckers bought up everything."

She sounded shaken and angry. Peer said calmly, "No great loss. Solipsist Nation means making your own world, on your own terms. Whatever the risks. Real time doesn"t matter. Let them give us one computation per year. What would it change? Nothing." He glanced at another display, and realized that he"d only been in the skyscraper model for seven subjective minutes. The false memories had meshed perfectly; he would never have believed it had been so short a time. Pre-computing the memories had taken time, of course-but far less than it would have taken to accumulate the same effect by conventional experience.

Kate said, "You"re wrong. You don"t-"

"Let them run one moment of model time for one Copy on every processor cluster, the day it"s commissioned-and then dedicate it entirely to other users. Each Copy would thread its way from machine to machine, with a slowdown of a few billion... and it wouldn"t matter. The manufacturers could run us all for free-turn it into a kind of ritual, a blessing of the hardware by the spirits of the dead. Then we could abolish all the trust funds, and stop worrying about money altogether. The cheaper we are, the less vulnerable we are."

"That"s only half the truth. The more we"re marginalized, the more we"re at risk."

Peer tried to sigh; the sound that emerged was plausible enough, but the lack of sensation was annoying.

"Is there any reason to stay in emergency mode? Is there some snap decision I"m going to have to make? Are there missiles heading for-" He checked a display. "-- Dallas?" Dallas? The US dollar must have fallen sharply against the yen.

Kate said nothing, so Peer glanced at icons for a body and a room, and willed them to be active. His disembodied consciousness, and the floating screens of the Bunker, fleshed out into a young man, barefoot in blue jeans and a T-shirt, sitting in a windowless control room-what might have been the operations center for a medium-sized office building.

The body"s physiological state continued directly from its last moments on the wall of the skyscraper-and it felt good: loose-limbed, invigorated. Peer recorded a snapshot, so he could get the feeling back again at will. He looked at Kate imploringly; she relented and joined him, vanishing from the screen and appearing on a chair beside him.

She said, "I am Solipsist Nation. What happens outside doesn"t matter to me... but we still need certain guarantees, certain minimum standards."

Peer laughed. "So what are you going to do? Become a lobbyist now? Spend all your time petitioning Brussels and Geneva? "Human rights" are for people who want to play at being human. I know who I am. I am not human." He plunged his fist into his chest, effortlessly penetrating shirt, skin and ribs, and tore his heart out. He felt the parting of his flesh, and the aftermath-but although aspects of the pain were "realistic," preprogrammed barriers kept it isolated within his brain, a perception without any emotional, or even metabolic, consequences. And his heart kept beating in his hand as if nothing had happened; the blood passed straight between the ragged ends of each broken artery, ignoring the "intervening distance."

Kate said, "Blink and ten hours are gone. That"s no disaster-but where is it heading? State-of-emergency decrees, nationalizing all the computing power in Tokyo for weather control?"

"Tokyo?"

"Some models show Greenhouse Typhoons reaching the Japanese islands in the next thirty years."

"Fuck Tokyo. We"re in Dallas."

"Not any more." She pointed to the status display; exchange-rate fluctuations, and the hunt for the cheapest QIPS, had flung them back across the Pacific. "Not that it matters. There are plans for the Gulf of Mexico, too."

Peer put his heart on the floor and shrugged, then groped around in his chest cavity in search of other organs. He finally settled on a handful of lung. Torn free, the pink tissue continued to expand and contract in time with his breathing; functionally, it was still inside his rib cage. "Start looking for security, and you end up controlled by the demands of the old world. Are you Solipsist Nation, or not?"

Kate eyed his bloodless wound, and said quietly, "Solipsist Nation doesn"t mean dying of stupidity. You take your body apart, and you think it proves you"re invulnerable? You plant a few forced-perspective memories, and you think you"ve already lived forever? I don"t want some cheap illusion of immortality. I want the real thing."

Peer frowned, and started paying attention to her latest choice of body. It was still recognizably "Kate"-albeit the most severe variation on the theme he"d seen. Short-haired, sharp-boned, with piercing gray eyes; leaner than ever, plainly dressed in loose-fitting white. She looked ascetic, functional, determined.

She said-mock-casually, as if changing the subject-"Interesting news: there"s a man-a visitor-approaching the richest Copies, selling prime real estate for second versions at a ludicrous rate."

"How much?"

"Two million ecus."

"What-per month?"

"No. Forever."

Peer snorted. "It"s a con."

"And outside, he"s been contracting programmers, designers, architects. Commissioning-and paying for-work that will need at least a few dozen processor clusters to run on."

"Good move. That might actually persuade a few of the doddering old farts that he can deliver what he"s promising. Not many, though. Who"s going to pay without getting the hardware on-line and running performance tests? How"s he going to fake that? He can show them simulations of glossy machines, but if the things aren"t real, they won"t crunch. End of scam."

"Sanderson has paid. Repetto has paid. The last word I had was he"d talked to Riemann."

"I don"t believe any of this. They all have their own hardware-why would they bother?"

"They all have a high profile. People know that they have their own hardware. If things get ugly, it can be confiscated. Whereas this man, Paul Durham, is nobody. He"s a broker for someone else, obviously-but whoever it is, they"re acting like they have access to more computing power than Fujitsu, at about a thousandth of the cost. And none of it is on the open market. Nobody officially knows it exists."

"Or unofficially. Because it doesn"t. Two million ecus!"

"Sanderson has paid. Repetto has paid."

"According to your sources."

"Durham"s getting money from somewhere. I spoke to Malcolm Carter myself. Durham"s commissioned a city from him, thousands of square kilometers-and none of it passive. Architectural detail everywhere down to visual acuity, or better. Pseudo-autonomous crowds-hundreds of thousands of people. Zoos and wildlife parks with the latest behavioral algorithms. A waterfall the size of nothing on Earth."

Peer pulled out a coil of intestine and playfully wrapped it around his neck. "You could have a city like that, all to yourself, if you really wanted it-if you were willing to live with the slowdown. Why are you so interested in this con man Durham? Even if he"s genuine, you can"t afford his price. Face it: you"re stuck here in the slums with me-and it doesn"t matter." Peer indulged in a brief flashback to the last time they"d made love. He merged it with the current scene, so he saw both Kates, and the new lean gray-eyed one seemed to look on as he lay on the floor gasping beneath his tangible memory of her earlier body-although in truth she saw him still sitting in the chair, smiling faintly.

All memory is theft, Daniel Lebesgue had written. Peer felt a sudden pang of post-coital guilt. But what was he guilty of? Perfect recollection, nothing more.

Kate said, "I can"t afford Durham"s price-but I can afford Carter"s."

Peer was caught off guard for a second, but then he grinned at her admiringly. "You"re serious, aren"t you?"

She nodded soberly. "Yes. I"ve been thinking about it for some time, but after being flatlined for ten hours-"

"Are you sure Carter is serious? How do you know he really has something to sell?"

She hesitated. "I hired him myself, when I was outside. I used to spend a lot of time in VR, as a visitor, and he made some of my favorite places: the winter beach; that cottage I took you to. And others. He was one of the people I talked it over with, before I made up my mind to come in for good." Peer regarded her uneasily-she rarely talked about the past, which suited him fine-and mercifully, she returned to the point. "With slowdown, filters, masks, it"s hard to judge anyone... but I don"t think he"s changed that much. I still trust him."

Peer nodded slowly, absentmindedly sliding his intestine back and forth across his shoulders. "But how much does Durham trust him? How thoroughly will he check the city for stowaways?"

"Carter"s sure he can hide me. He has software that can break up my model and bury it deep in the city"s algorithms-as a few billion trivial redundancies and inefficiencies."

"Inefficiencies can get optimized out. If Durham-"

Kate cut him off impatiently. "Carter"s not stupid. He knows how optimizers work-and he knows how to keep them from touching his stuff."

"Okay. But... once you"re in there, what sort of communications will you have?"

"Not much. Only limited powers to eavesdrop on what the legitimate inhabitants choose to access-and if the whole point of this place is secrecy, that may not be much. I get the impression from Carter that they"re planning to drag in everything they need, then pull up the drawbridge."

Peer let that sink in, but chose not to ask the obvious question, or to show that he"d even thought of it. "So what do you get to take with you?"

"All the software and all the environments I"ve been using here-which doesn"t amount to all that much data, compared to me. And once I"m in, I"ll have read-only access to all of the city"s public facilities: all the information, all the entertainment, all the shared environments. I"ll be able to walk down the main street-invisible and intangible-staring at the trillionaires. But my presence won"t affect anything-except to slow it all down by a negligible amount-so even the most rigorous verification should pass the total package as contamination-free."

"What rate will you run at?"

Kate snorted. "I should refuse to answer that. You"re the champion of one computation per year."

"I"m just curious."

"It depends how many QIPS are allocated to the city." She hesitated. "Carter has no real evidence for this-but he thinks there"s a good chance that Durham"s employers have got their hands on some kind of new high-powered hardware-"

Peer groaned. "Please, this whole deal is already suspect enough-don"t start invoking the mythical breakthrough. What makes people think that anyone could keep that a secret? Or that anyone would even want to?"

"They might not want to, in the long run. But the best way to exploit the technology might be to sell the first of the new generation of processors to the richest Copies-before they hit the open market and the QIPS rate crashes."

Peer laughed. "Then why stow away at all? If that happens, there"ll be nothing to fear from weather control."

"Because there might not have been any breakthrough. The only thing that"s certain is that some of the wealthiest-and best-informed-Copies have decided that it"s worth going into this... sanctuary. And I"ve got the chance to go with them."

Peer was silent for a while. Finally, he asked, "So are you moving-or cloning yourself?"

"Cloning."

He could have concealed his relief, easily-but he didn"t. He said, "I"m glad. I would have missed you."

"And I"d have missed you. I want you to come with me."

"You want-?"

Kate leaned toward him. "Carter has said he"ll include you-and your baggage-for another fifty percent. Clone yourself and come with me. I don"t want to lose you-either of me."

Peer felt a rush of excitement-and fear. He took a snap-shot of the emotion, then said, "I don"t know. I"ve never-"

"A second version, running on the most secure hardware on the planet. That"s not surrendering to outside-it"s just finally gaining some true independence."

"Independence? What if these Copies get bored with Carter"s city and decide to trash it-trade it in for something new?"

Kate was unfazed. "That"s not impossible. But there are no guarantees on the public networks, either. This way, at least you have a greater chance that one version will survive."

Peer tried to imagine it. "Stowaways. No communications. Just us, and whatever software we bring."

"You"re Solipsist Nation, aren"t you?"

"You know I am. But... I"ve never run a second version before. I don"t know how I"ll feel about that, after the split."

How who will feel about it?

Kate bent over and picked up his heart. "Having a second version won"t bother you." She fixed her new gray eyes on him. "We"re running at a slowdown of sixty-seven. Carter will be delivering his city to Durham, six real-time months from now. But who knows when Operation Butterfly will flat-line us again? So you don"t have long to decide."

Peer continued to show Kate his body sitting in the chair, thinking it over, while in truth he rose to his feet and walked across the room, escaping her formidable gaze.

Who am I? Is this what I want?

He couldn"t concentrate. He manually invoked a menu on one of the control screens, an array of a dozen identical images: a nineteenth-century anatomical drawing of the brain, with the surface divided into regions labeled with various emotions and skills. Each icon represented a package of mental parameters: snapshots of previous states of mind, or purely synthetic combinations.

Peer hit the icon named clarity.

In twelve short real-time years as a Copy, he"d tried to explore every possibility, map out every consequence of what he"d become. He"d transformed his surroundings, his body, his personality, his perceptions-but he"d always owned the experience himself. The tricks he"d played on his memory had added, never erased-and whatever changes he"d been through, there was always only one person, in the end, taking responsibility, picking up the pieces. One witness, unifying it all.

The truth was, the thought of finally surrendering that unity made him dizzy with fear. It was the last vestige of his delusion of humanity. The last big lie.

And as Daniel Lebesgue, founder of Solipsist Nation, had written: "My goal is to take everything which might be revered as quintessentially human... and grind it into dust."

He returned to his seated body, and said, "I"ll do it."

Kate smiled, raised his beating heart to her lips, and gave it a long, lingering kiss.
<dd><br><dd>6 <dd><br><dd>(Rip, tie, cut toy man) <dd><br><dd>JUNE 2045

Paul woke without any confusion. He dressed and ate, trying to feel optimistic. He"d demonstrated his willingness to cooperate; now it was time to ask for something in return. He walked into the study, switched on the terminal, and called his own number. The djinn answered at once.

Paul said, "I"d like to talk to Elizabeth."

Squeak. "That"s not possible."

"Not possible? Why don"t you just ask her?"

Squeak. "I can"t do that. She doesn"t even know you exist."

Paul stared at him coldly. "Don"t lie to me, it"s a waste of time. As soon as I had a Copy who survived, I was going to explain everything-"

Squeak. The djinn said drily, "Or so we thought."

Paul"s certainty wavered. "You"re telling me that your great ambition is finally being fulfilled-and you haven"t even mentioned it to the one woman... ?"

Squeak. Durham"s face turned to stone. "I really don"t wish to discuss it. Can we get on with the experiment, please?"

Paul opened his mouth to protest-and then found he had nothing to say. All his anger and jealousy suddenly dissipated into... embarrassment. It was as if he"d just come to his senses from a daydream, an elaborate fantasy of a relationship with someone else"s lover. Paul and Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Paul. What happened between them was none of his business. Whatever his memories suggested, that life wasn"t his to live anymore.

He said, "Sure, let"s get on with the experiment. Time is just rushing by. You must have turned forty-five... what, a day ago? Many happy returns."

Squeak. "Thanks-but you"re wrong. I took some shortcuts while you were asleep: I shut down part of the model-and cheated on most of the rest. It"s only the fourth of June; you got six hours" sleep in ten hours" real time. Not a bad job, I thought."

Paul was outraged. "You had no right to do that!"

Squeak. Durham sighed. "Be practical. Ask yourself what you"d have done in my place."

"It"s not a joke!"

Squeak. "So you slept without a whole body. I cleaned a few toxins out of your blood at a non-physiological rate." The djinn seemed genuinely puzzled. "Compared to the experiments, that"s nothing. Why should it bother you? You"ve woken up in exactly the same condition as you"d be in if you"d slept in the normal way."

Paul caught himself. He didn"t want to explain how vulnerable it made him feel to have someone reach through the cracks in the universe and relieve him of unnecessary organs while he slept. And the less the bastard knew about his Copy"s insecurities, the better-he"d only exploit them.

He said, "It bothers me because the experiments are worthless if you"re going to intervene at random. Precise, controlled changes-that"s the whole point. You have to promise me you won"t do it again."

Squeak. "You"re the one who was complaining about waste. Someone has to think about conserving our dwindling resources."

"Do you want me to keep on cooperating? Or do you want to start everything again from scratch?"

Squeak. The djinn said mildly, "All right, you don"t have to threaten me. You have my word: no more ad hoc intervention."

"Thank you."

Conserving our dwindling resources? Paul had been trying hard not to think about money. What would the djinn do when he could no longer afford to keep him running-if Paul chose not to bale out once the experiments were over? Store a snapshot of the model, of course, until he could raise the cash flow to start it up again. In the long term, set up a trust fund; it would only have to earn enough to run him part-time, at first: keep him in touch with the world, stave off excessive culture shock... until the technology became cheap enough to let him live continuously.

Of course, all these reassuring plans had been made by a man with two futures. Would he really want to keep an old Copy running, when he could save his money for a deathbed scan, and "his own" immortality?

Squeak. "Can we get to work, now?"

"That"s what I"m here for."

This time, the model would be described at the standard time resolution of one millisecond, throughout-but the order in which the states were computed would be varied.

Squeak. "Experiment two, trial number one. Reverse order."

Paul counted. "One. Two. Three." Reverse order. After an initial leap into the future, he was now traveling backward through real time. It would have been a nice touch if he"d been able to view an external event on the terminal-some entropic cliche like a vase being smashed-knowing that it was himself, and not the scene, that was being "rewound"... but he knew that it couldn"t be done (quite apart from the fact that it would have ruined the experiment, betraying the difference between subject and control). In real time, the first thing to be computed would be his model-time-final brain state, complete with memories of everything that "had happened" in the "preceding" ten seconds. Those memories couldn"t include having seen a real broken vase assemble itself from fragments, if the vase hadn"t even been smashed yet. The trick could have been done with a simulation, or a video recording of the real thing-but that wouldn"t have been the same.

"Eight. Nine. Ten." Another imperceptible leap into the future, and the djinn reappeared.

Squeak. "Trial number two. Odd numbered states, then even."

In external terms: he would count to ten, skipping every second model-time moment... then forget having done so, and count again, going back and filling in the gaps.

And from his own point of view? As he counted, once only, the external world-even if he couldn"t see it-was flickering back and forth between two separate regions of time, which had been chopped up into seventeen-millisecond portions, and interleaved.

So... who was right? Paul thought it over, half seriously. Maybe both, descriptions were equally valid; after all, relativity had abolished absolute time. Everybody was entitled to their own frame of reference; crossing deep space at close to lightspeed, or skimming the event horizon of a black hole. Why shouldn"t a Copy"s experience of time be as sacrosanct as that of any astronaut?

The analogy was flawed, though. Relativistic transformations were smooth-possibly extreme, but always continuous. One observer"s space-time could be stretched and deformed in the eyes of another-but it couldn"t be sliced like a loaf of bread and then shuffled like a deck of cards.

"Every tenth state, in ten sets."

Paul counted-and for argument"s sake, tried to defend his own perspective, tried to imagine the outside world actually cycling through fragments of time drawn from ten distinct periods. The trouble was... this allegedly shuddering universe contained the computer which ran the whole model, the infrastructure upon which everything else depended. If its orderly chronology had been torn to shreds, what was keeping him together, enabling him to ponder the question?

"Every twentieth state, in twenty sets."

Nineteen episodes of amnesia, nineteen new beginnings.

(Unless, of course, he was the control.)

"Every hundredth state, in one hundred sets."

He"d lost any real feeling for what was happening. He just counted.

"Pseudo-random ordering of states."

"One. Two. Three."

Now he was... dust. To an outside observer, these ten seconds had been ground up into ten thousand uncorrelated moments and scattered throughout real time-and in model time, the outside world had suffered an equivalent fate. Yet the pattern of his awareness remained perfectly intact: somehow he found himself, "assembled himself from these scrambled fragments. He"d been taken apart like a jigsaw puzzle-but his dissection and shuffling were transparent to him. Somehow-on their own terms-the pieces remained connected.

"Eight. Nine. Ten."

Squeak. "You"re sweating."

"Both of me?"

Squeak. The djinn laughed. "What do you think?"

Paul said, "Do me one small favor. The experiment is over. Shut down one of me-control or subject, I don"t care."

Squeak. "Done."

"Now there"s no need to conceal anything, is there? So run the pseudo-random effect on me again-and stay on-line. This time, you count to ten."

Squeak. Durham shook his head. "Can"t do it, Paul. Think about it: you can"t be computed non-sequentially when past perceptions aren"t known."

Of course; the broken vase problem all over again.

Paul said, "Record yourself, then, and use that."

The djinn seemed to find the request amusing, but he agreed; he even slowed down the recording so it lasted ten model-time seconds. Paul watched the blurred lips and jaws intently, listened carefully to the drone of white noise.

Squeak. "Happy now?"

"You did scramble me, and not the recording?"

Squeak. "Of course. Your wish is my command."

"Yeah? Then do it again."

Durham grimaced, but obliged.

Paul said, "Now, scramble the recording."

It looked just the same. Of course.

"Again."

Squeak. "What"s the point of all this?"

"Just do it."

Paul watched, the hairs on the back of his neck rising, convinced that he was on the verge of... what? Finally confronting the "obvious" fact that the wildest permutations in the relationship between model time and real time would be undetectable to an isolated Copy? He"d accepted the near certainty of that, tacitly, for almost twenty years... but the firsthand experience of having his mind literally scrambled-to absolutely no effect-was still provocative in a way that the abstract understanding had never been.

He said, "When do we move on to the next stage?"

Squeak. "Why so keen all of a sudden?"

"Nothing"s changed. I just want to get it over and done with."

Squeak. "Lining up all the other machines is taking some delicate negotiations. The network allocation software isn"t designed to accommodate whims about geography. It"s a bit like going to a bank and asking to deposit some money... at a certain location in a particular computer"s memory. Basically, people think I"m crazy."

Paul felt a momentary pang of empathy, recalling his own anticipation of these difficulties. Empathy verging on identification. He smothered it. The two of them were irreversibly different people now, with different problems and different goals-and the stupidest thing he could do would be to forget that.

Squeak. "I could suspend you while I finalize the arrangements, save you the boredom-if that"s what you want."

"You"re too kind. But I"d rather stay conscious. I"ve got a lot to think about."
<dd><br><dd>7 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>NOVEMBER 2050

"Twelve to eighteen months? Are they sure?"

Francesca Deluca said drily, "What can I say? They modeled it."

Maria did her best to sound calm. "That"s plenty of time. We"ll get you scanned. We"ll get the money together. I can sell the house, and borrow some from Aden-"

Francesca smiled but shook her head. "No, darling." Her hair had grayed a little since Maria had last really looked at her, last consciously gauged her appearance, but she showed no obvious signs of ill health. "What"s the point? Even if I wanted that-and I don"t-what"s the use of a scan that will never be run?"

"It will be run. Computing power will get cheaper. Everybody"s counting on that. Thousands of people have scan files waiting-"

"How many frozen corpses have ever been revived?"

"That"s not the same thing at all."

"How many?"

"Physically, none. But some have been scanned-"

"And proved non-viable. All the interesting ones-the celebrities, the dictators-are brain-damaged, and nobody cares about the rest."

"A scan file is nothing like a frozen corpse. You"d never become non-viable."

"No, but I"d never become worth bringing back to life, either."

Maria stared at her angrily. "I"ll bring you back to life. Or don"t you believe I"ll ever have the money?"

Francesca said, "Maybe you will. But I"m not going to be scanned, so forget about it."

Maria hunched forward on the couch, not knowing how to sit, not knowing where to put her hands. Sunlight streamed into the room, obscenely bright, revealing every speck of lint on the carpet; she had to make an effort not to get up and close the blinds. Why hadn"t Francesca told her on the phone? All of this would have been a thousand times easier by phone.

She said, "All right, you"re not going to be scanned. Someone in the world must be making nanomachines for liver cancer. Even just experimental ones."

"Not for this cell type. It"s not one of the common onco-genes, and nobody"s sure of the cell surface markers."

"So? They can find them, can"t they? They can look at the cells, identify the markers, and modify an existing nanomachine. All the information they need is there in your body." Maria pictured the mutant proteins which enabled metastasis poking through the cell walls, highlighted in ominous yellow.

Francesca said, "With enough time and money and expertise, I"m sure that would be possible... but as it happens, nobody plans to do it in the next eighteen months."

Maria started shuddering. It came in waves. She didn"t make a sound; she just sat and waited for it to pass.

Finally, she said, "There must be drugs."

Francesca nodded. "I"m on medication to slow the growth of the primary tumor, and limit further metastasis. There"s no point in a transplant; I already have too many secondary tumors-actual liver failure is the least of my worries. There are general cytotoxic drugs I could take, and there"s always radiation therapy-but I don"t think the benefits are worth the side effects."

"Would you like me to stay with you?"

"No."

"It"d be no trouble. You know I can work from anywhere."

"There"s no need for it. I"m not going to be an invalid."

Maria closed her eyes. She couldn"t imagine feeling this way for another hour, let alone another year. When her father had died of a heart attack, three years before, she"d promised herself that she"d raise the money to have Francesca scanned by her sixtieth birthday. She was nowhere near on target. I screwed up. I wasted time. And now it"s almost too late.

Thinking aloud, she said, "Maybe I"ll get some work in Seoul."

"I thought you"d decided not to go."

Maria looked up at her, uncomprehending. "Why don"t you want to be scanned? What are you afraid of? I"d protect you, I"d do whatever you asked. If you didn"t want to be run until slowdown is abolished, I"d wait. If you wanted to wake up in a physical body-an organic body-I"d wait."

Francesca smiled. "I know you would, darling. That"s not the point."

"Then what is the point?"

"I don"t want to argue about it."

Maria was desperate. "I won"t argue. But can"t you tell me? Please?"

Francesca relented. "Listen, I was thirty-three when the first Copy was made. You were five years old, you grew up with the idea-but to me, it"s still... too strange. It"s something rich eccentrics do-the way they used to freeze their corpses. To me, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to be imitated by a computer after my death is just... farcical. I"m not an eccentric millionaire, I don"t want to spend my money-or yours-building some kind of... talking monument to my ego. I still have a sense of proportion." She looked at Maria imploringly. "Doesn"t that count for anything any more?"

"You wouldn"t be imitated. You"d be you."

"Yes and no."

"What"s that supposed to mean? You always told me you believed-"

"I do believe that Copies are intelligent. I just wouldn"t say that they are-or they aren"t-"the same person as" the person they were based on. There"s no right or wrong answer to that; it"s a question of semantics, not a question of truth.

"The thing is, I have my own sense-right now-of who I am... what my boundaries are... and it doesn"t include a Copy of me, run at some time in the indefinite future. Can you understand that? Being scanned wouldn"t make me feel any better about dying. Whatever a Copy of me might think, if one was ever run."

Maria said, angrily, "That"s just being perverse. That"s as stupid as... saying when you"re twenty years old, "I can"t picture myself at fifty, a woman that old wouldn"t really be me." And then killing yourself because there"s nothing to lose but that older woman, and she"s not inside your "boundaries.""

"I thought you said you weren"t going to argue."

Maria looked away. "You never used to talk like this. You"re the one who always told me that Copies had to be treated exactly like human beings. If you hadn"t been brain-washed by that "religion"-"

"The Church of the God Who Makes No Difference has no position on Copies, one way or the other."

"It has no position on anything."

"That"s right. So it can hardly be their fault that I don"t want to be scanned, can it?"

Maria felt physically sick. She"d held off saying anything on the subject for almost a year; she"d been astonished and appalled, but she"d struggled to respect her mother"s choice-and now she could see that that had been insane, irresponsible beyond belief. You don"t stand by and let someone you love-someone who gave you your own understanding of the world-have their brain turned to pulp.

She said, "It"s their fault, because they"ve undermined your judgment. They"ve fed you so much bullshit that you can"t think straight about anything, anymore."

Francesca just looked at her reprovingly. Maria felt a pang of guilt-How can you make things harder for her, now? How can you start attacking her, when she"s just told you that she"s dying?-but she wasn"t going to fold now, take the easy way out, be "supportive."

She said, ""God makes no difference... because God is the reason why everything is exactly what it is?" That"s supposed to make us all feel at peace with the cosmos, is it?"

Francesca shook her head. "At peace? No. It"s just a matter of clearing away, once and for all, old ideas like divine intervention-and the need for some kind of proof, or even faith, in order to believe."

Maria said, "What do you need, then? I don"t believe, so what am I missing?"

"Belief?"

"And a love of tautology."

"Don"t knock tautology. Better to base a religion on tautology than fantasy."

"But it"s worse than tautology. It"s... redefining words arbitrarily, it"s like something out of Lewis Carroll. Or George Orwell. "God is the reason for everything... whatever that reason is." So what any sane person would simply call the laws of physics, you"ve decided to rename G-O-D... solely because the word carries all kinds of historical resonances-all kinds of misleading connotations. You claim to have nothing to do with the old religions-so why keep using their terminology?"

Francesca said, "We don"t deny the history of the word. We make a break from the past in a lot of ways-but we also acknowledge our origins. God is a concept people have been using for millennia. The fact that we"ve refined the idea beyond primitive superstitions and wish-fulfilment doesn"t mean we"re not part of the same tradition."

"But you haven"t refined the idea, you"ve made it meaningless! And rightly so-but you don"t seem to realize it. You"ve stripped away all the obvious stupidities-all the anthropomorphism, the miracles, the answered prayers-but you don"t seem to have noticed that once you"ve done that, there"s absolutely nothing left that needs to be called religion. Physics is not theology. Ethics is not theology. Why pretend that they are?"

Francesca said, "But don"t you see? We talk about God for the simple reason that we still want to. There"s a deeply ingrained human compulsion to keep using that word, that concept-to keep honing it, rather than discarding it-despite the fact that it no longer means what it did five thousand years ago."

"And you know perfectly well where that compulsion comes from! It has nothing to do with any real divine being; it"s just a product of culture and neurobiology-a few accidents of evolution and history."

"Of course it is. What human trait isn"t?"

"So why give in to it?"

Francesca laughed. "Why give in to anything? The religious impulse isn"t some kind of... alien mind virus. It"s not-in its purest form, stripped of all content-the product of brain-washing. It"s a part of who I am."

Maria put her face in her hands. "Is it? When you talk like this, it doesn"t sound like you."

Francesca said, "Don"t you ever want to give thanks to God when things are going well for you? Don"t you ever want to ask God for strength when you need it?"

"No."

"Well, I do. Even though I know God makes no difference. And if God is the reason for everything, then God includes the urge to use the word God. So whenever I gain some strength, or comfort, or meaning, from that urge, then God is the source of that strength, that comfort, that meaning.

"And if God-while making no difference-helps me to accept what"s going to happen to me, why should that make you sad?" + + +

On the train home, Maria sat next to a boy of about seven, who twitched all the way to the silent rhythms of a nerve-induced PMV-participatory music video. Nerve induction had been developed to treat epilepsy, but now its most common use seemed to bring about the symptoms it was meant to alleviate. Glancing at him sideways, she could see his eyeballs fluttering behind his mirror shades.

As the shock of the news diminished, slightly, Maria began to see things more clearly. It was really all about money, not religion. She wants to be a martyr, to save me from spending a cent. All the rest is rationalization. She must have picked up a load of archaic bullshit from her own parents about the virtues of not being a "burden"-not imposing too much on the next generation, not "ruining the best years of their lives."

She"d left her cycle in a locker at Central Station. She rode home slowly through the leisurely Sunday evening traffic, still feeling drained and shaky, but a little more confident, now that she"d had a chance to think it through. Twelve to eighteen months? She"d raise the money in less than a year. Somehow. She"d show Francesca that she could shoulder the burden-and once that was done, her mother could stop inventing excuses.

Home, she started some vegetables boiling, then went upstairs and checked for mail. There were six items under "Junk," four under "Autoverse"-and nothing under "Boring But Lucrative." Since her letter in Autoverse Review, almost every subscriber had been in touch, with congratulations, requests for more data, offers of collaboration, and a few borderline crank calls full of misunderstandings and complaints. Her success with A. lamberti had even made the big time-a slightly less specialized journal, Cellular Automaton World. It was all strangely anticlimactic-and in a way, she was glad of that; it put things in perspective.

She trashed all the junk mail with a sweep of her hand across the touch screen, then sat for a moment gazing at the icons for the Autoverse messages, contemplating doing the same to them. I have to get my act together. Concentrate on earning money, and stop wasting time on this shit.

She ran the first message. A teenage girl in Kansas City complained that she couldn"t duplicate Maria"s results, and proceeded to describe her own tortuous version of the experiment. Maria stopped and deleted the file after viewing twenty seconds; she"d already replied at length to half a dozen like it, and any sense of obligation she"d felt to the "Autoverse community" had vanished in the process.

As she started the second message running, she smelled something burning downstairs, and suddenly remembered that the stove had been brain-dead since Friday-everything had to be watched, and she couldn"t even switch off the hotplates remotely. She turned up the volume on the terminal, and headed for the kitchen.

The spinach was a blackened mess. She threw the saucepan across the narrow room; it rebounded, almost to her feet. She picked it up again and started smashing it against the wall beside the stove, until the tiles began to crack and fall to the floor. Damaging the house was more satisfying than she"d ever imagined; it felt like rending her clothes, like tearing out her hair, like self-mutilation. She pounded the wall relentlessly, until she was breathless, giddy, running with sweat, her face flushed with a strange heat she hadn"t felt since childhood tantrums. Her mother touched her cheek with the back of her hand, brushing away tears of anger. The cool skin, the wedding ring. "Sssh. Look at the state you"re in. You"re burning up!"

After a while, she calmed down, and noticed that the message was still playing upstairs; the sender must have programmed it to repeat indefinitely until she acknowledged it. She sat on the floor and listened.

"My name is Paul Durham. I read your article in Autoverse Review. I was very impressed by what you"ve done with A. lamberti-and if you think you might be interested in being funded to take it further, call me back on this number and we can talk about it."

Maria had to listen three more times before she was certain she"d understood the message. Being funded to take it further. The phrasing seemed deliberately coy and ambiguous, but in the end it could only really mean one thing.

Some idiot was offering her a job. + + +

When Durham asked to meet her in person, Maria was too surprised to do anything but agree. Durham said he lived in north Sydney, and suggested that they meet the next morning in the city, at the Market Street Cafe. Maria, unable to think of a plausible excuse on the spot, just nodded-thankful that she"d made the call through a software filter which would erase any trace of anxiety from her face and tone of voice. Most programming contracts did not involve interviews, even by phone-the tendering process was usually fully automated, based entirely on the quotes submitted and the tenderer"s audited performance record. Maria hadn"t faced an interview in the flesh since she"d applied for part-time cleaning jobs as a student.

It was only after she"d broken the connection that she realized she still had no idea what Durham wanted from her. A real Autoverse fanatic might, just conceivably, part with money for the privilege of collaborating with her-perhaps footing the bills for computer time, for the sake of sharing the kudos of any further results. It was hard to think of any other explanation.

Maria lay awake half the night, looking back on the brief conversation, wondering if she was missing something blindingly obvious-wondering if it could be some kind of hoax. Just before two, she got up and did a hasty literature search of Autoverse Review and a handful of other cellular automaton journals. There were no articles by anyone named Durham.

Around three o"clock, she gave up pondering the question and managed to force herself to sleep. She dreamed that she was still awake, distraught at the news of her mother"s illness-and then, realizing that she was only dreaming, cursed herself angrily because this proof of her love was nothing but an illusion.
<dd><br><dd>8 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>NOVEMBER 2050

Thomas took the elevator from his office to his home. In life, the journey had been a ten-minute ride on the S-Bahn, but after almost four subjective months he was gradually becoming accustomed to the shortcut. Today, he began the ascent without giving it a second thought-admiring the oak panelling, lulled by the faint hum of the motor-but halfway up, for no good reason, he suffered a moment of vertigo, as if the elegant coffin had gone into free fall.

When first resurrected, he"d worried constantly over which aspects of his past he should imitate for the sake of sanity, and which he should discard as a matter of honesty. A window with a view of the city seemed harmless enough-but to walk, and ride, through an artificial crowd scene struck him as grotesque, and the few times he"d tried it, he"d found it acutely distressing. It was too much like life-and too much like his dream of one day being among people again. He had no doubt that he would have become desensitized to the illusion with time, but he didn"t want that. When he finally inhabited a telepresence robot as lifelike as his lost body-when he finally rode a real train again, and walked down a real street-he didn"t want the joy of the experience dulled by years of perfect imitation.

He had no wish to delude himself-but apart from declining to mimic his corporeal life to the point of parody, it was hard to define exactly what that meant. He baulked at the prospect of the nearest door always opening magically onto his chosen destination, and he had no desire to snap his fingers and teleport. Acknowledging-and exploiting-the unlimited plasticity of Virtual Reality might have been the most "honest" thing to do... but Thomas needed a world with a permanent structure, not a dream city which reconfigured itself to his every whim.

Eventually, he"d found a compromise. He"d constructed an auxiliary geography-or architecture-for his private version of Frankfurt; an alternative topology for the city, in which all the buildings he moved between were treated as being stacked one on top of the other, allowing a single elevator shaft to link them all. His house "in the suburbs" began sixteen stories "above" his city office; in between were board rooms, restaurants, galleries and museums. Having decided upon the arrangement, he now regarded it as immutable-and if the view from each place, once he arrived, blatantly contradicted the relationship, he could live with that degree of paradox.

Thomas stepped out of the elevator into the ground floor entrance hall of his home. The two-story building, set in a modest ten hectares of garden, was his alone-as the real-world original had been from the time of his divorce until his terminal illness, when a medical team had moved in. At first, he"d had cleaning robots gliding redundantly through the corridors, and gardening robots at work in the flower beds-viewing them as part of the architecture, as much as the drain pipes, the air-conditioning grilles, and countless other "unnecessary" fixtures. He"d banished the robots after the first week. The drain pipes remained.

His dizziness had passed, but he strode into the library and poured himself a drink from two cut-glass decanters, a bracing mixture of Confidence and Optimism. With a word, he could have summoned up a full mood-control panel-an apparition which always reminded him of a recording studio"s mixing desk-and adjusted the parameters of his state of mind until he reached a point where he no longer wished to change the settings... but he"d become disenchanted with that nakedly technological metaphor. Mood-altering "drugs," here, could function with a precision, and a lack of side effects, which no real chemical could ever have achieved-pharmacological accuracy was possible, but hardly mandatory-and it felt more natural to gulp down a mouthful of "spirits" for fortification than it did to make adjustments via a hovering bank of sliding potentiometers.

Even if the end result was exactly the same.

Thomas sank into a chair as the drink started to take effect-as a matter of choice, it worked gradually, a pleasant warmth diffusing out from his stomach before his brain itself was gently manipulated-and began trying to make sense of his encounter with Paul Durham.

You have to let me show you exactly what you are.

There was a terminal beside the chair. He hit a button, and one of his personal assistants, Hans Löhr, appeared on the screen.

Thomas said casually, "Find out what you can about my visitor, will you?"

Löhr replied at once, "Yes, sir."

Thomas had six assistants, on duty in shifts around the clock. All flesh-and-blood humans-but so thoroughly wired that they were able to switch their mental processes back and forth between normal speed and slowdown at will. Thomas kept them at a distance, communicating with them only by terminal; the distinction between a visitor "in the flesh" and a "mere image" on a screen didn"t bear much scrutiny, but in practice it could still be rigorously enforced. He sometimes thought of his staff as working in Munich or Berlin... "far enough away" to "explain" the fact that he never met them in person, and yet "near enough" to make a kind of metaphorical sense of their ability to act as go-betweens with the outside world. He"d never bothered to find out where they really were, in case the facts contradicted this convenient mental image.

He sighed, and took another swig of C & O. It was a balancing act, a tightrope walk. A Copy could go insane, either way. Caring too much about the truth could lead to a pathological obsession with the infrastructure-the algorithms and optical processors, the machinery of "deception" which lay beneath every surface. Caring too little, you could find yourself gradually surrendering to a complacent fantasy in which life had gone on as normal, and everything which contradicted the illusion of ordinary physical existence was avoided, or explained away.

Was that Durham"s real intention? To drive him mad?

Thomas had ordered the usual cursory screening before letting Durham in, revealing only that the man worked as a salesman for Gryphon Financial Products-a moderately successful Anglo-Australian company-and that he possessed no criminal record. Elaborate precautions were hardly warranted; visitors could do no harm. Thomas"s VR consultants had assured him that nothing short of tampering with the hardware in situ could ever damage or corrupt the system; no mere signal coming down the fiber from the outside world could penetrate the protected layers of the software. Visitors who wreaked havoc, introducing viruses by the fiendishly clever binary-modulated snapping of their fingers, were the stuff of fiction. (Literally; Thomas had seen it happen once on The Unclear Family.)

Durham had said: "I"m not going to lie to you. I"ve spent time in a mental institution. Ten years. I suffered delusions. Bizarre, elaborate delusions. And I realize, now, that I was seriously ill. I can look back and understand that.

"But at the very same time, I can look back and remember what it was that I believed was happening when I was insane. And without for one moment ceasing to acknowledge my condition, I still find those memories so convincing... "

Thomas"s skin crawled. He raised his glass... and then put it down. He knew that if he kept on drinking, nothing the man had said would unsettle him in the least-but he hadn"t drunk enough, yet, to be absolutely sure that that was what he wanted.

"If you"re not prepared to perform the experiment yourself, at least think about the implications. Imagine that you"ve modified the way in which you"re computed-and imagine what the consequences would be. A gedanken experiment-is that too much to ask for? In a sense, that"s all I ever performed myself."

The terminal chimed. Thomas took the call. Löhr said, "I have a preliminary report on Paul Durham. Would you like me to read it?"

Thomas shook his head. "I"ll view the file."

He skimmed it, at level one detail. Paul Kingsley Durham. Born in Sydney on June 6, 2000. Parents: Elizabeth Anne Maddox and John Arthur Durham... joint owners of a delicatessen in the Sydney suburb of Concord, from 1996 to 2032... retired to Mackay, Queensland... now both deceased by natural causes.

Educated at a government high school. 2017: Higher School Certificate aggregate score in third percentile; best subjects physics and mathematics. 2018: completed one year of a science degree at Sydney University, passed all examinations but discontinued studies. 2019 to 2023: traveled in Thailand, Burma, India, Nepal. 2024: on return to Australia, diagnosed with an organic delusional syndrome, probably congenital... condition partly controlled by medication. Numerous casual laboring jobs until May, 2029. Condition deteriorating... disability pension granted January, 2031. Committed to Psychiatric Ward of Blacktown Hospital on September 4, 2035.

Corrective nanosurgery to the hippocampus and prefrontal cerebral cortex performed on November 11, 2045... declared a complete success.

Thomas switched to level two, to fill in the ten-year gap, but found little more than a long list of the drugs, neural grafts, and gene-therapy vectors which had been injected into Durham"s skull during that period, to no apparent benefit. There were frequent notes that the treatments had been tested first on a set of partial brain models, but hadn"t worked in practice. Thomas wondered if Durham had been told about this-and wondered what the man imagined happened when a drug was evaluated on fifteen separate models of different regions of the brain, which, taken together, encompassed the entire organ...

2046 to 2048: studying finance and administration at Macquarie University. 2049: graduated with first class honors, and immediately hired by Gryphon as a trainee salesman. As of January 17, 2050, working in the Artificial Intelligence Division.

Which meant selling protection, in various guises, to Copies who were afraid that their assets were going to be pulled out from under them. Durham"s job description would certainly cover spending long hours as a visitor-if not quite stretching to matters like disclosing details of his personal psychiatric history, or suggesting metaphysical gedanken experiments to his clients. Or indeed, wasting time on Copies obviously far too secure to need Gryphon"s services.

Thomas leaned back from the terminal. It was almost too simple: Durham had fooled his doctors into believing that they"d cured him-and then, with typical paranoid ingenuity and tenacity, he"d set about getting himself into a position where he could meet Copies, share the Great Truth that had been revealed to him... and try to extract a little money in the process.

If Thomas contacted Gryphon and told them what their mad salesman was up to, Durham would certainly lose his job, probably end up in an institution again-and hopefully benefit from a second attempt at nanosurgery. Durham probably wasn"t harming anybody... but ensuring that he received treatment was, surely, the kindest thing to do.

A confident, optimistic person would make the call at once. Thomas eyed his drink, but decided to hold off a little longer before drowning the alternatives.

Durham had said: "I understand that everything I believe I"ve experienced was "due to" my illness-and I know there"s no easy way to persuade you that I"m not still insane. But even if that were true... why should it make the question I"ve raised any less important to you?

"Most flesh-and-blood humans live and die without knowing or caring what they are-scoffing at the very idea that it should matter. But you"re not flesh and blood, and you can"t afford the luxury of ignorance."

Thomas rose and walked over to the mirror above the fireplace. Superficially, his appearance was still based largely on his final scan; he had the same unruly thick white hair, the same loose, mottled, translucent eighty-five-year-old skin. He had the bearing of a young man, though; the model constructed from the scan file had been thoroughly rejuvenated, internally, sweeping away sixty years" worth of deterioration in every joint, every muscle, every vein and artery. He wondered if it was only a matter of time before vanity got the better of him and he did the same with his appearance. Many of his business associates were un-aging gradually-but a few had leaped back twenty, thirty, fifty years, or changed their appearances completely. Which was most honest? Looking like an eighty-five-year-old flesh-and-blood human (which he was not), or looking the way he"d prefer to look... prefer to be... given the choice. And he did have the choice.

He closed his eyes, put his fingertips to his cheek, explored the damaged skin. If he believed these ruins defined him, they defined him... and if he learned to accept a new young body, the same would be true of it. And yet, he couldn"t shake the notion that external rejuvenation would entail nothing more than constructing a youthful "mask"... while his "true face" continued to exist-and age-somewhere. Pure Dorian Gray-a stupid moralistic fable stuffed with "eternal" verities long obsolete.

And it was good just to feel healthy and vigorous, to be free of the arthritis, the aches and cramps and chills, the shortness of breath he could still remember vividly. Anything more seemed too easy, too arbitrary. Any Copy could become a Hollywood Adonis in an instant. And any Copy could outrace a bullet, lift a building, move a planet from its course.

Thomas opened his eyes, reached out and touched the surface of the mirror, aware that he was avoiding making a decision. But one thing still bothered him.

Why had Durham chosen him? The man might be deluded-but he was also intelligent and rational on some level. Of all the Copies whose insecurities he might have tried to exploit, why choose one with a watertight setup, secure hardware, a well-managed trust fund? Why choose a target who appeared to have absolutely nothing to fear?

Thomas felt the vertigo returning. It had been sixty-five years. Not one newspaper story or police report had mentioned his name; no database search, however elaborate, could link him to Anna. Nobody alive could know what he"d done-least of all a fifty-year-old ex-psychiatric patient from the other side of the world.

Even the man who"d committed the crime was dead. Thomas had seen him cremated.

Did he seriously think that Durham"s offer of sanctuary was some elaborately coded euphemism for not dredging up the past? Blackmail?

No. That was ludicrous.

So why not make a few calls, and have the poor man seen to? Why not pay for him to be treated by the best Swiss neurosurgeon (who"d verify the procedure in advance, on the most sophisticated set of partial brain models...)

Or did he believe there was a chance that Durham was telling the truth? That he could run a second Copy, in a place nobody could reach in a billion years?

The terminal chimed. Thomas said, "Yes?"

Heidrich had taken over from Löhr; sometimes the shifts seemed to change so fast that it made Thomas giddy. "You have a meeting of the Geistbank board in five minutes, sir."

"Thank you, I"ll be right down."

Thomas checked his appearance in the mirror. He said, "Comb me." His hair was made passably tidy, his complexion less pale, his eyes clear; certain facial muscles were relaxed, and others tightened. His suit required no attention; as in life, it could not be wrinkled.

He almost laughed, but his newly combed expression discouraged it. Expediency, honesty, complacency, insanity. It was a tightrope walk. He was ninety years old by one measure, eighty-five-and-a-half by another-and he still didn"t know how to live.

On his way out, he picked up his Confidence & Optimism and poured it on the carpet.
<dd><br><dd>9 <dd><br><dd>(Rip, tie, cut toy man) <dd><br><dd>JUNE 2045

Paul took the stairs down, and circled the block a few times, hoping for nothing more than to forget himself for a while. He was tired of having to think about what he was, every waking moment. The streets around the building were familiar enough, not to let him delude himself, but at least to allow him to take himself for granted.

It was hard to separate fact from rumor, but he"d heard that even the giga-rich tended to live in relatively mundane surroundings, favoring realism over power fantasies. A few models-of-psychotics had reportedly set themselves up as dictators in opulent palaces, waited on hand and foot, but most Copies aimed for an illusion of continuity. If you desperately wanted to convince your-self that you were the same person as your memories suggested, the worst thing to do would be to swan around a virtual antiquity (with mod cons), pretending to be Cleopatra or Ramses II.

Paul didn"t believe that he "was" his original. He knew he was nothing but a cloud of ambiguous data. The miracle was that he was capable of believing that he existed at all.

What gave him that sense of identity?

Continuity. Consistency. Thought following thought in a coherent pattern.

But where did that coherence come from?

In a human, or a Copy being run in the usual way, the physics of brain or computer meant that the state of mind at any one moment directly influenced the state of mind that followed. Continuity was a simple matter of cause and effect; what you thought at time A affected what you thought at time B affected what you thought at time C...

But when his subjective time was scrambled, the flow of cause and effect within the computer bore no relationship whatsoever to the flow of his experience-so how could it be an essential part of it? When the program spelled out his life DBCEA, but it still felt exactly like ABCDE... then surely the pattern was all, and cause and effect were irrelevant. The whole experience might just as well have arisen by chance.

Suppose an intentionally haywire computer sat for a thousand years or more, twitching from state to state in the sway of nothing but electrical noise. Might it embody consciousness?

In real time, the answer was: probably not-the probability of any kind of coherence arising at random being so small. Real time, though, was only one possible reference frame; what about all the others? If the states the machine passed through could be rearranged in time arbitrarily, then who could say what kind of elaborate order might emerge from the chaos?

Paul caught himself. Was that fatuous? As absurd as insisting that every room full of monkeys really did type the complete works of Shakespeare-they just happened to put the letters in a slightly different order? As ludicrous as claiming that every large-enough quantity of rock contained Michelangelo"s David, and every warehouse full of paint and canvas contained the complete works of Rembrandt and Picasso-not in any mere latent form, awaiting some skillful forger to physically rearrange them, but solely by virtue of the potential redefinition of the coordinates of space-time?

For a statue or a painting, yes, it was a joke. Where was the observer who perceived the paint to be in contact with the canvas, who saw the stone figure suitably delineated by air?

If the pattern in question was not an isolated object, though, but a self-contained world, complete with at least one observer to join up the dots from within...

There was no doubt that it was possible. He"d done it. In the final trial of the second experiment, he"d assembled himself and his surroundings-effortlessly-from the dust of randomly scattered moments, from apparent white noise in real time. True, what the computer had done had been contrived, guaranteed to contain his thoughts and perceptions coded into its seemingly aimless calculations. But given a large enough collection of truly random numbers, there was no reason to believe that it wouldn"t include, purely by accident, hidden patterns as complex and coherent as the ones which underlay him.

And wouldn"t those patterns, however scrambled they might be in real time, be conscious of themselves, just as he"d been conscious, and piece their own subjective world together, just as he had done?

Paul returned to the apartment, fighting off a sense of giddiness and unreality. So much for forgetting himself; he felt more charged than ever with the truth of his strange nature.

Did he still want to bale out? No. No! How could he declare that he"d happily wake and forget himself-wake and "reclaim" his life-when he was beginning to glimpse the answers to questions which his original had never even dared to ask?
<dd><br><dd>10 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>NOVEMBER 2050

Maria arrived at the cafe fifteen minutes early-to find Durham already there, seated at a table close to the entrance. She was surprised, but relieved; with the long wait she"d been expecting suddenly canceled, she had no time to grow nervous. Durham spotted her as she walked in; they shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, ordered coffee from the table"s touch-screen menus. Seeing Durham in the flesh did nothing to contradict the impression he"d made by phone: middle-aged, quiet, conservatively dressed; not exactly the archetypical Autoverse junkie.

Maria said, "I always thought I was the only Autoverse Review subscriber living in Sydney. I"ve been in touch with Ian Summers in Hobart a couple of times, but I never realized there was anyone so close."

Durham was apologetic. "There"s no reason why you would have heard of me. I"m afraid I"ve always confined myself to reading the articles; I"ve never contributed anything or participated in the conferences. I don"t actually work in the Autoverse, myself. I don"t have the time. Or the skills, to be honest."

Maria absorbed that, trying not to appear too startled. It was like hearing someone admit that they studied chess but never played the game.

"But I"ve followed progress in the field very closely, and I can certainly appreciate what you"ve done with A. lamberti. Perhaps even more so than some of your fellow practitioners. I think I see it in a rather broader context."

"You mean... cellular automata in general?"

"Cellular automata, artificial life."

"They"re your main interests?"

"Yes."

But not as a participant? Maria tried to imagine this man as a patron of the artificial life scene, magnanimously sponsoring promising young practitioners; Lorenzo the Magnificent to the Botticellis and Michelangelos of cellular automaton theory.

It wouldn"t wash. Even if the idea wasn"t intrinsically ludicrous, he just didn"t look that rich.

The coffee arrived. Durham started paying for both of them, but when Maria protested, he let her pay for herself without an argument-which made her feel far more at ease. As the robot trolley slid away, she got straight to the point. "You say you"re interested in funding research that builds on my results with A. lamberti. Is there any particular direction-?"

"Yes. I have something very specific in mind." Durham hesitated. "I still don"t know the best way to put this. But I want you to help me... prove a point. I want you to construct a seed for a biosphere."

Maria said nothing. She wasn"t even sure that she"d heard him correctly. A seed for a biosphere was terraforming jargon-for all the plant and animal species required to render a sterile, but theoretically habitable planet ecologically stable. She"d never come across the phrase in any other context.

Durham continued. "I want you to design a pre-biotic environment-a planetary surface, if you"d like to think of it that way-and one simple organism which you believe would be capable, in time, of evolving into a multitude of species and filling all the potential ecological niches."

"An environment? So... you want a Virtual Reality landscape?" Maria tried not to look disappointed. Had she seriously expected to be paid to work in the Autoverse? "With microscopic primordial life? Some kind of... Precambrian theme park, where the users can shrink to the size of algae and inspect their earliest ancestors?" For all her distaste for patchwork VR, Maria found herself almost warming to the idea. If Durham was offering her the chance to supervise the whole project-and the funds to do the job properly-it would be a thousand times more interesting than any of the tedious VR contracts she"d had in the past. And a lot more lucrative.

But Durham said, "No, please-forget about Virtual Reality. I want you to design an organism, and an environment-in the Autoverse-which would have the properties I"ve described. And forget about Precambrian algae. I don"t expect you to recreate ancestral life on Earth, translated into Autoverse chemistry-if such a thing would even be possible. I just want you to construct a system with... the same potential."

Maria was now thoroughly confused. "When you mentioned a planetary surface, I thought you meant a full-scale virtual landscape-a few dozen square kilometers. But if you"re talking about the Autoverse... you mean a fissure in a rock on a seabed, something like that? Something vaguely analogous to a microenvironment on the early Earth? Something a bit more "natural" than a culture dish full of two different sugars?"

Durham said, "I"m sorry, I"m not making myself very clear. Of course you"ll want to try out the seed organism in a number of microenvironments; that"s the only way you"ll be able to predict with any confidence that it would actually survive, mutate, adapt... flourish. But once that"s established, I"ll want you to describe the complete picture. Specify an entire planetary environment which the Autoverse could support-and in which the seed would be likely to evolve into higher lifeforms."

Maria hesitated. She was beginning to wonder if Durham had any idea of the scale on which things were done in the Autoverse. "What exactly do you mean by a "planetary environment"?"

"Whatever you think is reasonable. Say-thirty million square kilometers?" He laughed. "Don"t have a heart attack; I don"t expect you to model the whole thing, atom by atom. I do realize that all the computers on Earth couldn"t handle much more than a tide pool. I just want you to describe the essential features. You could do that in a couple of terabytes-probably less. It wouldn"t take much to sum up the topography; it doesn"t matter what the specific shape of every mountain and valley and beach is-all you need is a statistical description, a few relevant fractal dimensions. The meteorology and the geochemistry-for want of a better word-will be a little more complex. But I think you know what I"m getting at. You could summarize everything that matters about a pre-biotic planet with a relatively small amount of data. I don"t expect you to hand over a giant Autoverse grid which contains every atom in every grain of sand."

Maria said, "No, of course not." This was getting stranger by the minute. "But... why specify a whole "planet"-in any form?"

"The size of the environment, and the variation in climate and terrain, are important factors. Details like that will affect the number of different species which arise in isolation and later migrate and interact. They certainly made a difference to the Earth"s evolutionary history. So they may or may not be crucial, but they"re hardly irrelevant."

Maria said carefully, "That"s true-but nobody will ever be able to run a system that big in the Autoverse, so what"s the point of describing it? On Earth, the system is that big, we"re stuck with it. The only way to explain the entire fossil record, and the current distribution of species, is to look at things on a planetary scale. Migration has happened, it has to be taken into account. But... in the Autoverse, it hasn"t happened, and it never will. Effects like that will always be completely hypothetical."

Durham said, "Hypothetical? Absolutely. But that doesn"t mean the results can"t be considered, can"t be imagined, can"t be argued about. Think of this whole project as... an aid to a thought experiment. A sketch of a proof."

"A proof of what?"

"That Autoverse life could-in theory-be as rich and complex as life on Earth."

Maria shook her head. "I can"t prove that. Modeling a few thousand generations of bacterial evolution in a few microenvironment...."

Durham waved a hand reassuringly. "Don"t worry; I don"t have unrealistic expectations. I said "a sketch of a proof," but maybe even that"s putting it too strongly. I just want... suggestive evidence. I want the best blueprint, the best recipe you can come up with for a world, embedded in the Autoverse, which might eventually develop complex life. A set of results on the short-term evolutionary genetics of the seed organism, plus an outline of an environment in which that organism could, plausibly, evolve into higher forms. All right, it"s impossible to run a planet-sized world. But that"s no reason not to contemplate what such a world would be like-to answer as many questions as can be answered, and to make the whole scenario as concrete as possible. I want you to create a package so thorough, so detailed, that if someone handed it to you out of the blue, it would be enough-not to prove anything-but to persuade you that true biological diversity could arise in the Autoverse."

Maria laughed. "I"m already persuaded of that, myself. I just doubt that there could ever be a watertight proof."

"Then imagine persuading someone a little more skeptical."

"Who exactly did you have in mind? Calvin and his mob?"

"If you like."

Maria suddenly wondered if Durham was someone she should have known, after all-someone who"d published in other areas of the artificial life scene. Why else would he be concerned with that debate? She should have done a much wider literature search.

She said, "So what it comes down to is... you want to present the strongest possible case that deterministic systems like the Autoverse can generate a biology as complex as real-world biology-that all the subtleties of real-world physics and quantum indeterminacy aren"t essential. And to deal with the objection that a complex biology might only arise in a complex environment, you want a description of a suitable "planet" that could exist in the Autoverse-if not for the minor inconvenience that the hardware that could run it will almost certainly never be built."

"That"s right."

Maria hesitated; she didn"t want to argue this bizarre project out of existence, but she could hardly take it on if she wasn"t clear about its goals. "But when it"s all said and done, how much will this really add to the results with A. lamberti?"

"In one sense, not a lot," Durham conceded. "As you said, there can never be a proof. Natural selection is natural selection, and you"ve shown that it can happen in the Autoverse; maybe that should be enough. But don"t you think a-carefully designed-thought experiment with an entire planet is a bit more... evocative... than any number of real experiments with Petri dishes? Don"t underestimate the need to appeal to people"s imaginations. Maybe you can see all the consequences of your work, already. Other people might need to have them spelled out explicitly."

Maria couldn"t argue with any of that-but who handed out research grants on the basis of what was evocative! "So... which university-?"

Durham cut her off. "I"m not an academic. This is just an interest of mine. A hobby, like it is with you. I"m an insurance salesman, in real life."

"But how could you get funding without-?"

"I"m paying for this myself." He laughed. "Don"t worry, I can afford it; if you take me up on this, you"re not going to be shortchanged, I can promise you that. And I know it"s unusual for an amateur to... subcontract. But like I said, I don"t work in the Autoverse. It would take me five years to learn to do, myself, what I"m asking of you. You"ll be free to publish all of this under your own name, of course-all I ask is a footnote acknowledging financial support."

Maria didn"t know what to say. Lorenzo the insurance salesman? A private citizen-not even an Autoverse junkie-was offering to pay her to carry out the most abstract piece of programming imaginable: not simulating a nonexistent world, but "preparing" a simulation that would never be performed. She could hardly be disdainful of anyone for throwing their hard-earned money away on "pointless" Autoverse research-but everything that had driven her to do that, herself, revolved around firsthand experience. However much intellectual pleasure it had given her, the real obsession, the real addiction, was a matter of putting on the gloves and reaching into that artificial space.

Durham handed her a ROM chip. "There are some detailed notes here-including a few ideas of mine, but don"t feel obliged to follow any of them. What I want is whatever you think is most likely to work, not what"s closest to my preconceptions. And there"s a contract, of course. Have your legal expert system look it over; if you"re not happy with anything, I"m pretty flexible."

"Thank you."

Durham stood. "I"m sorry to cut this short, but I"m afraid I have another appointment. Please-read the notes, think it all through. Call me when you"ve made a decision."

After he"d left, Maria sat at the table, staring at the black epoxy rectangle in her palm, trying to make sense of what had happened.

Babbage had designed the Analytical Engine with no real prospect of seeing it constructed in his lifetime. Space travel enthusiasts had been designing interstellar craft, down to every last nut and bolt, since the 1960s. Terraforming advocates were constantly churning out comprehensive feasibility studies for schemes unlikely to be attempted for a hundred years or more. Why? As aids to thought experiments. As sketches of proofs.

And if Durham, who"d never even worked in the Autoverse, had an infinitely grander vision of its long-term possibilities than she had, then maybe she"d always been too close to it, too wrapped up in the tedious contingencies, to see what he"d seen...

Except that this wasn"t about long-term possibilities. The computer that could run an Autoverse world would be far bigger than the planet it was modeling. If such a device was ever to be constructed, however far into the future, there"d have to be far better reasons for building it than this. It wasn"t a question of a visionary born a generation or two before his time; Autoverse ecology was an entirely theoretical notion, and it always would be. The project was a thought experiment in the purest sense.

It was also too good to be true. The Autoverse addict"s dream contract. But short of some senseless, capricious hoax, why should Durham lie to her?

Maria pocketed the chip and left the cafe, not knowing whether to feel skeptical and pessimistic, or elated-and guilty. Guilty, because Durham-if he was genuine, if he honestly planned to pay her real money for this glorious, senseless exercise-had to be a little insane. If she took this job, she"d be taking advantage of him, exploiting his strange madness. + + +

Maria let Aden into the house reluctantly; they usually met at his place, or on neutral ground, but he"d been visiting a friend nearby, and she could think of no excuse to turn him away. She caught a glimpse of the red cloudless sunset behind him, and the open doorway let in the hot concrete smell of dusk, the whirr of evening traffic. After seven hours cloistered in her room, reading Durham"s notes for his Autoverse Garden of Eden, the street outside seemed strange, almost shocking-charged with the two-billion-year gulf between Earth"s equivalent moment of primordial fecundity and all the bizarre consequences.

She walked ahead of Aden down the entrance hall and switched on the light in the living room, while he propped his cycle against the stairs. Alone, the house suited her perfectly, but it took only one more person to make it seem cramped.

He caught up with her and said, "I heard about your mother."

"How? Who told you?"

"Joe knows one of your cousins in Newcastle. Angela? Is that her name?"

He was leaning sideways against the doorframe, arms folded. Maria said, "Why don"t you come right in if you"re coming in?"

He said, "I"m sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

She shook her head. She"d been planning to ask him how much he could lend her to help with the scan, but she couldn"t raise the subject, not yet. He"d ask, innocently, if Francesca was certain that she wanted to be scanned-and the whole thing would degenerate into an argument about her right to choose a natural death. As if there was any real choice, without the money for a scan.

Maria said, "I saw her yesterday. She"s handling it pretty well. But I don"t want to talk about it right now."

Aden nodded, then detached himself from the doorway and walked up to her. They kissed for a while, which was comforting in a way, but Aden soon had an erection, and Maria was in no mood for sex. Even at the best of times, it took a willing suspension of disbelief, a conscious decision to bury her awareness of the biological clockwork driving her emotions-and right now, her head was still buzzing with Durham"s suggestion for building a kind of latent diploidism into A. lamberti, a propensity to "mistakenly" make extra copies of chromosomes, which might eventually pave the way to sexual reproduction and all of its evolutionary advantages.

Aden pulled free and went and sat in one of the armchairs.

Maria said, "I think I"ve finally got some work. If I didn"t dream the whole thing."

"That"s great! Who for?"

She described her meeting with Durham. The commission, the seed.

Aden said, "So you don"t even know what he gets out of this-except not-quite-proving some obscure intellectual point about evolution?" He laughed, incredulous. "How will you know if you"ve not-quite-proved it well enough? And what if Durham disagrees?"

"The contract is all in my favor. He pays the money into a trust fund before I even start. All I have to do is make a genuine effort to complete the project within six months-and if there"s any dispute, he"s legally bound to accept an independent adjudicator"s decision on what constitutes a "genuine effort." The expert system I hired gave the contract a triple-A rating."

Aden still looked skeptical. "You should get a second opinion; half the time those things don"t even agree with each other-let alone predict what would happen in court. Anyway, if it all goes smoothly, what do you end up with?"

"Thirty thousand dollars. Not bad, for six months" work. Plus computing time up to another thirty thousand-billed directly to him."

"Yeah? How can he afford all this?"

"He"s an insurance salesman. If he"s good, he could be making, I don"t know... two hundred grand a year?"

"Which is one hundred and twenty, after tax. And he"s paying out sixty on this shit?"

"Yes. You have a problem with that? It doesn"t exactly leave him poverty-stricken. And he could be earning twice as much, for all I know. Not to mention savings, investments... tax dodges. His personal finances are none of my business; once the money"s in the trust fund, he can go bankrupt for all I care. I still get paid if I finish the job. That"s good enough for me."

Aden shook his head. "I just can"t see why he thinks it"s worth it. There are God-knows-how-many-thousand Copies in existence, right now-running half the biggest corporations in the world, in case you hadn"t noticed-and this man wants to spend sixty thousand dollars proving that artificial life can go beyond bacteria?"

Maria groaned. "We"ve been through this before. The Autoverse is not Virtual Reality. Copies are not the human equivalent of A. lamberti. They"re a cheat, they"re a mess. They do what they"re meant to do, very efficiently. But there"s no... underlying logic to them. Every part of their body obeys a different set of ad hoc rules. Okay, it would be insane to try to model an entire human body on a molecular level-but if you"re interested in the way fundamental physics affects biology, Copies are irrelevant, because they have no fundamental physics. The behavior of a Copy"s neurons doesn"t arise from any deeper laws, it"s just a matter of Some "rules for neurons" which are based directly on what"s known about neurons in the human body. But in the human body, that behavior is a consequence of the laws of physics, acting on billions of molecules. With Copies, we"ve cheated, for the sake of efficiency. There are no molecules, and no laws of physics; we"ve just put in the net results-the biology-by hand."

"And that offends your aesthetic sensibilities?"

"That"s not the point. Copies have their place-and when the time comes, I"d rather be a software mongrel than dead. All I"m saying is, they"re useless for telling you what kind of physics can support what kind of life."

"A burning question of our time."

Maria felt herself flush with anger, but she said evenly, "Maybe not. I just happen to find it interesting. And apparently Paul Durham does too. And maybe it"s too abstract a question to qualify as science... maybe working in the Autoverse is nothing but pure mathematics. Or philosophy. Or art. But you don"t seem to have any qualms about spending a year in Seoul, practicing your own useless artform at the Korean taxpayers" expense."

"It"s a private university."

"Korean students" expense, then."

"I never said there was anything wrong with you taking the job-I just don"t want to see you get screwed if this man turns out to be lying."

"What could he possibly have to gain by lying?"

"I don"t know-but I still don"t see what he has to gain if he"s telling the truth." He shrugged. "But if you"re happy, I"m happy. Maybe it"ll all be okay. And I know, the way things are going, you can"t afford to be picky."

Picky? Maria started laughing. Discussing this on Aden"s terms was ridiculous. Durham wasn"t stringing her along, wasting her time; he was absolutely serious-his notes proved that. Three hundred pages-months of work. He"d taken the plan as far as he could, short of learning the intricacies of the Autoverse himself.

And maybe she still didn"t understand his motives-but maybe there was nothing to be "understood." When she"d been immersed in his notes, there"d been no mystery at all. On its own terms, Durham"s plan was... natural, obvious. An end in itself, requiring no dreary explanation rooted in the world of academic glory and monetary gain.

Aden said, "What"s so funny?"

"Never mind."

He shifted in the chair, and looked at her oddly. "Well, at least you won"t have to spend all your time in Seoul looking for work, now. That would have been a bore."

"I"m not going to Seoul."

"You"re joking."

She shook her head.

"What"s the problem? You can do this job anywhere, can"t you?"

"Probably. Yes. I just-"

Maria felt a twinge of uncertainty. He seemed genuinely hurt. He"d made it clear that he"d go without her, if he had to-but that was understandable. Composer-in-residence was his perfect job-and she had nothing to weigh against that, nothing to lose by accompanying him. He might have put his position more diplomatically, instead of making her feel like optional baggage-but that was neither proof that he was trying to drive her away, nor an unforgivable crime in itself. He was tactless sometimes. She could live with that.

"What"s wrong with you? You"d love it in Seoul. You know you would."

She said, "I"d love it too much. There"d be too many distractions. This project is going to be hard work, the hardest thing I"ve ever done, and if I can"t give it all my attention, it"s going to be impossible." It had started as an ad lib excuse, but it was true. She had six months, if not to build a world, at least to sketch one; if she didn"t eat, sleep and breathe it, it would never come together, it would never come to life.

Aden snorted. "That"s ludicrous! You don"t even have to write a program that runs. You said yourself, as long as you make a reasonable effort, whatever you hand over will be good enough. What"s Durham going to say? "Sorry, but I don"t think this slime mould would ever invent the wheel"?"

"Getting it right matters to me."

Aden said nothing. Then, "If you want to stay behind because of your mother, why can"t you just say so?"

Maria was startled. "Because it"s not true."

He stared at her angrily. "You know, I was going to offer to stay here with you. But you didn"t want to talk about it."

Maria untangled that. "That"s what you came here to tell me? That if I planned to stay in Sydney because of Francesca, you"d turn down the job in Seoul?"

"Yes." He said it as if it should have been obvious to her all along. "She"s dying. Do you think I"d walk off and leave you to cope with that alone? What kind of shit do you think I am?"

She"s not dying; she"s going to be scanned.

But she didn"t say that. "Francesca doesn"t care if I go or stay. I offered to move in with her, but she doesn"t want to be looked after by anyone. Let alone by me."

"Then come to Seoul."

"Why, exactly? So you won"t feel bad about leaving me? That"s what it all comes down to, isn"t it? Your peace of mind."

Aden thought about that for a while. Then he said, "All right. Fuck you. Stay."

He got to his feet and walked out of the room. Maria listened to him fumbling with his cycle, then opening the front door, slamming it closed.

She tidied up in the kitchen, checked the locks, switched off the lights. Then she went upstairs and lay on her bed, leaving the room in darkness, trying to picture the likely course of events over the next few weeks. Aden would phone before he left, trying to patch things up, but she could see how easy it would be, now, to break things off permanently. And now that it had reached that stage, it seemed like the obvious thing to do. She wasn"t upset, or relieved-just calm. It always made her feel that way: burning bridges, driving people away. Simplifying her life.

She"d left the terminal switched on after reading Durham"s ROM; the screen was blank, and supposedly pure black, but as her eyes adapted to the dark she could see it glowing a faint gray. Every now and then there was a brief flash at a random point on the screen-a pixel activated by background radiation, struck by a cosmic ray. She watched the flashes, like a slow rain falling on a window to another world, until she fell asleep.
<dd><br><dd>11 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>JANUARY 2051

Malcolm Carter presented as a tall, solid, vigorous-looking man in late middle age-and in fact he was fifty-eight, so his visitor"s body might easily have been styled directly on his real one. Peer remembered seeing photographs of Carter in the early thirties, when he rose to prominence as one of the first architect-programmers to concentrate on the needs of Copies, rather than catering to the human visitors who used virtual environments merely for work or entertainment. Visitors had ended up hiring him too, though-visitors like Kate who were on their way in. And Kate had moved in a similar orbit then, a young computer artist snatched out of obscurity in Oregon and adopted by the San Francisco glitterati at about the same time as Carter"s own ascent from a small Arizona software house. Peer wasn"t sure he would have recognized the man from those old magazine shots-but then, nobody continued to look the way they"d looked in the thirties, if they could possibly help it.

Carter shook hands with Peer, and nodded at Kate; Peer wondered, curious but not really jealous, if they were greeting each other a little more warmly in a private detour from the version of the meeting he was seeing. They were standing in a spacious reception area, the walls and high ceiling decorated with a motif of tiered concentric circles moulded into the cream-colored plaster, the floor tiled in black-and-white diamonds. This was Carter"s publicly listed VR address; anyone at all could call the number and "come here." The room spawned separate versions for separate callers, though; Peer and Kate had taken steps to arrive together, but there had been no risk of them accidentally bumping into one of Carter"s-or Durham"s-wealthy clients.

Carter said, "I hope you don"t mind if we keep this brief and to the point. I don"t like to use inducers for more than twenty-four hours at a stretch."

Peer said, "It"s good of you to make the time to see us at all." He cursed himself silently; he was contemplating paying this man a substantial portion of his entire wealth-and trusting him with the fate of an autonomous version of his own consciousness. He had a right to an audience. Still, at a slow-down of sixty...

Carter-if it really was Carter, and not just a convincing mask-pointed out a door at the end of the room. "There"s a rough sketch of the city through there, if you want to take the tour later on; just call out for a guide if you need one. But I expect the city itself"s not your main concern. What you really want to know is, can I fit you safely into the cracks?"

Peer glanced at Kate. She remained silent. She was already convinced; this was all for his benefit.

Carter held out a hand toward the middle of the room. "See that fountain?" A ten-meter-wide marble wedding cake, topped with a winged cherub wrestling a serpent, duly appeared. Water cascaded down from a gushing wound in the cherub"s neck. Carter said, "It"s being computed by redundancies in the sketch of the city. I can extract the results, because I know exactly where to look for them-but nobody else would have a hope in hell of picking them out."

Peer walked up to the fountain. Even as he approached, he noticed that the spray was intangible; when he dipped his hand in the water around the base he felt nothing, and the motion he made with his fingers left the foaming surface unchanged. They were spying on the calculations, not interacting with them; the fountain was a closed system.

Carter said, "In your case, of course, nobody will need to know the results. Except you-and you"ll know them because you"ll be them."

Peer replied, almost without thinking, "Not me. My clone."

"Whatever." Carter clapped his hands, and a multicolored, three-dimensional lattice appeared, floating in the air above the fountain. "This is a schematic of part of the software running the sketch of the city. Each cube represents a process. Packets of data-those blips of colored light-flow between them.

"There"s nothing so crude as a subset of processes dedicated to the fountain. Every individual process-and every individual packet of data-is involved with some aspect of the city. But there are some slightly inefficient calculations going on here and there, and some "redundant" pieces of information being exchanged." Pin-pricks in a smattering of the cubes, and some of the data, glowed bright blue. "One of the simplest tricks is to use a vector when only a direction is needed-when the magnitude of the vector is irrelevant. Perfectly reasonable operations on the vector, entirely justified in their own context, incidentally perform arithmetic on the magnitude. But that"s just one technique; there are dozens of others." He clapped his hands again, and everything but the blue highlights vanished. The diagram re-formed, the scattered processes coming together into a compact grid. "The point is, the fountain gets computed along with the city, without any of the software explicitly stealing time for a parasitic task. Every line of every program makes sense in terms of computing the city."

Peer said, "And if Durham runs your code through an optimizer which rescales all the unnecessary vectors, trims away all the inefficiencies... ?"

Carter shook his head. "I don"t believe he"d meddle with the code at all, but even if he does, optimizers can only track things so far. In the full version of the city, the results of your calculations will propagate so widely that it would take months for any program to deduce that the data"s not actually needed somewhere-that it ultimately makes no difference to the legitimate inhabitants." He grinned. "Optimizing anything to do with Copies is a subtle business. You must have heard about the billionaire recluse who wanted to run as fast as possible-even though he never made contact with the outside world-so he fed his own code into an optimizer. After analyzing it for a year, the optimizer reported this program will produce no output, and spat out the optimized version-which did precisely nothing."
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