Peer laughed, although he"d heard the joke before.
Carter said, "The fact is, the city is so complex, there"s so much going on, that even if it had all been left to chance, I wouldn"t be surprised if there were some quite sophisticated secondary computations taking place, purely by accident. I haven"t gone looking for them, though-it would bum up far too much processor time. And the same applies to anyone searching for you. It"s just not a practical proposition. Why would anyone spend millions of dollars scanning for something which can do no harm?"
Peer gazed up at the blue schematic skeptically. Carter came across as if he knew what he was talking about, but a few plausible-looking graphics proved nothing.
Carter seemed to read his mind. "If you have any doubts, take a look at the software I used." A large, fat book appeared, floating in front of Peer. "This modifies program A to surreptitiously carry out program B, given A is sufficiently more algorithmically complex than B. What that means, exactly, is in the technical appendix. Try it out, show it to your favorite expert system... verify it any way you like."
Peer took hold of the book, squeezed it down to credit-card size, and slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans. He said, "There"s no reason why you shouldn"t be able to do everything you claim: piggyback us onto the city, hide us from searches, protect us from optimization. But... why? What do you get out of this? What you"re asking for is nothing, compared to what Durham must be paying you. So why take the risk? Or do you screw all your clients as a matter of principle?"
Carter chose to seem amused, not offended. "The practice of skimming off a percentage of a construction project has a long, honorable tradition. All the more honorable if the client"s needs aren"t seriously compromised. In this case, there"s also some elegant programming involved-worth doing for its own sake. As for the money, I"m charging you enough to cover my costs." He exchanged a look with Kate-for Peer"s benefit, or he wouldn"t have seen it. "But in the end, I"m only making the offer as a favor. So if you think I"m going to cheat you, you"re welcome to decline."
Peer changed tack. "What if Durham is cheating his clients? You"re only screwing them out of a few QIPS-but what if Durham doesn"t plan to run the city at all, just vanish with the money? Have you ever seen his hardware? Have you used it?"
"No. But he never claimed-to me-that he had his own hardware. The version of the story I got is that the city"s going to run on the public networks. That"s bullshit, of course; the Copies funding him wouldn"t wear that for a second-it"s just a polite way of telling me that the hardware is none of my business. And as for vanishing with the money, from what I can deduce about his cash flow, he"ll be lucky to break even on the project. Which suggests to me that someone else entirely is handling the true financial arrangements; Durham is just a front man, and the real owner of the hardware will pay him for his troubles, once the whole thing is wrapped up."
"The owner of what? This hypothetical "breakthrough machine" that nobody"s laid eyes on?"
"If he"s persuaded Sanderson and Repetto to pay him, then you can be sure he"s shown them something that he hasn"t shown me."
Peer was about to protest, but Carter"s expression said: take it or leave it, believe what you like. I"ve done this much for my ex-lover, but the truth is, I don"t care if you"re convinced or not.
Carter excused himself. When he turned and walked away across the room, footsteps echoing in the cavernous space, Peer couldn"t believe he would have hung around for the fifteen real-time minutes it took to reach the exit. Not a busy man like that. In fact, he"d probably conducted two or three other meetings with Copies while he"d been talking to them, dropping in and out of the conversation, leaving a mask to animate his features in his absence.
Kate said, "What"s the worst that can happen? If Durham is a con man, if the city"s a hoax, what have we lost? All money can buy us is QIPS-and you"re the one who"s so sure that it doesn"t matter how slowly we run."
Peer scowled, still staring at the exit Carter had used, surprised to find himself reluctant to drag his gaze away. The door meant nothing to him. He said, "Half the charm of this lies in stealing a free ride. Or bribing Carter to steal it for us. There"s not much... dignity in stowing away on a ship going nowhere."
"You could choose not to care."
"I don"t want to do that. I don"t pretend to be human, but I still have a... core personality. And I don"t want equanimity. Equanimity is death."
"On the skyscraper-"
"On the skyscraper I rid myself of distractions. And it"s confined to that one context. When I emerge, I still have goals. I still have desires." He turned to her, reached out and brushed her cheek with his fingers. "You could choose not to care about security. Or QIPS rates, weather control, the politics of computing-you could choose to view all the threatening noises of the outside world as so much flatulence. Then you wouldn"t need, or want, to do this at all."
Kate left the body he was touching where it was, but took a step backward in another just like it. Peer let his hand drop to his side.
She said, "Once I"m part of this billionaires" city, I"ll happily forget about the outside world. Once I have all that money and influence devoted to my survival."
"Do you mean, that will be enough to satisfy you-or do you intend making a conscious decision to be satisfied?"
She smiled enigmatically-and Peer made a conscious decision to be moved by the sight. She said, "I don"t know yet. You"ll have to wait and see."
Peer said nothing. He realized that, in spite of his doubts, he"d almost certainly follow her-and not just for the shock of creating a second version, not just for the sake of undermining his last anthropomorphic delusions. The truth was, he wanted to be with her. All of her. If he backed out and she went ahead, the knowledge that he"d passed up his one opportunity to have a version of himself accompany her would drive him mad. He wasn"t sure if this was greed or affection, jealousy or loyalty-but he knew he had to be a part of whatever she experienced in there.
It was an unsettling revelation. Peer took a snapshot of his state of mind.
Kate gestured toward the door which led to the sketch of the city.
Peer said, "Why bother with that? There"ll be plenty of time to explore the real thing."
She looked at him oddly. "Don"t you want to satisfy your curiosity? Now-and forever, for the one who"ll stay behind?"
He thought about it, then shook his head. "One clone will see the finished city. One won"t. Both will share a past when they"d never even heard of the place. The clone outside, who never sees the city, will try to guess what it"s like. The clone inside will run other environments, and sometimes he won"t think about the city at all. When he does, sometimes he"ll mis-remember it. And sometimes he"ll dream about wildly distorted versions of what he"s seen.
"I define all those moments as part of me. So... what is there to be curious about?"
Kate said, "I love it when you go all doctrinaire on me." She stepped forward and kissed him-then as he reached out to hold her, she slipped away into yet another body, leaving him embracing nothing but dead weight. "Now shut up and let"s go take a look."
+ + +
Peer doubted that he"d ever know exactly why he"d died. No amount of agonized introspection, tortuous video-postcard interrogation of ex-friends, or even expert system analysis of his final scan file, had brought him any nearer to the truth. The gap was too wide to be bridged; the last four years of his corporeal life had been lost to him-and the events of the period seemed more like an ill-fated excursion into a parallel world than any mere episode of amnesia.
The coroner had returned an open finding. Rock-climbing accidents were rare, the best technology was almost foolproof-but David Hawthorne had scornfully eschewed all the mollycoddling refinements (including the black box implants which could have recorded the actions leading up to his death, if not the motives behind them). No pitons full of microchips, which could have performed ultrasound tomography of the cliff face and computed their own load-bearing capacity; no harness packed with intelligent crash balloons, which could have cushioned his sixty-meter fall onto jagged rocks; no robot climbing partner, which could have carried him twenty kilometers over rugged terrain with a broken spine and delivered him into intensive care as if he"d floated there on a cloud of morphine.
Peer could empathize, to a degree. What was the point of being scanned, only to remain enslaved by an obsolete respect for the body"s fragility? Having triumphed over mortality, how could he have gone on living as if nothing had changed? Every biological instinct, every commonsense idea about the nature of survival had been rendered absurd-and he hadn"t been able to resist the urge to dramatize the transformation.
That didn"t prove that he"d wanted to die.
But whether his death had been pure misfortune, unequivocal suicide, or the result of some insanely dangerous stunt not (consciously) intended to be fatal, the four-years-out-of-date David Hawthorne had awakened in the virtual slums to realize that, personally, he"d given the prospect about as much serious consideration as that of awakening in Purgatory. Whatever he"d come to believe in those missing years, whatever he"d imagined in his last few seconds of life on that limestone overhang, up until his final scan he"d always pictured his virtual resurrection as taking place in the distant future, when either he"d be seriously wealthy, or the cost of computing would have fallen so far that money would scarcely matter.
He"d been forty-six years old, in perfect health; a senior executive with Incite PLC-Europe"s twenty-fifth largest marketing firm-second-in-charge of the interactive targeted mail division. With care, he could have died at the age of a hundred and fifty, to become an instant member of the elite-perhaps, by then, in a cybernetic body barely distinguishable from the real thing.
But having paid for the right not to fear death, at some level he must have confused the kind of abstract, literary, morally-charged, beloved-of-fate immortality possessed by mythical heroes and virtuous believers in the afterlife, with the highly specific free-market version he"d actually signed up for.
And whatever the convoluted psychological explanation for his death, in financial terms the result was very simple. He"d died too soon.
In a real-time week-a few subjective hours-he had gone from a model of flesh and blood in the lavish virtual apartment he"d bought at the time of his first scan, to a disembodied consciousness observing his Bunker. Even that hadn"t been enough to let him cling to his role in the outside world. Full life insurance was not available to people who"d been scanned-let alone those who also indulged in dangerous recreations-and the coroner"s verdict had even ruled out payment from the only over-priced watered-down substitute policy he"d been able to obtain. At a slowdown of thirty, the lowest Bunker-to-real-time factor the income from his investments could provide, communication was difficult, and productive work was impossible. Even if he"d started burning up his capital to buy the exclusive use of a processor cluster, the time-rate difference would still have rendered him unemployable. Copies whose trust funds controlled massive shareholdings, deceased company directors who sat on the unofficial boards which met twice a year and made three or four leisurely decisions, could live with the time-dilated economics of slowdown. Hawthorne had died before achieving the necessary financial critical mass-let alone the kind of director-emeritus status where he could be paid for nothing but his name on the company letterhead.
As the reality of his situation sank in, he"d spiraled into the blackest depression. Any number of expensive, disabling diseases might have dragged him from upper-middle-class comfort into comparative poverty and isolation-but dying "poor" had an extra sting. In corporeal life, he"d happily gone along with the consensus: money as the deepest level of reality, ownership records as the definition of truth... while escaping most weekends to the manicured garden of the English countryside, camping beneath the clouds, clearing his head of the City"s byzantine fictions-reminding himself how artificial, how arbitrary, it all was. He"d never quite deluded himself that he could have lived off the land: "vanishing" into a forest mapped twice a day by EarthSat on a centimeter scale; surviving on the flesh of protected species, tearing the radio-tracking collars off foxes and badgers with his bare teeth; stoically enduring any rare diseases and parasitic infestations to which his childhood vaccinations and polyclonal T-cell boosts hadn"t granted him immunity. The truth was, he almost certainly would have starved, or gone insane-but that wasn"t the point. What mattered was the fact that his genes were scarcely different from those of his hunter-gatherer ancestors of ten thousand years before; that air was still breathable, and free; that sunshine still flooded the planet, still drove the food chain, still maintained a climate in which he could survive. It wasn"t physically impossible, it wasn"t biologically absurd, to imagine life without money.
Watching the screens of his Bunker, he"d looked back on that trite but comforting understanding with a dizzying sense of loss-because it was no longer in his power to distance himself, however briefly, from the mass hallucination of commerce-as-reality, no longer possible to wrench some half-self-mocking sense of dignity and independence out of his hypothetical ability to live naked in the woods. Money had ceased to be a convenient fiction to be viewed with appropriate irony-because the computerized financial transactions which flowed from his investments to the network"s QIPS providers now underpinned everything he thought, everything he perceived, everything he was.
Friendless, bodiless, the entire world he"d once inhabited transformed into nothing but a blur of scenery glimpsed through the window of a high-speed train, David Hawthorne had prepared to bale out.
It was Kate who had interrupted him. She"d been delegated to make a "welcoming call" by a slum-dwellers" committee, which she"d only joined in the hope that they"d sponsor one of her projects. This was before she"d made the conscious decision not to desire an audience for any of her art, rendering its quota of computing time relative to any other process irrelevant.
Hawthorne"s only contact since his death had been brief recorded messages from ex-friends, ex-lovers, ex-relations and ex-colleagues, all more or less bidding him farewell, as if he"d embarked on a one-way voyage to a place beyond the reach of modern communications. There"d also been an offer of counseling from his scanning clinic"s Resurrection Trauma expert system-first ten subjective minutes absolutely free. When Kate had appeared on his communications screen, synched to his time rate and talking back, he"d poured out his soul to her.
She"d persuaded him to postpone baling out until he"d considered the alternatives. She hadn"t had to argue hard; the mere fact of her presence had already improved his outlook immeasurably. Thousands of Copies, she"d said, survived with slowdown factors of thirty, sixty, or worse-playing no part in human society, earning no money but the passive income from their trust funds, living at their own speed, defining their worth on their own terms. He had nothing to lose by trying it himself.
And if he couldn"t accept that kind of separatist existence? He always had the choice of suspending himself, in the hope that the economics of ontology would eventually shift in his favor-albeit at the risk of waking to find that he"d matched speeds with a world far stranger, far harder to relate to, than the present in fast motion.
For someone whose fondest hope had been to wake in a robot body and carry on living as if nothing had changed, the slums were a shock. Kate had shown him around the Slow Clubs-the meeting places for Copies willing to synch to the rate of the slowest person present. Not a billionaire in sight. At the Cabaret Andalou, the musicians presented as living saxophones and guitars, songs were visible, tangible, psychotropic radiation blasting from the mouths of the singers-and on a good night, a strong enough sense of camaraderie, telepathy, synergy, could by the mutual consent of the crowd take over, melting away (for a moment) all personal barriers, mental and mock-physical, reconstructing audience and performers into a single organism: one hundred eyes, two hundred limbs, one giant neural net resonating with the memories, perceptions and emotions of all the people it had been.
Kate had shown him some of the environments she"d bought-and some she"d built herself-where she lived and worked in solitude. An overgrown, oversized, small-town back garden in early summer, an enhanced and modified childhood memory, where she carved solid sculptures out of nothing but the ten-to-the-ten-thousandth possibilities of color, texture and form. A bleak gray stretch of shoreline under eternally threatening clouds, the sky dark oil on canvas, a painting come to life, where she went to calm herself when she chose not to make the conscious decision to be calm.
She"d helped him redesign his apartment, transforming it from a photorealist concrete box into a system of perceptions which could be as stable, or responsive, as he wished. Once, before sleep, he"d wrapped the structure around himself like a sleeping bag, shrinking and softening it until the kitchen cradled his head and the other rooms draped his body. He"d changed the topology so that every window looked in through another window, every wall abutted another wall; the whole thing closed in on itself in every direction, finite but borderless, universe-as-womb.
And Kate had introduced him to Daniel Lebesgue"s interactive philosophical plays: The Beholder, The Sane Man (his adaptation of Pirandello"s Enrico TV), and, of course, Solipsist Nation. Hawthorne had taken the role of John Beckett, a reluctant Copy obsessed with keeping track of the outside world-who ends up literally becoming an entire society and culture himself. The play"s software hadn"t enacted that fate upon Hawthorne-intended for visitors and Copies alike, it worked on the level of perceptions and metaphors, not neural reconstruction. Lebesgue"s ideas were mesmerizing, but imprecise, and even he had never tried to carry them through-so far as anyone knew. He"d vanished from sight in 2036; becoming a recluse, baling out, or suspending himself, nobody could say. His disciples wrote manifestos, and prescriptions for virtual Utopias; in the wider vernacular, though, to be "Solipsist Nation" simply meant to have ceased deferring to the outside world.
Three subjective weeks-almost four real-time years-after his resurrection, Hawthorne had stepped off the merry-go-round long enough to catch up with the news from outside. There"d been nothing especially dramatic or unexpected in the summaries-no shocking political upheavals, no stunning technological breakthroughs, no more nor less civil war or famine than in the past. The BBC"s headlines of the day: Five hundred people had died in storms in southeast England. The European Federation had cut its intake of environmental refugees by forty percent. Korean investors had gone ahead with a threatened embargo on US government bonds, as part of a trade war over biotechnology tariffs, and utilities had begun disconnecting power, water and communications services from federal buildings. Up-to-the-minute details notwithstanding, it had all seemed as familiar as some brand-name breakfast food: the same texture, the same taste, as he remembered from four, from eight, years before. With his eyes locked on the terminal in front of him, the oddly soothing generic images drawing him in, the three hallucinatory weeks of dancing saxophones and habitable paintings had receded into insignificance, as if they"d been nothing but a vivid dream. Or at least something on another channel, with no risk of being mistaken for news.
Kate had said, "You know, you can sit here forever, watch this forever, if that"s what you want. There are Copies-we call them Witnesses-who refine themselves into... systems... which do nothing but monitor the news, as thoroughly as their slowdown allows. No bodies, no fatigue, no distractions. Pure observers, watching history unfold."
"That"s not what I want."
He hadn"t taken his eyes off the screen, though. Inexplicably, he"d started to cry, softly, grieving for something that he couldn"t name. Not the world defined by the news systems; he"d never inhabited that place. Not the people who"d sent him their recorded farewells; they"d been useful at the time, but they meant nothing to him anymore.
"But outside is still what"s real to me-even if I can"t be a part of it. Flesh and blood. Solid ground. Real sunlight. It"s still the only world that matters, in the end. I can"t pretend I don"t know that. Everything in here is just beautiful, inconsequential fiction." Including you. Including me.
Kate had said, "You can change that."
"Change what? Virtual Reality is Virtual Reality. I can"t transform it into something else."
"You can change your perspective. Change your attitudes. Stop viewing your experiences here as less than real."
"That"s easier said than done."
"But it isn"t."
She"d summoned up a control panel, shown him the software he could use: a program which would analyze his model-of-a-brain, identify his qualms and misgivings about turning his back on the world-and remove them.
"A do-it-yourself lobotomy."
"Hardly. There"s no "physical" excision. The program carries out trial-and-error adjustment of synaptic weights, until it finds the minimum possible alteration which achieves the desired goal. A few billion short-lived stripped-down versions of your brain will be tested and discarded along the way, but don"t let that bother you."
"You"ve run this on yourself?"
She"d laughed. "Yes. Out of curiosity. But it found nothing to change in me. I"d already made up my mind. Even on the outside, I knew this was what I wanted."
"So... I press a button and there"s someone new sitting here? One instant synthetic satisfied customer? I annihilate myself, just like that?"
"You"re the one who jumped off a cliff."
"No. I"m the one who didn"t."
"You won"t "annihilate yourself." You"ll only change as much as you have to. And you"ll still call yourself David Hawthorne. What more can you ask for? What more have you ever done?"
They"d talked it through for hours, debating the fine philosophical and moral points; the difference between "naturally" accepting his situation, and imposing acceptance upon himself. In the end, though, when he"d made the decision, it had seemed like just another part of the dream, just another inconsequential fiction. In that sense, the old David Hawthorne had been true to his beliefs-even as he rewired them out of existence.
Kate had been wrong about one thing. Despite the perfect continuity of his memories, he"d felt compelled to mark the transition by choosing a new name, plucking the whimsical monosyllable out of thin air.
The "minimum possible alteration"? Perhaps if he had ended up less radically Solipsist Nation, far more of his personality would have to have been distorted for him to have been convinced at all. A few bold necessary cuts had squared the circle, instead of a thousand finicky mutilations.
That first change, though, had cleared the way for many more, a long series of self-directed mutations. Peer (by choice) had no patience with nostalgia or sentimentality; if any part of his personality offended him, he struck it out. Some traits had (most likely) vanished forever: a horde of petty jealousies, vanities, misgivings and pointless obsessions; a tendency to irrational depression and guilt. Others came and went. Peer had acquired, removed and restored a variety of talents, mood predispositions and drives; cravings for knowledge, art and physical experience. In a few subjective days, he could change from an ascetic bodiless student of Sumerian archaeology, to a hedonistic gastronome delighting in nothing more than the preparation and consumption of lavishly simulated feasts, to a disciplined practitioner of Shotokan karate.
A core remained; certain values, certain emotional responses, certain aesthetic sensibilities had survived these transitions unscathed.
As had the will to survive itself.
Peer had once asked himself: Was that kernel of invariants-and the more-or-less unbroken thread of memory-enough? Had David Hawthorne, by another name, achieved the immortality he"d paid for? Or had he died somewhere along the way?
There was no answer. The most that could be said, at any moment, was that someone existed who knew-or believed-that they"d once been David Hawthorne.
And so Peer had made the conscious decision to let that be enough.
(Rip, tie, cut toy man)
Paul switched on the terminal and made contact with his old organic self. The djinn looked tired and frayed; all the begging and bribery required to set up the latest stage of the experiment must have taken its toll. Paul felt more alive than he"d ever felt, in any incarnation; his stomach was knotted with something like fear, but the electric tingling of his skin felt more like the anticipation of triumph. His body was about to be mutilated, carved up beyond recognition-and yet he knew he would survive, suffer no harm, feel no pain.
Squeak. "Experiment three, trial zero. Baseline data. All computations performed by processor cluster number four six two, Hitachi Supercomputer Facility, Tokyo."
"One. Two. Three." It was nice to be told where he was, at last; Paul had never visited Japan before. "Four. Five. Six." And on his own terms, he still hadn"t. The view out the window was Sydney, not Tokyo; why defer to the external geography, when it made no difference at all? "Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten."
Squeak. "Trial number one. Model partitioned into five hundred sections, run on five hundred processor clusters, distributed globally."
Paul counted. Five hundred clusters. Five only for the crudely modeled external world; all the rest were allocated to his body-and most to the brain. He lifted his hand to his eyes-and the information flow that granted him motor control and sight traversed tens of thousands of kilometers of optical cable. There was no (perceptible) delay; each part of him simply hibernated when necessary, waiting for the requisite feedback from around the world.
It was, of course, pure lunacy, computationally and economically; Paul guessed that he was costing at least a hundred times as much as usual-not quite five hundred, since each cluster"s capacity was only being partly used-and his slow-down factor had probably risen from seventeen to as much as fifty. Once, it had been hoped that devoting hundreds of computers to each Copy might improve the slowdown problem, not worsen it-but the bottlenecks in shifting data between processor clusters kept even the richest Copies from reducing the factor below seventeen. It didn"t matter how many supercomputers you owned, because splitting yourself between them wasted more time on communications than was saved by the additional computing power.
Squeak. "Trial number two. One thousand sections, one thousand clusters."
Brain the size of a planet-and here I am, counting to ten. Paul recalled the perennial-naive and paranoid-fear that all the networked computers of the world might one day spontaneously give birth to a global hypermind; but he was, almost certainly, the first planet-sized intelligence on Earth. He didn"t feel much like a digital Gaia, though. He felt exactly like an ordinary human being sitting in a room a few meters wide.
Squeak. "Trial number three. Model partitioned into fifty sections and twenty time sets, implemented on one thousand clusters."
"One. Two. Three." Paul struggled to imagine the outside world on his own terms, but it was almost impossible. Not only was he scattered across the globe, but widely separated machines were simultaneously computing different moments of his subjective time frame. Was the distance from Tokyo to New York now the length of his corpus callosum? Had the world shrunk to the size of his skull-and vanished from time altogether, except for the fifty computers which contributed at any one time to what he called "the present"?
Maybe not-although in the eyes of some hypothetical space traveler the whole planet was virtually frozen in time, and flat as a pancake. Relativity declared that this point of view was perfectly valid-but Paul"s was not. Relativity permitted continuous deformation, but no cutting and pasting. Why not? Because it had to allow for cause and effect. Influences had to be localized, traveling from point to point at a finite velocity; chop up space-time and rearrange it, and the causal structure would fall apart.
What if you were an observer, though, who had no causal structure? A self-aware pattern appearing by chance in the random twitches of a noise machine, your time coordinate dancing back and forth through causally respectable "real time"? Why should you be declared a second-class being, with no right to see the universe your way? Ultimately, what difference was there between so-called cause and effect, and any other internally consistent pattern?
Squeak. "Trial number four. Model partitioned into fifty sections and twenty time sets; sections and states randomly allocated to one thousand clusters."
"One. Two. Three."
Paul stopped counting, stretched his arms wide, stood up slowly. He wheeled around once, to examine the room, checking that it was still intact, still complete. Then he whispered, "This is dust. All dust. This room, this moment, is scattered across the planet, scattered across five hundred seconds or more-but it still holds itself together. Don"t you see what that means?"
The djinn reappeared, but Paul didn"t give him a chance to speak. The words flowed out of him, unstoppable. He understood.
"Imagine... a universe entirely without structure, without shape, without connections. A cloud of microscopic events, like fragments of space-time... except that there is no space or time. What characterizes one point in space, for one instant? Just the values of the fundamental particle fields, just a handful of numbers. Now, take away all notions of position, arrangement, order, and what"s left? A cloud of random numbers.
"That"s it. That"s all there is. The cosmos has no shape at all-no such thing as time or distance, no physical laws, no cause and effect.
"But... if the pattern that is me could pick itself out from all the other events taking place on this planet... why shouldn"t the pattern we think of as "the universe" assemble itself, find itself, in exactly the same way? If I can piece together my own coherent space and time from data scattered so widely that it might as well be part of some giant cloud of random numbers... then what makes you think that you"re not doing the very same thing?"
The djinn"s expression hovered between alarm and irritation.
Squeak. "Paul... what"s the point of all this? "Space-time is a construct; the universe is really nothing but a sea of disconnected events..." Assertions like that are meaningless. You can believe it if you want to... but what difference would it make?"
"What difference? We perceive-we inhabit-one arrangement of the set of events. But why should that arrangement be unique? There"s no reason to believe that the pattern we"ve found is the only coherent way of ordering the dust. There must be billions of other universes coexisting with us, made of the very same stuff-just differently arranged. If I can perceive events thousands of kilometers and hundreds of seconds apart to be side by side and simultaneous, there could be worlds, and creatures, built up from what we"d think of as points in space-time scattered all over the galaxy, all over the universe. We"re one possible solution to a giant cosmic anagram... but it would be ludicrous to believe that we"re the only one."
Squeak. Durham snorted. "A cosmic anagram? So where are all the leftover letters? If any of this were true-and the primordial alphabet soup really is random-don"t you think it"s highly unlikely that we could structure the whole thing?"
Paul thought about it. "We haven"t structured the whole thing. The universe is random, at the quantum level. Macroscopically, the pattern seems to be perfect; microscopically, it decays into uncertainty. We"ve swept the residue of randomness down to the lowest level."
Squeak, The djinn strived visibly for patience. "Paul... none of this could ever be tested. How would anyone ever observe a planet whose constituent parts were scattered across the universe, let alone communicate with its hypothetical inhabitants? What you"re saying might have a certain-purely mathematical-validity: grind the universe into fine enough dust, and maybe it could be rearranged in other ways that make as much sense as the original. If those rearranged worlds are inaccessible, though, it"s all angels on the heads of pins."
"How can you say that? I"ve been rearranged! I"ve visited another world!"
Squeak. "If you did, it was an artificial world; created, not discovered."
"Found, created... there"s no real difference."
Squeak. "What are you claiming? Some influence from this other world flowed into the computers, changed the way the model ran?"
"Of course not! Your pattern hasn"t been violated; the computers did exactly what was expected of them. That doesn"t invalidate my perspective. Stop thinking of explanations, causes and effects; there are only patterns. The scattered events that formed my experience had an internal consistency every bit as real as the consistency in the actions of the computers. And perhaps the computers didn"t provide all of it."
Squeak. "What do you mean?"
"The gaps, in experiment one. What filled them in? What was I made of, when the processors weren"t describing me? Well... it"s a big universe. Plenty of dust to be me, in between descriptions. Plenty of events-nothing to do with your computers, maybe nothing to do with your planet or your epoch-out of which to construct ten seconds of experience."
Squeak, The djinn looked seriously worried now. "You"re a Copy in a virtual environment under computer control. Nothing more, nothing less. These experiments prove that your internal sense of space and time is invariant. That"s exactly what we always expected-remember? Come down to Earth. Your states are computed, your memories have to be what they would have been without manipulation. You haven"t visited any other worlds, you haven"t built yourself out of fragments of distant galaxies."
Paul laughed. "Your stupidity is... surreal. What did you create me for, if you"re not even going to listen to what I have to say? I"ve had a glimpse of the truth behind... everything: space, time, the laws of physics. You can"t shrug that off by saying that what happened to me was inevitable."
Squeak. "Control and subject are still identical."
"Of course they are! That"s the whole point! Like... gravity and acceleration in General Relativity-it all depends on what you can"t tell apart. This is a new Principle of Equivalence, a new symmetry between observers. Relativity threw out absolute space and time-but it didn"t go far enough. We have to throw out absolute cause and effect!"
Squeak. The djinn muttered, dismayed, "Elizabeth said this would happen. She said it was only a matter of time before you"d lose touch."
Paul stared at him, jolted back to the mundane. "Elizabeth? You said you hadn"t even told her."
Squeak. "Well, I have now. I didn"t tell you, because I didn"t think you"d want to hear her reaction."
Squeak. "I was up all night arguing with her. She wanted me to shut you down. She said I was... seriously disturbed, to even think about doing this."
Paul was stung. "What would she know? Ignore her."
Squeak. Durham frowned apologetically-an expression Paul recognized at once, and his guts turned to ice. "Maybe I should pause you, while I think things over. Elizabeth raised some... valid ethical questions. I think I should talk it through with her again."
"Fuck that! I"m not here for you to put on ice every time you have a change of heart. And if Elizabeth wants to have a say in my life, she can damn well talk it through with me."
Paul could see exactly what would happen. If he was paused, Durham wouldn"t restart him-he"d go back to the original scan file and start again from scratch, handling his prisoner differently, hoping to end up with a more cooperative subject. Maybe he wouldn"t even perform the first set of experiments at all.