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Permutation City. 4

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Maria felt punch-drunk. At one level, she knew she should stop humoring him, stop treating his ideas seriously. On another, it seemed that if Durham was so wrong, she should be able to point out the reasons why. She shouldn"t have to call him a madman and refuse to listen to another word.

She said, "Find yourself in a cellular automaton world? You don"t mean the Autoverse-?"

"Of course not. There"s no prospect of translating a human into Autoverse biochemistry."

"Then what?"

"There"s a cellular automaton called TVC. After Turing, von Neumann and Chiang. Chiang completed it around twenty-ten; it"s a souped-up, more elegant version of von Neumann"s work from the nineteen fifties."

Maria nodded uncertainly; she"d heard of all this, but it wasn"t her field. She did know that John von Neumann and his students had developed a two-dimensional cellular automaton, a simple universe in which you could embed an elaborate pattern of cells-a rather Lego-like "machine"-which acted as both a universal constructor and a universal computer. Given the right program-a string of cells to be interpreted as coded instructions rather than part of the machine-it could carry out any computation, and build anything at all. Including another copy of itself-which could build another copy, and so on. Little self-replicating toy computers could blossom into existence without end.

She said, "Chiang"s version was three-dimensional, wasn"t it?"

"Much better. N-dimensional. Four, five, six, whatever you like. That leaves plenty of room for data within easy reach. In two dimensions, the original von Neumann machine had to reach farther and farther-and wait longer and longer-for each successive bit of data. In a six-dimensional TVC automaton, you can have a three-dimensional grid of computers, which keeps on growing indefinitely-each with its own three-dimensional memory, which can also grow without bound."

Maria said numbly, "Where are you supposed to fit into all of this? If you think translating human biochemistry into Autoverse terms is difficult, how are you going to map yourself into a six-dimensional world designed solely to support von Neumann machines?"

"The TVC universe is one big, ever-expanding processor cluster. It runs a Copy of me-"

"I thought the whole point was to do away with Copies!"

"-- in a VR environment which lets me interact with the TVC level. Yes, I"ll be a patchwork Copy, as always-there"s no alternative to that-but I"ll also be linked to the cellular automaton itself. I"ll witness its operation, I"ll experience its laws. By observing it, I"ll make it a part of what has to be explained.

"And when the simulated TVC universe being run on the physical computer is suddenly shut down, the best explanation for what I"ve witnessed will be a continuation of that universe-an extension made out of dust."

Maria could almost see it: a vast lattice of computers, a seed of order in a sea of a random noise, extending itself from moment to moment by sheer force of internal logic, "accreting" the necessary building blocks from the chaos of non-space-time by the very act of defining space and time.

Visualizing wasn"t believing, though.

She said, "What makes you so sure? Why not another deluded psychiatric patient, who believes he was-briefly-a Copy being run on a TVC automaton being run on a processor cluster in another world?"

"You"re the one who invoked Occam"s razor. Wouldn"t you say that a self-contained TVC universe is a simpler explanation, by far?"

"No. It"s about the most bizarre thing I can imagine."

"It"s a lot less bizarre than yet another version of this universe, containing yet another version of me, with yet another set of convenient delusions."

"How many of your clients believed all this? How many think they"re coming along for the ride?"

"Fifteen. And there"s a sixteenth who, I think, is tempted."

"They paid-?"

"About two million each." He snorted. "It"s quite funny, the significance the police have attached to that. Some large sums of money have changed hands, for reasons more complex than usual-so they assume I must be doing something illegal. I mean, billionaires have been known to make donations larger than that to the Church of the God Who Makes No Difference." He added hastily, "None of mine."

Maria was having some trouble with the scale of things herself. "You found fifteen Copies willing to part with two million dollars after hearing this bullshit? Anyone that gullible deserves to lose their money."

Durham took no offence. "If you were a Copy, you"d believe the dust theory, too. You"d feel the truth of it in your nonexistent bones. Some of these people carried out the same experiments as I did-computing themselves in randomized fragments-but others didn"t need to. They already knew that they could scatter themselves across real time and real space, and they"d still find themselves. Every Copy proves the dust theory to itself a million times a day."

It suddenly occurred to Maria that Durham might have invented all of this for her sake, alone-while telling his clients exactly what Hayden had assumed: some fraudulent but utterly non-metaphysical tale of a hidden supercomputer. But she couldn"t see what he had to gain by confusing her... and too many details made too much sense, now. If his clients had accepted the whole mad vision, the problem of making them believe in a nonexistent supercomputer vanished. Or at least changed from a question of evidence to a question of faith. She said, "So you promised to fit a snapshot of each of your "backers" into the Garden-of-Eden configuration, plus the software to run them on the TVC?"

Durham said proudly, "All that and more. The major world libraries; not quite the full holdings, but tens of millions of files-text, audio, visual, interactive-on every conceivable subject. Databases too numerous to list-including all the mapped genomes. Software: expert systems, knowledge miners, metaprogrammers. Thousands of off-the-shelf VR environments: deserts, jungles, coral reefs, Mars and the moon. And I"ve commissioned Malcolm Carter, no less, to create a major city to act as a central meeting place: Permutation City, capital of the TVC universe.

"And, of course, there"ll be your contribution: the seed for an alien world. Humanity is going to find other life in this universe, eventually. How can we give up hope of doing the same? Sure, we"ll have our own software descendants, and recreated Earth animals, and no doubt novel, wholly artificial creatures as well. We won"t be alone. But we still need a chance to confront the Other. We mustn"t leave that possibility behind. And what could be more alien than Autoverse life?"

Maria"s skin crawled. Durham"s logic was impeccable; an endlessly expanding TVC universe, with new computing power being manufactured out of nothing in all directions, "would" eventually be big enough to run an Autoverse planet-or even a whole planetary system. The packed version of Planet Lambert-the compressed description, with its topographic summaries in place of actual mountains and rivers-would easily fit into the memory of a real-world computer. Then Durham"s Copy could simply wait for the TVC grid to be big enough-or pause himself, to avoid waiting-and have the whole thing unfold.

Durham said, "I"ve been working on the software which will run the first moments of the TVC universe on a real-world computer. I can probably finish that myself. But I can"t complete the Autoverse work without you, Maria."

She laughed sharply. "You want me to keep working for you? You lie to me. You get me visited by the Fraud Squad. You confess to a history of mental illness. You tell me you"re the twenty-third incarnation of a retailing millionaire from a parallel world-"

"Whatever you think about the dust theory-and whatever you think about my psychological health-I can prove to you that I"m not a criminal. My backers will vouch for that; they all know exactly what their money"s being used for. None of them are victims of fraud."

"I accept that. I just-"

"Then accept the payment. Finish the work. Whatever the police have told you, you have every right to the money, and I have every right to give it to you. Nobody"s going to take you to court, nobody"s going to throw you into prison."

Maria was flustered. "Just, hold on. Will you give me a chance to think?" Durham"s sheer reasonableness was beginning to be as exhausting as the impassioned rhetoric of any obvious fanatic. And so much ground had shifted in the last half-hour that she hadn"t had a chance to even start to reappraise her own situation: legally, financially... and morally.

She said, "Why don"t your backers tell the police all this? If they can confirm your story for me, why can"t they do the same for the cops? By refusing to talk, they"re just fueling suspicion."

Durham agreed. "Tell me about it. It makes everything ten times harder-but I"m just going to have to keep on living with that. Do you think they"d risk the truth becoming public knowledge? There have already been some embarrassing leaks-but so far we"ve been able to muddy the water by putting out our own misinformation. Copies with de facto control of billion-dollar business empires would much rather have people linking them to some dubious salesman and his breakthrough supercomputer-and have the rumors fizzle out from lack of substantiation-than let the world know that they plan to send a clone into an artificial universe which runs without hardware. The share markets can get nervous enough when people start wondering if a certain board of directors have all taken up playing virtual Caligula in their spare time. If word got out that a Copy in a position of power had done something which might be construed as a sign that they no longer felt obliged to give a shit about their corporate responsibilities, their personal wealth, or the continued existence of Planet Earth... "

Maria walked over to the window. It was open, but the air outside was still; standing by the insect screen she might as well have been standing by a solid brick wall. People were arguing loudly in the flat above; she"d only just noticed.

When Durham had first approached her, she"d wondered, half seriously, if she"d be taking advantage of a man who"d taken leave of his senses. Now, she couldn"t just shrug that off as a hypocritical insult to a fellow eccentric. This wasn"t a matter of an artificial life fanatic with more money than sense. An ex-psychiatric patient was planning to spend thirty million dollars of other people"s money to "prove" his own sanity-and lead the clones of his followers into a cybernetic paradise which would last for about twenty seconds. Taking a cut seemed just a tiny bit like doing the catering for the Jonestown massacre.

Durham said, "If you don"t agree to finish the biosphere seed, who would I get to replace you? There"s nobody else who could even begin to grasp what"s involved."

Maria eyed him sharply. "Don"t start flattering me. And don"t kid yourself about the seed, either. You asked for a package of persuasive data, and that"s all you"ll be getting-even if I finish the work. If you"re counting on Planet Lambert"s inhabitants rising up on their hind legs and talking to you... I can"t guarantee that happening if you ran the whole thing a billion times. You should have simulated real-world biochemistry. At least it"s been shown that intelligent life can arise within that system... and you"d supposedly have the computing power to do it."

Durham said reasonably, "A. lamberti seemed simpler, surer. Any real-world organism-modeled subatomically-would be too big a program to test out in advance on any physical computer. And it"d be too late to change my mind and try another approach if I failed to get it to work-stuck in the TVC universe, with plenty of books and journals, but no pool of expertise."

Maria felt a deep chill pass through her; every time she thought she"d accepted just how seriously Durham took this lunacy, he gave an answer like that which drove it home to her anew.

She said, "Well, Autoverse life might turn out just as useless. You might have A. hydrophila spewing out useless mutations, generation after generation, with nothing you can do to fix it."

Durham seemed about to reply, but then stopped himself. Maria felt the chill return, at first without knowing why. A second later, she glared at him, outraged, as furious as if he"d come right out and asked her.

"I will not be there to fix it for you!"

Durham had the grace to look cowed, momentarily-but instead of denying that the thought had ever crossed his mind, he said, "If you don"t believe in the dust theory, what difference would it make if there"s a scan file of you in the Garden-of-Eden data?"

"I don"t want a Copy of me waking up and living for a few subjective seconds, knowing that it"s going to die!"

"Who said anything about waking it? Running a Copy on a simulated TVC grid is a computer-intensive operation. We can"t afford to wake more than one Copy while we"re still running on a physical computer. Mine. As far as you"re concerned, your scan file would never even be used to build a Copy; the data would just sit there, completely inert. And you could sit outside at a terminal, overseeing the whole operation, making sure I kept my word."

Maria was scandalized-although it took her a second to weave through Durham"s infuriating logic to find a target.

"And you-certain that I"d eventually wake-would happily take me on board under false pretences?"

Durham seemed genuinely baffled by the accusation. "False pretences? I"ve given you all the facts, and I"ve argued my case as hard as I can; it"s not my fault if you don"t believe me. Am I supposed to feel guilty for being right?"

Maria started to reply, but then the point seemed too ridiculous to pursue. She said, "Never mind. You won"t get a chance to feel anything about it, because I"m certainly not offering you a scan file."

Durham bowed his head. "It"s your decision."

Maria hugged herself. She was actually trembling slightly. She thought: I"m afraid of exploiting him? If what he"s doing really is legitimate... finish the job, take the money. His Copy"s going to spend a few seconds believing it"s headed for Copy Heaven-and that"s going to happen whatever I do. The fifteen clones will just sleep through it all, as if they"d never been made. That"s no Jonestown.

Durham said, "The fee would be six hundred thousand dollars."

Maria said, "I don"t care if it"s six hundred million." She"d meant to shout, but her words faded out into a whisper.

Six hundred thousand dollars would be enough to save Francesca"s life.
<dd><br><dd>18 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>MAY 2051

Peer seemed to be making love with Kate, but he had his doubts. He lay on the soft dry grass of a boundless meadow, in mild sunshine. Kate"s hair was longer than usual, tickling his skin wherever she kissed him, brushing against him with an erotic precision which seemed unlikely to have been left to chance. Insect chirps and birdsong were heard. Peer could recall David Hawthorne screwing a long-suffering lover in a field, once. They"d been driving back to London from her father"s funeral in Yorkshire; it had seemed like a good idea at the time. This was different. No twigs, no stones, no animal shit. No damp earth, no grass stains, no itching.

The perfect meadow itself was no reason for suspicion; neither of them were verisimilitude freaks, masochistic re-creators of the irritating details of real environments. Good sex was, equally, a matter of choice. But Peer still found himself wondering if Kate really had agreed to the act. She hadn"t actually made love to him for months-however many times he"d recycled the memories of the last occasion-and he couldn"t rule out the possibility that he"d merely decided to fool himself into believing that she"d finally relented. He"d never gone quite so far before-so far as he presently knew-but he had a vague memory of resolving to do a thorough job of concealing the evidence if he ever did.

He could clearly remember Kate beginning to flirt as they"d toured Carter"s city, and then reaching out and starting to undress him as they stood in the exit doorway. He"d shut down all limits on her access to his body while she"d been unbuttoning his shirt-and he"d bellowed with shock and delight when, in the middle of their physically plausible foreplay, an invisible second Kate, twenty times his size, had picked him up in one hand, raised him to her mouth, and licked his body from toes to forehead like a sweet-toothed giant taking the icing off a man-shaped cake.

None of this struck him as especially unlikely; if Kate had decided to make love again, it was the kind of thing he could imagine her doing. That in itself proved nothing. He could have scripted this fantasy to fit everything he knew about her-or chosen the scenario, and then rewritten his "knowledge" of her to accommodate the action. In either case, software could have laid down a trail of false memories: a plausible transition from their meeting with Carter-which he felt certain had actually happened-to this moment. All memories of having planned the deception would have been temporarily suppressed.

Kate stopped moving. She shook her head, spattering his face and chest with sweat, and said, "Are you here where you seem to be, or off somewhere else?"

"I was about to ask you the same question."

She smiled wickedly. "Ah. Then maybe this body you hope is me only asked you first to put your mind at ease."

In the sky above her right shoulder, Peer could see a stray cloud taking on a new shape, a whimsical sculpture parodying the bodies on the grass below.

He said, "And then admitted as much?"

Kate nodded, and started slowly rising. "Of course. For the very same reason. How many levels of bluffing will it take before you get bored and say: Fuck it, I don"t care?"

She lifted herself until they were almost apart. He closed his eyes and violated the geometry, licking the sweat from between her shoulder blades without moving a muscle. She responded by sticking her tongue in both of his ears simultaneously. He laughed and opened his eyes.

The cloud above had darkened. Kate lowered herself onto him again, trembling very slightly.

She said, "Don"t you find it ironic?"

"What?"

"Trans-humans taking pleasure by stimulating copies of the neural pathways which used to be responsible for the continuation of the species. Out of all the possibilities, we cling to that."

Peer said, "No, I don"t find it ironic. I had my irony glands removed. It was either that, or castration."

She smiled down at him. "I love you, you know. But would I tell you that? Or would you be stupid enough to pretend that I had?"

Warm, sweet rain began to fall.

He said, "I don"t care, I don"t care, I don"t care." + + +

Peer sat on the lowest of the four wooden steps leading up to the back porch of his homestead, glancing down now and then at his bare feet and thin brown arms. Ten-year-old farm boy at dusk. Kate had made both the environment and the body for him, and be liked the tranquil mood of the piece. There was no invented family, no role to play; this was a painting, not a drama. One place, one moment, lasting as long as he chose to inhabit it. The scenery wasn"t quite photorealist-there were subtle distortions of form, color and texture which made it impossible to forget that he was inhabiting a work of art-but there were no sledgehammer techniques: no visible brushstrokes, no Van Gogh lighting effects.

Violating the whole aesthetic, an interface window hovered in front of him, a meter above the chicken-feed-scattered dirt. The cloning utility insisted on following an elaborate confirmation sequence; Peer kept saying, "Please skip to the final question, I know exactly what I"m doing"-but icons in legal wigs and gowns kept popping up in front of the window and declaring solemnly, "You must read this warning carefully. Your brain model will be directly examined for evidence of complete understanding before we proceed to the next stage."

It was a thousand times more trouble than baling out-he knew that for certain, having almost done it-but then, baling out entailed fewer legal complications for the people outside. Peer"s estate was controlled by an executor, who"d signed a contract obliging her to act according to "any duly authenticated communications-including, but not limited to, visual and/or auditory simulations of a human being appearing to proffer instructions or advice." What duly authenticated meant revolved around a ninety-nine-digit code key which had been "hardwired" into Peer"s model-of-a-brain when his Copy was generated from his scan file. He could summon it up consciously if he had to, in some unlikely emergency, but normally he made use of it by a simple act of will. He"d record a video postcard, wish it to be duly authenticated-and it was done. Unless the key was stolen-plucked right out of the computer memory which contained the data representing his brain-Peer was the only software on the planet capable of encrypting instructions to his executor in a form compatible with her own matching key. It was the closest thing he had to a legal identity.

By law, any clone which a Copy made of itself had to be given a new key. It was up to the initial Copy, prior to the cloning, to divide up the worldly assets between the two future selves-or rather, divide them up between the executor"s two portfolios.

Peer fought his way through the process of assuring the cloning utility that he really had meant what he"d told it from the start: The clone would require no assets of its own. Peer would run it on sufferance, paying for its running time himself. He didn"t plan on keeping it conscious for more than a minute or two; just long enough to reassure himself that he was doing the right thing.

He almost wished that Kate was with him, now. She"d offered to be here, but he"d turned her down. He would have been glad of her support, but this had to be done in private.

Finally, the utility said, "This is your last chance to cancel. Are you sure you wish to proceed?"

Peer closed his eyes. When I see my original, sitting on the porch, I"ll know who I am, and accept it.

He said, "Yes, I"m sure."

Peer felt no change. He opened his eyes. His newly made twin stood on the ground where the interface window had been, staring at him, wide-eyed. Peer shivered. He recognized the boy as himself, and not just intellectually-Kate"s piece included adjustments to every part of his brain which dealt with his body image, so he"d be no more shocked by catching a glimpse of himself in a mirror than he was by the way his limbs felt as he walked. But the effect wasn"t so much to see through the "disguise" of the ten-year-old body, as to find himself thinking of the clone-and himself-as if the two of them really were that young. How could he send this child into exile?

Peer brushed the absurd notion aside. "Well?"

The clone seemed dazed. "I-"

Peer prompted him. "You know what I want to hear. Are you ready for this? Are you happy with your fate? Did I make the right decision? You"re the one who knows, now."

"But I don"t know." He looked at Peer pleadingly, as if hoping for guidance. "Why am I doing this? Remind me."

Peer was taken aback, but some disorientation was only to be expected. His own voice sounded "normal" to him-thanks to the neural adjustments-but the clone still sounded like a frightened child. He said gently, "Kate. We want to be with her. Both of her-"

The clone nodded fervently. "Of course." He laughed nervously. "And of course I"m ready. Everything"s fine." His eyes darted around the yard, as if he was searching for an escape route.

Peer felt his chest tighten. He said evenly, "You don"t have to go ahead if you don"t want to. You know that. You can bale out right now, if that"s what you"d prefer."

The clone looked more alarmed than ever. "I don"t want that! I want to stow away with Kate." He hesitated, then added, "She"ll be happier in there, more secure. And I do want to be with her; I want to know that side of her."

"Then what"s wrong?"

The clone sank to his knees in the dirt For a second, Peer thought he was sobbing, then he realized that the noise was laughter.

The clone recovered his composure and said, "Nothing"s wrong-but how do you expect me to take it? The two of us, cut off from everything else. Not just the real world, but all the other Copies."

Peer said, "If you get lonely, you can always generate new people. You"ll have access to ontogenesis software-and no reason to care about the slowdown."

The clone started laughing again. Tears streamed down his face. Hugging himself, he tumbled sideways onto the ground. Peer looked on, bemused. The clone said, "Here I am trying to steel myself for the wedding, and already you"re threatening me with children."

Suddenly, he reached out and grabbed Peer by one ankle, then dragged him off the step. Peer hit the ground on his arse with a jarring thud. His first instinct was to freeze the clone"s power to interact with him, but he stopped himself. He was in no danger-and if his twin wanted to burn off some aggression on his brother-creator, he could take it. They were evenly matched, after all.

Two minutes later, Peer was lying with his face in the dirt and his arms pinned behind his back. The clone kneeled over him, breathless but triumphant.

Peer said, "All right, you win. Now get off me-or I"ll double my height, put on forty kilograms, and get up and flatten you."

The clone said, "Do you know what we should do?"

"Shake hands and say goodbye."

"Toss a coin."

"For what?"

The clone laughed. "What do you think?"

"You said you were happy to go."

"I am. But so should you be. I say we toss a coin. If I win, we swap key numbers."

"That"s illegal!"

"Illegal!" The clone was contemptuous. "Listen to the Solipsist Nation Copy invoke the laws of the world! It"s easily done. The software exists. All you have to do is agree."

Talking was difficult; Peer spat out sand, but there was a seed of some kind caught between his teeth which he couldn"t dislodge. He felt a curious reluctance to "cheat," though-to remove the seed from his mouth, or the clone from his back. It had been so long since he"d been forced to endure the slightest discomfort that the novelty seemed to outweigh the inconvenience.

He said, "All right. I"ll do it"

And if he lost? But why should he fear that? Five minutes ago, he"d been prepared to give rise to-to become-the clone who"d stow away.

They created the coin together, the only way to ensure that it was subject to no hidden influences. The reality editor they jointly invoked offered a standard object ready-made for their purpose, which they decorated as a one-pound coin. The physics of flipping a real coin wouldn"t come into it; any Copy could easily calculate and execute a flick of the thumb leading to a predetermined outcome. The result would be controlled by a random number generator deep in the hidden layers of the operating system.

Peer said, "I toss, you call"-at exactly the same time as the clone. He laughed. The clone smiled faintly. Peer was about to defer, then decided to wait. A few seconds later, he said, alone, "All right, you toss."

As the coin went up, Peer thought about encasing it in a second object, an invisibly thin shell under his control alone-but the long list of attributes of the fair coin probably included crying foul if its true faces were concealed. He shouted "Heads!" just before the thing hit the dirt.

The two of them fell to their hands and knees, almost bumping heads. A hen approached; Peer shooed it away with a backward kick.

President Kinnock, in profile, glinted in the dust.

The clone met his eyes. Peer did his best not to look relieved-short of severing ties with his body. He tried to read the clone"s expression, and failed; all he saw was a reflection of his own growing numbness. Pirandello had said it was impossible to feel any real emotion while staring into a mirror. Peer decided to take that as a good sign. They were still one person, after all-and that was the whole point.

The clone rose to his feet dusting off his knees and elbows. Peer took a hologram-embossed library card from the back pocket of his jeans and handed it over; it was an icon for a copy of all the environments, customized utilities, bodies, memories and other data he"d accumulated since his resurrection.

The clone said, "Don"t worry about me-or Kate. We"ll look after each other. We"ll be happy." As he spoke, he morphed smoothly into an older body.

Peer said, "Ditto." He reached up and shook the young man"s hand. Then he summoned one of his control windows and froze the clone, leaving the motionless body visible as an icon for the snapshot file. He shrunk it to a height of a few centimeters, flattened it into a two-dimensional postcard, and wrote on the back: to malcolm carter.

Then he walked down the road a kilometer to one of Kate"s little touches, a postbox marked us mail, and dropped the postcard in.
<dd><br><dd>19 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>JUNE 2051

The anaesthetist said, "Count backward from ten."

Maria said, "Ten."

She dreamed of arriving on Francesca"s doorstep with a suitcase full of money. As she walked down the hall behind her mother, the case fell open, and hundred-dollar bills fluttered out and filled the air like confetti.

Francesca turned to her, radiant with health. She said tenderly, "You shouldn"t have, my darling. But I understand. You can"t take it with you."

Maria laughed. "You can"t take it with you."

Her father was in the living room, dressed for his wedding day, although not as young. He beamed and held out his arms to Maria. His parents, and Francesca"s parents, stood behind him-and as Maria approached, she saw from on high that behind her grandparents were cousins and aunts, great-grandparents and great-aunts, row after row of relatives and ancestors, stretching back into the depths of the house, laughing and chattering. The money had brought them all back to life. How could she have been so selfish as to think of denying them this grand reunion?

Maria threaded her way through the crowd, greeting people she"d never known existed. Handsome, dark-eyed seventh cousins kissed her hand and whispered compliments in a beautiful dialect she didn"t understand. Veiled widows in elegant black dresses stood arm-in-arm with their resurrected husbands. Children weaved between the adults" legs, stealing food by the handful and cramming it into their mouths on the run.

The clinic"s neurologist turned out to be a distant relative. Maria cupped her hands to the woman"s ear and shouted over the noise of the party: "Have I been scanned yet? Will my Copy remember any of this?" The neurologist explained that the scan only captured memories laid down permanently as changes in synaptic strengths; the fleeting electrochemistry of this dream would be lost forever. She added cryptically, "Lost to whoever"s not having it."

Maria felt herself waking. Suddenly afraid that she might be the Copy, she struggled to remain in the dream-as if she could force her way back through the crowd, back through the plot, and leave by a different exit. But the scene grew vague and unconvincing; she could feel the heavy presence of her waking body: her aching shoulders, her swollen tongue.

She opened her eyes. She was alone in the Landau Clinic"s cheerfully decorated recovery room; she"d been wheeled through for a patient"s-eye view before being given the anesthetic, so she"d know exactly what to expect. It took a few seconds for the truths of the dream to fade, though. Her father was dead. Her grandparents were dead. There"d been no grand reunion. There never would be.

As for the Copy... her scan file didn"t even exist, yet; the raw tomographic data would take hours to be processed into a high-resolution anatomical map. And she could still change her mind and keep the results out of Durham"s hands altogether. He"d paid the clinic for the scan, but if she refused to hand over the file there"d be nothing he could do about it.

The recovery room was softly lit, lined with odorless blue and orange flowers. Maria closed her eyes. If Durham"s logic meant anything, raw tomographic data could probably process itself, find itself conscious, as easily as any Copy who"d been chopped up and run at random. There was no need for a finished scan file.

No need even to be scanned; the very same data surely existed, scattered about the universe, whether or not it was ever plucked from her brain and assembled in what she thought of as one place.

In fact, if Durham was right-if the events he believed would take place in his TVC universe could find themselves in the dust-then those events would happen, regardless. It could make no difference what anyone did in this world. The whole Garden-of-Eden project was superfluous. Every permutation of the dust which was capable of perceiving itself, making sense of itself, would do just that. And all she would have achieved by refusing to be scanned would have been to deny the Maria of that permutation a history which seemed to overlap with her own particular life. While a third woman-in another world, another permutation-would have taken her place in that role.

Maria opened her eyes. She"d just recalled the first thing she"d meant to do on waking. Every scanner was programmed to recognize-in real time, before all the arduous data processing that followed-the magnetic resonance spectrum of four or five special dyes, which could be used for alignment and identification. The scanning technician had obligingly loaned her a "number three" marker pen-and instructed the scanner to blind itself to that particular dye.

She pulled her hands out from under the sheets. Her left palm still read: you are not the copy.

She licked her fingers and started rubbing the unnecessary words away. + + +

Maria arrived at the north Sydney flat around half past twelve. Two terminals were set up side by side on Durham"s kitchen table; other than that, the place was as bare as it had been the last time she"d called.

Although it wasn"t, technically, necessary, Maria had insisted that she and Durham be in the same physical location throughout what he called the "launch"-the running of the first moments of the TVC universe as software on a real computer, the act which would supposedly seed an independent, self-sustaining universe, taking up where the version relying on real-world hardware left off. At least this way she could monitor the keys he pressed and the words he spoke, without having to wonder if she was being shown what was really going on at that level. She had no idea what she was guarding against-but Durham was a highly intelligent man with some very strange beliefs, and she had no reason to feel confident that he"d revealed the full extent of his delusions. His clients had confirmed part of his story-and they would have had the resources to check much more of it than she had-but Durham might still have lied to them about what was going on inside his head.

She wanted to trust him, she wanted to believe that she"d finally reached the truth-but it was hard to put any limits on how wrong she might yet be. She felt she"d known him too long to seriously fear for her physical safety-but the possibility remained that everything she thought she"d understood about the man would turn out, once again, to have been utterly misconceived. If he came away from the kitchen sink brandishing a carving knife, calmly announcing his intention to sacrifice her to the Spirit of the New Moon, she"d have no right to feel betrayed, or surprised. She couldn"t expect to live off the proceeds of insanity, and also take for granted the usual parameters of civilized behavior.

The flesh-and-blood Durham was only half the problem. Once the program simulating a TVC cellular automaton was started, the plan was that neither she nor Durham would intervene at all. Any external tinkering would violate the automaton"s rules-the fundamental laws of the new universe-making a mockery of the whole endeavor. Only Durham"s Copy, being run on the simulated TVC computers, could act in harmony with those laws. They would always have the option of aborting the project, pulling the plug-but in every other respect, the Copy would be in control.

(Of course, aborting the simulation if something went wrong would not-in Durham"s eyes-prevent the spawning of an independent universe beyond their control... but it might leave them with enough unspent computer time for a second attempt.)

With her hands tied once the universe was running, her only way to influence what did or didn"t happen was through the Garden-of-Eden configuration-which included all the programs the TVC lattice would initially run. Maria had written part of this internal launch software herself; Durham had written, or commissioned, the rest, but she"d checked it all personally. And she"d built in a safeguard: all the Copies but Durham"s would be blocked from running until the TVC processors had solved a suitably intractable mathematical equation. Maria had estimated that the world"s combined computing resources couldn"t have cracked the problem in under a decade; thirty million dollars" worth, minus overheads, wouldn"t come close. That was no obstacle in the eyes of Durham and his followers; the ever-growing resources of the burgeoning TVC universe would make light work of it, solving the equation within a week or two of the launch. But short of any such universe coming into existence-and so long as the test wasn"t circumvented-there was no chance of a second Maria Deluca, or anyone else, waking. It was her guarantee that there"d be no virtual Jonestown. Just one lone prophet flickering in and out of existence.

Durham made instant coffee. Maria surveyed the spartan room. She said, "This isn"t good enough, you know. We should have two hundred people wearing headsets, and a giant screen taking up an entire wall. Like one of the old NASA missions."

Durham spoke over the sound of boiling water. "Don"t worry; we"ll be using more computing power per second than NASA used for the entire Apollo program."

Computing power. One more thing to worry about. Maria logged on to the QIPS exchange; the rate was up slightly since she"d last checked, but so far there was no sign of what she dreaded. In the event that Operation Butterfly entered the market again, today of all days, the Garden of Eden would be frozen out, postponed until the QIPS rate returned to normal levels. That wouldn"t make the slightest difference to Durham or his followers-even if the launch program was thrown off the network halfway through, and only completed days, or weeks, later. Real time was irrelevant. Maria could appreciate the logic of that-but the thought of a delay, or an unexpected slowdown, still made her sick with anxiety. Every legal opinion she"d obtained had made it clear that neither she nor Durham were likely to face prosecution-and if charges were brought against them, a conviction was highly improbable... and even if that happened, an appeal would almost certainly succeed. Nonetheless, every day she"d spent working with Durham as a knowing "accomplice" had made her feel more vulnerable to the whims of the authorities. Hayden had treated her icily when she"d confessed to having abandoned her laughable "undercover" role. The risk of harassment would hardly vanish the moment the project was completed-but the relief would still be considerable.

She was beginning to regret having honored her promise not to try to record Durham"s clients" statements assuring her that they were fully informed participants in the scheme. The authenticated messages she"d viewed-on public terminals-might not have been the equivalent of human testimony, but having them stored away on a chip somewhere would have made her feel a lot more secure. Regardless of the legal status of the Copies, she couldn"t imagine being prosecuted for fraud if she could show that the de facto "victims of the crime" knew exactly what they were paying for.

Durham set her coffee down on the table. Maria mumbled thanks as he sat beside her. He said, "No last-minute qualms? You can still back out if you want to."

She kept her eyes on the screen, the flickering pie chart of the QIPS exchange. "Don"t tempt me." As if she"d seriously consider blowing her one real chance to have Francesca scanned-after all the work, all the anxiety-for no better reason than a laughable, microscopic fear that this artificial universe might actually blossom into self-contained existence.

Durham"s terminal beeped. Maria glanced at his screen; a message box said PRIORITY COMMUNICATION. She looked away as he viewed the text.

"Speaking of last-minute qualms, Riemann"s changed his mind. He wants in."

Maria said irritably, "Well, tell him it"s too late. Tell him he"s missed the boat." She wasn"t serious; from what she knew of the project"s finances, Durham had been set to barely break even by the end of the day. The price of one more ticket would transform his fortunes completely.

He said, "Relax-it will take half an hour at the most to fit him in. And his fee will cover much more than the increase in data; we"ll be able to run the whole launch a bit longer."

Maria had to pause to let that sink in. Then she said, "You"re going to blow most of two million ecus on stretching out something that-"

Durham smiled. "That what? That would have worked anyway?"

"That you believe would have worked anyway!"

"The longer I get to see my Copy observing the TVC universe, the happier I"ll be. I don"t know what it will take to anchor the automaton rules-but if ten watertight experiments sounds good, then eleven sounds better."

Maria pushed her chair back and walked away from her terminal. Durham tapped at his keyboard, first invoking the programs which would recompute the Garden-of-Eden configuration to include the new passenger and his luggage-then directing the windfall from Riemann straight into the project"s JSN account.

She said, "What"s wrong with you? Two million ecus is more than two million dollars! You could have lived on that for the rest of your life!"

Durham kept typing, passing Riemann"s documents through a series of legal checks. "I"ll get by."

"Given it to a charity, then!"

Durham frowned, but said patiently, "I gather that Thomas Riemann gives generously to famine relief and crop research every year. He chose to spend this money on a place in my sanctuary; it"s hardly my role to channel his funds into whatever you or I decide is the worthiest cause." He glanced at her and added, mock-solemnly, "That"s called fraud, Ms. Deluca. You can go to prison for that."

Maria was unmoved. "You could have kept something for yourself. For this life, this world. I don"t imagine any of your clients expected you to do all this for nothing."

Durham finished at the terminal and turned to her. "I don"t expect you to understand. You treat the whole project as a joke-and that"s fine. But you can hardly expect me to run it on that basis."

Maria didn"t even know what she was angry about anymore: the delayed launch, the obscene waste of money-or just Durham sitting there making perfect sense to himself, as always.

She said, "The project is a joke. Three hundred million people are living in refugee camps, and you"re offering sanctuary to sixteen billionaires! What do they need protection from? There"s never going to be an anti-Copy revolution! They"re never going to be shut down! You know as well as I do that they"ll just sit there getting richer for the next ten thousand years!"

"Possibly."

"So you are a fraud then, aren"t you? Even if your "sanctu-ary" really does come into existence-even if you prove your precious theory right-what have your backers gained? You"ve sent their clones into solitary confinement, that"s all. You might as well have put them in a black box at the bottom of a mineshaft."

Durham said mildly, "That"s not quite true. You talk about Copies surviving ten thousand years. What about ten billion? A hundred billion?"

She scowled. "Nothing"s going to last that long. Haven"t you heard? They"ve found enough dark matter to reverse the expansion of the universe in less than forty billion years-"

"Exactly. This universe isn"t going to last."

Maria nodded sarcastically, and tried to say something belittling, but the words stuck in her throat.

Durham continued blithely, "The TVC universe will never collapse. Never. A hundred billion years, a hundred trillion; it makes no difference, it will always be expanding."

Maria said weakly, "Entropy-"

"Is not a problem. Actually, "expanding" is the wrong word; the TVC universe grows like a crystal, it doesn"t stretch like a balloon. Think about it. Stretching ordinary space increases entropy; everything becomes more spread out, more disordered. Building more of a TVC cellular automaton just gives you more room for data, more computing power, more order. Ordinary matter would eventually decay, but these computers aren"t made out of matter. There"s nothing in the cellular automaton"s rules to prevent them from lasting for ever."

Maria wasn"t sure what she"d imagined before; Durham"s universe-being made of the same "dust" as the real one, merely rearranged-suffering the same fate? She couldn"t have given the question much thought, because that verdict was nonsensical. The rearrangement was in time as well as space; Durham"s universe could take a point of space-time from just before the Big Crunch, and follow it with another from ten million years b.c. And even if there was only a limited total amount of "dust" to work with, there was no reason why it couldn"t be reused in different combinations, again and again. The fate of the TVC automaton would only have to make internal sense-and the thing would have no reason, ever, to come to an end.

She said, "So you promised these people... immortality?"

"Of course."

"Literal immortality? Outliving the universe?"

Durham feigned innocence, but he was clearly savoring the shock he"d given her. "That"s what the word means. Not dying after a very long time. Just not dying, period."

Maria leaned back against the wall, arms folded, trying to cast aside the feeling that the whole conversation was as insubstantial as anything Durham had hallucinated in the Blacktown psychiatric ward. She thought: When Francesca"s been scanned I"m going to take a holiday. Visit Aden in Seoul, if I have to. Anything to get away from this city, this man.

She said, "Ideas like that are powerful things. One of these days you"re going to hurt someone."

Durham looked wounded himself, at that. He said, "All I"ve tried to do is be honest. I know: I lied to you, at first-and I"m sorry. I had no right to do that. But what was I supposed to do with the truth? Keep it locked up in my head? Hide it from the world? Give no one else the chance to believe, or disbelieve?" He fixed his eyes on her, calm and sane as ever; she looked away.

He said, "When I first came out of hospital, I wanted to publish everything. And I tried... but nobody reputable was interested-and publishing in the junk-science journals would have been nothing but an admission that it was all bullshit. So what else could I do, except look for private backers?"

Maria said, "I understand. Forget it. You"ve done what you thought you had to-I don"t blame you for that." The cliches nearly made her gag, but all she could think about was shutting him up. She was sick of being reminded that the ideas which were nothing but a means to an end, for her-the ideas she could turn her back on forever, in eight hours" time-were this man"s entire life.

He looked at her searchingly, as if genuinely seeking guidance. "If you"d believed everything I believe, would you have kept it all to yourself? Would you have lived out your life pretending to the world that you"d merely been insane?"

Maria was saved from answering by a beep from Durham"s terminal. The Garden-of-Eden configuration had been recomputed; Thomas Riemann"s snapshot was now built into their cellular automaton equivalent of the Big Bang.

Durham swung his chair around to face the screen. He said cheerfully, "All aboard the ship of fools!"

Maria took her place beside him. She reached over and tentatively touched his shoulder. Without looking at her, he reached up and squeezed her hand gently, then removed it.

Following a long cellular automaton tradition, the program which would bootstrap the TVC universe into existence was called FIAT. Durham hit a key, and a starburst icon appeared on both of their screens.

He turned to Maria. "You do the honors."

She was about to object, but then it didn"t seem worth arguing. She"d done half the work, but this was Durham"s creation, whoever cut the ribbon.

She prodded the icon; it exploded like a cheap flashy fire-work, leaving a pincushion of red and green trails glowing on the screen.

"Very tacky."

Durham grinned. "I thought you"d like it."

The decorative flourish faded, and a shimmering blue-white cube appeared: a representation of the TVC universe. The Garden-of-Eden state had contained a billion ready-made processors, a thousand along each edge of the cube-but that precise census was already out of date. Maria could just make out the individual machines, like tiny crystals; each speck comprised sixty million automaton cells-not counting the memory array, which stretched into the three extra dimensions, hidden in this view. The data preloaded into most of the processors was measured in terabytes: scan files, libraries, databases; the seed for Planet Lambert-and its sun, and its three barren sibling planets. Everything had been assembled, if not on one physical computer-the TVC automaton was probably spread over fif-teen or twenty processor clusters-at least as one logical whole. One pattern.

Durham reduced the clock rate until the blue-white shimmer slowed to a stroboscopic flickering, then a steady alternation of distinct colors. The outermost processors were building copies of themselves; in this view, blue coded for complete, working processors, and white coded for half-finished machines. Each layer of blue grew a layer of white, which abruptly turned blue, and so on. The skin of this universe came with instructions to build one more layer exactly like itself (including a copy of the same instructions), and then wait for further commands to be passed out from the hub.

Durham zoomed in by a factor of two hundred, slowed down the clock rate further, and then changed the representation to show individual automaton cells as color-coded symbols. The processors were transformed from featureless blue or white boxes into elaborate, multicolored, three-dimensional mazes, rectilinear filigree alive with sparks of light.

In the throes of reproduction, each processor could be seen sprouting hundreds of pairs of fine red and green "construction wires," which grew straight out into the surrounding empty space-until they all reached the same predetermined length, abruptly turned a tight one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, and then started growing back in the opposite direction. Glowing with elaborate moving striations, the wires zig-zagged back and forth between the surface of the mother computer and an unmarked boundary plane-until between them, they"d filled in the region completely, like some strange electronic silk weaving itself into a solid cocoon.

In close-up, the wires resolved into long lines of cells marked with arrowheads, some rendered in the brighter hues which represented "activated" states. Glowing stripes built from the binary code of bright and dim moved down the wire from arrow to arrow: the data of the blueprint for the daughter machine being shuffled out from the central memory.

With the clock rate slowed still further, the process could be followed in detail. Wherever a pulse of brightness reached the end of a construction wire, the transparent "Vacuum" of the null state was transformed into an "embryonic" cell, shown as a nondescript gray cube. Subsequent data told the new cell what to become-each pulse, or absence of a pulse, converting it into a slightly more specialized transition state, zeroing in on the particular final state required. The construction wires grew out from the mother computer using this principle, extending themselves by building more of themselves at their tips.

Having filled the entire region which the daughter machine would occupy, they then worked backward, retracting one step at a time; unweaving their zig-zag cocoon, and leaving behind whatever the blueprint required. The whole process looked grotesquely inefficient-far more time was spent on extending and retracting the wires themselves than on creating the cells of the daughter machine-but it kept the rules of the automaton as simple as possible.

Durham said, "This all looks fine to me. Okay to proceed?"

"Sure." Maria had grown mesmerized; she"d forgotten her urgency, forgotten herself. "Crank it up." At any speed where they could keep track of events at the level of individual processors-let alone individual cells-nothing useful would ever get done. Durham let the clock rate revert to the maximum they could afford, and the grid became a blur.

In contrast, the next stage would be painfully slow. Durham made coffee and sandwiches. All the overheads of running a Copy on a system of computers which was, itself, a simulation, addled up to a slowdown of about two hundred and fifty. More than four real-time minutes to a subjective second. There was no question of two-way communication-the TVC universe was hermetic, no data which hadn"t been present from the outset could affect it in any way-but they could still spy on what was happening. Every hour, they could witness another fourteen seconds of what the Copy of Durham had done.

Maria spot-checked at other levels, starting with the software running directly on the TVC grid. The "machine language" of the TVC computers was about as arcane and ridiculous as that of any hypothetical Turing machine, six-dimensional or not, but it had been simple enough to instruct a metaprogrammer to write-and rigorously validate-a program which allowed them to simulate conventional modern computers. So the processor clusters in Tokyo or Dallas or Seoul were simulating a cellular automaton containing a lattice of bizarre immaterial computers... which in turn were simulating the logic (if not the physics) of the processor clusters themselves. From there on up, everything happened in exactly the same way as it did on a real machine-only much more slowly.

Maria munched cheese and lettuce between thick slices of white bread. It was a Tuesday afternoon; most of the flats around them were silent, and the street below was lifeless. The neighboring office blocks had no tenants, just a few furtive squatters; where the sun penetrated the nearest building at just the right angle, Maria could see clothes hung out to dry on lines stretched between office partitions.

Durham put on music, a twentieth-century opera called Einstein on the Beach. He didn"t own a sound system, but he called up the piece from a library he"d bought for the Garden of Eden, and had a background task play it through his terminal"s speakers.

Maria asked, "What will you do with yourself when this is over?"

Durham replied without hesitation. "Finish the whole set of fifty experiments. Start Planet Lambert unfolding. Celebrate for about a week. Stroll down the main street of Permutation City. Wait for your little locking device to disengage. Wake up my passengers in their own private worlds-and hope that some of them are willing to talk to me, now and then. Start catching up on Dostoyevsky. In the original-"

"Yeah, very funny. I said you, not him."

"I"d like to think of us as inseparable."

"Seriously."

He shrugged. "What will you do?"

Maria put her empty plate down, and stretched. "Oh... sleep in until noon, for a week. Lie in bed wondering exactly how I"m going to break the news to my mother that she can now afford to be scanned-without making it sound like I"m telling her what to do."

"Perish the thought."

Maria said simply, "She"s dying. And she can save herself-without hurting anyone. Without stealing food from the mouths of the next generation, or whatever it is she thinks makes being scanned such a crime. Do you really think she-honestly-doesn"t want to stay alive? Or wouldn"t want to, if she could think it through clearly, without all the guilt and moralizing bullshit her generation saddled her with?"

Durham wasn"t taking sides. "I don"t know her, I can"t answer that."

"She was a child of the nineties. Her kindergarten teachers probably told her that the pinnacle of her existence would be fertilizing a rainforest when she died." Maria thought it over. "And the beauty of it is... she can still do that. Scan her, put her through a meat grinder... scatter the results over the Daintree."

"You"re a sick woman."

"I"ll have the money soon. I can afford to joke."

Their terminals chimed simultaneously; the first fourteen seconds of life inside were ready to be viewed. Maria felt the food she"d just swallowed harden into a lump like a closed fist in her gut. Durham told the program to proceed.

The Copy sat in a simple, stylized control room, surrounded by floating interface windows. One window showed a representation of a small part of the TVC lattice. The Copy couldn"t take the same God"s-eye view of the lattice as they had; the software they"d used could only function on a level right outside his universe. There was no simple way he could discover the state of any given automaton cell; instead, a system of construction and sensor wires (all joined to specialized processors) had been built around a small region in the center of the lattice. Durham had christened this apparatus "the Chamber." What went on deep inside the Chamber could be deduced, indirectly, from the data which ended up flowing down the sensor wires. It wasn"t as complicated as working out what had happened in a particle accelerator collision, based on the information registered by surrounding detectors-but the principle was the same, and so was the purpose. The Copy had to conduct experiments to test his own fundamental "laws of physics"-the TVC automaton"s rules. And the (simulated) modern computers running his VR environment had a (simulated) link to the Chamber, like the real-world computers linked to any real-world accelerator.

The Copy said, "Setting up the first experiment." He deftly typed a sequence of code letters on his keyboard. Durham had rehearsed the whole thing before his scan, until he could perform each of fifty experiments in ten seconds flat, but Maria was still astonished that the Copy-who had woken abruptly to find himself seated in the control room, without any preliminaries, any chance to grow accustomed to his identity, and his fate-had had the presence of mind to leap straight into the task. She"d entertained visions of this first version of Durham to wake inside a computer finally realizing that "the other twenty-three times" were nothing at all like the real experience-and telling his original about it in no uncertain terms. But there didn"t seem to be much chance of that; the Copy just sat there typing as if his life depended on it.

The experimental setups could have been automated. The checking of the results could have been automated, too. The Copy could have spent two minutes sitting and watching a flashing green sign which said everything is just what you would have expected, don"t worry about the messy details. There was no such thing as a set of perceptions for the Copy which could prove that he inhabited a cellular automaton which obeyed all the rules which he hoped were being obeyed. It was all down to Occam"s razor in the end-and hoping that the simplest explanation for perceiving a diplay showing the correct results was that the correct results were actually occurring.

Maria stared into the screen, over the Copy"s shoulder, at the interface window within. When he typed the last code letter, the assembly of cells he"d constructed in the Chamber became unstable and started creating new cells in the surrounding "vacuum," setting off a cascade which eventually impinged on the sensor wires. Disconcertingly, the Copy watched both a simulation-on his own terms-of what ought to be happening in the Chamber, and then a moment later a reconstruction of the "actual" events, based on the sensor data.

Both evidently matched the results of the simulations which the original Durham had committed to memory. The Copy clapped his hands together loudly in obvious jubilation, bellowed something incoherent, then said, "Setting up the sec-"

Maria was becoming giddy with all the levels of reality they were transecting-but she was determined to appear as blasé as ever. She said, "What did you do, wake him up with a brain full of amphetamines?"

Durham replied in the same spirit. "No, he"s high on life. If you"ve only got two minutes of it, you might as well enjoy it."

They waited, passing the time checking software more or less at random, displaying everything from firing patterns in the Copy"s model brain to statistics on the performance of the TVC computers. Intuitively, the elaborate hierarchy of simulations within simulations seemed vulnerable, unstable-every level multiplying the potential for disaster. But if the setup resembled a house of cards, it was a simulated house of cards: perfectly balanced in a universe free of vibrations and breezes. Maria was satisfied that the architecture at every level was flawless-so long as the level beneath held up. It would take a glitch in the real-world hardware to bring the whole thing tumbling down. That was rare, though not impossible.

They viewed the second installment of the Copy at work, then took a coffee break. Einstein on the Beach was still playing, repetitive and hypnotic. Maria couldn"t relax; she was too wired on caffeine and nervous energy. She was relieved that everything was running smoothly-no software problems, no Operation Butterfly, no sign of either version of Durham going weird on her. At the same time, there was something deeply unsettling about the prospect of the whole thing unwinding, exactly as predicted, for the next six hours-and then simply coming to an end. She"d have the money for Francesca, then, and that justified everything... but the absolute futility of what they were doing still kept striking her anew-in between bouts of worrying over such absurdities as whether or not she could have made a better job of A. hydrophila"s response to dehydration. Durham would let her publish all the Autoverse work, so that hadn"t been a complete waste of time-and she could keep on refining it for as long as she liked before unleashing it on the skeptics... but she could already imagine the-bizarre-regret she"d feel because the improvements had come too late to be incorporated into the "genuine" Planet Lambert: the one they were currently flushing down a multi-million-dollar drain.

She said, "It"s a pity none of your passengers" originals have bodies. Having paid for all this, they should be here, watching."

Durham agreed. "Some of them may be here in spirit; I"ve granted them all the same viewing access to the simulation that we have. And their auditors will receive a verified log of everything-proof that they got what they paid for. But you"re right. This isn"t much of a celebration; you should be clinking glasses and sharing caviar with the others."

She laughed, offended. "Others? I"m not one of your victims-I"m just the confidence artist"s accomplice, remember? And I"m not here to celebrate; I"m only here to make sure your doppelgänger doesn"t hot-wire the software and wake me up."

Durham was amused. "Why would he try to wake you so soon? Do you think he"s going to become unbearably lonely in the space of two minutes?"

"I have no idea what he might do, or why. That"s the whole problem. He"s just as fucked up as you are."

Durham said nothing. Maria wished she could take back the words. What was the point of needling him and mocking him, again and again-did she think she could ever bring him down to Earth? It was all a matter of pride; she couldn"t let a second go by without reminding him that she hadn"t been seduced by his ideas. Computer junkie, artificial life freak; she still had her feet planted firmly in the real world. His vision of an Autoverse biosphere had impressed her-when she"d thought he"d understood that it could never be anything but a thought experiment. And all the work he"d done on the TVC universe was ingenious-however ultimately pointless it was. In a way, she even admired his stubborn refusal to give in to common sense and accept his delusions for what they were.

She just couldn"t bear the thought that he harbored the faintest hope that he"d persuaded her to take the "dust hypothesis" seriously. + + +

At three minutes past ten, the money ran out-all but enough to pay for the final tidying-up. The TVC automaton was shut down between clock ticks; the processors and memory which had been allocated to the massive simulation were freed for other users-the memory, as always, wiped to uniform zeroes first for the sake of security. The whole elaborate structure was dissolved in a matter of nanoseconds.

Night had turned the windows of the flat to mirrors. No lights showed in the empty office towers; if there"d been cooking fires from the squatters, they"d been extinguished long ago. Maria felt disconnected, adrift in time; the trip north across the harbor bridge in sunlight seemed like a distant memory, a dream.

The individual components of the Garden of Eden were still held in mass storage. Maria deleted her scan file, carefully checking the audit records to be sure that the data hadn"t been read more often than it should have been. The numbers checked out; that was no guarantee, but it was reassuring.

Durham deleted everything else.

The recordings of the spy software remained, and they viewed the last brief scene of the Copy at work-and then replayed the whole two-minute recording.

Maria watched with a growing sense of shame. The individual fragments had barely affected her, but viewed without interruption, the Copy took on the air of a deranged sect leader driving a bus full of frozen billionaires straight toward the edge of a cliff-accelerating euphorically in the sure and certain knowledge that the thing would fly, carrying them all off into a land beyond the sunset. She clung to her rationalizations: the Copy"s limited separate identity, his joyful demise.

When the replay stopped in mid-experiment, Durham closed his eyes and let his head hang forward. He wept silently. Maria looked away.

He said, "I"m sorry. I"m embarrassing you."

She turned back to him; he was smiling, and sniffling. She wanted to embrace him; the urge was half sisterly, half sexual. He was pale and unshaven, obviously drained-but there was more life in his eyes than ever, as if the fulfilment of his obsession had liberated him from his past so completely that he faced the world now like a newborn child.

He said, "Champagne?"

Maria hardened her heart. She still had no reason to trust him. She said, "Let me check my bank balance first; I might not have anything to celebrate." Durham giggled, as if the very idea that he might have cheated her was preposterous. She ignored him, and used the terminal. The six hundred thousand dollars he"d promised had been deposited.

She stared at the digits on the screen for a while, numb with the strange truth that the simple pattern of data they represented, sanctified as "wealth," could travel out into the living, breathing, decaying world... and return, enriched beyond measure: imprinted with everything which made Francesca human.

She said, "One glass. I"m cycling." + + +

They emptied the bottle. Durham paced around the flat, growing increasingly hyperactive. "Twenty-three Copies! Twenty-three lives! Imagine how my successor must be feeling, right now! He has the proof, he knows he was right. All I have is the knowledge that I gave him that chance-and even that"s too much to bear." He wept again, stopped abruptly. He turned and gazed at Maria imploringly. "I did it all to myself, but it was still madness, still torture. Do you think I knew, when I started out, how much pain and confusion there"d be? Do you think I knew what it would do to me? I should have listened to Elizabeth-but there is no Elizabeth here. I"m not alive. Do you think I"m alive! If a Copy"s not human, what am I? Twenty-three times removed?"

Maria tried to let it wash over her. She couldn"t feel simple compassion-she was too tainted, too culpable-so she tried to feel nothing at all. Durham had systematically pursued his beliefs as far as they could take him; he"d either be cured by that, or ready for another round of nanosurgery. Nothing she could do now would make any difference. She started to tell herself that by helping with the project-without ever conceding its premise-she might have helped him exorcize his delusions... but that wasn"t the point. She"d done it all for the money. For Francesca. And for herself. To spare herself the pain of Francesca dying. How dare the woman think of refusing? Copies, like funerals, were for the benefit of the survivors.

Durham suddenly went quiet. He sat down beside her, disheveled and contrite; she wasn"t sure if he"d become sober, or just moved on to a new phase. It was half past two; the opera had finished playing hours ago, the flat was silent.

He said, "I"ve been ranting. I"m sorry."

The two swivel chairs they"d been sitting on all day were the only furniture in the room besides the table; there was no sofa she could sleep on, and the floor looked cold and hard. Maria thought about heading home; she could catch a train, and collect her cycle later.

She stood; then, barely thinking about it, leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.

She said, "Goodbye."

Before she could straighten up, he put a hand on her cheek. His fingers were cool. She hesitated, then kissed him on the mouth-then almost recoiled, angry with herself. I feel guilty, I feel sorry for him, I only want to make up for that somehow. Then he met her eyes. He wasn"t drunk any more. She believed he understood everything she was feeling-the whole knot of confusion and shame-and all he wanted to do was smooth it away.

They kissed again. She was sure.

They undressed each other on the way to the bedroom. He said, "Tell me what you want, tell me what you like. I haven"t done this for a long time."

"How long?"

"Several lives ago."

He was skilled with his tongue, and persistent. She almost came-but before it could happen, everything broke down into isolated sensations: pleasant but meaningless, faintly absurd. She closed her eyes and willed it, but it was like trying to cry for no reason. When she pushed him gently away, he didn"t complain, or apologize, or ask stupid questions; she appreciated that.

They rested, and she explored his body. He was probably the oldest man she"d ever seen naked; certainly the oldest she"d ever touched. Fifty. He was... loose, rather than flabby; muscle had wasted rather than turned to fat. It was almost impossible to imagine Aden-twenty-four years old, and hard as a statue-ever succumbing to the same process. But he would. And her own body had already begun.

She slithered around and took his penis in her mouth, trying to psych herself past the comic strangeness of the act, trying to grow drunk on the stench of it, working with her tongue and teeth until he begged her to stop. They rearranged their bodies clumsily so they were side by side; he entered her and came at once. He cried out, bellowing in obvious pain, not histrionic delight. He gritted his teeth and turned ashen as he withdrew; she held his shoulders until he could explain. "My... left testicle went into spasm. It just... happens sometimes. It feels like it"s being crushed in a vise." He laughed and blinked away the tears. She kissed him and ran a finger around his groin.

"That"s awful. Does it still hurt?"

"Yes. Don"t stop."

Afterward, she found she didn"t want to touch him; his skin turned clammy as their sweat dried, and when he seemed to fall asleep, she disentangled herself from his embrace and shifted to the edge of the bed.

She didn"t know what she"d done: complicated everything, set herself up for yet another stage in their convoluted relationship-or simply marked the end of it, bidden him farewell? An hour of disastrous sex hadn"t resolved anything: she still felt guilty for taking the money, "taking advantage" of him.

What would she do, if he wanted to see her again? She couldn"t face the prospect of spending the next six months listening to him fantasize about the grand future which lay ahead for his homemade universe. She"d taken some pride in the fact that she"d never once humored him, never pretended for a moment to have accepted his theories-and she"d never met a nominally sane person who could disagree with her so graciously. But there"d be something dishonest about trying to forge a lasting friendship between them, in the face of her skepticism. And if she ever succeeded in disillusioning him... she"d probably feel guilty about that, as well.

The long day was catching up with her, it was too hard to think it through. Decisions would have to wait until morning.

Light from the kitchen spilled through the doorway onto her face; she called out softly to the house controller, to no effect, so she got up and switched off the light manually. She heard Durham stir as she felt her way back into the room. She paused in the doorway, suddenly reluctant to approach him.

He said, "I don"t know what you think, but I didn"t plan this."

She laughed. What did he think he"d done? Seduced her? "Neither did I. All I ever wanted from you was your money."

He was silent for a moment, but she could see his eyes and teeth flashing in the dark, and he seemed to be smiling.

He said, "That"s all right. All I wanted from you was your soul."
<dd><br><dd>20 <dd><br><dd>(Can"t you time trip?)

Resting between descents, Peer looked up and finally realized what had been puzzling him. The clouds above the skyscraper were motionless; not merely stationary with respect to the ground, but frozen in every detail. The wispiest tendrils at the edges, presumably vulnerable to the slightest breeze, remained undisturbed for as long as he studied them. The shape of every cloud seemed flawlessly natural-but all the dynamism implicit in the wind-wrought forms, compelling at a glance, was pure illusion. Nothing in the sky was changing.

For a moment, he was simply bemused by this whimsical detail. Then he remembered why he"d chosen it.

Kate had vanished. She"d lied; she hadn"t cloned herself at all. She"d moved to Carter"s city, leaving no other version behind.

Leaving him-or half of him-alone.

The revelation didn"t bother him. On the skyscraper, nothing ever did. He clung to the wall, recuperating happily, and marveled at what he"d done to heal the pain. Back in cloud time, before he"d always been descending.

He"d set up the environment as usual-the city, the sky, the building-but frozen the clouds, as much to simplify things as to serve as a convenient reminder.

Then he"d mapped out a series of cues for memory and mood changes over fifteen subjective minutes. He"d merely sketched the progression, like a naive musician humming a melody to a transcriber; the software he"d used had computed the actual sequence of brain states. Moment would follow moment "naturally"; his model-of-a-brain would not be forced to do anything, but would simply follow its internal logic. By fine-tuning that logic in advance and loading the right memories, the desired sequence of mental events would unfold: from A to B to C to... A.

Peer looked over his shoulder at the ground, which never grew closer, and smiled. He"d dreamed of doing this before, but he"d never had the courage. Losing Kate forever-while knowing that he was with her-must have finally persuaded him that he had nothing to gain by putting it off any longer.

The scheme wouldn"t slip his mind completely-he could vaguely remember experiencing exactly the same revelation several times before-but his short-term memory had been selectively impaired to limit the clarity of this recursive false history, and once he was distracted, a series of free associations would eventually lead him back to exactly the state of mind he"d been in at the cycle"s beginning. His body-with respect to every visible cue in the environment-would also be back where it had started. The ground and sky were static, and every story of the building was identical, so his perceptions would be the same. And every muscle and joint in his body would have recovered perfectly, as always.

Peer laughed at his cloud-self"s ingenuity, and started to descend again. It was an elegant situation, and he was glad he"d finally had a cloud-reason to make it happen.

There was one detail, though, which he couldn"t focus on, one choice he"d made back in cloud time which he seemed to have decided to obscure from himself completely.

Had he programmed his exoself to let him run through the cycle a predetermined number of times? ABCABCABC... and then some great booming DBF breaking through the sky like the fist of God-or a tendril of cumulus actually moving-putting an end to his perpetual motion? A grappling hook could tear him from the side of the building, or some subtle change in the environment could nudge his thoughts out of their perfectly circular orbit. Either way, experiencing one uninterrupted cycle would be the same as experiencing a thousand, so if there was an alarm clock ticking away at all, his next cycle-subjectively-would be the one when the buzzer went off.

And if there was no clock? He might have left his fate in external hands. A chance communication from another Copy, or some event in the world itself, could be the trigger which would release him.

Or he might have chosen absolute solipsism. Grinding through the cycle whatever else happened, until his executor embezzled his estate, terrorists nuked the supercomputers, civilization crumbled, the sun went out.

Peer stopped and shook his head to flick sweat out of his eyes. The sense of déjá vu the action triggered was, presumably, purely synthetic; it told him nothing about the number of times he"d actually repeated the gesture. It suddenly struck him as unlikely that he"d done anything as inelegant as running the cycle more than once. His subjective time closed up in a loop, rolled in on itself; there was no need to follow the last moment with an external repetition of the first. Whatever happened-externally-"afterward," the loop was subjectively seamless and complete. He could have shut himself down completely, after computing a single cycle, and it would have made no difference.

The breeze picked up, cooling his skin. Peer had never felt so tranquil; so physically at ease, so mentally at peace. Losing Kate must have been traumatic, but he"d put that behind him. Once and for ever.

He continued his descent.
<dd><br><dd>21 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>JUNE 2051

Maria woke from a dream of giving birth. A midwife had urged her, "Keep pushing! Keep pushing!" She"d screamed through gritted teeth, but done as she was told. The "child" had turned out to be nothing but a blood-stained statue, carved from smooth, dark wood.

Her head was throbbing. The room was in darkness. She"d taken off her wristwatch, but she doubted that she"d been asleep for long; if she had, the bed would have seemed unfamiliar, she would have needed time to remember where she was, and why. Instead, the night"s events had come back to her instantly. It was long after midnight, but it wasn"t a new day yet.

She sensed Durham"s absence before reaching across the bed to confirm it, then she lay still for a while and listened. All she heard was distant coughing, coming from another flat. No lights were on; she would have seen the spill.

The smell hit her as she stepped out of the bedroom. Shit and vomit, with a sickly sweet edge. She had visions of Durham reacting badly to a day of stress and a night of champagne, and she almost turned around and went back to the bedroom, to open the window and bury her face in a pillow.

The bathroom door was half-closed, but there were no sound effects suggesting that he was still in there; not a moan. Her eyes began to water. She couldn"t quite believe that she"d slept through all the noise.

She called out, "Paul? Are you all right?" There was no reply. If he was lying unconscious in a pool of vomit, alcohol had nothing to do with it; he had to be seriously ill. Food poisoning? She pushed open the door and turned on the light.

He was in the shower recess. She backed out of the room quickly, but details kept registering long after she"d retreated. Coils of intestine. Bloodred shit. He looked like he"d been kneeling, and then sprawled sideways. At first, she was certain that she"d seen the knife, red against the white tiles-but then she wondered if in fact she"d seen nothing but the Rorschach blot of a random blood stain.

Maria"s legs started to give way. She made it to one of the chairs. She sat there, light-headed, fighting to remain conscious; she"d never fainted in her life, but for a time it was all she could do to keep herself from blacking out.

The first thing she felt clearly was a sense of astonishment at her own stupidity, as if she"d just marched, with her eyes wide open, straight into a brick wall. Durham had believed that his Copy had achieved immortality-and proved the dust hypothesis. The whole purpose of his own life had been fulfilled by the project"s completion. What had she expected him to do, after that? Carry on selling insurance?

It was Durham she"d heard screaming through gritted teeth, shaping her dream.

And it was Durham who"d kept pushing, Durham who looked like he"d tried to give birth.

She called for an ambulance. "He"s cut his abdomen open with a knife. The wound is very deep. I didn"t look closely, but I think he"s dead." She found that she could speak calmly to the emergency services switchboard puppet; if she"d had to say the same things to a human being, she knew she would have fallen apart.

When she hung up, her teeth started chattering, and she kept emitting brief sounds of distress which didn"t seem to belong to her. She wanted to get dressed before the ambulance and police arrived, but she didn"t have the strength to move-and the thought of even caring if she was discovered naked began to seem petty beyond belief. Then something broke through her paralysis, and she rose to her feet and staggered around the room, picking up the clothes they"d scattered on the floor just hours before.

She found herself fully dressed, slumped in a corner of the living room, reciting a litany of excuses in her head. She"d never humored him. She"d argued against his insane beliefs at every opportunity. How could she have saved him? By walking out on the project? That would have changed nothing. By trying to get him committed? His doctors had already pronounced him cured.

The worst thing she"d done was stand by and let him shut down his own Copy.

And there was still a chance-

She sprang to her feet, rushed over to the nearest terminal, and logged back on to the project"s JSN account.

But Durham"s scan file was gone, deleted as meticulously, as irreversibly, as her own. The audit records showed no sign that the data had been preserved elsewhere; like her own file, it had even been flagged explicitly for exclusion from the JSN"s automatic hourly backups. The only place the data had been reproduced had been inside the Garden-of-Eden configuration itself-and every trace of that structure had been obliterated.

She sat at the terminal, replaying the file which showed Durham"s Copy conducting his experiments: testing the laws of his universe, rushing joyfully toward... what? The unheralded, inexplicable annihilation of everything he was in the process of establishing as the basis for his own existence?

And now his corpse lay in the bathroom, dead by his own hands, on his own terms; victim of his own seamless logic.

Maria buried her face in her hands. She wanted to believe that the two deaths were not the same. She wanted to believe that Durham had been right, all along. What had the JSN computers in Tokyo and Seoul meant to the Copy? No experiment performed within the TVC universe could ever have proved or disproved the existence of those machines. They were as irrelevant-to him-as Francesca"s ludicrous God Who Makes No Difference.

So how could they have destroyed him? How could he be dead?

There were quick, heavy footsteps outside, then a pounding on the door. Maria went to open it.

She wanted to believe, but she couldn"t.
<dd><br><dd>22 <dd><br><dd>(Remit not paucity) <dd><br><dd>JUNE 2051

Thomas prepared himself to witness a death.

The flesh-and-blood Riemann was the man who"d killed Anna-not the Copy who"d inherited the killer"s memories. And the flesh-and-blood Riemann should have had the opportunity to reflect on that, before dying. He should have had a chance to accept his guilt, to accept his mortality. And to absolve his successor.

That hadn"t been allowed to happen.

But it wasn"t too late, even now. A software clone could still do it for him-believing itself to be flesh and blood. Revealing what the mortal, human self would have done, if only it had known that it was dying.

Thomas had found a suitable picture in a photo album-old chemical hardcopy images which he"d had digitized and restored soon after the onset of his final illness. Christmas, 1985: his mother, his father, his sister Karin and himself, gathered outside the family home, dazzled by the winter sunshine. Karin, gentle and shy, had died of lymphoma before the turn of the century. His parents had both survived into their nineties, showing every sign of achieving immortality by sheer force of will-but they"d died before scanning technology was perfected, having scorned Thomas"s suggestion of cryonic preservation. "I have no intention," his father had explained curtly, "of doing to myself what nouveau riche Americans have done to their pets." The young man in the photograph didn"t look much like the image Thomas would have conjured up by closing his eyes and struggling to remember-but the expression on his face, captured in transition from haunted to smug, rang true. Half afraid that the camera would reveal his secret; half daring it to try.

Thomas had kept copies of his deathbed scan file-off-line, in vaults in Geneva and New York-with no explicit purpose in mind, other than the vaguest notion that if something went irreparably wrong with his model, and the source of the prolem-a slow virus, a subtle programming error-rendered all of his snapshots suspect, starting life again with no memories since 2045 would be better than nothing.

Having assembled the necessary elements, he"d scripted the whole scenario in advance and let it run-without observing the results. Then he"d frozen the clone and sent it to Durham at the last possible moment-without giving himself a chance to back out, or, worse, to decide that he"d botched the first attempt, and to try again.

Now he was ready to discover what he"d done, to view the fait accompli. Seated in the library-with the drinks cabinet locked-he gestured to the terminal to begin.

The old man in the bed looked much worse than Thomas had expected: sunken-eyed, jaundiced and nearly bald. (So much for the honesty of his own appearance, the "minimal" changes he"d made to render himself presentable.) His chest was furrowed with scars, criss-crossed by a grid of electrodes; his skull was capped with a similar mesh. A pump suspended beside the bed fed a needle in his right arm. The clone was sedated by a crudely modeled synthetic opiate flowing into his crudely modeled bloodstream, just as Thomas"s original had been sedated by the real thing, from the time of the scan until his death three days later.

In this replay, though, the narcotic was scheduled to undergo a sudden drop in concentration-for no physically plausible reason, but none was required. A graph in a corner of the screen plotted the decline.

Thomas watched, sick with anxiety, feverish with hope. This-at last-was the ritual which he"d always believed might have cured him.

The old man attained consciousness, without opening his eyes; the EEG waveforms meant nothing to Thomas, but the software monitoring the simulation had flagged the event with a subtitle. Further text followed: 

The anesthetic still hasn"t taken. Can"t they get anything right? [Garbled verbalization.] The scan can"t be over. I can"t be the Copy yet. The Copy will wake with a clear head, seated in the library, premodified to feel no disorientation. So why am I awake?
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