Introductions in Weirdtopia
I woke up — not in a hospital bed with no memory of how I got there… but in what looked like a courtroom. With no memory of how I got there. After a quick appraisal of certain immediate matters, I asked the people around me the most pertinent question that came to mind: “Why am I waking up as a tiny skeleton made of blue metal with a long tail?”
The human sitting at the table I was sitting on, wearing a plaid button-up shirt, said, “For the skeletal rat part, between what I had handy, and what I could afford, it was the best I could get in the time I had, with full senses and a decent mind-motor interface. For the you part, my computer said you’d be able to adapt fastest. For the waking part, well, you died, got vitrified, and I’m in some ratings trouble because of some differences between the obligations I’ve got to revive people frozen the way you were, and certain other debts I owe. I had to do a fast dice-and-read of all your brains before the storage facility got repossessed, and we’re here to deal with some issues based around you, well, existing.”
“I suppose,” I said, spending only a half-second trying to figure out how I was speaking without a tongue before rolling with it and concentrating on more significant matters, “there are worse ways to wake up. What are the stakes here?”
“You want to prove you’re a person, first, that you’ve got rights. Then-”
“All rise,” interrupted a Bull Shannon bald-a-like. “BosWash Metro Court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Fatima Ma presiding.” As I figured out how to balance my oddly-weighted quadrupedal body on my hind-limbs, a very dark-skinned woman, wearing a black t-shirt and jean-shorts, sat at the judge’s bench. “Be seated.”
“You,” she pointed at the guy I’d been talking to. “You the cryo-nut?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He seemed to be taking the informality in stride.
“You,” she pointed at me. “You the formerly dead cryo-nut?”
“So I’m told, ma’am,” I said, trying to be as accurate as I could and following along with whatever social conventions were in play.
“I like the bony look. Very memento mori.”
“Thank you, I think; I wish I’d had a choice in it, though. Ma’am.”
“Waitwaitwait.” The guy near me facepalmed for some reason as the judge continued. “You didn’t want to be a robo-rat?”
“It… wouldn’t have been my first choice, ma’am.”
She glared at the guy, who withered under her gaze. “Explain,” she demanded.
“Well, ma’am, a better body was supposed to have been delivered here, before you got here, but I needed at least one of them awake before you started, so…”
“So you took one of your dead guys and — wait,” she turned back to me. “How long’ve you been awake?”
“About two minutes, ma’am, not counting the years I was a regular human.”
“Well, fuck,” said Judge Ma, shaking her head. “You,” she pointed at the guy. “Jail. Thirty days, for the obvious. You’ve got that long to work up a better defense for the real trial. You,” she pointed at me. “Halfway house. Get an immigration caseworker and get yourself sorted. Welcome to the future, blah blah blah, good luck, you’ll need it.”
As she started to stand, apparantly finishing off whatever had just been going on, I decided it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask, “Um, ma’am — one quick question. How soon do you think I can get a proper body?”
She leaned against the side of the judicial bench. “Got some bad news for you. And some non-binding legal commentary. While you were pushing daisy icicles, the rest of us had all sorts of problems, and had to work out some compromises to keep living. You get yourself a different body, or even change what you’ve got too much, and you’re a different person. You wouldn’t believe the forms I had to fill out just to get my piercings. My advice? Stick with what you’ve got — you’ve got a loophole, having been dead during the paper-wars, which you’ll be able to squeeze for a lot. You go for anything else, and among other troubles, law says you’ll have to wear diapers the first few years, whether you need ’em or not, so folk know you’re re-born.”
“Seriously? Embarrassing sumptuary laws are worse than being… this?”
“Go ahead, ignore the woman who’s spent decades learning the ins and outs of these things giving you a hint about what’s in your best interests. Anyway, these laws are fucking stupid and it sucks getting caught in them, but at this point, changing it would mean changing the constitution, and opening that can of worms risks a whole lot of other barely-functioning things stopping functioning altogether, and there’s damned few willing to risk that for the sake of a couple of old dead dudes. Now go on, I’ve gotta do my entrance schtick for the next case. Or stay and watch, as long as you clear the table for the next defendant.”
“Er, go on where? I can’t even see any doors from here.”
“Bailiff, man needs some help finding a door. Be a dear?”
I tried not to flinch as his hand, which was larger than all of me save my tail, picked me up, carried me between some half-filled pews, out the courtroom’s back door, and carefully set me on the floor.
Whereupon a fairly literal cloud of journalists — or at least flying cameras — descended upon me.
Waking in Weirdtopia
“Hello? You’re awake? Good. The bad news: Yes, you’re in a hospital bed. Yes, you died. The good news: Yes, you were cryonically preserved, according to your wishes, and yes, you’ve been basically brought back from the dead. I’m afraid that further explanations are going to be a tad complicated.”
The individual doing the speaking appears to be a rat’s skeleton made out of blue metal, seated on its hind legs on a table to your left.
“Probably most important to you,” it continues, “your mind and identity. And I’ve got some more bad news. Digital uploading. Nobody’s bothered figuring out how to bring people preserved the way we were back to life, so it was either destructively scan your brain, or because of various external factors I’ll get to in a bit, allow you to die permanently. The organization with responsibility for you at the time went for scanning. … Oh, yes, I’m a revival, myself. … I’ll get to my body in a minute, when I talk about yours.
“Where was I… right. Well, more bad news is that your perfusion didn’t go so well, and there was ischemic damage leading to a certain amount of unrecoverable loss of data. With the best algorithms, about six percent of your neurons had to be basically constructed from scratch. Some people think that’s enough to make you a different person, and so not worth ‘reviving’,” it makes little air-quotes with its skeletal paws, “but I’m, um, call it the equivalent of being on the board of directors of the current successor organization, and I made the choice to bring you back anyway. If you feel I erred, you do have the option of suiciding, but I’d really recommend waiting at least until I finish this spiel, and even better after you start learning about The Future. Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t want you to die at all, but I also don’t want you to feel like you’re trapped in some sort of dystopia. Anyway — six percent. You’re the worst-off person we’ve revived yet, and we’re hoping to pick up a few more details from you to help us with the next one. I can get you a booklet with all the details, but all you have to worry about is having lost some memories and skills — the algorithms are good enough at rebuilding minds that you don’t have to worry about any sort of craziness you didn’t start with.
“As for your body… well. The economics of The Future are as crazy as some of their other notions, but in twentieth-century terms, we’re just about bankrupt. I was revived not too long ago, because the data indicated I had a more flexible body-image and could more easily adapt to this silly rat-skeleton-thing, which costs a lot less than your humanoid body. Now, people of this era have some oddball notions about bodily integrity and identity — they have to fill out forms just to get a piercing — but we manage to fall through some medical loopholes, having been dead at the time certain legislation was passed. So you’re still legally you. If you want to buy yourself a new chassis, you’ll have the option, either by saving up yourself or convincing sponsors to pay for you, but you’d legally become a new person, with a host of new issues to deal with, from having to wait another eighteen years before you can vote, to mandated educational minimums, to, and I can’t believe this myself, sumptuary laws requiring you to wear diapers the first few years to indicate your status. That’s all why I’ve been sticking with this cheap body I was stuck in. On the plus side, for the part of the economy that deals in dollars, there’s something like a Basic Guaranteed Income, so you aren’t going to have to worry about how to pay for the necessities.
“Now. There’s a sort of secondary economy, based on reputation, computer algorithms, and ways to demonstrate trustworthiness. The rather small organization that’s inherited the people cryopreserved in primitive ways has been relying on that secondary economy to cover its lack of cash inflow. And the numbers have been steadily declining. For… complicated math reasons, which I’ll admit even I haven’t gotten a good hold of, we have exactly enough resources to revive every mind we’re entrusted with, but we can’t really wait for better reconstruction algorithms or databases to be developed. But there’s ‘revived’, and then there’s ‘revived’ — giving everyone a chassis that can pass for human, like yours, is more expensive than we have the resources for. Some of us revivees are working our tails off, trying to put together enough cash to pay for upgraded chassises for everyone left, so they don’t have to put up with doorknobs being a few body-lengths above their heads or other problems like that. And we’re going to come across some further problems, as we bring back people whose brains were in worse conditions. You’re a free person — you can walk out that door and never look back — but a good part of this secondary economy involves various kinds of mutual-assistance groups, and you could do worse than bootstrap your reputation numbers by helping us help the others. And, of course, we’re willing to help you in other ways, too. And we’ve got a better idea than most about what sorts of things you need help adjusting to, like that most everyone seems to have given up almost every notion of what we consider ‘privacy’, and those of us who spend second-economy resources to get a few moments of it are considered a bit odd. Which reminds me, there’ll be some flying reporter-robots waiting for you when you leave — you’ll want some clothes before then, right?”
Life and Voyages in Weirdtopia
The society of The Future may have citizens of body-shapes ranging from natural-looking coyotes to ostrich-taurs, but the majority of the infrastructure is still based around a default body-plan that’s at least roughly humanoid. While accommodations similar to present-day disability access are fairly universal, that still doesn’t help when a door-knob is several body-lengths above your head, or you’re at a flea-market where all the tables are similarly difficult to access.
Fortunately, The Future also has all sorts of useful infrastructure working invisibly in the background, using algorithms that make Amazon’s “If you liked X, you might like…” look like “Hello world”. Even before my rat-skeleton-robot-embodied self even knew what he wanted himself, predictive algorithms had already placed an order to take a used maid-bot that had just been put up for sale, have it customized, and brought to a delivery node just out of sight; so that as soon as I started realizing I could use such a device, it was already walking towards me, ready for me to move in.
After that moment, I customized my living space to a degree — some Christmas lights, a rat-sized TV (otherwise known as a smartphone) to watch from a comfy little hammock, a bit of a workspace, and the like.
Shopping in Weirdtopia
While waiting for some bureaucratic processes to process, I decide to increase my knowledge of what I can spend my apparently minuscule stipend on by leaving my one-bedroom apartment (that’s all it is, one bedroom — it’s not like I need a bathroom or kitchen) and using public transport to visit a local indoor flea market. I have a few things I definitely want to buy for myself, even used, if I can find them: spare parts for my rat-bot chassis, electronic hardware pieces that I can use to try to build an adaptor to let me use the micro-USB port on the bottom of my skull for more than just recharging without risking malware infections, maybe some scraps of cloth to try to sew into doll-sized-but-rat-shaped outfits. (Sure, nudity is perfectly legal, and it’s not like I have any anatomy I care about hiding, but there are several useful psychological tricks I can use based around whether I’m wearing a sharply-tailored suit versus a more casual outfit.)
After running a few numbers, using the cellphone my caseworker, Jerome, arranged for me as a calculator, I also want to see how hard it would be for me to build myself a parachute without any of the nigh-omnipresent flying cameras gathering the data required to figure out that I’m building any such thing for myself. Sure, my chassis may be built of a wunder-material that’s less likely to break than anything from my pre-death time — but I’m tiny and easy to be swept or blown off a high balcony, and ‘less likely to break’ doesn’t mean my CPU would survive a multi-story fall. And if I can make myself a parachute… then given the wunder-batteries and wunder-motors used by all those flying cameras, and since I’m so small and lightweight, I just might be able to build myself a powered paraglider to join them in the air. Of course, that depends on whether the parts for any such thing are within my price range.
Nobody seems to be batting their eyes at the old maid-bot being piloted by a rat-bot looking out through her eyes. That’s probably because, at least by the standards I’m used to, I’m one of the less interesting beings walking around BosWash. (Speaking of which, I should look into whether any loopholes exist in the conversion between the governments that were around when I was a Canadian citizen and the system in place now. Having been dead at the time, it’s possible that I could argue in a court that I wasn’t covered by some piece of legislation, thus making me ‘the last Canadian’, thus giving me an extra card in my hand to negotiate a better deal for myself with.)
I’ve already picked up a few bits and bobs and stuffed them in the RV-bot’s workshop/cargo area, behind where most humanoids have a belly, when I come to the bookseller’s stall, and hit the brakes.
The stall is big enough to have a couple of aisles, with shelves reach up higher than the RV-bot’s arms can stretch, and if my face was built to be capable of performing a fond smile, I would. (I make a note to see about updating the RV-bot’s face and controls, so I could, say, push some emoticon buttons from the head-cockpit and have the appropriate emotional signals shown to whoever’s looking.) I carefully pilot my way into the libro-canyons, practicing the controls that let me look higher and lower at the various themes that are on offer, some familiar — including some specific editions I’ve seen before, apparently Xanth never went out of style — some less so. The guy running the stall is seated behind a glass case, containing racks of what, for him, are probably antique e-book readers of various levels of complexity and of various degrees of being merged into super-duper-genius smart-phones.
He asks if there’s anything in particular I’m looking for, I mention my lack of space to store books that are bigger than I am and my wish that I hadn’t lost my digital library while I was dead. He seems curious about certain of the details of my status. “So, let me get this straight. You had the legal right to format-shift any books you owned into digital form, you could even burn the physical copies and keep the digital ones, and there was no way for anyone else to keep track of which ones you owned?”
“Yep. I tried to make arrangements for my stuff to be preserved when I died, but that seems to have fallen through at some point while I was dead. I’d be happy to rebuild my old library — except, well, I’m still looking for a few basics, like useful employment to get enough cash for more than the essentials.”
“A job, hm? Hm… tell you what, how about I hire you to run this place while I get some lunch? I think I can get you something worth your time on my way back.”
I would have been happy enough to do it for free — people-watching (for a very generous definition of ‘people’) was as much a part of why I was out and about as getting anything done — so after a quick back-and-forth about responsibilities and how hard to haggle and similar stuff (most of which was advising any customers the owner would be back shortly), I took over the stall for half an hour. During which I practice using the controls for the RV-bot’s arms to flip pages on some mid-20th-century scifi magazines that had fallen prey to heavy zeerust. And a moderate bit of foxing.
The bookseller returns, we swap places again, and he slides across the glass case what I can recognize as The Future’s version of a micro-SD card, along with one of the almost-a-genius-phone e-readers. “Here you go — when you read it in private, I’m sure you’ll think this is fair return, and come by if you have any questions.”
After some further pleasantries, I resume my driving through the market, picking up a few other things with a high-interest/low-cost ratio, and head back to my apartment to start fiddling with my new possessions.
As it turns out, what the bookseller gave me on that memory chip was, well, everything from before I died. Every book and magazine published. Every TV show and movie broadcast. Every radio program. Heck, every painting and wax cylinder and patent and a few stranger things. Plus Future-level software to sort and skim through the whole thing.
What was also on the memory stick was a short text file, asking that I demonstrate my competence at privacy and plausible deniability by keeping the source of where I got this data to myself, and preferably to not even let anyone know I had said data at all, unless I trusted them enough for them to keep a similar level of discretion. And promising that should I demonstrate a proper combination of responsibility and thoughtfulness, then soon enough I’d be able to leave probationary status and gain access to a better selection of material.
Phrased another way, I’d just been invited to join The Future’s version of a 1337 warez group.
Education in Weirdtopia
My caseworker, Jerome, was considerate enough to express his desire to meet through a medium I was familiar and comfortable with — email — instead of any of the more recent variations on instant messaging. I’d actually died some time after the creation of IRC, AIM, and later such protocols, but some other cryonicists hadn’t, and since I found asynchronous forms of communication less stressful than conversations demanding instant responses, I was willing to ride along with the habits he’d developed to handle other people. Even when I was using such forms to plan the most quintessential form of synchronous, instant communication: a face-to-face conversation.
Since I didn’t have to worry about my pale skin sunburning, just staying within my chassis’s fairly generous recommended operating temperatures, I drove Lexx (as I’d dubbed my RV-conversion maid-bot) through the local public transportation system (which consisted of sending something like a text-message indicating where I wanted to arrive and when, and having directions automatically sent to Lexx’s autopilot about where to wait for a motorized vehicle), and ended up at a park with a view of a modest waterfall (Okay, I thought it was modest, but I’d used to live ten miles from Niagara Falls.) where Jerome was already passing the time by passing a frisbee back and forth with a Golden Retriever, who bid him goodbye at my arrival and trotted off. I set Lexx’s autopilot to ‘walk and talk’ with Jerome as the indicated conversational partner, and trusting that the newfangled algorithms of The Future had been sufficiently bug-proofed, pulled myself out of Lexx’s head-cockpit and perched on her shoulder, so I could gab without having to do so through her eye-windows.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, we began the interesting part of the conversation.
“I can see you’ve been studying and trying to catch up with modern educational standards, which is good and praiseworthy. But I’ve also seen your test scores, and frankly, I have to admit that I’m concerned with your rate of progress.”
“I don’t like swearing, especially in public, and apparently just about everywhere is public these days. But the urge still occasionally exists, so I’m trying out swearing by trees — they’re supposed to be fairly reliable.”
“I understand. And you needn’t worry; remedial programs are available that can help you achieve the peak performance you’re capable of, no matter what form of brain damage was unable to be corrected during your revival.”
I managed to avoid face-palming, but only just. “That’s not what I was swearing about.”
“An idea from my time that I still think is useful, even if it seems to have less cachet today, is that there is a good amount of social good by giving people the opportunity to try things, and fail at those things, in a way where they won’t have any social consequences for that failure.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“I thought I was taking those practice tests in private.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because the whole point of a practice test is to fail in private so you can figure out how to succeed in public?”
“Then why did you take them on an external server?”
“Because… that’s where they were?”
We paused for a moment, having achieved a certain level of mutual incomprehension. Eventually, Jerome said, “Okay. I’m here to provide whatever help I can, that you think you can use. Is there anything in particular that you feel you’re having trouble with, education-wise?”
“Eh, it’s not hard to pin down my troubles to two things, one more obvious than the other. The obvious one is that I’m decent enough at any topic that existed before I died, or that I can work out the specifics of from general principles. That mostly leaves out the unpredictable twists and turns of the events of history since I died, and getting a better hold of that is mostly going to be a matter of taking the time to read up on it all.”
“That’s understandable,” he soothed. “And the other thing?”
“I don’t know if it’s some sort of extension of the Flynn effect, or the mental-social shifts that accompanied movie scenes getting shorter over decades, but any tests that involve time limits on answers barely seem to give me enough time to read the question, let alone think about which answer to pick. … Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but only a bit.”
“That’s interesting. Without breaking any confidences, I don’t recall any other revivals having a similar issue. By any chance, did you deal with anything of the sort before you were preserved?”
“Not particularly. I’d even say the opposite — when I was in school, at least in some subjects, I could often finish a test well before anyone else did. Sometimes I even lost marks because I’d work out the answer in my head and just write it down, instead of showing the work on paper the way the teacher wanted. I’ve gotta admit, after being used to school going that way, I’m… not happy about discovering that, by current standards, I seem to simply be… slow-minded.”
“Speed isn’t everything,” Jerome conciliated. “Depth of understanding is also valuable.”
“Tell that to the non-private practice tests I’ve been taking.”
“Hm. … Do you mind if I try asking a few questions?”
“What caused the American Civil War?”
“Depending how far back you want to track the chain of causation — geology, in that some of the Cretaceous inland seas left behind soils which were exceptionally good for certain types of agriculture, which eventually led to the so-called ‘Black belt’, heavily planted in cotton, which led to the cotton-plantation owners finding it in their own self-interests to promulgate an economic system based around extracting value from workers in the form of chattel slavery, with sufficient wealth to continue to push their perceived self-interest to the point that it annoyed their industrial-focused neighbours through such mechanisms as the Fugitive Slave Act requiring those neighbours to actively assist in maintaining the slave system, at the point when industry became a more important factor to war-winning than simple manpower. Certain aspects of primate hierarchy impulses led to urges which, also later in the form of the Jim Crow laws-”
Jerome coughed. “… I was looking for more of a one-word answer.”
“Ah. Then you were also probably looking for the word ‘slavery’.”
“Okay, let’s try more of an essay question. Say that you had a brilliant new idea you wanted to bring to market. What would you do?”
“I’d avoid assuming that I was somehow the first person to assemble the pre-existing ideas, given that there’s been plenty of incentive while I was dead for anyone else wanting to make a buck to look for better ways to put together any business plans based on the limited information I have access to. That said, if I could figure out some way to perform basic online searches without everyone and their cousin reading what I’m looking up, I just might try to double-check what sorts of business had arisen from that idea, to try to calibrate how much I should trust myself when I come up with what seems like a brilliant new idea worth bringing to market. And given your previous question, you’re probably looking for something a bit more direct, like ‘file a business plan to prepare to apply for a loan’.”
“Something, yes. Okay — here’s a nice, easy, simple one. What’s the proper way to greet a visiting Priapic Columnist?”
“Assuming that’s some sort of person: Nod my head, say something along the lines of, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you. Is there anything I can help you with?’, and respond to whatever overtures are made appropriately.”
“Are you saying that, if I behaved that way, I would insult the person or suffer significant negative consequences?”
“Well — no, I guess not. It’s just that the first answer in the FAQ is something else entirely — why would you pick that answer?”
“A rule of thumb called ‘pie with a fork’, which derives in part from an idea similar to the Unix philosophy of being conservative in what you emit and being liberal in what you accept, in parallel with idea that there are certain baseline forms of politeness that have become widely accepted, and those forms can be estimated based on the idea that new ideas about purity have been becoming increasingly informed by our knowledge of how disease transmission can be limited by proper hygiene.”
“… What’s the square root of two hundred?”
“Fourteen point, mm, one and change — what’s the number to be used for, how many decimal places do you need?”
“You’re not even trying to look any of this up, are you?”
“I left my phone inside Lexx. Want me to go get it?”
“Other than what’s actually here, what’s your overlay showing you right now?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You… how… hrm. Okay. Have you plugged yourself in at least once to recharge, or have you been, I don’t know, conserving your battery power like crazy?”
“I’ve recharged, yes. More than once.”
“Hrm. Then I’m confused.”
“So am I, I’ll admit. This body only stores eighteen kilojoules — I’ve been thinking of essentially bolting on some armored plates around the ribcage, and stuffing ten or more times that much inside the empty space in there. And who builds a robot so that the only recharging socket also transmits data? There’s no way to maintain a proper air-gap without going to all sorts of complicated trouble. The first time I charged, I literally had to nibble the cable and bite the data-lines in half, leaving just the power-carrying lines, before I built myself a decent adaptor-”
“Wait,” Jerome lifted a hand. “You’re saying that, when you’ve recharged, you haven’t gotten any menu options at all. And all you see is what’s in front of you. And nobody’s bothered to ask you about your overlays, since you’re obviously a robot already.”
“To the extent I understand that, yes.”
“Right. I understand, now. Hm, gimme a sec, I’m going to take your practice tests, and put together a new scoring algorithm, based on the premise that you took them at iron-man difficulty… whew.”
“Well, let’s just say that you’re not going to have to worry about failing to achieve whatever educational certification you seek. But for now, let me check your manuals about how to activate your built-in augmented-reality overlays, which, yes, you can use to a certain degree without hurting your so-called ‘air gap’, and then we should probably talk a bit about how necessary that particular sort of defensive measure really is in your case…”
Politics in Weirdtopia
“… I’ve been doing some reading, and some reading between the lines based on my previous models of reality. As best as I can tell, while I was dead, technology advanced to where it solved a social problem that wasn’t even thought of in terms of a ‘solvable problem’ before I died. Simplifying a whole lot, then a lot of deep patterns of North American culture are the long-lasting results of a founder effect. Specifically, four particular waves of immigration from England — two of them, the Pilgrims and Quakers, influenced the American ‘north’, including English Canada, while the other two, the Cavaliers and Borderers, merged into the American ‘south’. It’s the Cavaliers in particular I’m thinking of — in the English Civil War, they fought on the monarchy’s side, and lost, and came to America with all sorts of notions about the proper order of the universe and the chain of being, and how some people are inherently superior to others. They settled around Virginia — and there’s a reason that the fictional John Carter of Mars, one of the classic heroes, always claimed to be a Virginian rather than a mere American. Anyway, this led, in the South, to a particular sort of awareness about which groups you were better than, which, when given the economic incentives of the Black Belt of cotton-producing soil, led to chattel slavery being seen as the obvious way to go about things. And just because they over-reached and lost the American Civil War didn’t mean that internalized set of mental patterns, of knowing who’s socially below you, went away. Jim Crow laws were implemented, and later on, when those were gotten rid of, then in many cases ‘immigrants’ were seen as the new low rung on the ladder.
“Welp, while I was dead, various clever groups gradually put together robots that were lifelike enough to trigger various deep neural structures that recognized them as being ‘people’, while also not having AI anywhere near capable enough to count as full-fledged persons — and so this new class of entities was able to fill the social role of people-like things that any real human could see was of a lower status, removing much of the instinctive desire to find some other recognizable out-group to force into that slot. And with that, then all sorts of knock-on positive effects seem to have resulted — I’m guessing that now that the north’s moralistic Puritan scolding, applying Quaker-based rules of equality against the Cavalier-based instincts that didn’t seem like instincts at all but were just the way the world was, no longer raised the Borderlanders’ clannish defensiveness against outsiders meddling in their affairs to quite the same degree.
“Of course, that’s all guesswork about astonishingly large and near-invisibly subtle social patterns. I can’t say that, as someone with the body of a robot, I’ve experienced any particular amount of being slotted into low-status positions, beyond what I’d expect from not being a member of any particular social cliques and having to build my reputation from scratch. It’s possible that the invisible social infrastructure is clever enough to route people who would be particularly disagreeable to me and myself away from each other. Or maybe my particular chassis is inhuman enough that it doesn’t register as a ‘person’ in the first place, to the primate-hierarchy neural structures I mentioned.
“I will admit that this model explains a few things about what I thought of as my culture that I didn’t previously understand, from, say, how I could find so little interest in sporting events that other people found so much entertainment and fulfillment in, to what actually led to Canadian culture developing in the directions it did.
“I’m still trying to figure out which, if any, of the citizenships I’m currently eligible for to register my acceptance of. The top three contenders are the city I was originally born in, now apparently part of the nearly-ignored, low-population-density region that covers a lot of what I think of as ‘Canada’; there’s the city I spent nearly all of my life in, now part of the ‘Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Regional Water Authority’, though it seems nobody bothers calling it much of anything besides ‘Great Lakes’ these days, much to the annoyance of the mostly-French-speaking St. Lawrence portion; and BosWash, the megacity I was resurrected in. To be honest, until such time as I have even a vague idea of what the various sides on the various political issues being debated are, and am therefore sufficiently competent to start being an informed voter, then I don’t see much difference — they’re all Future-istic liberal democracies with reasonably good human rights charters. In fact, in the short-term, about the only difference in my life would be which flag I slap onto any flag-shaped personal group-membership advertising I do.
“Not that I’ve done much of that, even before I died. I knew I was ‘supposed’ to root for the sportsball teams of the nearest large city, but I only knew a few of the team names, let alone ever watched a game of anything. My preferred hat: white. Sure, sometimes I wore a t-shirt with a picture of a mash-up between two entertainment programs, like Star Wars drawn in the style of Calvin and Hobbes, but that was at least in part because they were just plain decent t-shirts, material- and production-wise. Hm, was there anything I was willing to wear, specifically that indicated I was part of some group? … Actually, now that I think about it — there was a series of lapel pins of various colours, of the logo of an eye-in-the-pyramid, supposedly indicating membership in one branch or another of the Illuminati, but actually indicated the fandom of a particular gaming publisher. By the time I died, I was still willing to put one of those on the breast pocket of a button-up collared shirt. Not that I went anywhere anyone would recognize it — and I suppose ‘giving off signals that nobody else will understand’ sums up a reasonably large part of my identity and life. Lives, maybe.
“And now I have a few new choices to try to make: which clothes, if any, to wear. Even before I died, I was practically a hermit. And now that some people seem to acting like bonobos, even though I have even less relevant anatomy than a Ken doll, I’ve occasionally been mistaken for some kind of walking vibrator and have had to dodge being grabbed by people in the middle of their personal activities. Since people wear clothes, I should start wearing something to avoid being mistaken for a self-propelled appliance. One approach could be to take advantage of offers by some of the second-economy groups I’ve started joining, and let them subsidize my wardrobe in exchange for advertising them… which is pretty much the opposite of how I want to present myself. Anything that represents some other group I may or may not entirely agree with, that’s larger than a lapel pin or cufflinks, isn’t what I want. As a further complication, what I’d consider to be ‘weekend casual’ is generally perceived to be on the level I’d associate with ‘business formal’. Which, yes, means that serious people gathering together to discuss serious business often do so in shorts and t-shirts.
“Hm… maybe instead of external group-identity, I should start looking into personal branding. I invented a logo or two for myself before I died, and with proof to whatever modern logo-designers may have copied it since then that I came up with it first, and with The Future’s custom 3D printing, I could probably get modern outfits branded with it, with whatever level of in-your-face-ness I like. Might be worth my while to see if there’s anything like a personal branding consultant I can hire… what am I saying, this is The Future, of course there is, I just have to find one in my price range.”
Life and Death in Weirdtopia
“I want to set a few things straight, so I’m going to describe the whole series of events as I experienced them.
“I’d gone to the office building to meet with someone who could help me through some of the more Byzantine paperwork you’ve put together, here in The Future. Specifically, I was looking into upgrading my current robotic body in one or more ways, depending on which alterations I’d be able to get approval for. Hm? Oh, replacing my tail-tip vertebrae with one that was more useful for self-defense, such as a shot of pepper-spray or whatever else is allowable; or upgrading various parts of my surfacing with this electrically-controllable gecko stuff, so that I could walk up a wall to get to a door handle instead of relying on Lexx, my helper-robot, for every single human-scale task; or putting some plating around my ribcage and filling the space with a more usefully-sized battery.
“So I’d parked Lexx in a chair and was on my contact’s desk, and we were talking about, what was it, the difference between the rules that are written down and human judgement about such rules, when the window shattered, and something swooped in. Bird- or bat-sized, black, hovering instead of flapping — some kind of drone, I guessed.
“Then it said, or more screamed, ‘Death to the immortals! Kill yourself or I’ll kill everyone here! Five, four, three…’
“No, I was unaware of the drone’s actual owners. Nor about the real-world trolls you seem to be unable to squash. I’m still teaching myself how to use the full set of augmented-reality overlays that are available to me. As far as I knew, the threats were entirely legitimate.
“So I galloped to the broken window and jumped out.
“As much as I’m flattered by the obvious interpretation, this wasn’t a choice to kill myself to save everyone else. I’d read up on the specifications of my robotic body. Specifically, that due to my relatively light weight and large surface area, then as long as I could maintain a parachutist-style spread-eagle, my terminal velocity was only two hundred ten kilometres per hour — and as long as I landed on a reasonably flat surface, even if it was concrete, the wunder-materials of my structural framework would be good enough that I could stand right up without damage. Even if I got into some sort of spin, so that some part of my hit the ground much faster, then the chassis includes a selection of carefully-designed break-points, allowing some parts to snap off in order to preserve the remainder from such acceleration. Depending on how much damage was involved, they could even be snapped right back on.
“Hm? Oh, no, I was assuming that with all the invisible infrastructure you’ve got going, anyone I might land on would get a warning to duck.
“Anyway, I’ve never gone skydiving before, and didn’t know how to aim my fall… plus I was suddenly distracted by all sorts of high-priority instant-messages warning me about other revived cryonicists being attacked… so I landed partly on the armrest of a bench, all the break-points snapped, and a couple of seconds later, I was coherent enough to say, ‘Okay, now I’m a robotic rat’s skull. Anyone around who can sweep me back together?’.
“Which is when I got a reply with a different plan. ‘Am close. Can hide you, and muffle your EM, if you want.’ This whole situation was, as far as I was concerned, pretty well spiralled out of control — my best guess was that the bird-drone thing would be following me down as soon as it could, and would blow itself up to make doubly sure I was dead. And there was the matter that almost all of my battery cells were in my body, from the neck down, and I had very little time before I was going to run out of juice. So sure, this offer might be part of some multi-stage plan to kidnap me, but I didn’t have much to lose, so I sent a response of a thumbs-up emoji.
“In two seconds, an ostrich-taur lady, a body-plan I had vague memories of seeing more than once since I was revived, stepped over to the bench, sat next to me, and brought out something like an egg-shaped Kinder egg from her purse, pulled the two halves open, scooped my head into it, and snapped it shut.
“My gyros registered some movement, a lot of the radio-signals dropped precipitiously in strength, and then my temperature gauges registered an increase in ambient temperature with the curve consistent with being surrounded by body-temperature flesh. I choose to believe that she swallowed me and later coughed me up, and I have no interest in looking at video records or analyzing acceleration data. But I was nearly out of juice, so I set a couple of quick script commands, then paused my brain-emulation software.
“The next thing I was conscious of, the plastic eggshell was being cracked open, and there weren’t any radio signals at all. The ostrich-taur-lady plugged a cable into the regular socket on the bottom of my skull, and I mentally flinched, expecting a bunch of data-signals containing viruses — but it was just power.
“She rubbed the back of her head. ‘Okay, this is kind of embarrassing,’ she said. ‘But I want to get it into the open first, so you can make informed decisions. I’ve kind of had a thing for you since I found out you were revived, and while I’ve been careful not to cross the line into stalking, I’ve tried to be in the same areas you are, when I can, to try to meet you. I wasn’t expecting anything like actual violence. We’re in a real-private room I’m renting from one of my groups, Faraday cage and crowd-shuffling and everything, so you can hide here and be safe as long as you want. Or say the word and I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. Oh, and I swept up most of your body, maybe all of it, I don’t know if any of it still works.’
“At my request, she reattached my spine to my head, and as that still worked, I started reassembling my remaining parts onto my initially snake-like form. On my request, Peggy — yes, that’s the ostrich-lady — left me to it, exited the Faraday cage, and posted a particular alphanumeric sequence to a particular public board, waited a few moments for a reply, and came back. The response was one that I had anticipated, but wasn’t expecting.
“It seems that a certain cryonic revivee, who I’ve been working with and had trusted with some of my power-of-attorney, had also been victim of this massive trolling, and had gotten notice of my autodefenestration and that I had gone offline moments after impact; and as my directions on such matters allowed for a certain amount of leeway, he initiated one of my ‘in case of my death’ plans…
“… and activated my backup copy.
“Given the legal system you’ve developed, I would thus like to introduce you all to the individual who is, legally, my son. You can see that he has chosen to wear a plush-style suit over his skeletal-shaped body, and the mandated diapers over that to indicate that, according to the legal fiction that he and I are entirely separate individuals with nothing in common, he is roughly one day old. According to the naming conventions I chose in case of just such an occurrance, then as long as it’s just the two of us, you may refer to me as Dan, Dan Senior, or Dan One, and him as Dan, Dan Junior, or Dan Two. No, neither of us have any intention to reproduce further. No, Peggy is not his mother — we aren’t even dating, let alone married. That wasn’t a date, she was just helping me shop for some electronic parts. Look, if there aren’t going to be any relevant questions then I’m just going to go back to living my life, okay? … Well, I certainly hope that they can catch the trolls, but my understanding is that they used sufficient anonymization that it may be some time before any particular individuals are suspected…”
Sufficiently Advanced in Weirdtopia
“‘Santa Claus is a state of mind.’ That’s the motto of one of the weird second-economy groups I’ve signed on with. It’s a lot like one of the modern French-African ‘tontine’ micro-lending schemes, where everyone drops, say, ten bucks into the kitty every week, and each week one of the members gets the whole kitty. For the Santa group, a lot of computing goes on as part of the background, invisible infrastructure, looking for ways in which each member can do little things that improve other peoples’ lives — and, occasionally, all those little things will add up to a pleasantly surprising big thing.
“These robo-swarms? They’re obsolete tech, depending on a lot more supervision than the modern stuff needs, so the Santa group was willing to send me a pile of it, costing me only a very small number of points. But hey, I grew up on command-line interfaces, and can type faster than most people would believe, even without using VR tricks, so I can wring almost as much use out of these things as the up-to-date ones can do.
“And hey — I get to wave my hands, and put together a surprise that’s going to make a certain little girl’s eyes light up when she gets here. Well, kind of a little girl — I think she convinced her parents to let her be some sort of bipedal pegacorn. Anyway, she’ll be happy, and I’ll be happy I got to do that, even without counting how it’ll improve my stats or build towards one of the group’s badges or medals. That’s one thing I like about The Future — they really know how to build positive-sum deals.
“Of course, that’s not to say that I approve of everything. Take those badges and such I just mentioned. Sure, gamification can be used as an incentive to get people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, like go on hikes for games where your physical location is tracked. But it can also alter the incentives, so that such actions no longer provide the benefit they originally did — like the peace and quiet and lack of pressure that allows a wilderness hike to be a form of moving meditation.
I was once part of the Scouts Canada program, long before I died, and some of the requirements for their various merit badges are things worth doing in and of themselves — for example, learning more about civics. So I’ve taken some of the original boy-scout manuals, and without any external gamified incentives like social-group points, I’m working through those badge requirements.
“… Hunh. And now I’ve just got an instant message, apparently based on the fact that that was the first time I mentioned my little personal project aloud, and I now have an invitation to install a ‘Lone Scout’ software package to track badge requirements passed, an offer of a waiver of standard age requirements for the Scouting program, and a general invitation to integrate myself into the current Scout social-group system. … I suppose it’s not the most obnoxious such invitation I’ve gotten, so far…
“That honour would probably go to The Future’s version of steampunk fans. I can live with the fact that they don’t see much difference between a Babbage Engine and a Commodore 64. I don’t see that as sufficient reason to rewrite my voice to match the ‘SAM’ speech-synthesis software that ran on a Commodore 64, and was a notch less human-like than Stephen Hawking’s voice, while wearing a top-hat with gears glued on.”
Family Matters in Weirdtopia
“Hello again, Your Honour. As this court system is somewhat less formal than the one I’m used to, I’m unsure whether or not this would be appropriate, but I would like your permission to take a few moments to describe recent events from my own point of view, which I hope will save some of the court’s valuable time by removing the need for cross-examination to draw out each particular detail.”
“Objection! Your Honor, rules of evidence were implemented for good reasons, and the defendant obviously plans to make a mockery of this court by ignoring them.”
“Is that true?”
“Not at all, Your Honour. It’s an idea. If it’s a bad one, just say so, and I’ll try to use that to improve any further requests I make.”
“Hm… The prosecution will note that while there are good reasons for procedure, there are also good reasons I have the authority to set procedure aside. The defense will note that while I’m willing to give some leeway, if I see any deliberate shenanigans, I’ll demonstrate one of the good reasons that I have the authority to slap people in the clink for contempt. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Right. Alright, defense, show me what you’ve got.”
“Yes, Your Honour. Given what’s already public knowledge, the most relevant starting point is that I received a message from someone purporting to be a member of Family and Children’s Services, requesting an interview to determine the status of care of my son, Dan Junior. I should note that, before my death, that was the name of a government agency that had the authority to take children from their parents, and had something of a mixed reputation due to the strong feelings engendered by governmental intervention into ordinarily private affairs. As I am still learning about BosWash’s civic structure, I perhaps paid more attention to this message, and gave it more concern, than someone who’s had more than a week to learn such things may have.”
“Shush, you. I said I’d let the man speak his piece. If he goes out of bounds, I’ll throw in an objection myself, and we’ll do things the more formal way, a’ight?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Alright, son, So you got an email you thought was from the government, and fretted yourself some. Go on.”
“Thank you, Your Honour. The first thing I did was set some backup plans in place, the details of some of which I’ll get to shortly. Then I tried to do some reading on this modern F.A.C.S., and found myself confused. Noticing I was confused, I realized that at least some assumptions I’d been making were wrong, and so set up some different backup plans, depending on which assumptions turned out to be wrong, most of which were irrelevant. Then, according to the customs of my time, I responded to the message, asking for a face-to-face meeting in a public place, such that if either party did something untoward, then there would be plenty of eye-witnesses, several avenues of escape, and the rapid arrival of constabulary or other emergency first responders. I also decided to bring along someone more familiar with present-day issues than myself, and after some kind of online discussion whose nature I’m still trying to figure out, the consensus candidate amongst the people I know was Peggy — the woman who’s chosen the body of an ostrich-taur, sitting behind me.
“The response I got didn’t mention any of that, just a request, or demand, or whatever word applies, to inspect the infant’s home, living space, and so on.
“I feel I should also mention that, in what I still think of as ‘my time’, governmental processes tended to be at the speed of physical mail. That is, that there tended to be a certain amount of slack time, days or even weeks, between when a request like that was made, and when a response was expected. Thus, instead of firing off an immediate answer, I made arrangements to meet with Peggy for lunch to discuss the whole thing.
“With the court’s permission, instead of me describing what happened, I’d like to play a video of the events, as gathered by various nearby sur-veillance and sous-veillance cameras that I’ve been granted access to.”
“Would those be certified recordings, son?”
“I have a version of the video that only uses provable, offsite-archived, digitally-signed, and so on, sources, Your Honour.”
“Given what I feel is at stake in these proceedings, Your Honour, I asked for some help putting together the background material in the little time I had to prepare. Some of those who helped went above and beyond what I asked for, such as editing multiple cuts of the video, to be ready for whatever variation the court wishes to see, from my own direct point-of-view to an immersive three-dimensional reconstruction. I’m planning on throwing a pizza party for everyone who helped, if I don’t end up in jail or prison.”
“Still have to decide on that. Okay, let’s see your picture-show.”
“Would you be the individual who identified as ‘Dan Senior’?”
“Excuse me, Peggy… who’s asking?”
“I should think it obvious from my AR tag.”
“I’m not completely comfortable with relying on AR IDs.”
“I’m from Family and Children’s Services. Why have you not responded to my message?”
“Because I’m still deciding on how to reply to it. Or was. Since you’re here, would you like to sit down and join us, to talk, if not for lunch?”
“You are not eating lunch — you are physically incapable of it.”
“I am sharing a social meal with an acquaintance who is on the path to becoming a friend. I’m recharging, which is close enough to eating for social purposes, and the AC here has a particularly pure sine-wave.”
“I am not — wait, you use direct-current to charge, and so there are no sine-waves.”
“You’ve caught me out. I said something that was true, but not quite relevant, in the hopes that your mind would pattern-match it in a fashion that would create a story that was also true, and which would inform you about what I was doing in an efficient if somewhat indirect manner. Now then, if you do not wish to join us, how about we set a time and place for an actual meeting, and Peggy and I can resume our interrupted socialization and discussion of various personal matters until then?”
“You are being a very rude little man. That will not make a positive impression when I add that note to your case-file.”
“On the contrary, I feel that I am being exceedingly polite, offering you the choice of how to interrupt my day in the manner which is most convenient to you. If you do not wish to take advantage of that offer, then on your own head be it.”
“I see I will also have to add violent and racist language to your file.”
“The phrase you just used derives from ‘your blood will be on your own head’, deriving from the ancient practice of sacrificing animals to expunge sin. I have no intention of having my throat cut to assuage whatever feelings of guilt you may be experiencing.”
“… I apologize for whatever inappropriate language I may have used that might have disturbed you, in that I was unaware that that phrase was impolite. I thank you for bringing my attention to the topic, and will make my best effort to avoid such phrases in the future. Now, how does Tuesday, noonish, sound to you?”
“That is far too late. A child’s well-being is at stake. You will escort me to the child’s home so that I may inspect the living conditions.”
“I’m disappointed; here I’ve been scrupulously trying to be absolutely honest with you, and you’ve just been impolite enough to drop, into the middle of this conversation, what may very well be politely described as a steaming fib.”
“You must be joking.”
“I may be presently using an idiom that is somewhat more verbose and loquacious than the norm in the culture I find myself in, but I do generally manage to make clear when I’m making an attempt at humour, and I assure you that I did not make any such attempt just now. You used the words ‘you will’, stating a fact about the future, and I have little-to-no reason to believe that said future will come to pass.”
“Are you actually trying to refuse to be inspected?”
“Refusal has nothing to do with it. I have made an entirely reasonable request to discuss this matter with whatever agent your organization chooses to direct to do so, in order to help clear up certain potential minor misunderstandings before they turn into major misunderstandings that could lead to more serious difficulties. Given the fact that I have expressed my willingness to accommodate reasonable scheduling negotiations, and the fact that you have interrupted an otherwise enjoyable social occasion in a fashion that seems to primarily consist of veiled references to making notes and demands that I accommodate your demands without any regard to any other aspect of my life, I feel little compunction in disputing whatever facts you state that seem to be disputable in a manner that wastes your time in a manner that I am intending to approximately equal in annoyance the amount that your own behaviour annoys me, while remaining, as I have previously mentioned, as scrupulously honest and polite as feasible for mortal man.”
“Do you have any idea what will happen if I note down that you refuse inspection?”
“As a matter of fact, I do not. There seems to be a curious lack of easy-to-find information on penalties for failing to cooperate with your organization.”
“Just to begin with, we will add a note to your social media profile describing your uncooperativeness and the risk you are placing your son at! Do you think any reputable organization will wish to keep you as a member with that shining for everyone to see?”
“As it happens — I do think that. In case you have not done your own research, you may wish to examine which groups I actually am a member of, and/or am in the process of applying to. For example, the group whose core membership consists of ‘people who have been revived from cryonic preservation’ is unlikely to expel me due to some unsubstantiated rumour attached to a profile in a medium that most such members died before the creation of.”
“What? But — wait, nobody can live with just that many memberships-”
“This, madame, if that word has not also become taboo with time, is just one of the several issues I wished to discuss, given that, from your perspective, I am effectively an immigrant from a foreign culture, despite my not having left this continent since I was born.”
“You disrespectful-! You can’t-!”
“Hey, watch it!”
“And that’s when I shot her, your honour. Well, gave her a shot, with the fast-acting sedative I’d recently gotten a permit to install in the tip of my tail.”
“He even admits his guilt, your honor!”
“I did nothing of the kind.”
“This should be interesting. Care to explain yourself, son?”
“Of course, your honour. It was a simple case of self-defense. As the video shows, she was reaching to grab me. If the camera-recordings from my own eyes are inadmissible as evidence, then I should point out that her hand is approximately the size of my entire body, and that it is relatively simple for a human hand to exert pressures that would break large parts of my body from the other parts. I was not expecting a simple conversation with somebody who claimed to be operating for the benefit of a child to escalate into a physical altercation, so my reactions were slow, and I did not have time to attempt to retreat before I was in imminent danger of my head being snapped from my neck. I used the minimal level of physical force I had available to me to prevent such an assault — a level of force which was certainly less than the damage I could easily have suffered.”
“You can tone down the wordiness, son, I’m not trying to waste your time.”
“Yes, your honour. Sorry, your honour.”
“Now then. Does the prosecution wish to continue pressing charges?”
“Of course, your honor. Regardless of the defendant’s aggravated battery against a woman just trying to-”
“Objection, your honour. Presumes a verdict that has not yet been given.”
“Withdrawn, your honor. Regardless… there is still the matter of the care of the defendant’s son, and the care thereof. As the defendant has refused a simple request to inspect-”
“Withdrawn. As the defendant has not had his living conditions inspected, we can only conclude that he has something to hide, and that his son should be placed in the custody of a guardian of proven moral character until this matter is resolved.”
“Sounds reasonable to me. Any objections, son?”
“Several, the most relevant of which is that what I believe the prosecution is asking for, or about to ask for, is quite impossible.”
“Your honor, the defendant is obviously refusing to cooperate with this court, and should be held in contempt until he does so.”
“The prosecution is reminded that I decide what’s contempt or not. Now, son, would you care to explain what you just said before I do throw you in the clink?”
“As I said a few minutes ago, I made backup plans of various sorts, which I intended to explain later. I suppose that means now. Given that I was recently the subject in another incident in which I believed my life was in danger, and the various death threats I’ve received since then-”
“Objection! No such threats have been presented as evidence.”
“I would be quite happy to forward a copy of the contents of my death-threat folder to the prosecution. I recommend double-checking your anti-virus software first, as some of the messages contain rather nasty malware, which would have done all sorts of nasty things to my online profile if I was less paranoid about digital security.”
“Get back to your explanation, son.”
“Yes, Your Honour. Given that, and my lack of confidence about F.A.C.S. being able to act in Junior’s best interests, then among other preparations, I’ve taught myself some of the anonymization techniques used by the trolls who sent the drone that threatened to kill, and Junior has been, in essence, mailed to an undisclosable location. ‘Undisclosable’ in that I currently do not know the coordinates, and cannot learn them unless Junior chooses to tell me, which he is unlikely to do without certain other messages being exchanged first.”
“Your honor! He has just said he doesn’t know where his son is. I urge you to order these messages sent immediately.”
“Any reason I shouldn’t do just that, son?”
“Several. I have never said what these messages are aloud, or otherwise hinted at their nature or contents. It may help the court to think of it as a variation on the fictional idea of a ‘time-travel password’, a way for a person to know that another person has the same memories they do. I will say that my system is more secure than a simple time-travel password, though I choose not to go into any further details, as I expect the potential benefits from open-sourcing this particular security system would be outweighed by the potential downsides from a seemingly large number of trolls and other hostile individuals who would attempt to use any hints I give against me.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this, son. Go on — I’m curious how far you’re taking it.”
“Yes, Your Honour. Until such time as I see sufficient evidence that handing Junior over to a stranger’s custody would be more in Junior’s best interests than the arrangements I have already made, I am prepared to accept the consequences of disobeying the court.”
“I wish to interrupt the prosecution to mention a related fact, specifically that I am Canadian. If not in the citizenship sense, then in a cultural one. Most relevantly, in that, like most Canadians, I prefer to work within the system to resisting it, reforming it from within rather than tossing it out entirely. I say this so that the court will have a better understanding of the remainder of the plans that the court has asked me to go on describing. Does the prosecution wish to interject again? Thank you. As I was saying — if the court wishes to impose a fine for my silence, lowering my income below what this society deems the minimum allowable, I am prepared to accept that-”
“Your honor, I wish the record to note that the defendant admits to only having a minimal income, hardly sufficient to offer a child all the opportunities that would allow for greatest flourishing-”
“Your honour, since the prosecution wishes to divert us onto this tangent, I would like to submit into evidence these papers of incorporation, business plan, and related documents. While, as presently arranged, the organization is not expected to make a profit, I do have preliminary funding allowing for time to improve said plan until it’s solid enough for more serious investment.”
“Why do I have the feeling that, if these papers were made of paper, the ink would still be wet?”
“I could only speculate, Your Honour.”
“Hm. So what’s your plan here, son? Nested companies? You should know that we’ve got some laws against financial shenanigans that were legal before you died.”
“Yes, Your Honor. The holding company, ‘DataPacRat’, is mainly a placeholder so that I can keep the trademark of the nom-de-net I chose before I died. The wholly owned subsidiary was created separately so that if it folds, I won’t lose the name. The general plan is to do some research into the difficulty curves of certain old games that had few but deeply enthusiastic fans, to see if new games with those curves can be developed inexpensively, and if so, how best profit can be morally leveraged out of them. I honestly expect this particular venture to fail, but in doing so, to develop experience and connections that will improve the odds of any future such startups, until I put together one that rewards its investors with more profit than all the previous failures lost.”
“Can’t say I’m an expert in such things, son, but it does sound like you’re doing more than just twiddling your thumbs. Does the prosecution wish to keep on that the defendant can’t afford to buy diapers?”
“Well, er — he did say he expects it to fail…”
“… Fine, your honor, motion withdrawn.”
“Now, son, where were you?”
“That I am willing to accept fines. If the court wishes to jail me to try to entice me to contact Junior, I am willing to accept such imprisonment indefinitely, as long as it means Junior remains free. If the court wishes to place me in solitary confinement, I already have certain personality tendencies towards being a hermit, and have been meaning to start meditating more.”
“Your honor, the defendant seems to be claiming he is judgement-proof, and making a mockery of these whole proceedings.”
“Keep your suspenders on, George. Now, son, you know we don’t use torture anymore, right?”
“I’m afraid that I do not know that, your honour. Not to a sufficient confidence level to rely on that as a fact, at least. Which is why I have programmed something of a deadman switch, so that if I do not respond to a challege given to me by the computer my mind is running on, according to a certian schedule, then the software that emulates my brain will not just be deleted, but securely overwritten to prevent any useful data from being recovered.”
“Your honor! Um… the defendant is obviously suicidal? And should be remanded to psychiatric care until-”
“Don’t even, George.”
“Your honor, we also have no evidence that any such ‘deadman switch’ exists-”
“Son, you have any proof?”
“Well, Your Honour, while I accidentally broke the data pins that would allow direct access to my RAM, I have been studying the hardware my mind runs on, down to the level of assembly code and machine language, to try to make sure any software I write is fast and efficient instead of cluttered with stacks of libraries and IDEs. If the prosecution knows the difference between an accumulator and a shift register, I could, say, recite the hard-delete subroutine.”
“George, let’s just take the man at his word for now. Though I should note, son, that if there’s any evidence that those pins weren’t broken accidentally, that you’ll be liable for unauthorized physical self-modification.”
“I can assure the court that no such evidence exists.”
“Good. Now, is there a reason you’ve decided my inbox should be crammed full of messages from people who’re watching this hearing’s feeds and are sure that they have something useful to say about your little self-destructive plan?”
“I… didn’t anticipate that side-effect, Your Honour. But I have certain beliefs about the nature of selfhood, identity, and what most people would consider the soul; and while it may be arguable whether these beliefs are religious in nature, they are at least sufficiently deeply-held that it would take a long, philosophical discussion to even describe them, their derivations, and their ramifications in full, let alone engage in an argument that has any significant chance to change my mind about them. These beliefs guide my actions on several matters, leading to actions that differ from those of people who don’t share those beliefs. As they seem to be a minority opinion in the overall culture I find myself in, I have prepared myself to accept the consequences of doing my own thing in spite of public and legal pressure. I don’t actually want that deadman switch to go off — but, well, my beliefs are that there are worse things than being deleted.”
“So let me get this straight, son. You’re so willing to protect your son, that you’d rather die than let someone you don’t trust to raise him right get hold of him.”
“Any quibbles I have with that statement are minor compared to the overall sentiment, Your Honour.”
“Oh, give it a rest, George. The man’s obviously spent more time preparing for this than you have. I’m honestly surprised you let things come this far without doing more research.”
“It was supposed to be an open-and-shut case, your honor. I mean, I even had pictures of him drugging her.”
“That’s why we don’t let prosecutors run trials. Now, you planning on becoming a lawyer, son?”
“No, sir. I’m running mainly on general constitutional and moral principles; I expect trying to learn all the relevant case law and precedents for even a single field would make passing the bar quite beyond my abilities.”
“Probably for the best. You know that you’re not getting out of this scott-free, right?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“I may let the court run informally, but I still have to do some things by the book. You’re going to spend some time in the pokey, if for no other reason than to make sure anyone trying to follow in your footsteps, and pre-emptively defy a court order, knows they’ll have to put their money where their mouth is.”
“Quite understandable, Your Honour.”
“You’re sure Junior is where you want him to be?”
“I’ve made more plans and preparations than I’ve mentioned so far. He’ll be in good hands.”
“Out of curiosity, son, if you’re so goll-danged sure you want to keep Junior away from anyone the prosecution wants as his guardians, why go to the trouble of telling me things I didn’t ask about? You could’ve dragged the whole thing out for weeks by exercising your right not to self-incriminate, and using a bunch of other procedural tricks I expect you could dig up without too much trouble.”
“Because, in at least one sense, you’re not actually the main audience. I wasn’t kidding about having so many death threats I need a separate spam-folder to keep track of them all. I’m hoping that concrete proof I’m willing to go to jail to protect someone close to me, and reasonably plausible evidence I’m willing to die for them, will deter at least some hare-brained schemes that would put lives at risk. To a lesser degree, the fact that I entered into evidence proof that I am willing to use force in self-defense against individuals, even if I’m not stupid enough to attempt to use it against a government, may lead some of the not-completely-idiotic death-threat senders to have second thoughts about what sorts of force I have made plans to use if I have to defend myself again.”
“Doesn’t sound very Canadian, to me.”
“Being nice and polite and working within the system are simply our first choices, Your Honour — not the only ones. When push comes to shove, there are reasons that in World War One, Canadian soldiers were called ‘stormtroopers’.”
“Well, I can’t say I agree with your reasoning, son, but I can understand where you got it from. If there are no other relevant points to raise? Thirty days for contempt of court.”
Imprisoned in Weirdtopia
BosWash’s correctional system is practically unrecognizably alien to someone born in the twentieth century.
Cause and effect is, as ever, hard to trace; but my best guess is that around the time all the anti-oligarchical measures were being taken, one of the more significant ones was replacing the old first-past-the-post election systems with ideas more advanced than those from the 1700s, ranging from simple ranked ballots to full-fledged computer-mediated liquid democracy. Which changed the incentives of people running for office to stop being so polarized, which allowed for useful amounts of policy now being based on evidence and harm-reduction. Which all added up to BosWash’s jails seeming, to me, to be on the Scandinavian model, only moreso.
According to my pre-trial reading, then my ‘cell’ would be a dorm room, which was actually larger than the near-closet I parked Lexx the RV-maid-bot in… and I could walk out of it whenever I wanted. I could, in fact, wander the city pretty much at will, as long as some online forms I had to file in advance were approved, and I was back by curfew; and at every moment, at least three government-run surveillance drones would watch my every move. Not to mention that one of the government-run augmented-reality layers included notices to anyone who cared that a non-violent prisoner would be at such-and-such a place at such-and-such a time. Rather to my astonishment, I would even be allowed to keep the sedative injector in my tailtip — as best as I could dig up, the reasoning being that just because the state was restricting certain of my liberties did not remove my right to self-defence. The prison staff themselves were almost entirely unarmed.
Outside of those limitations on my movement, then as long as I didn’t do anything that would justify more significant limitations on my liberties — there were, in fact, a few “real” prisons for people judged to be dangers to others — the main upshot of the relevant incarceration program was a mandatory version of the self-improvement program I’d already been working on: education, training, counselling, socialization events, employment if I wished it. By the end of my thirty days, I was supposed to be ready to face the world.
Naturally, the original plan was derailed on the very first day; specifically, during the mandatory medical check-up. (Yes, even robotic people are covered under The Future’s health system, for both physical and mental ailments.)
Picture this: in a hospital room, a blue rat’s skeleton is sitting on an exam table, calmly threatening to suicide if the nearly human, if rather multicoloured, robo-specialist brings a replacement part any closer, until a perfectly ordinary-looking teddy bear — brown fur and red bow-tie — walks into the room, saying, “I’ll take over for now, Judy,” and waving her out
There’s a reason I titled my journal ‘Living in Weirdtopia’.
“Suicide negotiater?” I hazarded a guess.
“Less often than you’d think,” the teddy answered, pulling itself up onto one of the human-scale chairs. “Doctor Ramirez, psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed therapist, and general dogsbody. Do you want to kill yourself?”
“Good. Well, that’s the negotiating part of my job done. How about some therapy? I’m very good at cuddling.”
“… I currently have a certain lack of trust in doctor-patient confidentiality. I may have tried to hold myself hostage to express how strongly I feel about a particular issue, but you’ve had decades to figure out how to get around simple plans like that. For all I know, you’ve got some sort of electromagnetic pulse generator in your stuffing that would knock me offline long enough for you to perform the repairs that you feel medically justified in imposing against my will.”
“If we could do that, then couldn’t we already have one of those things under the bed?”
“Possible, but at least a little less likely than just having one somewhere on-site to grab when you need it.”
“Fair enough. I can unzip myself and empty out all my stuffing, if you’d care to inspect me. Technically, it’s part of my legal body, but because I deal with a lot of sniffling and dirty children, I was able to get a few variances, so I could launder myself and such. Body-change exemptions for the social good were easier to get back then.”
“… I appreciate the offer, but I don’t know that I’d be able to recognize all the possible incapacitating gadgets that could have been invented, so there’s not much point. How about we just talk a bit?”
“That’s what I’m here for. What would you like to talk about?”
“… I apologize if this is insulting, but I’m offline at the moment — which pronouns do you prefer I use for you?”
“Whichever you wish. Male works, if you don’t have a preference. I’m nonbinary — specficially, deergender.”
“… I’m going to admit that I have no idea what that means.”
“Very little, given that we are in something resembling a formal, if not necessarily doctor-patient relationship, which means that any relationship in which my sex, gender, or orientation matters is prohibited by my professional ethics.”
“Fair enough. … I’m sorry for dragging you into this, but I’ve been having a difficult week, and I’m having to adapt a lot of my plans on the fly. I’d really like to serve my sentence and get back to my life, without any complications. Except, well, there’s a complication.”
“The correctional system’s goals are something along the lines of releasing you into the public, in the best state possible to become a productive member of society. Complications tend to be why people enter into the system in the first place. Why don’t you tell me more about it?”
“I would have guessed you already know, given that you’re probably online, and have access to all sorts of software that’s analyzed my every word and action.”
“There’s still a difference between what can be estimated from such data, and what any individual’s personal experience may feel like. The more you tell me, the more likely I can figure out whether your objections are the product of a conscientious, principled stand, or whether you have some form of mental damage that is preventing you from thinking clearly, or whether something else is going on. There are a number of tests that could be run to rule out any form of emulated organic damage — but I can see you tensing up at that.”
“I appreciate you taking the time here, but I’m having to double-check my replies, because I’m not sure whether doctor-patient confidentiality applies — or, even if it did, whether you could actually provide any believable assurances that you could ensure that a nominally private discussion remained, in fact, private. I freely admit that if I was suffering one of any number of mental disorders, I would be the last one to be able to recognize them; but even if something went wrong with my upload procedure and the digital file of my brain got corrupted and turned me psychopathic, the concerns I have with trust still seem, to me, to be entirely reasonable and justified, and the best choice I think I can make is to act as if they are reasonable and justified, if not entirely so.”
“Do you think you are psychopathic?”
“Not really. I can make myself feel arbitrarily sad by letting myself think for some length of time about everyone I knew who’s now dead, which is, well, pretty much everyone I knew. Even just thinking about my cat, who died before I did, is enough to make my chest ache in ways that are physiologically impossible with this robotic body.”
“Have you thought about contacting any currently living relatives?”
“Doc — after more than a couple of generations with no contact, direct relatives are hard to distinguish from anyone else. Heck, I’m President Eisenhower’s tenth cousin thrice removed, among more distant famous relations, but that doesn’t mean I should show up at any of their family reunions. And that’s not even getting into the fact that it’s hard for me to claim I’m a blood relative of anyone, just now, given my lack of, you know, blood, or any other carrier of DNA.”
“Some people might worry that, without a solid connections with more of humanity, then even if you start out sane, you’ll develop some issues.”
“You’ve got trolls who can affect the physical world anonymously. Even if I did think my nearest living cousin was someone I wanted to develop a relationship with, I hardly think bringing him or her to the attention of said trolls would be doing him or her any favours. I’d like to think I’m not the sort of person who deliberately makes other peoples’ lives worse just to make my own better in some way, or to accomplish some trifling goal.”
“What about a non-trifling goal?”
“It’s always possible to come up with some lifeboat scenario or trolley problem, which is so far from regular life that the usual rules-of-thumb of morality lead to inconsistent or disturbing results. That doesn’t mean that odd behaviour in such extremes can be extrapolated back to odd behaviour in the everyday.”
“Did that sound a bit defensive to you when you said it?”
“I’m trying to be cooperative, in the hopes that we’ll get back around to the main point, so you can declare me ‘annoying but sane’, and I can fill out whatever forms you’ve got in place for people with Jehovah’s Witness style objections to particular undesired medical interventions, so I can get back to working towards my various goals myself instead of having to delete myself and hoping that Junior can work towards them in my stead. I’m trying to anticipate the direction of where you seem to be taking the conversation, and head off some items in advance so we can save a bit of time; naturally, that’s going to sound like I’m defending a position you may not have gotten around to yet.”
“Are you always this goal-oriented?”
“Probably more than I was before I died, because there are so many more resources available these days for me to try to achieve all sorts of goals; and even more than that, once I realized that there are people who want me dead, not just in the abstract way before I died that there were some people whose religious beliefs led them to the conclusion that the world would be better if a lot of people similar to me weren’t in it, but very particularly wanting me in particular to be dead.”
“And yet, you have threatened to delete yourself.”
“I have goals I hold more important than the version of me you’re talking to continuing to be alive. … Not many, I’ll admit.”
“Would you be willing to tell me what they are?”
“Sure — I haven’t made a secret of them. There are the two biggies, the first being to ensure that at least some version of the pattern of identity that I identify as being my ‘self’ continues to exist. Which, at the moment, includes myself and Junior, and our inactive backups. If I thought there was any reasonable evidence for a soul, I’d probably be focused on that, instead. The other biggie is ensuring that, other than myself, some form of sapient life continues to exist in the universe, indefinitely. There aren’t that many opportunities to affect the odds on that one, but it’s still there, and I mention it because it affects edge cases like the lifeboat and trolley problems.”
“If those are the ‘biggies’, are there any goals you have that aren’t so big?”
“Oh, of course. To start with, there are the goals that anyone who’s seriously trying to accomplish something will share: increasing one’s general ability to accomplish goals, such as by controlling more resources to direct to those goals, or having a better understanding of how the universe works, or maintaining one’s goal-system in the face of so many attempts of being converted to help other people reach their goals at the expense of your own. And then there’s everything from maintaining a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness by keeping promises, to maintaining sanity by spending some time on pursuits that are enjoyable for their own sake and have nothing whatsoever to do with larger goals. … I was starting to take up the harmonica before I died, but haven’t picked one up since. No point.”
“No lips, either. I know, I could get some electronic variation fabbed up that I could hold to my teeth and pretend to blow through, but it’s just not the same. … I should make a note to find something I would enjoy playing. And somewhere I could practice where my initial feeble efforts wouldn’t be plastered all over the current version of YouTube for everyone to point and laugh at. And once I have at least a minimal level of competence, to start using it to feed into that whole ‘socialization’ thing you’ve already mentioned would be a good idea.”
“I’m glad to hear you’re still making plans. Now, this is just an idea, but if you want to skip some of those early steps, why don’t you use a program to move your body to play a musical instrument for you?”
“Seems like it would defeat the whole point — might as well just play an MP3 through my speakers. Not to mention the whole set of problems involved in giving any more software any more access to my digital brain.”
“‘More’? How many other programs have you let access your ‘digital brain’ already?”
“Doing some anticipation — I’ve been a properly paranoid prepper. While I expect you have enough access to my search history to know that I’ve looked into all the software that can tweak my emulated brain in various ways, I’ve run not a single one of them yet.”
“You have a moral objection to altering your mind?”
“Eh, a little from column A. I’ve always been a teetotaler — but have been willing to take acetaminophen for headaches. I’ve already undergone one big mental change, being uploaded, and haven’t had time to really settle into my new braincase yet. Figuring out how to ethically perform the experiments that would let me determine if any given mind-altering software would have a net positive or negative effect, and to do so in a way that won’t get me in too much trouble with society at large — which is an entirely different kettle of fish — is reasonably high on my to-do list, but I’ve got a lot of other things that need to be worked out first.”
What I didn’t say aloud, due to my assumption that I had no reason to believe our conversation was private, was that I had noticed a curious trend amongst the intelligence enhancement software I’d been able to find online. In contrast to various speculations during my pre-mortem era that technology could provide ways for people to become smarter, which would lead to better technology that could make people smarter still, leading to an “intelligence explosion” leading to completely unrecognizable forms of life afterwards… nothing of the sort was part of the historical record. Yes, there were various new tricks that let people become “smarter” — but from the ones I’d sampled in depth, they tended to fall into the category of removing some blockage from optimal human biochemistry, or the category of improved pedagogical techniques to make the best use of the available human neural hardware. Put another way, the predicted intelligence exposion had fizzled out at the ‘genius human’ level — and not even the most clever forms of gamification and incentive-tweaking were able to convince most people to put in the hard work necessary to reach that level, even in whatever field they had the most talent and inclination for.
All of which was reasonably consistent, and at least modestly plausible, given what I’d known before I died, save for one detail. Emulated brains, such as my own, lacked a lot of the limitations of biological ones; anything from increasing the number of neurons in particular areas to running at thousands of times faster than realtime to ignoring Euclidean space should have allowed for all sorts of interesting effects. And yet, the only published results I’d found whose subjects had been remotely sane had also stalled out at the same level of intelligence as people running on wet biochemistry. (And don’t even get me started on weirdnesses such as Peggy having human-level intelligence with a brain not much larger than a bird’s.)
I’d noticed I was confused. I couldn’t see a reason for ems to be limited to the same smarts as bios. Which implied that there was some factor in play I was unaware of. And at least some of the factors which I could imagine which could result in the evidence I’d seen were scarier than well-written creepypastas — and even the more plausible ideas implied that I’d be doing my own health a favour if I kept my various suspicions to myself, and treated ‘discretion’ less as a virtue and more as a metaphorical gun held to my head. Or something that kept such a metaphorical gun from having its trigger pulled. Something metaphorically dangerous, anyway.
Which is why Junior and I had put together the scheme where he could be placed somewhere outside of public view to start doing things it was best I had no direct knowledge of, though presumably including various quiet forms of investigation and experimentation; while I leveraged the social ritual of a trial to display reasonably strong evidence that I was willing and able to keep secrets in spite of heavy social and legal pressure to share them. Following up on that, in that I was continuing to do the work to keep the secrets I chose to keep despite the cost of doing so including all sorts of annoying complications to my life, was what had led me to be annoying enough to my jailers to have led to my current conversation.
Speaking of which, the talking teddy bear continued, “You just said that doing something ethically is quite different than not getting into trouble. Would you care to elaborate?”
“… Yeah, I can see how that’s fairly relevant to the whole correctional institution thing. Alright — a practical example. Back around 2010 AD, signing up cryonics was, in the popular view, about as weird and fringey a thing as anyone could do. Quite literally, less than one in a million people thought that the potential benefits were worth the effort of figuring out the paperwork, the feared potential social costs, and so on. I don’t remember the exact numbers — maybe one in two or three million. Given the evidence, it took a very unusual sort of mind to be willing to say, ‘Yes, 2,999,999 out of three million of you disagree with me that this is worth doing — but I’m going to do it anyway.’ Given that cryonicists were split about evenly between the two main cryo groups, and one was obviously more democratically run than the other; and that a significant portion of cryonicists were theists whose thought processes still assumed the existence of a soul, then in my estimation, it was more like one in ten million people who were able to work through the relevant numbers and to figure out that a low probability of a high reward doesn’t imply that the fallacy of a Pascal’s Wager was involved. And this whole winnowing process was merely about what most people considered to be a very expensive sort of funeral process, which affected nobody else and offered no measurable potential downsides to society as a whole.”
“Many downsides have been argued.”
“Maybe by now. Back then, cryo wasn’t mainstream enough for such arguments to be very large. Anyway, I’m glad that my cryo wager paid out. And, when I understand a situation well enough to be confident that I have an accurate estimation of the odds, I’m willing to take those odds seriously and put my money where my mouth is, even if everyone in the whole world, barring a scant few fellow travellers, disagrees with me. Figuring out the costs, benefits, and odds, and taking them seriously? That’s pretty much the ‘doing things ethically’ bit. Noticing that I have an option I can take which doesn’t harm anyone else, but that I’ll be torn limb-from-limb by a mob if I mention aloud I’m seriously considering it? That’s more of a practical matter, and is a piece of info to feed into that ethical calculus.”
“Some people would call what you just described ‘arrogance’.”
“I’d use the word ‘arrogant’ for someone who inaccurately over-valued their own opinion over the crowd’s. There are exercises you can do which help you calibrate your estimates. Since, at least in my time, those exercises were nearly unknown, most folks who claimed their opinions were significantly better than the crowd’s were, most likely, inaccurate and arrogant. … And, fine, I’ll admit that I haven’t done nearly enough exercises to be able to honestly claim I’m anywhere near as calibrated as I should be. But I do have at least one significant data point that I’m not as arrogant as strangers might assume me to be.”
“I’m still alive.”
“I’ll admit, it’s an interesting point. And there’s no direct rule against being annoying. There are, however, rules against modifying your body without getting the paperwork approved. And one of the punishments for having done so is to not only fill out the missing paperwork, but also a host of other forms even longer than the first set.”
“I can live with that.”
“I hope you’re taking this seriously. When you sign those forms, then you’ll be stating that the shape you’re in now — with a socket most people would call ‘broken’ — is what you consider to be ‘yourself’. If you’re thinking of going back and forth, between having a working socket and a broken one, that’s going to be thought of… poorly. How can I explain it… in terms you’re familiar with, it might be like someone undergoing years of gender transition, at the taxpayer’s expense, and then trying to have them foot the bill to change back, too. That’s not quite right, but it’s the closest parallel I can think of from the era you were born in.”
“In case it slipped your mind, I had no choice about the form I’m stuck in — and I’m from a culture that sees this whole ‘change your body, get assigned a new identity as an infant’ system as foreign and bizarre. There are things I want to do. Being forced into someone else’s family for eighteen years is not conducive to those goals — and probably not to my sanity, either. Look up ‘schizoid personality disorder, languid subtype’ when you have the time. Or whatever the modern term for those symptoms is. Given the clash between my personality and current society, then the most realistic approach may be to deliberately increase the separation between the two; in times past, that might have involved a monastery, or a lighthouse, or a forest-fire watch-tower. These days, maybe it’ll involve figuring out how to sign up with whichever space program will take me.”
“That may be harder than you think; our digital circuits are even more sensitive to radiation and electromagnetic fields than biological neurons.”
“And there are ways to deal with such issues that are known even in my own time, such as running multiple copies in parallel and comparing checksums. But even ignoring the hardware that would require, that’s not a short- or even medium-term plan; I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do on the basics first. Like how far I’m allowed to tweak this current robotic body without triggering the whole new-identity thing — if you’re going to let me fill out the forms on the socket I disabled, might as well save time and get everything done at once, neh?”
“Well, that’s not necessarily the case, as the more socially acceptable approach is usually to make a series of smaller changes, allowing one’s identity to gradually adapt to and incorporate each alteration. Assuming you’re familiar with the ‘Ship of Theseus’ philosophical paradox, a slightly fluid identity that can incorporate small replacement parts is the current framework applied by the Supreme Court’s tests. But I can certainly work with you to help you determine your target body, and which changes could be made when to reach that target at minimal social cost…”
Me, Myself, and I in Weirdtopia
It took a bit of effort to arrange for a conversation with Junior with what I judged to be the minimally acceptable level of privacy. Fortunately, I was a forward-looking prepper, and had done most of the necessary work before I’d even made the copy that had been activated and turned into him; some of it, I’d done before I’d even died.
After considering various approaches, such as signing up for one of those Faraday privacy motel rooms Peggy had brought me to, I rejected most of them for various reasons, many of which summed up to “The forms I’d have to fill out probably wouldn’t be approved, and I don’t want to get a reputation at this stage for trying to bend any rules I haven’t already objected to”. So, even knowing that there’d be at least three jail-run drones watching and listening to the whole meeting, I filled out my travel request forms to go to a reasonably isolated forested park, with the listed purpose as “Socialization: spend time with son and friend”.
At said park, I rode on Lexx’s shoulder, and exiting the bus, was easily able to see Junior’s plushie suit riding on Peggy’s black-feathered back, between her wings. The two of us already had certain knowledge in common; and when we looked around, we gained some further shared knowledge about our current environment. When we waved to each other, our forepaws were shaped into American Sign Language’s manual alphabet, giving a sign and countersign based on all that information, signs which would be different for any meeting at any other time or place. This was just one part of the Improved Time-Traveller’s Password System I’d invented before I’d died; it wasn’t a perfect system, of course, but since I’d never spoken or written any of the details, then it at least significantly reduced the chances that either of us was a simple impersonator. Or, in tech-speak, it ‘reduced the attack surface’, meaning that if Junior wasn’t really Junior, then whoever was puppeting his body had sufficient resources to extract this particular piece of data from one of our copies.
Given that both Junior and I had offline copies which weren’t active, and thus couldn’t know to securely delete themselves if they were at risk, then it was at least possible for somebody with only a moderate amount of resources to have stolen the details of this system. And thus the ITTPS wasn’t the only trick I used, so that anyone who could figure out our conversation would have to have so many resources that they’d be able to figure it out regardless of how many clever tricks I tried.
Junior and I set our robot shells to run our forepaws on autopilot, while in VR, our hands rested on virtual keyboards, so we could touch-type while doing other things. We set our audio speakers to run some chatbot software, heavy on Monty Python Markov Chains, so we could keep up conversing by trading obvious in-jokes while we were distracted by other topics. Instead of using radio waves, as even low-powered ones could leak further than expected if some trees were growing in just the right patterns, we set our speakers to emit noises that were inaudible to the human ear — or to Peggy’s — but that each other’s microphones could pick up and run through some standard networking software. Through this impromptu, somewhat low-bandwidth channel, we started trading pictures, videos, books, and other such harmless media, protected through standard public-key cryptography. And using those harmless media as a base, we used a few steganographic tricks (ie, when a line of plaintext wrapped to a new line, whether or not there was a space before the carriage-return was essentially unnoticeable but could carry a bit of information) to include one further layer of data, which was encrypted using the one-time pad I’d generated before creating the backup which had become Junior. All of which resulted in Junior and I having what was essentially a private instant-messaging channel whose very existence was nigh-impossible to guess at, let alone decrypt.
(“Nigh-impossible” was a far cry from “impossible”, and even with a few fillips to the system whose implementation details I’m not bothering to write down, such as distress passwords, I was treating this whole system merely as a way to let us talk with a bit of privacy, not to talk securely.)
And so, while the two of us rode through the pleasant forest trail, and gabbed aloud with each other and with Peggy about various topics, and a couple of quadcopters silently hovered in sight, Junior and I chatted.
1: So, where’ve you been staying?
It was at that point in the private conversation that it, as well as our spoken conversation, came to a halt, as a silvery, head-sized, saucer-shaped flying drone, with a big camera-like lens on front and a couple of graspy arms underneath, swooped down from out of sight to hover just in front of us. Well, more specifically, just in front of me.
“You are the individual who has requested to be identified as Dan, Dan Senior, or Dan One?”
“I am a process server. You are being indicted as an accessory to tax fraud.”
“Er… what? I haven’t even confirmed to you that I am Dan One.”
“Are you saying that you are not?”
At which point a second, apparently identical drone dropped down to hover next to the first, and it repeated the line, “You are the individual who has requested to be identified as Dan, Dan Senior, or Dan One?”
“Uh — who wants to know?”
“You are being indicted for illegal immigration.”
The two drones faced each other and started waving their limbs excitedly, the few non-latinate words I could make out apparently having to do with jurisdiction and precedence.
While I couldn’t squint anymore, I could run some image-enhancement algorithms which had much the same effect — and up in the air, these two drones had a few more twins coming.
“Say,” I said aloud, not looking at anyone in particular, “we’ve been out here for a while, so you probably have to go powder your nose. This looks like it might take a while, so why don’t you just not say a word and go do that. It’s probably a ways to the nearest washroom, so you might want to run.”
Peggy and Junior glanced at each other, then the latter took a good grip on the former’s feathers, and she started putting her ostrichy legs to good use, vanishing down the trail. The drones I could see continued floating in my direction instead of hers, which I took as an interesting data point. I hoped that he’d be able to get back into hiding without either of them getting into whatever pile of bricks was currently falling onto my own noggin.
I made a mental note that depending on the nature of C, hypothesizing about C’s existence over a channel which had several ways to be intercepted might have a causal relationship to being suddenly legally SWATted. And that performing any experiments to gather further data on such a link might be hazardous to everyone’s health.
“… indicted for copyright infringement…”
“… trademark violation…”
“… patent infringement…”
“… child endangerment…”
“… child pornography…”
“… preliminary injunction…”
“… temporary restraining order…”
“… demand that you cease and desist…”
“… violation of the terms of your sentence…”
I raised both forepaws. “Holdit, everyone. I’ve only got one emulated brain in here. Why don’t you all line up in order of arrival so I can deal with you one at a time. Who was first — tax fraud? Tax fraud, front of the line. Okay, I’m very confused, as I ran my incorporation papers through the most reputable accounting software I could find.”
“Your commercial operations are irrelevant,” stated the drone.
“Not to me, they’re not!” shouted one from the middle of the pack, who was immediately shoved to the back of the line by the rest.
The first drone ignored the byplay and continued, “You were revived as part of an attempt to extract illegal quantities of negative income tax returns, also known as basic income payments, for the period of time in which you were deceased.”
“… There’s so much wrong with that idea that I don’t know where to begin. I do know that there’s enough of you showing up that by the time I finish with you all, I’m going to be past my curfew. Not to mention, I don’t know how long all your batteries are going to last. So how about I go inside Lexx here, use my phone to call for a ride big enough for all of us, get my lawyer on the line, and we can start clearing all of this up back in my nice comfortable jail cell? After all, right now, I only have your words that you’re even who you say you are, and I’ve already experienced one drone that was sent to me maliciously. I’m sure everyone here is willing to acknowledge that having this many process servers show up within a few seconds of each other, for entirely unrelated matters, is just a wee bit unusual, particularly when BosWash’s legal system has already been kind enough to provide me with a mailing address and a schedule of when I’ll be there?”
Some of the drones rotated to look at each other, perhaps sheepishly…
… but I’ll probably never know what they said next.
Every so often, the CPU running the simulation of my brain paused said sim for a few moments, to copy the volatile RAM into slightly less volatile semi-permanent storage, the equivalent of a 2010-era hard-drive. Usually, I never even noticed the teensy gaps, in much the way people don’t notice the blurs on their retinas as their eyes move. That moment, with the drones glancing at each other, was the moment when such a backup took place — and presumably, in the next few minutes, something happened to prevent any further such backups, such as, say, an EMP generator wiping my RAM.
And if I’d thought the world was weird the first time I’d been revived, it didn’t hold a patch to how strange things were the next time I woke up.
Trunchbull, Cervelet, Valy J. ThunderBeast, and ECMajor.