In The Network
When Grace inserted the gel, his gel, into ITB’s network, Tim’s first sensation was of the smooth, polished public persona of the Italitech-Bransen company, Tadi Varghese. He stretched deeper into the network and heard echoes of a speech Varghese made last quarter. The accent bothered him. The words sounded like Varghese, but the accent was wrong. Wasn’t it?
Tim explored other ITB media pathways, troubled. He found speeches on file he knew he had witnessed, spoken by strangers. Or people he knew to be gone speaking in voices not their own. He checked the file dates. Old. New. Few of them matched his memory.
Simone Pastore. Oh, the voice. That perfect voice. And to see her eyes again, though it was a trivial news conference for the new Belt route. He could still smell her hair. Wait. He had been standing next to her at the news conference. He wasn’t there. His initial joy crashed into sadness and confusion as Simone faded. He could still hear her voice.
Maud Van Decker. Tim brushed against her security protocols in his confusion. The work steadied him. He catalogued Maud’s simpler encryptions: those, he could coax open in his free time. She also had tunnels that linked far-flung storage units via quantum encryption. Impressive. A challenge. He would like to meet her.
Wait. He should have known her. From before. He looped back to the media files.
“Hey, T. It’s been three days. Grace is getting antsy. We need to figure out a plan.”
Raj’s daily interruption. The same question, slightly rephrased. Yes, they did need to figure out a plan, Tim thought. But first, he needed to figure out himself.
Tim pulled back from the ITB system. Through his closed eyes, he saw Raj’s apartment in reflected ultrasound. Grace wasn’t there. Raj was bending over him. There was a furrow in his brow. Ever since he woke as a PodPooch, Raj had stayed nearby, constantly fussing. He remembered Raj’s worry when his speech was initially slurred and his gait was wobbly. Raj was there during his panic after bootstrap. Tim supposed he was grateful.
Tim hated when Raj snapped his fingers in front of his snout. No matter how many times he told Raj, the man needed eye-to-eye contact. Too normal a preference for a Bod Town inventor.
Oh well. Tim opened his eyes.
“What did you find?” Raj asked, no preliminaries.
“Much,” Tim said. “But it’s the disjointed memories that bother me.”
Raj sat down on the floor beside Tim. “Example?”
“Tadi Varghese. His voice is wrong. It makes me feel like I’m hearing an imposter. And others. They aren’t right.”
“Well, Tim, you know how you were initialized. I couldn’t let you cook forever. The error function asymptotically approaches zero. It never reaches it.”
Yes, Tim knew. But it troubled him. If Raj had doubled the permutations presented to his gel, perhaps the set of initial conditions would have had much lower error. Of course, Tim knew that was folly, too. He had seen the charts. The error function had nearly flattened out when Raj turned on his consciousness.
“You even thought my voice was different, remember?”
Tim tried to remember his initial reaction on hearing Raj. “Yes, but it was the new hearing, not your voice.”
“The structure of your old brain was completely replicated in the gel. You know that. And to the best of my ability, the potential across every single synapse was recorded. But at the quantum level—”
“I know,” said Tim. “You could only approximate.” The differences unnerved him. What bothered him the most, he realized, was himself. In what ways had he changed? How could he possibly know? I’m no longer who I was, Tim thought. But that’s what I wanted, right? I’m Tim, not—
“Talk to me, Tim.”
Raj stretched out and touched Tim’s furry head. It was a strange gesture to Tim, now, but only because he was grasping at being human. It calmed him nonetheless.
“It’s just disconcerting that the most important memories seem to have the most uncertainty,” Tim said.
“Important memories have the most connections. They are the ones in which you’ll find the most flaws,” Raj said. “But I know your memories are intact. I hear my old friend every time you speak.”
Tim appreciated that Raj cared enough to reassure him, but they both knew it wasn’t entirely true. Tim supposed his choice had been a kind of suicide, after all. Would that have pleased him, before the bootstrap? He didn’t know. He didn’t grieve as much now as he thought he would, looking at all of the familiar faces. It bothered him, but he didn’t want to feel the way he remembered. Tim supposed, for perspective, that he should remember how much he had hated the idea of gene therapy. Gene therapy altered a person far more than his uncomfortable immortality.
Tim shook himself like a wet dog, letting the thoughts spray out and away. To business.
“Have you got an uplink? I found things in there.”
Raj sighed and shifted. “Yeah. What did you find?”
“Varghese is spending a lot of money bribing the compstate,” Tim said. “Most of the R&D budget is going elsewhere. Bribes and surveillance.”
“I don’t think that will help us, Tim. The specifics you’re seeing might be news, but everybody knows it’s going on.”
“True. But it has me thinking. ITB is interested in the gel, but they won’t be able to use it on Earth. The stigma against artificial intelligence is too great. So where would they have to go?”
“They aren’t thinking that far ahead, Tim. They just see better computers.”
“Maybe the shareholders see it that way, but someone in ITB is thinking ahead. I keep coming across the codename, ‘Hopper,’ and it’s involved in a lot of Mars-directed inquiries.”
“Is it a person, or a project?”
“A person, or a small project with only one person interfacing on its behalf. And if it is a project, it isn’t official.”
Raj considered for a moment.
“You mentioned bribes before—” Raj began.
“Hopper isn’t associated with bribes.”
“I don’t care about the bribes. What was the other thing you mentioned?”
“Surveillance? ITB is spending thirty-seven percent of its R&D budget on it.”
“Yes, surveillance. Tim, don’t you see?” Raj snapped his fingers.
Tim winced. At least Raj wasn’t snapping in his face this time.
“Tim, access Maud Van Decker again. Instead of going for specific files, see if you can use your memory fluidity. Get into ITB and start thinking about Hopper, Mars, and Van Decker. What memories does it trigger?”
Tim sank back into ITB. Memory fluidity. A fancy name for a search function in his brain. He hadn’t tried it before, afraid of tripping alarms or leaving unexplained errors.
Focus. Hopper. Nothing. The encryption he saw before, and an outline of Mars. Mars. The two were mostly linked. Nothing new.
Maud Van Decker.
It felt like he had been trying to remember a song, and with a crucial phrase, the song sang in his head, end to end.
“Oh,” Tim said, as he processed the information.
“What? What is it?”
“Maud Van Decker wants to develop the liquid computer on Mars. Hopper is her project codename. And as far as I can tell, it’s not sanctioned at ITB. She’s going to double-cross the company.” Tim blinked. “Raj, how did you make the connection?”
“I knew if you treated it as your own memory, you’d be able to find something! Ha!” Raj grinned like a Cheshire cat. “And it made sense that she’d want the liquid computer for AI. That’s where the real money is,” Raj said. “Hell, it’s what I’d do. And not here on Earth. Strict laws, and too many outdated ethics. But there are plenty of ready customers on Mars.”
Tim saw the activity bubbling up behind Raj’s eyes.
“Tim, remember a few days ago when you said you’d have bidirectional access to ITB’s network?”
“Have you tried it?”
“No. It would leave tracks, and we don’t have a plan yet.”
Raj stood up and started to pace.
“Tim. I have an idea. But we need to run an access test first. Can you make an innocent little change?”
“Sure,” Tim said.
He retrieved a two month old press release about an ITB cruiser in the Belt. He felt a sense of wicked glee as he included a low crew morale report.
“You sure it worked?”
Tim’s mimic surface shimmered as he pulled up the press release on his flank. “Last quarter reported low crew morale.”
“What was it originally?”
“High, of course. But it was probably a lie anyway. No one likes working the Belt.”
Raj chuckled, a slow smile spreading across his face. “And now for a less innocent change. Time to call Grace.”