truth

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I patched a series of windows into her lenses. The Linwood home, peacekeepers combing through the rubble. The results of detailed forensic studies. A news feeder intoning, "First responders describe the scene as a bomb site, provoking speculation that reclusive fad artist Dylan Linwood has destroyed his workshop in order to go even further underground. No bodies have been found. His son, Jesse Linwood, has not been located for comment."

"Is someone trying to cover this up," she asked me, "or just clean up as they go?"

"I believe it's the latter. Municipal reports list no bodies found at the safe-house, either. Spent casings, evidence of gunfire, traces of spilled blood-but no actual bodies."

"Any mention of me? Am I still wanted by the peacekeepers?"

"You've been officially listed as a missing person. Your parents are calling it a kidnap. It's causing a small amount of a buzz in the wake of the video Dylan Linwood posted of you and him in the chancellor's office."

"Don't tell me that's still available."

"No. It was taken down almost immediately. But word has spread, and fragments are still circulating by means other than the Air."

"Can you show me one?"

I pasted a tiny image into her lenses. The real Dylan Linwood was saying, "I have obtained the pathology reports into the deaths of nine young women." To his right, sitting with her hands clutched apprehensively in her lap, was Clair.

"Turn it off."

I did as she asked, and she thought for a moment.

"No bodies at all. Does that mean Zep isn't listed as dead either?"

"He is not, Clair, and neither is the member of WHOLE shot at the Oakland airfield. She is listed as being alive and at large. She must have escaped somehow."

"What about Libby? I'd check, but you warned me not to, even through the mask."

"Libby is in Italy. Her caption is unchanged."

Clair shook her head as though brushing cobwebs from her hair.

"Okay, so Dylan Linwood isn't a parity violation because he's not listed as dead. But someone's still copying him as fast as we can kill him. Like you did to Libby. She's still very much alive and yet you created another one of her in Copperopolis. How did you do that without setting off a parity violation alarm? Why did you do it?"

"I'll tell you. I don't want there to be any secrets between us."

That was the truth. Everything I knew I was happy to tell her. I couldn't have told her the things I didn't know, could I?

"Good. If I can understand how you do it, maybe we can understand the dupes a little better."

"That was my original intention, Clair. The thing about d-mat is that it does build a new person from scratch every time someone goes through it, and in theory you could duplicate yourself as many times as you wanted from the pattern you create by going through a booth. What's stopping you is the consensus that this would be ethically unacceptable. It's therefore illegal, and VIA takes this law very seriously. Their AIs were designed with this primary consideration in mind."

"The train driver and the conductor. I'm with you so far."

I input a simplified flow chart into Clair's lenses.

"While it may seem as though I broke parity by having two versions of Libby in the world at once, I didn't actually do this at all. The real Libby had just stepped into a booth in New York. She was, therefore, officially in transit. What I did was simply divert the transfer of her pattern for a minute or two, by briefly blind-sighting the bus-driver AI. I built a version of Libby in Copperopolis from the pattern I diverted, then once I was finished with it uploaded the original pattern and sent it back on its way. No alarms sounded because there was technically only ever one version of her in existence at a time, as a person or as a pattern. Nothing was duplicated. Libby arrived at her destination as planned. If she noticed anything at all out of the ordinary, she probably assumed she had been held up by a data traffic jam. That's all."

Even to myself I sounded slightly smug. I was pleased with myself devising the plan so quickly.

"But that wasn't all you did," Clair said. "You put yourself into her."

"I did. Between New York and Copperopolis, I altered the definitions the conductor AI used to check that the Libby who arrived was the Libby who left. I superimposed a new neural map over hers, modelled on mine, being careful to save hers in the process. Then between Copperopolis and London, I returned her to exactly the state she was before. That's it."

"That's it?"

Actually, that was the hardest thing of all. Research into neural maps was extensive, ranging from mapping all the semi-independent modules that combined to form human consciousness (much as similar modules did with me) to modelling individual neurons and virtually evolving them to create the most advanced AIs of the present day. It had been possible to overlay my bodiless process onto the meat of a human brain, but only imperfectly, as my palsy and discomfort attested.

"I maintained parity and didn't hurt anyone," I said, dismissing that point. Clair was never interested in the technical details. "There was no reason for any kind of alarm. I didn't know I could do it until I tried, but once I did it turned out to be surprisingly easy."

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