Clair thought some more. I didn't hurry her. I had no sense of urgency now I was with her again.
"Let me see if I've got this straight. It's all about fooling the AIs and the rules they uphold, not actually breaking them. Changing the definitions. That's how you got the dupes off my tail that time . . . ."
"Yes, by redefining your label so you appeared to be someone else, someone who happened to be in transit at that exact time."
"And that's how there can be so many different versions of the Dylan Linwood dupes without breaking parity. The conductor AI will have no qualms about reproducing his original pattern because it has no reason not to. From its point of view, no laws are being broken. There's just one of him at a time, even if there is someone else inside his head. The AI doesn't know any different."
"Correct. Note that this can only happen under highly specific circumstances."
"But you and the dupes can both do it. Maybe you have the same backgrounds. Could they be someone you know, Q?"
That was a tricky point. Not that I had anything to do with the dupes, but that it touched an issue that I had been struggling with ever since coming into being.
"There's something I haven't told you, Clair."
"What is it? What now?"
"I'm frightened to say it because you might not believe me, but I have to tell you. I think it might be important."
"Q, whatever it is, please just tell me."
"I don't know who I am, exactly," I told her, "or where I came from."
And that remained the truth, for all my self-analysis and speculation. There were certain things I knew with absolute certainty about myself, but the origin of me and my sisters was not one of them.
"Are you saying you have amnesia?"
"No. I have memories. But before a certain point they don't belong to me. They don't feel like experiences I had. It's like . . . ." I hesitated, trying to put into words that which could not be put into words. Not everything was transformable from one state of being to another. "It's like being in a house, and you can explore the house and get to know it really well, but how you got to the house is a mystery. All you have is a map. You don't know what it's really like outside."
Clair was silent.
"The house is me," I said.
"Yeah, I get that."
"And the first memory that feels like mine is from when we met. You said to me, 'If you're going to quote Keats, at least get it right.'"
"That's right, I did."
"I don't know why I got it wrong."
"You said you were improving it."
"But I knew what the original was. Why would I change it? I don't understand why I would do that." I felt frustrated and vulnerable. This was the shadow my sense of self cast over itself; my entire being felt vivid and complete, but there were parts of me that simply weren't there, or were hidden from me. "This is what I mean by some memories not feeling like mine. I don't know who I was before you. I just know I wasn't . . . me."
"Could you be one of the Improved? Maybe your brain was damaged, and you've forgotten who you were. Rather than committing suicide, you've been trying to find the people like you, and trying to make contact when you do. I was the first to talk back."
"Maybe." The idea was seductive. Perhaps I had been reaching out to one just like me-the only person in the world I was allowed to talk to.
"Maybe getting the quote mixed up was a cry for help-not that I took it that way, but at least I knew the words were wrong."
"Only you, Clair."
"Good old Keats," she said in a light tone. "I knew he'd come in handy one day."
"'The poetry of the earth is never dead'," I quoted.
"Do you know where you are? Is there anyone else with you?"
"That's something else I don't understand. If I am one of the Improved, why don't I have a body?"
"Maybe you did," she said, "but someone else is using it."
YOU ARE READING
113 (Twinmaker)Science Fiction
A post-scarcity world transformed by free, instantaneous travel should be paradise, but nothing is ever as it seems. When an ordinary girl uses Improvement, a meme promising a complete physical makeover by little more than wishing for it, she brings...