stupid

7 0 0

I didn't truly understand what identity meant at that point. I understood only labels. Just how slippery they were too hadn't truly sunk in yet. Clair was Clair, and that was all that mattered to me.

What mattered to Clair was more of a mystery, apart from becoming a better person. Maybe she thought there was still a chance of making Libby like her again, despite everything that had happened, everything she had seen.

That was how I read her first utterance when she woke in the darkened carriage.

Clair: "God, I hope it's not too late . . . ."

Turner: "Deceitful as it is, hope at least leads us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route."

Clair: "Oh . . . is that a quote?"

Turner: "More or less. Someone French, a long time ago." (sound of movement) "You can't sleep either."

Clair: "It's not that. I mean, I was asleep, but . . . . I think I might've done something very stupid."

Turner: "If I worried about every stupid thing I've done, I'd never sleep again."

Clair: "You're not the worrying kind. I can tell that just by looking at you."

Turner: "Like hope, appearances are deceiving. You said that yourself on the Skylifter."

Clair: "Right. Everyone says you're eighty years old, but that's obviously not true."

Turner: "I'm eighty-three next month."

Clair: "Fine. Whatever."

Turner: "I'm not lying. You asked me once what led me to WHOLE, and I told you there was nothing wrong with me. That isn't entirely true, depending on what you regard as wrong or right. D-mat has cursed my body. My very existence is a lie and a curse-a curse many, unfortunately, would kill to possess."

Clair: "D-mat gave you eternal youth?"

Turner: "D-mat mutated me, gave me an abnormal life. It's set me apart from everyone. When it started to show, I had no choice but to abandon the people I loved. I can never go back, or people will ask questions. They can't ever know and I can't ever be normal. God help me if I tried to have children. What horrors might they inherit from me? That is the vilest thought of all."

Clair: "Haven't you had your genome sequenced, diagnosed-?"

Turner: "No! Were someone to learn what I am, the secret could never be contained. We'd be back where we were fifty years ago, overpopulated, poisoning the planet with our filth. Really, I should wear gloves and shave my head, or lock myself in a bubble, or kill myself-but I am human to that extent at least. I want to be part of the world and make a change for the better."

Clair: "But d-mat saved the world. Why do you hate it so much, when it's helped so many people?"

Turner: "I didn't always hate it. Before the wars I worked on the control software for the consortium that brought d-mat into being. I was an AI engineer. We called ourselves 'wranglers', like with cattle. AI were strange, new things. The concern was that they would break out and take over the world. We were more worried about AIs than d-mat itself, which is ironic! That was before we had a better idea of what intelligence was, of course. We imagined huge, planet-sized minds gobbling up every piece of knowledge we had and destroying us all. Now we know that we can have either big minds that are dumb across the board, or small minds that are super-smart at only one or two things. What we were afraid of just can't exist. So the AIs we have today are vigilant, tireless and thorough, but they're great at missing the obvious. Consciousness is complexity, Clair, and the only way we've found to make that is the old-fashioned way."

Clair: "Were you good at it, taming AIs?"

Turner: "Not really. That's how I ended up wrangling people instead. I do remember the big, dumb AIs we built for VIA, though. We named them for philosophical concepts concerning the nature of things. Different concepts because they handle different roles in the d-mat process. One AI is all about numbers and atoms-the essential math that leads to a thing being what it is. That's Quiddity. The other is about the subjective quality of the finished thing: whether it's still the same or not, even though every physical piece comprising it has changed. That's Qualia. It's amazing the system hasn't cracked completely open with those two, very different minds at its heart."

Clair: "I read somewhere once that every time we think of a memory, we erase it from our mind and re-write it again. Like every time we use d-mat."

Turner: "You're going to say and we still know who we are."

Clair: "Uh, yes."

Turner: "Can you tell me what happened at your tenth birthday party, Clair? How it felt the second time you kissed someone? What you had for breakfast ten days ago? I didn't think so. Now, imagine that those missing memories are actually pieces of your brain, or your heart, or your eyes. Is thinking that you know who you are still reassuring?"

Clair: "But we lose bits of ourselves every day anyway. Skin, eyelashes, fingernails-and no one cares. Aren't all the cells in our body replaced every seven years?"

Turner: "That's a comforting myth, I'm afraid. Some cells are never replaced. And the tissue we shed that way is dead tissue. If we chopped working cells from your muscles or brain, you'd notice for sure."

Clair: "What about that line they always quote about the toenail-the total amount of human lost every decade?"

Turner: "What about Jesse's mother? She disappeared and she's bigger than a toenail."

Clair: "Yes, but-"

Turner: "It's all about what you measure. Define human. Define missing. Hell, define toenail. Lies, damned lies and statistics, remember. Don't forget, d-mat started as nothing more than a new way of moving matter around, and look what happened. It saved the world, Clair, but it might yet destroy us all. No one saw that coming, even those of who were there at the beginning."

Clair: "So you don't think we're going to achieve anything with Ant Wallace?"

Turner: "I don't know, and I'm going to try not to lose any more sleep over it. Thank you for keeping me company. It has been agreeable, as some old French guy might have put it. I like your energy. It gives me hope to fight alongside someone like you."

(silence)

113 (Twinmaker)Read this story for FREE!