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We confronted each other from our very different perspectives, the ward and warden, locked in conflict on the brink of success. I couldn't tell what she was thinking, and I wondered then if I ever could. I could chart every blood vessel and every neuron in Clair's brain. I could catalogue the proportions of every neurotransmitter. But that wasn't the same as knowing someone. Clair wasn't just the meat of her brain. She was the complex flow of information rising out of it. She was an emergent property.

And Mallory in turn was an emergent property within her emergent property, just as Mallory had been with Libby. Now, there was none of Libby left. Her consciousness had been swamped as though by a tidal wave. How much of Clair remained? She had d-matted many times since her capture, and each time Improvement had rewritten her brain slightly more into the Mallory state. Was Clair on the verge of disappearing too? Wasn't disappearing the same thing as dying?

Reviewing the transcripts of her conversation with Wallace, I found much to worry me. Improvement was a lie fostered to provide hosts for geniuses still hungry for life. Mallory was a murderer with a death-wish, jumping from body to body in search of . . . what? Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps the repetition was an end to itself, an endless cycle of punishment received and dealt out on perceived enemies. If Clair had been Libby's enemy for cheating on Zep, who was Clair's enemy now? Who was it she wanted to erase?

"Which AI would break if you caused a parity violation?" Clair asked me.

"Qualia, the conductor. Maybe Quiddity, too. I can't tell."

"Is that what's stopping you?"

"No. Why would it?"

"Because I think I've worked out what you are. You're not a lost girl, like Libby. You were never a girl at all. Mallory didn't recognize you. You have no memory of ever having a body. You can do things that seem impossible-things the dupes can do, like changing someone's pattern, taking over their minds. How could you do that if you were like me, an ordinary person?

"No," she said, "you're an AI. You're part of the system. An unintended part, I'm sure, but connected to it. Wallace found a way to get around Qualia and Quiddity-some kind of partition in their minds, keeping secrets from the rest. Something smaller but essentially un-wrangled, as Turner put it. Maybe that's you, or maybe you came out of it somehow. I don't know, but it has to be something like that. That's why Wallace was so interested in you. Q, the child of Qualia and Quiddity. Q, the AI they lost control of.

"So I know you can break parity," Clair said. "The only thing stopping you is you yourself."

I was silent for a long time. Everything she said was likely true. I was a part of the Improvement Complex gone rogue, but I had wanted to be like Clair and dreamed of having a common heritage-two lost girls railing against fate. My theory had never gelled. Hers fit the facts infinitely, painfully better.

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