Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gideon's Chip, Part Eleven


Gideon's Chip, Part Eleven

   I'm not sure what I last posted, so here's a couple.

***

   During a run, my brain always feels naked. It might sound strange, but I
think it is a normal response for a person in my precarious profession. At
least, I certainly hope that it's a normal response.
   I start thinking about how the brain works until I am convinced I can
actually feel neurotransmitters fi      ring and firing. Tiny electrical impulses
race down nerves and through neurons. I think it is fascinating to think we -
our thoughts, actions, intentions, morals, loves, and hates - can be reduced
to a hidden chemical dance...
   And its so easily damaged. That's what I think about really: brain damage.
All the delicate things that make me, well, me are exposed and vulnerable
while I am riding around like a cowboy in this electric fantasy. Would a
nasty piece of Ice ever short circuit my ability to fear that Ice some day?
Wouldn't that just be ironic.
   The address I had been given was unassuming in the Net. It was a pearly
cube that was twice as high as I was and, of course, about that wide. Walking
around it, I didn't see any kind of markings.
   So I typed something in a far away keyboard and magic fingers reached out
from my deck to run over the wall in front of me. Data poured through my link
to the machine: it was a normal data wall with a bit of Ice that was neither
unusual or troublesome. Nothing else.
   I frowned. Could it be this easy? Or, would the front door be this easy?
   I thought briefly about my conversation with the mysterious benefactor -
and the lapel pin I had been given - and activated a program to deal with the
first hurdled. Invisible codes in my machine wrestled with invisible codes
held by another anonymous computer. I could feel the struggle. I could feel
my neurotransmitters rushing to receptor sites.
   Then the struggle stopped. My deck informed me the wall would allow me to
pass.
   I walked to the wall and my ICON melted through it. What was beyond was
nothing like what I expected.

***

   The thready scent of lilac drifted on the breeze. I drank it in.
   Looking across the grass carpeted field toward the pond and bud of a
forest beyond, I realized I had stepped into somebody's toy. From the quality
of this virtual simulation, it had to be a rich somebody's toy.
   But why?
   Virtual realities are fairly common place. Hell, lower end ones are
becoming cheaper all the time. But this one, this was just about as virtual
as they come. I could smell things. The breeze was warm. If I had allergies,
I would be sneezing. This had cost someone more money than twelve people made
in their lifetimes.
   So why was it here? And protected by a simple Wall?
   My mysterious benefactor had given me nightmares and cold sweats for day.
The shoot out on my porch and subsequent chase had me thinking I was going to
die with a bullet - probably a clip full - in my back. But now...Now I was
truly terrified.
   A white rabbit ran by. It glanced at a golden watch on a golden fob,
muttering about the time.
   I turned to run...
   And found the exit gone. I called up a program, the far away part of me
listening to the sound of my hurried typing like rain on a tin roof.
Invisible fingers probed the virtual pocket for its invisible egress.
   But it had vanished.
   Impossible, I thought. Then a strangled, no!
   My fingers were now pounding at the keyboard. I called my probes back and
modified them as fast as was possible while I was still jacked in. Codes
flashed through my inner, electronic eye. I overwrote them. When I was
finished, I unleashed the program again.
   Two computers spoke while I waited, my flesh body sweating.
   Find it! Find it!
   My deck began to feed a trickle of data to me through my interface. I
sorted it out in a hurry. The program was now examining the nature of this
place on a very detailed level and sending me information about every
electron it could find.
   Find it!
   Something intruded in on the flows of data. It was a routine message from
the deck: someone else had just popped into the virtual reality with me. My
fingers sputtered on the keyboard.
   I couldn't see the intruder.
   My program was talking to the trees, dissecting the wind...
   The other ICON was behind me in the forest, my deck reported in a silent
whisper.
   Information poured in through the interface...Find it!
   "Hello, Thomas," said a voice. "I've taken the liberty of disconnecting
this node from the Net so we could talk."
   My fingers stilled on the keyboard.
   I turned. The Mad Hatter was smiling at me.

***

   I did not answer the ICON. What does one say to characters from children's
books?
   "I am Charles, but you can refer to me as Chuck. I want to be your friend.
Please sit down." My deck stirred, sending my brain a report of what was
happening in Wonderland. I knew the architecture was changing even before the
overgrown mushroom appeared. I sat on it. Then one popped in for Charles. He
sat down too, although his expression reflected the fact that he was much
happier about the situation than I was.
   Comfortably seated, he continued. "I was running checks on the Net,
sifting through data tables and lost bits, and your name came up. More
accurately, I found what was left of an inquiry into your background and
history."
   "I see," I said non-committally.
   "Since you were the person my father got the chip from, I was very
interested to see what the report said. When I reconstructed it, I found it
wasn't as spectacular as I thought it might be." He sighed.
   Little warning bells were trilling in my head. Not that I had relaxed. I
was still trapped in a botched run and wanted out. But as soon as the Mad
Hatter said his father had taken the chip from me, I said, ah ha. Now I was
afraid for my life and very interested to hear what the cartoon character had
to say next.
   "The chip isn't very good. Parts of the data are just missing. My father
had me try to reconstruct it, but I couldn't. That's how I know about the
clones. But now that you're here, you can give me the rest of the data. Isn't
that great?"
   Yeah, great. The Mad Hatter was beaming on the mushroom across from mine.
   I had to tell him. "I don't have the rest of it."
   He frowned. "Why not?"
   "I just don't. It wasn't my chip."
   The ICON's brows drew together as he sat contemplating the situation. I
sat nervously on my cute chair. After a moment, the Mad Hatter regarded me
and with a few serious tone said, "Then you have to get it for me. The rest
of the data about cloning."
   "Why don't you just get it yourself? With all the reconstruction work
you've been doing, you're obviously good with electronics."
   "I can't," said the Hatter.
   "Well, why not?" I asked, mildly exasperated. I knew he could damn well
get himself.
   "I'm not real."
   I had to ask. "Not real?"
   "I am a computer generated personality. An artificial intelligence. I
can't leave here."
   I was so startled I almost fell off my mushroom. An AI? Half a dozen
questions came bubbling up from my mind at once. Why couldn't he leave? What
was he purpose? And if the company had resources for an AI, why didn't it
have advanced cloning projects of it own already?
   Finally I said, "If you're an AI, why do you want data about cloning?"
   He smiled. "So I can have a body, of course."

***

   Was that possible? Could an AI actually inhabit a body?
    I didn't realize I had voiced my questions aloud until Charles, the
boyish artificial person, answered in an instructional tone. "Of course!" he
said. "Once I have a body, all my father will need to do is implant a few
coprocessors, MRAM chips, and an interface to the medula. Oh, and maybe the
pons..."
   Charles continued with a list of other adjustments that would need to be
made. I tuned him out as my thoughts turned immediately to my mysterious
benefactor. One obvious question pounded my brain: was he human? Or was he a
computer animated puppet?
   It was a difficult call. What was the criteria for determining such a
thing? I sighed. He certainly did seem to be able to move his body without
any difficult, any visible strain. He was coordinated and I didn't think an
AI could perform such a feat without a great deal of practice. But he was
cold and, well, cruel. I couldn't decide whether this was a sign of inherent
humanity or not.
   This lead me to a greater question. Would a cloned body have a soul?
   "Then I'll be able to move myself to the coprocessors inside the skull.
Once I learn how to control all the muscles and autonomic responses, I'll be
ready to begin living in the body on a full time basis. Won't be it
fantastic?"
   "Charles...Chuck, I can't get that data for you."
   Would the body have a soul? Would it?
   He frowned at me. "You have to. Why not?"
   If it did, what would happen to the soul when an AI began to ride the body
like a car?
   "It isn't right."
   "What do you mean?"
   "It isn't right. Morally. You can't make people - bodies - just to...use
them."
   "I don't understand."
   "Only God can make people, Chuck. God didn't make you and it isn't right
for you to have a body. Or even to try to have a body made for you so that
you can...ride it."
   His reaction was part temper tantrum, part cool rage. The face of the
virtual mask he wore, the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, contorted to
inhuman dimensions. The mushroom he sat on shook under him as he cried, "You
will do it, Thomas! You will!"
   I stood and backed away. I sent out an electronic probe to try and find an
exit.
   "I want a body! I want to walk outside!"
   Charles' face had become mass of graven wrinkles and throbbing veins. His
eyes were too large for his skull and sudden his mouth was full of teeth that
would put a wolf to shame. Elements of the virtual environment we inhabited
went haywire: branches swayed under a wind that wasn't there, the scent of
lilacs was overpowering and then gone, a white rabbit jumped backwards out of
a hole and ran facing the wrong direction into a pixelized forest...
   "Thomas!" roared the AI.
   I was afraid again, terribly afraid. I shook my head anyway.
   In another world, a hand clutched at my heart. And squeezed. Bio-monitors
built into my deck began racing to the red line. Although my virtual limbs
were still steady, my flesh ones spasmed as I tried to type.
   "I can kill you! I'm going to kill you! It's like black Ice, like
feedback! I'll do it, Thomas."
   Pain reached through the haze of the Net to feather a touch on my nerves.
   I was going to die.
   Charles hopped down from his mushroom and stalked me. He was all childish
rage.
   Monitors said my heart was destroying itself.
   Pain. Pain that was eating my consciousness -
   I was going to die.
   "Thomas!"
   But I couldn't let this angry, immature soul be born into a bio-engineered
body. It was wrong. I believed that. Sometimes you die for your beliefs.
   I was in pain. Such pain.
   My heart -
   Alice's world was dimming around me. It took a greenish cast as my brain
began to fail.
   Pain. Booming pain. Impossible pain. I was going to die.
   Charles kicked at my ICON after it collapsed. I could see his wicked face
from the corner of my eye, but couldn't turn my head to take it in fully. He
bent down to scream at my failing self. I couldn't only hear bits of what he
was saying. It came to me through my dying brain and sounded like a record
skipping.
   My sight continued to dim. I wouldn't -
   I -
       wouldn't -
                        I was going to -

   For a second time, I whispered, "Yes..."

***

   Lily watched me build my fortress with a bemused smile and a bottle of
mineral water. I sat on the floor, circuit boards, odd wires, and a gun
encircling the small clear area of floor where I worked. Small puffs of smoke
rose up as I sodered connections.
   "What are you doing?" my bodyguard asked. The look of pure terror that had
fouled her face after I jacked out of my run screaming had faded and a pink
tint had returned to her pale, proportional features.
   "Adding to my deck."
   "Adding what?"
   "Protection. Buffers."
   "For when you run into Ice again?"
   "Yes." Ice. I had told Lily I had run into Black Ice unexpectedly as she
took my pulse with a shaky hand. It was the first thing that had come to mind
and it was almost the truth. Kinda. Somewhat. What Charles had done to me -
revving up my heart until it was ready to explode - was exactly the kind of
thing Black Ice did to you.
   Besides, neck deep in this double agent business, I couldn't afford to
trust her.
   Damn, Charles. Damn him to a virtual Hell.
   I watched soder melt, fusing another layer of capacitors and fuses to my
deck. Now instead of sleek lines and perfect plastic, my gear was a mass of
scrounged wires and naked circuit boards. But it would protect me from
biofeedback. Kinda. Somewhat.
   There just wasn't any way I was going into the Net without a greater level
of protection and since I didn't have the luxury of time, this homemade
buffer would have to do. The three sanitary store-bought ones I had ordered
would be delivered tomorrow, but I couldn't wait that long to make another
run.
   I blew on the circuit. Then I reached for the jack.
   "Are you going back in?" Lily asked, concern painting her tone.
   "Yep."
   "Good luck."
   I smiled for her benefit. "Thanks."
   I smiled and held on to the jack.
   "What's a matter?"
   "Nothing," I said, but the disembodied face of the Mad Hatter floated
menacingly in my inner vision. He was in there. He was waiting for me in the
Net.
   There was a long pause, after which I put the jack down so Lily couldn't
see my hand shake. I let out a sigh. Damn it. Damn it all. "Do you ever drink
anything but water?" I asked my bodyguard in a light voice.
   "Like alcohol?"
   "Yes."
   "Sure, sometimes. Why?"
   "Let's go get drunk."
   She raced me to the door.

***


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