Saturday, March 13, 2021

Big Papa: Keys to the Castle (Part III)

Two days later, Lowell and I are sitting on one side of a table, like this is mediation for a divorce, and one of us is the other’s attorney. No one else is in the room yet except for a robot assistant with limited cognitive capabilities. I check my watch. “Are the other parties in a different part of the matrioshka body?” I question the bot. “How wide is the time discrepancy?”
“Oh, we are no longer as close as we were to Sagittarius A-star,” it explains. “The entire hyperstructure is presently operating at roughly the same relativistic time as your average planet in one of the outer galactic arms.”
“We left the black hole?” I ask rhetorically. “What year is it, by Earth time?”
“Twelve-thousand three hundred, and thirty-seven,” the bot answers. It means 2337, but it’s using the human era calendar, which arbitrarily adds ten thousand years.
“We’ve still not yet caught up to the creation of the matrioshka body,” I point out.
“They will not reenter the stellar neighborhood until the time loop is complete. There will be no interference with the past,” the bot says. “Research into the effects of high gravity on time has been exhausted. That is all I know about it.”
“Thank you,’ I say to it.
Gacar enters the room from one door, while Tamerlane Pryce comes in from another, as if they rehearsed their grand entrance. Lowell and I stand up respectfully, then sit down with the other two. “Thank you three for coming. This is a relatively informal meeting to see if this issue can resolve itself. We understand that your species demands a sort of...long-winded approach to everything you do. My people would rather stay out of it, if at all possible. I’m here to facilitate discussion, but intend to make no judgments. If you cannot come to an agreement, we will step in, but not before that. Understand this, the afterlife simulation exists as a favor to whoever wants it. As long as it does not disrupt anyone else’s processing power, we will let it be. We don’t care who’s running it, or even what they’re doing with it. We will shut it down, however, if that is the only way to end this. Am I understood?”
“Yes,” we all say in unison.
“Then we’ll begin,” Gacar says. “Ellie, you may speak first, but after that, I expect the three of you to police yourselves, and stay civil without intervention.”
“Thank you, Gacar,” I say. I turn my attention to Pryce. He regards me politely, but like he has a magic bullet in his arsenal—and knows that his argument wins, regardless of what I say. He’s just waiting for his moment to drop the mic and pwn me, so to speak. I must preempt him. “I do not demand control of the simulation. I only ask what you did with my friends, and why they are not here to control it, if only alongside you?”
He tilts his head to the other side. “I killed Trinity. Thor and my daughter were conscripted into some kind of train war. I didn’t ask a lot of questions.”
“Why did you kill Trinity?” I ask. I’m keeping my cool, because if she truly died, her consciousness should still have survived in the simulation. Technically, the simulation always existed if he went back in time to collect everyone’s consciousness from history. The bot even called it a time loop.
“It couldn’t be helped. “Thor destroyed the body I was using before her, so I jumped into Trinity’s.”
I think a moment. “That’s when you were masquerading as me,” I posit.
“Yes. I intended to ingratiate myself into your group, and become one of the big four in your stead. There’s a reason I haven’t done that before, though. I’m not a good actor. I’m...not a great person either, but I’m nothing if not honest. I couldn’t pretend to be you. Didn’t last a couple minutes. So I let Thor kill me, and switched tactics.”
“Wait. That doesn’t make any sense. You say you weren’t capable of pretending to be me, but you were good enough of an actor to pretend to be Trinity?”
“I wasn’t her at first,” Pryce answers. “I was a passenger. I couldn’t control the things she did or said. I would later realize that I was influencing her the entire time, which is why they abandoned you so decisively, but Trinity was still there back then. Over time, my consciousness overtook hers...until there was nothing left. I was not aware that this would happen. By the time I had the chance to make myself a new clone, Trinity was essentially brain dead.”
“But she’s still alive,” I put forth. “She’s somewhere in the sim.”
He looks saddened. The guy actually looks saddened, it’s unbelievable. “Contrary to popular belief, not everyone goes to the sim after they die.”
“What?” Lowell finally jumps in. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Pryce sighs, and runs his finger through his hair. “Little bits in the brain. They act like insulation, but they’re what transfer neural data. An entire backup of the brain is located inside every brain. When someone dies, that generally survives long enough to complete a transfer to an external server, which is on Earth—and most other planets before they’re needed. From there, it can be transferred to the sim. There are exceptions to this. I spent a lot of time perfecting the timing. I needed to be able to rescue people even if they were blown up by a bomb. I needed people who were stabbed in the head with a sword. I am damn good too. Almost everyone makes it. Almost.”
“What are the exceptions?” I press. “What made Trinity one of these exceptions?”
“Technological advancements come with some pretty crazy ways to die. The twentieth century gave us vaporization. The people who die within the blast radius of a nuclear bomb do so too quickly for my systems to save. Your buddy, Lucius Deschamp can basically do this with his mind. I can’t save those people either. It doesn’t matter how fast I made my program, it was never fast enough. Thor didn’t want any time travel, other than the first one that sent us to the beginning of the endeavor. I respected that, but it means that some people can’t be saved. To answer your question, there are other exceptions, which go the other way. They’re too slow. Some people’s minds don’t die all at once. Alzheimer’s, dementia; these involve microdeaths that essentially destroy the person’s identity little by little. How do you quantify that? It’s hard enough to map and transfer a single flash image of someone’s mind, but over time, as it changes? That’s...not impossible, but it was hard, and still leaves us with exceptions.”
“You still haven’t explained Trinity yet,” I remind him.
“But I have, haven’t I? I told you my mind took over her body...slowly. Dementia patients slowly lose their minds, but those minds aren’t being replaced, they’re just losing connections. And that revision history still exists, so all I have to do is backup those people long before their deaths, uploading them as slowly as their disease destroys them. Before you ask, I can’t back up everyone using this technique, like they do on Altered Carbon, because that much server space would alert people to our existence, but I’ve been able to reserve a little extra space for those few who need it. That didn’t work with Trinity, and some other people who suffer too much psychic trauma, like Volpsidia Raske.”
I sit quietly for a moment, and everyone just lets me. “This sounds like manslaughter to me. Where do manslaughterers go when they die? What level are they?”
“Level Three, Hock, just as they would be on Earth.”
I sit quietly for another moment. “Did you put yourself in there? You killed someone? Did you do your time? Or have you been sitting one your throne since this all started?”
“Is that what you want from me?” Pryce asks. “You want me to serve time in prison?”
“Yes,” I answer plainly.
He snaps his fingers, but keeps his eyes on me. A little wheel appears before us.
“What was that?” Lowell questions, looking around. “Are we in the sim?”
“As we have always been,” Pryce replies.
“I was concerned that one of you would resort to violence,” Gacar jumps back in. “We are in a part of the simulation that I control. I delegated the responsibility of making sure you understood this to someone else.” Gacar gives the assistant bot the stink eye, but he just keeps smiling back. He’s not programmed to feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt. Must be nice.
“Running the simulation is not easy,” Pryce says to me. “I wouldn’t think you would think it was, but I just want you to know that I did my best, and I hope you recognize and remember that when I’m up for parole.” There are twelve wedges on the wheel, of varying sizes. The smallest is obviously the hardest to land on, but if you get it, you’ll be resurrected. It’s only happened twice. When I, Lowell, and our other friends were brought back to life, he didn’t make us spin the wheel, because he had already made the decision. It has no power on its own, it’s just a way for him to turn life and death into a game. The fourth largest wedge is orange, and will send the spinner to a virtually inescapable prison section of the simulation. This is the wedge that Pryce deliberately chooses for himself, rather than spinning and hoping. He just adjusts the hand, so it goes where he wants it. His clothes automatically turn orange, but he doesn’t disappear right away. “You’ll see. You’ll understand the choices I made, and when you realize that the changes you make to the system are creating nothing but’ll know where to find me.”
As soon as Pryce disappears, a heavy metal gear a little larger than a normal human hand appears on the table, spinning like a top. It never loses momentum, due to us being in a simulation. It just keeps going, until I pick it up. “Does anyone know what this is?”
“A symbol,” Gacar explains. “The possessor of that gear controls the simulation. Don’t fear it, though. If someone were to physically steal it from you, they wouldn’t simply take your place. There’s a real world analog, but as far as I know, it doesn’t really do anything. He’s just telling you that you won.”
We’re silent for a second. “Congratulations,” Lowell says to me, not in monotone or shock, but genuinely and softly. “What is your first act as God of this world?”
I inhale deeply, then let it out. “I’m going to prove him wrong, and show that I can indeed save everyone, including dementia patients, and vaporized victims. We’re ignoring Thor’s mandate, and going back in time, so that everyone makes it to the simulation, especially Trinity.”

No comments :

Post a Comment