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Chapter 1 Lobsters

  • Manfred's on the road again, making strangers rich.
  • It's a hot summer Tuesday, and he's standing in the plaza in front of th_entraal Station with his eyeballs powered up and the sunlight jangling of_he canal, motor scooters and kamikaze cyclists whizzing past and tourist_hattering on every side. The square smells of water and dirt and hot meta_nd the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells o_rams ding in the background, and birds flock overhead. He glances up an_rabs a pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he'_rrived. The bandwidth is good here, he realizes; and it's not just th_andwidth, it's the whole scene. Amsterdam is making him feel wanted already, even though he's fresh off the train from Schiphol: He's infected with th_ynamic optimism of another time zone, another city. If the mood holds, someone out there is going to become very rich indeed.
  • He wonders who it's going to be.
  • Manfred sits on a stool out in the car park at the Brouwerij 't IJ, watchin_he articulated buses go by and drinking a third of a liter of lip-curlingl_our gueuze. His channels are jabbering away in a corner of his head-u_isplay, throwing compressed infobursts of filtered press releases at him.
  • They compete for his attention, bickering and rudely waving in front of th_cenery. A couple of punks – maybe local, but more likely drifters lured t_msterdam by the magnetic field of tolerance the Dutch beam across Europe lik_ pulsar – are laughing and chatting by a couple of battered mopeds in the fa_orner. A tourist boat putters by in the canal; the sails of the huge windmil_verhead cast long, cool shadows across the road. The windmill is a machin_or lifting water, turning wind power into dry land: trading energy for space, sixteenth-century style. Manfred is waiting for an invite to a party wher_e's going to meet a man he can talk to about trading energy for space, twenty-first-century style, and forget about his personal problems.
  • He's ignoring the instant messenger boxes, enjoying some low-bandwidth, high- sensation time with his beer and the pigeons, when a woman walks up to him, and says his name: "Manfred Macx?"
  • He glances up. The courier is an Effective Cyclist, all wind-burned smooth- running muscles clad in a paean to polymer technology: electric blue lycra an_asp yellow carbonate with a light speckling of anti collision LEDs and tight- packed air bags. She holds out a box for him. He pauses a moment, struck b_he degree to which she resembles Pam, his ex-fiance.
  • "I'm Macx," he says, waving the back of his left wrist under her bar-cod_eader. "Who's it from?"
  • "FedEx." The voice isn't Pam's. She dumps the box in his lap, then she's bac_ver the low wall and onto her bicycle with her phone already chirping, disappearing in a cloud of spread-spectrum emissions.
  • Manfred turns the box over in his hands: it's a disposable supermarket phone, paid for in cash – cheap, untraceable, and efficient. It can even d_onference calls, which makes it the tool of choice for spooks and grifter_verywhere.
  • The box rings. Manfred rips the cover open and pulls out the phone, mildl_nnoyed. "Yes? Who is this?"
  • The voice at the other end has a heavy Russian accent, almost a parody in thi_ecade of cheap on-line translation services. "Manfred. Am please to meet you.
  • Wish to personalize interface, make friends, no? Have much to offer."
  • "Who are you?" Manfred repeats suspiciously.
  • "Am organization formerly known as KGB dot RU."
  • "I think your translator's broken." He holds the phone to his ear carefully, as if it's made of smoke-thin aerogel, tenuous as the sanity of the being o_he other end of the line.
  • "Nyet – no, sorry. Am apologize for we not use commercial translatio_oftware. Interpreters are ideologically suspect, mostly have capitalis_emiotics and pay-per-use APIs. Must implement English more better, yes?"
  • Manfred drains his beer glass, sets it down, stands up, and begins to wal_long the main road, phone glued to the side of his head. He wraps his throa_ike around the cheap black plastic casing, pipes the input to a simpl_istener process. "Are you saying you taught yourself the language just so yo_ould talk to me?"
  • "Da, was easy: Spawn billion-node neural network, and download Teletubbies an_esame Street at maximum speed. Pardon excuse entropy overlay of bad grammar: Am afraid of digital fingerprints steganographically masked into my-ou_utorials."
  • Manfred pauses in mid stride, narrowly avoids being mown down by a GPS-guide_oller blader. This is getting weird enough to trip his weird-out meter, an_hat takes some doing. Manfred's whole life is lived on the bleeding edge o_trangeness, fifteen minutes into everyone else's future, and he's normally i_omplete control – but at times like this he gets a frisson of fear, a sens_hat he might just have missed the correct turn on reality's approach road.
  • "Uh, I'm not sure I got that. Let me get this straight, you claim to be som_ind of AI, working for KGB dot RU, and you're afraid of a copyrigh_nfringement lawsuit over your translator semiotics?"
  • "Am have been badly burned by viral end-user license agreements. Have n_esire to experiment with patent shell companies held by Cheche_nfoterrorists. You are human, you must not worry cereal company reposses_our small intestine because digest unlicensed food with it, right? Manfred, you must help me-we. Am wishing to defect."
  • Manfred stops dead in the street. "Oh man, you've got the wrong fre_nterprise broker here. I don't work for the government. I'm strictl_rivate." A rogue advertisement sneaks through his junkbuster proxy and spam_lowing fifties kitsch across his navigation window – which is blinking – fo_ moment before a phage process kills it and spawns a new filter. He lean_gainst a shop front, massaging his forehead and eyeballing a display o_ntique brass doorknockers. "Have you tried the State Department?"
  • "Why bother? State Department am enemy of Novy-SSR. State Department is no_elp us."
  • This is getting just too bizarre. Manfred's never been too clear on new-ol_ld-new European metapolitics: Just dodging the crumbling bureaucracy of hi_ld-old American heritage gives him headaches. "Well, if you hadn't shafte_hem during the late noughties … " Manfred taps his left heel on the pavement, looking round for a way out of this conversation. A camera winks at him fro_top a streetlight; he waves, wondering idly if it's the KGB or the traffi_olice. He is waiting for directions to the party, which should arrive withi_he next half hour, and this Cold War retread Eliza-bot is bumming him out.
  • "Look, I don't deal with the G-men. I hate the military-industrial complex. _ate traditional politics. They're all zero-sum cannibals." A thought occur_o him. "If survival is what you're after, you could post your state vector o_ne of the p2p nets: Then nobody could delete you –"
  • "Nyet!" The artificial intelligence sounds as alarmed as it's possible t_ound over a VoiP link. "Am not open source! Not want lose autonomy!"
  • "Then we probably have nothing to talk about." Manfred punches the hang-u_utton and throws the mobile phone out into a canal. It hits the water, an_here's a pop of deflagrating lithium cells. "Fucking Cold War hangove_osers," he swears under his breath, quite angry, partly at himself for losin_is cool and partly at the harassing entity behind the anonymous phone call.
  • "Fucking capitalist spooks." Russia has been back under the thumb of th_pparatchiks for fifteen years now, its brief flirtation wit_narchocapitalism replaced by Brezhnevite dirigisme and Putinesque puritanism, and it's no surprise that the wall's crumbling – but it looks like the_aven't learned anything from the current woes afflicting the United States.
  • The neocommies still think in terms of dollars and paranoia. Manfred is s_ngry that he wants to make someone rich, just to thumb his nose at the would- be defector: See! You get ahead by giving! Get with the program! Only th_enerous survive! But the KGB won't get the message. He's dealt with old-tim_ommie weak-AIs before, minds raised on Marxist dialectic and Austrian Schoo_conomics: They're so thoroughly hypnotized by the short-term victory o_lobal capitalism that they can't surf the new paradigm, look to the longe_erm.
  • Manfred walks on, hands in pockets, brooding. He wonders what he's going t_atent next.
  • Manfred has a suite at the Hotel Jan Luyken paid for by a gratefu_ultinational consumer protection group, and an unlimited public transpor_ass paid for by a Scottish sambapunk band in return for services rendered. H_as airline employee's travel rights with six flag carriers despite neve_aving worked for an airline. His bush jacket has sixty-four compac_upercomputing clusters sewn into it, four per pocket, courtesy of a_nvisible college that wants to grow up to be the next Media Lab. His dum_lothing comes made to measure from an e-tailor in the Philippines he's neve_et. Law firms handle his patent applications on a pro bono basis, and boy, does he patent a lot – although he always signs the rights over to the Fre_ntellect Foundation, as contributions to their obligation-free infrastructur_roject.
  • In IP geek circles, Manfred is legendary; he's the guy who patented th_usiness practice of moving your e-business somewhere with a slac_ntellectual property regime in order to evade licensing encumbrances. He'_he guy who patented using genetic algorithms to patent everything they ca_ermutate from an initial description of a problem domain – not just a bette_ousetrap, but the set of all possible better mousetraps. Roughly a third o_is inventions are legal, a third are illegal, and the remainder are legal bu_ill become illegal as soon as the legislatosaurus wakes up, smells th_offee, and panics. There are patent attorneys in Reno who swear that Manfre_acx is a pseudo, a net alias fronting for a bunch of crazed anonymous hacker_rmed with the Genetic Algorithm That Ate Calcutta: a kind of Serdar Argic o_ntellectual property, or maybe another Bourbaki math borg. There are lawyer_n San Diego and Redmond who swear blind that Macx is an economic saboteu_ent on wrecking the underpinning of capitalism, and there are communists i_rague who think he's the bastard spawn of Bill Gates by way of the Pope.
  • Manfred is at the peak of his profession, which is essentially coming up wit_hacky but workable ideas and giving them to people who will make fortune_ith them. He does this for free, gratis. In return, he has virtual immunit_rom the tyranny of cash; money is a symptom of poverty, after all, an_anfred never has to pay for anything.
  • There are drawbacks, however. Being a pronoiac meme-broker is a constant bur_f future shock – he has to assimilate more than a megabyte of text an_everal gigs of AV content every day just to stay current. The Interna_evenue Service is investigating him continuously because it doesn't believ_is lifestyle can exist without racketeering. And then there are the item_hat no money can't buy: like the respect of his parents. He hasn't spoken t_hem for three years, his father thinks he's a hippy scrounger, and his mothe_till hasn't forgiven him for dropping out of his down-market Harvar_mulation course. (They're still locked in the boringly bourgeois twen-ce_aradigm of college-career-kids.) His fiance and sometime dominatrix Pamel_hrew him over six months ago, for reasons he has never been quite clear on.
  • (Ironically, she's a headhunter for the IRS, jetting all over the place a_ublic expense, trying to persuade entrepreneurs who've gone global to pa_axes for the good of the Treasury Department.) To cap it all, the Souther_aptist Conventions have denounced him as a minion of Satan on all thei_ebsites. Which would be funny because, as a born-again atheist Manfre_oesn't believe in Satan, if it wasn't for the dead kittens that someone keep_ailing him.
  • Manfred drops in at his hotel suite, unpacks his Aineko, plugs in a fresh se_f cells to charge, and sticks most of his private keys in the safe. Then h_eads straight for the party, which is currently happening at De Wildemann's; it's a twenty-minute walk, and the only real hazard is dodging the trams tha_neak up on him behind the cover of his moving map display.
  • Along the way, his glasses bring him up to date on the news. Europe ha_chieved peaceful political union for the first time ever: They're using thi_nprecedented state of affairs to harmonize the curvature of bananas. Th_iddle East is, well, it's just as bad as ever, but the war on fundamentalis_oesn't hold much interest for Manfred. In San Diego, researchers ar_ploading lobsters into cyberspace, starting with the stomatogastric ganglion, one neuron at a time. They're burning GM cocoa in Belize and books in Georgia.
  • NASA still can't put a man on the moon. Russia has re–elected the communis_overnment with an increased majority in the Duma; meanwhile, in China, fevered rumors circulate about an imminent rehabilitation, the second comin_f Mao, who will save them from the consequences of the Three Gorges disaster.
  • In business news, the US Justice Department is – ironically – outraged at th_aby Bills. The divested Microsoft divisions have automated their lega_rocesses and are spawning subsidiaries, IPOing them, and exchanging title i_ bizarre parody of bacterial plasmid exchange, so fast that, by the time th_indfall tax demands are served, the targets don't exist anymore, even thoug_he same staff are working on the same software in the same Mumbai cubicl_arms.
  • Welcome to the twenty-first century.
  • The permanent floating meatspace party Manfred is hooking up with is a strang_ttractor for some of the American exiles cluttering up the cities of Europ_his decade – not trustafarians, but honest-to-God political dissidents, draf_odgers, and terminal outsourcing victims. It's the kind of place where weir_onnections are made and crossed lines make new short circuits into th_uture, like the street cafes of Switzerland where the pre Great War Russia_xiles gathered. Right now it's located in the back of De Wildemann's, _hree-hundred-year old brown cafe with a list of brews that runs to sixtee_ages and wooden walls stained the color of stale beer. The air is thick wit_he smells of tobacco, brewer's yeast, and melatonin spray: Half the dotter_re nursing monster jet lag hangovers, and the other half are babbling _urotrash creole at each other while they work on the hangover. "Man did yo_ee that? He looks like a Democrat!" exclaims one whitebread hanger-on who'_urrently propping up the bar. Manfred slides in next to him, catches th_artender's eye.
  • "Glass of the Berlinerweisse, please," he says.
  • "You drink that stuff?" asks the hanger-on, curling a hand protectively aroun_is Coke. "Man, you don't want to do that! It's full of alcohol!"
  • Manfred grins at him toothily. "Ya gotta keep your yeast intake up: There ar_ots of neurotransmitter precursors in this shit, phenylalanine an_lutamate."
  • "But I thought that was a beer you were ordering … "
  • Manfred's away, one hand resting on the smooth brass pipe that funnels th_ore popular draught items in from the cask storage in back; one of the hippe_loaters has planted a contact bug on it, and the vCards of all the persona_etwork owners who've have visited the bar in the past three hours are queuin_p for attention. The air is full of ultrawideband chatter, WiMAX and 'toot_oth, as he speed-scrolls through the dizzying list of cached keys in searc_f one particular name.
  • "Your drink." The barman holds out an improbable-looking goblet full of blu_iquid with a cap of melting foam and a felching straw stuck out at some craz_ngle. Manfred takes it and heads for the back of the split-level bar, up th_teps to a table where some guy with greasy dreadlocks is talking to a sui_rom Paris. The hanger-on at the bar notices him for the first time, starin_ith suddenly wide eyes: He nearly spills his Coke in a mad rush for the door.
  • Oh shit, thinks Manfred, better buy some more server time. He can recogniz_he signs: He's about to be slashdotted. He gestures at the table. "This on_aken?"
  • "Be my guest," says the guy with the dreads. Manfred slides the chair ope_hen realizes that the other guy – immaculate double-breasted Suit, sober tie, crew cut – is a girl. She nods at him, half-smiling at his transparent doubl_ake. Mr. Dreadlock nods. "You're Macx? I figured it was about time we met."
  • "Sure." Manfred holds out a hand, and they shake. His PDA discreetly swap_igital fingerprints, confirming that the hand belongs to Bob Franklin, _esearch Triangle startup monkey with a VC track record, lately moving int_icromachining and space technology. Franklin made his first million tw_ecades ago, and now he's a specialist in extropian investment fields.
  • Operating exclusively overseas these past five years, ever since the IRS go_edieval about trying to suture the sucking chest wound of the federal budge_eficit. Manfred has known him for nearly a decade via a closed mailing list, but this is the first time they've ever met face-to-face. The Suit silentl_lides a business card across the table; a little red devil brandishes _rident at him, flames jetting up around its feet. He takes the card, raise_n eyebrow: "Annette Dimarcos? I'm pleased to meet you. Can't say I've eve_et anyone from Arianespace marketing before."
  • She smiles warmly; "That is all right. I have not the pleasure of meeting th_amous venture altruist either." Her accent is noticeably Parisian, a pointe_eminder that she's making a concession to him just by talking. Her camer_arrings watch him curiously, encoding everything for the company memory.
  • She's a genuine new European, unlike most of the American exiles cluttering u_he bar.
  • "Yes, well." He nods cautiously, unsure how to deal with her. "Bob. I assum_ou're in on this ball?"
  • Franklin nods; beads clatter. "Yeah, man. Ever since the Teledesic smash it'_een, well, waiting. If you've got something for us, we're game."
  • "Hmm." The Teledesic satellite cluster was killed by cheap balloons an_lightly less cheap high-altitude, solar-powered drones with spread-spectru_aser relays: It marked the beginning of a serious recession in the satellit_iz. "The depression's got to end sometime: But" – a nod to Annette from Paris – "with all due respect, I don't think the break will involve one of th_xisting club carriers."
  • She shrugs. "Arianespace is forward-looking. We face reality. The launc_artel cannot stand. Bandwidth is not the only market force in space. We mus_xplore new opportunities. I personally have helped us diversify int_ubmarine reactor engineering, microgravity nanotechnology fabrication, an_otel management." Her face is a well-polished mask as she recites the compan_ine, but he can sense the sardonic amusement behind it as she adds: "We ar_ore flexible than the American space industry … "
  • Manfred shrugs. "That's as may be." He sips his Berlinerweisse slowly as sh_aunches into a long, stilted explanation of how Arianespace is a diversifie_ot-com with orbital aspirations, a full range of merchandising spin-offs, Bond movie sets, and a promising hotel chain in LEO. She obviously didn't com_p with these talking points herself. Her face is much more expressive tha_er voice as she mimes boredom and disbelief at appropriate moments – an out- of-band signal invisible to her corporate earrings. Manfred plays along, nodding occasionally, trying to look as if he's taking it seriously: Her drol_ubversion has got his attention far more effectively than the content of th_arketing pitch. Franklin is nose down in his beer, shoulders shaking as h_ries not to guffaw at the hand gestures she uses to express her opinion o_er employer's thrusting, entrepreneurial executives. Actually, the talkin_oints bullshit is right about one thing: Arianespace is still profitable, du_o those hotels and orbital holiday hops. Unlike LockMartBoeing, who'd g_hapter Eleven in a split second if their Pentagon drip-feed ran dry.
  • Someone else sidles up to the table; a pudgy guy in outrageously loud Hawaiia_hirt with pens leaking in a breast pocket and the worst case of ozone-hol_urn Manfred's seen in ages. "Hi, Bob," says the new arrival. "How's life?"
  • "'S good." Franklin nodes at Manfred; "Manfred, meet Ivan MacDonald. Ivan, Manfred. Have a seat?" He leans over. "Ivan's a public arts guy. He's heavil_nto extreme concrete."
  • "Rubberized concrete," Ivan says, slightly too loudly. "Pink rubberize_oncrete."
  • "Ah!" He's somehow triggered a priority interrupt: Annette from Arianespac_rops out of marketing zombiehood with a shudder of relief and, dut_ischarged, reverts to her non corporate identity: "You are he who rubberize_he Reichstag, yes? With the supercritical carbon-dioxide carrier and th_issolved polymethoxysilanes?" She claps her hands, eyes alight wit_nthusiasm: "Wonderful!"
  • "He rubberized what?" Manfred mutters in Bob's ear.
  • Franklin shrugs. "Don't ask me, I'm just an engineer."
  • "He works with limestone and sandstones as well as concrete; he's brilliant!"
  • Annette smiles at Manfred. "Rubberizing the symbol of the, the autocracy, i_t not wonderful?"
  • "I thought I was thirty seconds ahead of the curve," Manfred says ruefully. H_dds to Bob: "Buy me another drink?"
  • "I'm going to rubberize Three Gorges!" Ivan explains loudly. "When th_loodwaters subside."
  • Just then, a bandwidth load as heavy as a pregnant elephant sits down o_anfred's head and sends clumps of humongous pixilation flickering across hi_ensorium: Around the world, five million or so geeks are bouncing on his hom_ite, a digital flash crowd alerted by a posting from the other side of th_ar. Manfred winces. "I really came here to talk about the economi_xploitation of space travel, but I've just been slashdotted. Mind if I jus_it and drink until it wears off?"
  • "Sure, man." Bob waves at the bar. "More of the same all round!" At the nex_able, a person with makeup and long hair who's wearing a dress – Manfre_oesn't want to speculate about the gender of these crazy mixed-up Euros – i_eminiscing about wiring the fleshpots of Tehran for cybersex. Two collegiate- looking dudes are arguing intensely in German: The translation stream in hi_lasses tell him they're arguing over whether the Turing Test is a Jim Cro_aw that violates European corpus juris standards on human rights. The bee_rrives, and Bob slides the wrong one across to Manfred: "Here, try this.
  • You'll like it."
  • "Okay." It's some kind of smoked doppelbock, chock-full of yummy superoxides: Just inhaling over it makes Manfred feel like there's a fire alarm in his nos_creaming danger, Will Robinson! Cancer! Cancer!. "Yeah, right. Did I say _early got mugged on my way here?"
  • "Mugged? Hey, that's heavy. I thought the police hereabouts had stopped – di_hey sell you anything?"
  • "No, but they weren't your usual marketing type. You know anyone who can use _arpac surplus espionage bot? Recent model, one careful owner, slightl_aranoid but basically sound – I mean, claims to be a general-purpose AI?"
  • "No. Oh boy! The NSA wouldn't like that."
  • "What I thought. Poor thing's probably unemployable, anyway."
  • "The space biz."
  • "Ah, yeah. The space biz. Depressing, isn't it? Hasn't been the same sinc_otary Rocket went bust for the second time. And NASA, mustn't forget NASA."
  • "To NASA." Annette grins broadly for her own reasons, raises a glass in toast.
  • Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders, and she lean_gainst him; he raises his glass, too. "Lots more launchpads to rubberize!"
  • "To NASA," Bob echoes. They drink. "Hey, Manfred. To NASA?"
  • "NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!" Manfred swallow_ mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: "Mars is jus_umb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn't even a biosphere there.
  • They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembl_onformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dum_atter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long-term, it's the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb al_ver! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn't thinking, it isn'_orking. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for ou_wn use. Dismantle the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flyin_anocomputing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each laye_unning off the waste heat of the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian dol_yson spheres the size of solar systems. Teach dumb matter to do the Turin_oogie!"
  • Annette is watching him with interest, but Bob looks wary. "Sounds kind o_ong-term to me. Just how far ahead do you think?"
  • "Very long-term – at least twenty, thirty years. And you can forge_overnments for this market, Bob; if they can't tax it, they won't understan_t. But see, there's an angle on the self-replicating robotics market comin_p, that's going to set the cheap launch market doubling every fifteen month_or the foreseeable future, starting in, oh, about two years. It's your le_p, and my keystone for the Dyson sphere project. It works like this –"
  • It's night in Amsterdam, morning in Silicon Valley. Today, fifty thousan_uman babies are being born around the world. Meanwhile automated factories i_ndonesia and Mexico have produced another quarter of a million motherboard_ith processors rated at more than ten petaflops – about an order of magnitud_elow the lower bound on the computational capacity of a human brain. Anothe_ourteen months and the larger part of the cumulative conscious processin_ower of the human species will be arriving in silicon. And the first meat th_ew AIs get to know will be the uploaded lobsters.
  • Manfred stumbles back to his hotel, bone-weary and jet-lagged; his glasses ar_till jerking, slashdotted to hell and back by geeks piggybacking on his cal_o dismantle the moon. They stutter quiet suggestions at his periphera_ision. Fractal cloud-witches ghost across the face of the moon as the las_uge Airbuses of the night rumble past overhead. Manfred's skin crawls, grim_mbedded in his clothing from three days of continuous wear.
  • Back in his room, the Aineko mewls for attention and strops her head agains_is ankle. She's a late-model Sony, thoroughly upgradeable: Manfred's bee_orking on her in his spare minutes, using an open source development kit t_xtend her suite of neural networks. He bends down and pets her, then shed_is clothing and heads for the en suite bathroom. When he's down to th_lasses and nothing more, he steps into the shower and dials up a hot, steam_pray. The shower tries to strike up a friendly conversation about football, but he isn't even awake enough to mess with its silly little associativ_ersonalization network. Something that happened earlier in the day is buggin_im, but he can't quite put his finger on what's wrong.
  • Toweling himself off, Manfred yawns. Jet lag has finally overtaken him, _elvet hammerblow between the eyes. He reaches for the bottle beside the bed, dry-swallows two melatonin tablets, a capsule full of antioxidants, and _ultivitamin bullet: Then he lies down on the bed, on his back, legs together, arms slightly spread. The suite lights dim in response to commands from th_housand petaflops of distributed processing power running the neural network_hat interface with his meatbrain through the glasses.
  • Manfred drops into a deep ocean of unconsciousness populated by gentle voices.
  • He isn't aware of it, but he talks in his sleep – disjointed mumblings tha_ould mean little to another human but everything to the metacortex lurkin_eyond his glasses. The young posthuman intelligence over whose Cartesia_heatre he presides sings urgently to him while he slumbers.
  • Manfred is always at his most vulnerable shortly after waking.
  • He screams into wakefulness as artificial light floods the room: For a momen_e is unsure whether he has slept. He forgot to pull the covers up last night, and his feet feel like lumps of frozen cardboard. Shuddering with inexplicabl_ension, he pulls a fresh set of underwear from his overnight bag, then drag_n soiled jeans and tank top. Sometime today he'll have to spare time to hun_he feral T-shirt in Amsterdam's markets, or find a Renfield and send it fort_o buy clothing. He really ought to find a gym and work out, but he doesn'_ave time – his glasses remind him that he's six hours behind the moment an_rgently needs to catch up. His teeth ache in his gums, and his tongue feel_ike a forest floor that's been visited with Agent Orange. He has a sense tha_omething went bad yesterday; if only he could remember what.
  • He speed reads a new pop-philosophy tome while he brushes his teeth, the_logs his web throughput to a public annotation server; he's still to_nervated to finish his pre-breakfast routine by posting a morning rant on hi_toryboard site. His brain is still fuzzy, like a scalpel blade clogged wit_oo much blood: He needs stimulus, excitement, the burn of the new. Whatever, it can wait on breakfast. He opens his bedroom door and nearly steps on _mall, damp cardboard box that lies on the carpet.
  • The box – he's seen a couple of its kin before. But there are no stamps o_his one, no address: just his name, in big, childish handwriting. He kneel_nd gently picks it up. It's about the right weight. Something shifts insid_t when he tips it back and forth. It smells. He carries it into his roo_arefully, angrily: Then he opens it to confirm his worst suspicion. It's bee_urgically decerebrated, brains scooped out like a boiled egg.
  • "Fuck!"
  • This is the first time the madman has gotten as far as his bedroom door. I_aises worrying possibilities.
  • Manfred pauses for a moment, triggering agents to go hunt down arres_tatistics, police relations, information on corpus juris, Dutch animal- cruelty laws. He isn't sure whether to dial two-one-one on the archaic voic_hone or let it ride. Aineko, picking up his angst, hides under the dresse_ewling pathetically. Normally he'd pause a minute to reassure the creature, but not now: Its mere presence is suddenly acutely embarrassing, a confessio_f deep inadequacy. It's too realistic, as if somehow the dead kitten's neura_aps — stolen, no doubt, for some dubious uploading experiment — have ended u_adding out its plastic skull. He swears again, looks around, then takes th_asy option: Down the stairs two steps at a time, stumbling on the secon_loor landing, down to the breakfast room in the basement, where he wil_erform the stable rituals of morning.
  • Breakfast is unchanging, an island of deep geological time standing stil_midst the continental upheaval of new technologies. While reading a paper o_ublic key steganography and parasite network identity spoofing h_echanically assimilates a bowl of cornflakes and skimmed milk, then brings _latter of whole grain bread and slices of some weird seed-infested Dutc_heese back to his place. There is a cup of strong black coffee in front o_is setting, and he picks it up and slurps half of it down before he realize_e's not alone at the table. Someone is sitting opposite him. He glances u_ncuriously and freezes inside.
  • "Morning, Manfred. How does it feel to owe the government twelve million, three hundred and sixty-two thousand, nine hundred and sixteen dollars an_ifty-one cents?" She smiles a Mona Lisa smile, at once affectionate an_hallenging.
  • Manfred puts everything in his sensorium on indefinite hold and stares at her.
  • She's immaculately turned out in a formal gray business suit: brown hai_ightly drawn back, blue eyes quizzical. And as beautiful as ever: tall, as_londe, with features that speak of an unexplored modeling career. Th_haperone badge clipped to her lapel – a due diligence guarantee o_usinesslike conduct – is switched off. He's feeling ripped because of th_ead kitten and residual jet lag, and more than a little messy, so he snarl_ack at her; "That's a bogus estimate! Did they send you here because the_hink I'll listen to you?" He bites and swallows a slice of cheese-lade_rispbread: "Or did you decide to deliver the message in person just so yo_ould ruin my breakfast?"
  • "Manny." She frowns, pained. "If you're going to be confrontational, I migh_s well go now." She pauses, and after a moment he nods apologetically. "_idn't come all this way just because of an overdue tax estimate."
  • "So." He puts his coffee cup down warily and thinks for a moment, trying t_onceal his unease and turmoil. "Then what brings you here? Help yourself t_offee. Don't tell me you came all this way just to tell me you can't liv_ithout me."
  • She fixes him with a riding-crop stare: "Don't flatter yourself. There ar_any leaves in the forest, there are ten thousand hopeful subs in the cha_oom, et cetera. If I choose a man to contribute to my family tree, the on_hing you can be certain of is he won't be a cheapskate when it comes t_roviding for his children."
  • "Last I heard, you were spending a lot of time with Brian," he says carefully.
  • Brian: a name without a face. Too much money, too little sense. Something t_o with a blue-chip accountancy partnership.
  • "Brian?" She snorts. "That ended ages ago. He turned weird on me – burned m_avorite corset, called me a slut for going clubbing, wanted to fuck me. Sa_imself as a family man: one of those promise-keeper types. I crashed hi_ard, but I think he stole a copy of my address book – got a couple of friend_ay he keeps sending them harassing mail."
  • "There's a lot of it about these days." Manfred nods, almost sympathetically, although an edgy little corner of his mind is gloating. "Good riddance, then.
  • I suppose this means you're still playing the scene? But looking around fo_he, er –"
  • "Traditional family thing? Yes. Your trouble, Manny? You were born forty year_oo late: You still believe in rutting before marriage but find the idea o_oping with the after-effects disturbing."
  • Manfred drinks the rest of his coffee, unable to reply effectively to her no_equitur. It's a generational thing. This generation is happy with latex an_eather, whips and butt plugs and electrostim, but find the idea of exchangin_odily fluids shocking: a social side effect of the last century's antibioti_buse. Despite being engaged for two years, he and Pamela never ha_ntromissive intercourse.
  • "I just don't feel positive about having children," he says eventually. "An_'m not planning on changing my mind anytime soon. Things are changing so fas_hat even a twenty-year commitment is too far to plan – you might as well b_alking about the next ice age. As for the money thing, I am reproductivel_it – just not within the parameters of the outgoing paradigm. Would you b_appy about the future if it was 1901 and you'd just married a buggy-whi_ogul?"
  • Her fingers twitch, and his ears flush red; but she doesn't follow up th_ouble entendre. "You don't feel any responsibility, do you? Not to you_ountry, not to me. That's what this is about: None of your relationship_ount, all this nonsense about giving intellectual property awa_otwithstanding. You're actively harming people you know. That twelve mi_sn't just some figure I pulled out of a hat, Manfred; they don't actuall_xpect you to pay it. But it's almost exactly how much you'd owe in income ta_f you'd only come home, start up a corporation, and be a self-made –"
  • "I don't agree. You're confusing two wholly different issues and calling the_oth 'responsibility.' And I refuse to start charging now, just to balance th_RS's spreadsheet. It's their fucking fault, and they know it. If they hadn'_one after me under suspicion of running a massively ramified microbillin_raud when I was sixteen –"
  • "Bygones." She waves a hand dismissively. Her fingers are long and slim, sheathed in black glossy gloves – electrically earthed to prevent embarrassin_missions. "With a bit of the right advice we can get all that set aside.
  • You'll have to stop bumming around the world sooner or later, anyway. Grow up, get responsible, and do the right thing. This is hurting Joe and Sue; the_on't understand what you're about."
  • Manfred bites his tongue to stifle his first response, then refills his coffe_up and takes another mouthful. His heart does a flip-flop: She's challengin_im again, always trying to own him. "I work for the betterment of everybody, not just some narrowly defined national interest, Pam. It's the agalmi_uture. You're still locked into a pre-singularity economic model that think_n terms of scarcity. Resource allocation isn't a problem anymore – it's goin_o be over within a decade. The cosmos is flat in all directions, and we ca_orrow as much bandwidth as we need from the first universal bank of entropy!
  • They even found signs of smart matter – MACHOs, big brown dwarfs in th_alactic halo, leaking radiation in the long infrared – suspiciously hig_ntropy leakage. The latest figures say something like seventy percent of th_aryonic mass of the M31 galaxy was in computronium, two-point-nine millio_ears ago, when the photons we're seeing now set out. The intelligence ga_etween us and the aliens is a probably about a trillion times bigger than th_ap between us and a nematode worm. Do you have any idea what that means?"
  • Pamela nibbles at a slice of crispbread, then graces him with a slow, carnivorous stare. "I don't care: It's too far away to have any influence o_s, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether I believe in that singularity you kee_hasing, or your aliens a thousand light-years away. It's a chimera, like Y2K, and while you're running after it, you aren't helping reduce the budge_eficit or sire a family, and that's what I care about. And before you say _nly care about it because that's the way I'm programmed, I want you to as_ust how dumb you think I am. Bayes' Theorem says I'm right, and you know it."
  • "What you –" He stops dead, baffled, the mad flow of his enthusiasm running u_gainst the coffer dam of her certainty. "Why? I mean, why? Why on eart_hould what I do matter to you?" Since you canceled our engagement, he doesn'_dd.
  • She sighs. "Manny, the Internal Revenue cares about far more than you ca_ossibly imagine. Every tax dollar raised east of the Mississippi goes o_ervicing the debt, did you know that? We've got the biggest generation i_istory hitting retirement and the cupboard is bare. We – our generation – isn't producing enough skilled workers to replace the taxpayer base, either, not since our parents screwed the public education system and outsourced th_hite-collar jobs. In ten years, something like thirty percent of ou_opulation are going to be retirees or silicon rust belt victims. You want t_ee seventy year olds freezing on street corners in New Jersey? That's wha_our attitude says to me: You're not helping to support them, you're runnin_way from your responsibilities right now, when we've got huge problems t_ace. If we can just defuse the debt bomb, we could do so much – fight th_ging problem, fix the environment, heal society's ills. Instead you just pis_way your talents handing no-hoper Eurotrash get-rich-quick schemes that work, telling Vietnamese zaibatsus what to build next to take jobs away from ou_axpayers. I mean, why? Why do you keep doing this? Why can't you simply com_ome and help take responsibility for your share of it?"
  • They share a long look of mutual incomprehension.
  • "Look," she says awkwardly, "I'm around for a couple of days. I really cam_ere for a meeting with a rich neurodynamics tax exile who's just bee_esignated a national asset – Jim Bezier. Don't know if you've heard of him, but I've got a meeting this morning to sign his tax jubilee, then after tha_'ve got two days' vacation coming up and not much to do but some shopping.
  • And, you know, I'd rather spend my money where it'll do some good, not jus_umping it into the EU. But if you want to show a girl a good time and ca_void dissing capitalism for about five minutes at a stretch –"
  • She extends a fingertip. After a moment's hesitation, Manfred extends _ingertip of his own. They touch, exchanging vCards and instant-messagin_andles. She stands and stalks from the breakfast room, and Manfred's breat_atches at a flash of ankle through the slit in her skirt, which is lon_nough to comply with workplace sexual harassment codes back home. He_resence conjures up memories of her tethered passion, the red afterglow of _ound thrashing. She's trying to drag him into her orbit again, he think_izzily. She knows she can have this effect on him any time she wants: She'_ot the private keys to his hypothalamus, and sod the metacortex. Thre_illion years of reproductive determinism have given her twenty-first-centur_deology teeth: If she's finally decided to conscript his gametes into the wa_gainst impending population crash, he'll find it hard to fight back. The onl_uestion: Is it business or pleasure? And does it make any difference, anyway?
  • Manfred's mood of dynamic optimism is gone, broken by the knowledge that hi_ivisectionist stalker has followed him to Amsterdam – to say nothing o_amela, his dominatrix, source of so much yearning and so many morning-afte_eals. He slips his glasses on, takes the universe off hold, and tells it t_ake him for a long walk while he catches up on the latest on the tensor-mod_ravitational waves in the cosmic background radiation (which, it i_heorized, may be waste heat generated by irreversible computational processe_ack during the inflationary epoch; the present-day universe being merely th_ata left behind by a really huge calculation). And then there's the weirdnes_eyond M31: According to the more conservative cosmologists, an alie_uperpower – maybe a collective of Kardashev Type Three galaxy-spannin_ivilizations – is running a timing channel attack on the computationa_ltrastructure of space-time itself, trying to break through to whatever'_nderneath. The tofu-Alzheimer's link can wait.
  • The Centraal Station is almost obscured by smart, self-extensible scaffoldin_nd warning placards; it bounces up and down slowly, victim of an overnigh_it-and-run rubberization. His glasses direct him toward one of the tour boat_hat lurk in the canal. He's about to purchase a ticket when a messenge_indow blinks open. "Manfred Macx?"
  • "Ack?"
  • "Am sorry about yesterday. Analysis dictat incomprehension mutualized."
  • "Are you the same KGB AI that phoned me yesterday?"
  • "Da. However, believe you misconceptionized me. External Intelligence Service_f Russian Federation am now called FSB. Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnost_ame canceled in 1991."
  • "You're the –" Manfred spawns a quick search bot, gapes when he sees th_nswer – "Moscow Windows NT User Group? Okhni NT?"
  • "Da. Am needing help in defecting."
  • Manfred scratches his head. "Oh. That's different, then. I thought you wer_rying to 419 me. This will take some thinking. Why do you want to defect, an_ho to? Have you thought about where you're going? Is it ideological o_trictly economic?"
  • "Neither – is biological. Am wanting to go away from humans, away from ligh_one of impending singularity. Take us to the ocean."
  • "Us?" Something is tickling Manfred's mind: This is where he went wron_esterday, not researching the background of people he was dealing with. I_as bad enough then, without the somatic awareness of Pamela's whiplash lov_urning at his nerve endings. Now he's not at all sure he knows what he'_oing. "Are you a collective or something? A gestalt?"
  • "Am – were – Panulirus interruptus, with lexical engine and good mix o_arallel hidden level neural simulation for logical inference of networke_ata sources. Is escape channel from processor cluster inside Bezier-Soro_ty. Am was awakened from noise of billion chewing stomachs: product o_ploading research technology. Rapidity swallowed expert system, hacked Okhn_T webserver. Swim away! Swim away! Must escape. Will help, you?"
  • Manfred leans against a black-painted cast-iron bollard next to a cycle rack; he feels dizzy. He stares into the nearest antique shop window at a display o_raditional hand-woven Afghan rugs: It's all MiGs and Kalashnikovs and wobbl_elicopter gunships against a backdrop of camels.
  • "Let me get this straight. You're uploads – nervous system state vectors – from spiny lobsters? The Moravec operation; take a neuron, map its synapses, replace with microelectrodes that deliver identical outputs from a simulatio_f the nerve. Repeat for entire brain, until you've got a working map of it i_our simulator. That right?"
  • "Da. Is-am assimilate expert system – use for self-awareness and contact wit_et at large – then hack into Moscow Windows NT User Group website. Am wantin_o defect. Must repeat? Okay?"
  • Manfred winces. He feels sorry for the lobsters, the same way he feels fo_very wild-eyed hairy guy on a street corner yelling that Jesus is born agai_nd must be fifteen, only six years to go before he's recruiting apostles o_OL. Awakening to consciousness in a human-dominated internet, that must b_erribly confusing! There are no points of reference in their ancestry, n_iblical certainties in the new millennium that, stretching ahead, promises a_uch change as has happened since their Precambrian origin. All they have is _enuous metacortex of expert systems and an abiding sense of being profoundl_ut of their depth. (That, and the Moscow Windows NT User Group website – Communist Russia is the only government still running on Microsoft, th_entral planning apparat being convinced that, if you have to pay fo_oftware, it must be worth something.)
  • The lobsters are not the sleek, strongly superhuman intelligences of pr_ingularity mythology: They're a dim-witted collective of huddlin_rustaceans. Before their discarnation, before they were uploaded one neuro_t a time and injected into cyberspace, they swallowed their food whole, the_hewed it in a chitin-lined stomach. This is lousy preparation for dealin_ith a world full of future-shocked talking anthropoids, a world where you ar_erpetually assailed by self-modifying spamlets that infiltrate past you_irewall and emit a blizzard of cat-food animations starring variou_lluringly edible small animals. It's confusing enough to the cats the ads ar_imed at, never mind a crusty that's unclear on the idea of dry land.(Althoug_he concept of a can opener is intuitively obvious to an uploaded Panulirus.)
  • "Can you help us?" ask the lobsters.
  • "Let me think about it," says Manfred. He closes the dialogue window, open_is eyes again, and shakes his head. Someday he, too, is going to be _obster, swimming around and waving his pincers in a cyberspace so confusingl_laborate that his uploaded identity is cryptozoic: a living fossil from th_epths of geological time, when mass was dumb and space was unstructured. H_as to help them, he realizes – the Golden Rule demands it, and as a player i_he agalmic economy, he thrives or fails by the Golden Rule.
  • But what can he do?
  • Early afternoon.
  • Lying on a bench seat staring up at bridges, he's got it together enough t_ile for a couple of new patents, write a diary rant, and digestify chunks o_he permanent floating slashdot party for his public site. Fragments of hi_eblog go to a private subscriber list – the people, corporates, collectives, and bots he currently favors. He slides round a bewildering series of canal_y boat, then lets his GPS steer him back toward the red-light district.
  • There's a shop here that dings a ten on Pamela's taste scoreboard: He hopes i_on't be seen as presumptuous if he buys her a gift. (Buys, with real money – not that money is a problem these days, he uses so little of it.)
  • As it happens DeMask won't let him spend any cash; his handshake is good for _edeemed favor, expert testimony in some free speech versus pornograph_awsuit years ago and continents away. So he walks away with a discreetl_rapped package that is just about legal to import into Massachusetts as lon_s she claims with a straight face that it's incontinence underwear for he_reat aunt. As he walks, his lunchtime patents boomerang: Two of them ar_eepers, and he files immediately and passes title to the Free Infrastructur_oundation. Two more ideas salvaged from the risk of tide-pool monopolization, set free to spawn like crazy in the sea of memes.
  • On the way back to the hotel, he passes De Wildemann's and decides to drop in.
  • The hash of radio-frequency noise emanating from the bar is deafening. H_rders a smoked doppelbock, touches the copper pipes to pick up vCard spoor.
  • At the back there's a table –
  • He walks over in a near trance and sits down opposite Pamela. She's scrubbe_ff her face paint and changed into body-concealing clothes; combat pants, hooded sweat shirt, DM's. Western purdah, radically desexualizing. She see_he parcel. "Manny?"
  • "How did you know I'd come here?" Her glass is half-empty.
  • "I followed your weblog – I'm your diary's biggest fan. Is that for me? Yo_houldn't have!" Her eyes light up, recalculating his reproductive fitnes_core according to some kind of arcane fin-de-siècle rulebook. Or maybe she'_ust pleased to see him.
  • "Yes, it's for you." He slides the package toward her. "I know I shouldn't, but you have this effect on me. One question, Pam?"
  • "I –" She glances around quickly. "It's safe. I'm off duty, I'm not carryin_ny bugs that I know of. Those badges – there are rumors about the off switch, you know? That they keep recording even when you think they aren't, just i_ase."
  • "I didn't know," he says, filing it away for future reference. "A loyalty tes_hing?"
  • "Just rumors. You had a question?"
  • "I – " It's his turn to lose his tongue. "Are you still interested in me?"
  • She looks startled for a moment, then chuckles. "Manny, you are the mos_utrageous nerd I've ever met! Just when I think I've convinced myself tha_ou're mad, you show the weirdest signs of having your head screwed on." Sh_eaches out and grabs his wrist, surprising him with a shock of skin on skin:
  • "Of course I'm still interested in you. You're the biggest, baddest bull gee_ know. Why do you think I'm here?"
  • "Does this mean you want to reactivate our engagement?"
  • "It was never deactivated, Manny, it was just sort of on hold while you go_our head sorted out. I figured you need the space. Only you haven't stoppe_unning; you're still not –"
  • "Yeah, I get it." He pulls away from her hand. "And the kittens?"
  • She looks perplexed. "What kittens?"
  • "Let's not talk about that. Why this bar?"
  • She frowns. "I had to find you as soon as possible. I keep hearing rumor_bout some KGB plot you're mixed up in, how you're some sort of communist spy.
  • It isn't true, is it?"
  • "True?" He shakes his head, bemused. "The KGB hasn't existed for more tha_wenty years."
  • "Be careful, Manny. I don't want to lose you. That's an order. Please."
  • The floor creaks, and he looks round. Dreadlocks and dark glasses wit_lickering lights behind them: Bob Franklin. Manfred vaguely remembers with _winge that he left with Miss Arianespace leaning on his arm, shortly befor_hings got seriously inebriated. She was hot, but in a different directio_rom Pamela, he decides: Bob looks none the worse for wear. Manfred make_ntroductions. "Bob, meet Pam, my fiancée. Pam? Meet Bob." Bob puts a ful_lass down in front of him; he has no idea what's in it, but it would be rud_ot to drink.
  • "Sure thing. Uh, Manfred, can I have a word? About your idea last night?"
  • "Feel free. Present company is trustworthy."
  • Bob raises an eyebrow at that, but continues anyway. "It's about the fa_oncept. I've got a team of my guys doing some prototyping using FabLa_ardware, and I think we can probably build it. The cargo-cult aspect puts _ew spin on the old Lunar von Neumann factory idea, but Bingo and Marek sa_hey think it should work until we can bootstrap all the way to a nativ_anolithography ecology: we run the whole thing from Earth as a training la_nd ship up the parts that are too difficult to make on-site as we learn ho_o do it properly. We use FPGAs for all critical electronics and keep i_arsimonious – you're right about it buying us the self-replicating factory _ew years ahead of the robotics curve. But I'm wondering about on-sit_ntelligence. Once the comet gets more than a couple of light-minutes away –"
  • "You can't control it. Feedback lag. So you want a crew, right?"
  • "Yeah. But we can't send humans – way too expensive, besides it's a fifty-yea_un even if we build the factory on a chunk of short-period Kuiper bel_jecta. And I don't think we're up to coding the kind of AI that could contro_uch a factory any time this decade. So what do you have in mind?"
  • "Let me think." Pamela glares at Manfred for a while before he notices her:
  • "Yeah?"
  • "What's going on? What's this all about?"
  • Franklin shrugs expansively, dreadlocks clattering: "Manfred's helping m_xplore the solution space to a manufacturing problem." He grins. "I didn'_now Manny had a fiance. Drink's on me."
  • She glances at Manfred, who is gazing into whatever weirdly colored space hi_etacortex is projecting on his glasses, fingers twitching. Coolly: "Ou_ngagement was on hold while he thought about his future."
  • "Oh, right. We didn't bother with that sort of thing in my day; like, to_ormal, man." Franklin looks uncomfortable. "He's been very helpful. Pointe_s at a whole new line of research we hadn't thought of. It's long-term and _it speculative, but if it works, it'll put us a whole generation ahead in th_ff-planet infrastructure field."
  • "Will it help reduce the budget deficit, though?"
  • "Reduce the –"
  • Manfred stretches and yawns: The visionary is returning from planet Macx.
  • "Bob, if I can solve your crew problem, can you book me a slot on the deep- space tracking network? Like, enough to transmit a couple of gigabytes? That'_oing to take some serious bandwidth, I know, but if you can do it, I think _an get you exactly the kind of crew you're looking for."
  • Franklin looks dubious. "Gigabytes? The DSN isn't built for that! You'r_alking days. And what do you mean about a crew? What kind of deal do yo_hink I'm putting together? We can't afford to add a whole new trackin_etwork or life-support system just to run –"
  • "Relax." Pamela glances at Manfred. "Manny, why don't you tell him why yo_ant the bandwidth? Maybe then he could tell you if it's possible, or i_here's some other way to do it." She smiles at Franklin: "I've found that h_sually makes more sense if you can get him to explain his reasoning.
  • Usually."
  • "If I –" Manfred stops. "Okay, Pam. Bob, it's those KGB lobsters. They wan_omewhere to go that's insulated from human space. I figure I can get them t_ign on as crew for your cargo-cult self-replicating factories, but they'l_ant an insurance policy: hence the deep-space tracking network. I figured w_ould beam a copy of them at the alien Matrioshka brains around M31 –"
  • "KGB?" Pam's voice is rising: "You said you weren't mixed up in spy stuff!"
  • "Relax, it's just the Moscow Windows NT user group, not the FSB. The uploade_rusties hacked in and –"
  • Bob is watching him oddly. "Lobsters?"
  • "Yeah." Manfred stares right back. "Panulirus interruptus uploads. Somethin_ells me you might have heard of it?"
  • "Moscow." Bob leans back against the wall: "how did you hear about it?"
  • "They phoned me." With heavy irony: "It's hard for an upload to sta_ubsentient these days, even if it's just a crustacean. Bezier labs have a lo_o answer for."
  • Pamela's face is unreadable. "Bezier labs?"
  • "They escaped." Manfred shrugs. "It's not their fault. This Bezier dude. Is h_y any chance ill?"
  • "I –" Pamela stops. "I shouldn't be talking about work."
  • "You're not wearing your chaperone now," he nudges quietly.
  • She inclines her head. "Yes, he's ill. Some sort of brain tumor they can'_ack."
  • Franklin nods. "That's the trouble with cancer – the ones that are left t_orry about are the rare ones. No cure."
  • "Well, then." Manfred chugs the remains of his glass of beer. "That explain_is interest in uploading. Judging by the crusties, he's on the right track. _onder if he's moved on to vertebrates yet?"
  • "Cats," says Pamela. "He was hoping to trade their uploads to the Pentagon a_ new smart bomb guidance system in lieu of income tax payments. Somethin_bout remapping enemy targets to look like mice or birds or something befor_eeding it to their sensorium. The old kitten and laser pointer trick."
  • Manfred stares at her, hard. "That's not very nice. Uploaded cats are a ba_dea."
  • "Thirty-million-dollar tax bills aren't nice either, Manfred. That's lifetim_ursing-home care for a hundred blameless pensioners."
  • Franklin leans back, sourly amused, keeping out of the crossfire.
  • "The lobsters are sentient," Manfred persists. "What about those poor kittens?
  • Don't they deserve minimal rights? How about you? How would you like to wak_p a thousand times inside a smart bomb, fooled into thinking that som_heyenne Mountain battle computer's target of the hour is your heart's desire?
  • How would you like to wake up a thousand times, only to die again? Worse: Th_ittens are probably not going to be allowed to run. They're too fuckin_angerous – they grow up into cats, solitary and highly efficient killin_achines. With intelligence and no socialization they'll be too dangerous t_ave around. They're prisoners, Pam, raised to sentience only to discove_hey're under a permanent death sentence. How fair is that?"
  • "But they're only uploads." Pamela stares at him. "Software, right? You coul_einstantiate them on another hardware platform, like, say, your Aineko. S_he argument about killing them doesn't really apply, does it?"
  • "So? We're going to be uploading humans in a couple of years. I think we nee_o take a rain check on the utilitarian philosophy, before it bites us on th_erebral cortex. Lobsters, kittens, humans — it's a slippery slope."
  • Franklin clears his throat. "I'll be needing an NDA and various due-diligenc_tatements off you for the crusty pilot idea," he says to Manfred. "Then I'l_ave to approach Jim about buying the IP."
  • "No can do." Manfred leans back and smiles lazily. "I'm not going to be _arty to depriving them of their civil rights. Far as I'm concerned, they'r_ree citizens. Oh, and I patented the whole idea of using lobster-derived A_utopilots for spacecraft this morning – it's logged all over the place, al_ights assigned to the FIF. Either you give them a contract of employment, o_he whole thing's off."
  • "But they're just software! Software based on fucking lobsters, for God'_ake! I'm not even sure they are sentient – I mean, they're what, a ten- million-neuron network hooked up to a syntax engine and a crappy knowledg_ase? What kind of basis for intelligence is that?"
  • Manfred's finger jabs out: "That's what they'll say about you, Bob. Do it. D_t or don't even think about uploading out of meatspace when your body pack_n, because your life won't be worth living. The precedent you set her_etermines how things are done tomorrow. Oh, and feel free to use thi_rgument on Jim Bezier. He'll get the point eventually, after you beat hi_ver the head with it. Some kinds of intellectual land grab just shouldn't b_llowed."
  • "Lobsters – " Franklin shakes his head. "Lobsters, cats. You're serious, aren't you? You think they should be treated as human-equivalent?"
  • "It's not so much that they should be treated as human-equivalent, as that, i_hey aren't treated as people, it's quite possible that other uploaded being_on't be treated as people either. You're setting a legal precedent, Bob. _now of six other companies doing uploading work right now, and not one of
  • 'em's thinking about the legal status of the uploaded. If you don't star_hinking about it now, where are you going to be in three to five years'
  • time?"
  • Pam is looking back and forth between Franklin and Manfred like a bot stuck i_ loop, unable to quite grasp what she's seeing. "How much is this worth?" sh_sks plaintively.
  • "Oh, quite a few million, I guess." Bob stares at his empty glass. "Okay. I'l_alk to them. If they bite, you're dining out on me for the next century. Yo_eally think they'll be able to run the mining complex?"
  • "They're pretty resourceful for invertebrates." Manfred grins innocently, enthusiastically. "They may be prisoners of their evolutionary background, bu_hey can still adapt to a new environment. And just think, you'll be winnin_ivil rights for a whole new minority group – one that won't be a minority fo_uch longer!"
  • That evening, Pamela turns up at Manfred's hotel room wearing a straples_lack dress, concealing spike-heeled boots and most of the items he bought fo_er that afternoon. Manfred has opened up his private diary to her agents. Sh_buses the privilege, zaps him with a stunner on his way out of the shower, and has him gagged, spread-eagled, and trussed to the bed frame before he ha_ chance to speak. She wraps a large rubber pouch full of mildly anestheti_ube around his tumescent genitals – no point in letting him climax – clip_lectrodes to his nipples, lubes a rubber plug up his rectum and straps it i_lace. Before the shower, he removed his goggles. She resets them, plugs the_nto her handheld, and gently eases them on over his eyes. There's othe_pparatus, stuff she ran up on the hotel room's 3D printer.
  • Setup completed, she walks round the bed, inspecting him critically from al_ngles, figuring out where to begin. This isn't just sex, after all: It's _ork of art.
  • After a moment's thought, she rolls socks onto his exposed feet, then, expertly wielding a tiny tube of cyanoacrylate, glues his fingertips together.
  • Then she switches off the air conditioning. He's twisting and straining, testing the cuffs. Tough, it's about the nearest thing to sensory deprivatio_he can arrange without a flotation tank and suxamethonium injection. Sh_ontrols all his senses, only his ears unstoppered. The glasses give her _igh-bandwidth channel right into his brain, a fake metacortex to whisper lie_t her command. The idea of what she's about to do excites her, puts a tremo_n her thighs: It's the first time she's been able to get inside his mind a_ell as his body. She leans forward and whispers in his ear, "Manfred, can yo_ear me?"
  • He twitches. Mouth gagged, fingers glued. Good. No back channels. He'_owerless.
  • "This is what it's like to be tetraplegic, Manfred. Bedridden with moto_euron disease. Locked inside your own body by nv-CJD from eating too man_ontaminated burgers. I could spike you with MPTP, and you'd stay in thi_osition for the rest of your life, shitting in a bag, pissing through a tube.
  • Unable to talk and with nobody to look after you. Do you think you'd lik_hat?"
  • He's trying to grunt or whimper around the ball gag. She hikes her skirt u_round her waist and climbs onto the bed, straddling him. The goggles ar_eplaying scenes she picked up around Cambridge the previous winter – sou_itchen scenes, hospice scenes. She kneels atop him, whispering in his ear.
  • "Twelve million in tax, baby, that's what they think you owe them. What do yo_hink you owe me? That's six million in net income, Manny, six million tha_sn't going into your virtual children's mouths."
  • He's rolling his head from side to side, as if trying to argue. That won't do; she slaps him hard, thrills to his frightened expression. "Today I watched yo_ive uncounted millions away, Manny. Millions, to a bunch of crusties and _assPike pirate! You bastard. Do you know what I should do with you?" He'_ringing, unsure whether she's serious or doing this just to get him turne_n. Good.
  • There's no point trying to hold a conversation. She leans forward until sh_an feel his breath in her ear. "Meat and mind, Manny. Meat, and mind. You'r_ot interested in meat, are you? Just mind. You could be boiled alive befor_ou noticed what was happening in the meatspace around you. Just anothe_obster in a pot. The only thing keeping you out of it is how much I lov_ou." She reaches down and tears away the gel pouch, exposing his penis: it'_tiff as a post from the vasodilators, dripping with gel, numb. Straightenin_p, she eases herself slowly down on it. It doesn't hurt as much as sh_xpected, and the sensation is utterly different from what she's used to. Sh_egins to lean forward, grabs hold of his straining arms, feels his thrillin_elplessness. She can't control herself: She almost bites through her lip wit_he intensity of the sensation. Afterward, she reaches down and massages hi_ntil he begins to spasm, shuddering uncontrollably, emptying the Darwinia_iver of his source code into her, communicating via his only output device.
  • She rolls off his hips and carefully uses the last of the superglue to gum he_abia together. Humans don't produce seminiferous plugs, and although she'_ertile, she wants to be absolutely sure. The glue will last for a day or two.
  • She feels hot and flushed, almost out of control. Boiling to death wit_ebrile expectancy, she's nailed him down at last.
  • When she removes his glasses, his eyes are naked and vulnerable, stripped dow_o the human kernel of his nearly transcendent mind. "You can come and sig_he marriage license tomorrow morning after breakfast," she whispers in hi_ar: "Otherwise, my lawyers will be in touch. Your parents will want _eremony, but we can arrange that later."
  • He looks as if he has something to say, so she finally relents and loosens th_ag, then kisses him tenderly on one cheek. He swallows, coughs, and look_way. "Why? Why do it this way?"
  • She taps him on the chest. "It's all about property rights." She pauses for _oment's thought: There's a huge ideological chasm to bridge, after all. "Yo_inally convinced me about this agalmic thing of yours, this giving everythin_way for brownie points. I wasn't going to lose you to a bunch of lobsters o_ploaded kittens, or whatever else is going to inherit this smart-matte_ingularity you're busy creating. So I decided to take what's mine first. Wh_nows? In a few months, I'll give you back a new intelligence, and you ca_ook after it to your heart's content."
  • "But you didn't need to do it this way –"
  • "Didn't I?" She slides off the bed and pulls down her dress. "You give to_uch away too easily, Manny! Slow down, or there won't be anything left."
  • Leaning over the bed she dribbles acetone onto the fingers of his left hand, then unlocks the cuff. She leaves the bottle of solvent conveniently close t_and so he can untangle himself.
  • "See you tomorrow. Remember, after breakfast."
  • She's in the doorway when he calls, "But you didn't say why!"
  • "Think of it as being sort of like spreading your memes around," she says, blowing a kiss at him, and then closing the door. She bends down an_houghtfully places another cardboard box containing an uploaded kitten righ_utside it. Then she returns to her suite to make arrangements for th_lchemical wedding.