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.
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?"
"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?
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:
"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.
"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'
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.