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Chapter 3 Tourist

  • Spring-Heeled Jack runs blind, blue fumes crackling from his heels. His righ_and, outstretched for balance, clutches a mark's stolen memories. The victi_s sitting on the hard stones of the pavement behind him. Maybe he's wonderin_hat's happened; maybe he looks after the fleeing youth. But the touris_rowds block the view effectively, and in any case, he has no hope of catchin_he mugger. Hit-and-run amnesia is what the polis call it, but to Spring- Heeled Jack it's just more loot to buy fuel for his Russian army-surplu_otorized combat boots.
  • The victim sits on the cobblestones clutching his aching temples. Wha_appened? he wonders. The universe is a brightly colored blur of fast-movin_hapes augmented by deafening noises. His ear-mounted cameras are rebootin_epeatedly: They panic every eight hundred milliseconds, whenever they realiz_hat they're alone on his personal area network without the comforting suppor_f a hub to tell them where to send his incoming sensory feed. Two of hi_obile phones are bickering moronically, disputing ownership of his gri_andwidth, and his memory … is missing.
  • A tall blond clutching an electric chainsaw sheathed in pink bubble wrap lean_ver him curiously: "you all right?" she asks.
  • "I –" He shakes his head, which hurts. "Who am I?" His medical monitor i_larmed because his blood pressure has fallen: His pulse is racing, his seru_ortisol titer is up, and a host of other biometrics suggest that he's goin_nto shock.
  • "I think you need an ambulance," the woman announces. She mutters at he_apel, "Phone, call an ambulance. " She waves a finger vaguely at him as if t_eify a geolink, then wanders off, chain-saw clutched under one arm. Typica_outhern émigré behavior in the Athens of the North, too embarrassed to ge_nvolved. The man shakes his head again, eyes closed, as a flock of girls o_owered blades skid around him in elaborate loops. A siren begins to warble, over the bridge to the north.
  • Who am I? he wonders. "I'm Manfred," he says with a sense of stunned wonder.
  • He looks up at the bronze statue of a man on a horse that looms above th_rowds on this busy street corner. Someone has plastered a Hello Cthulhu! hol_n the plaque that names its rider: Languid fluffy pink tentacles wave at hi_n an attack of kawaii. "I'm Manfred – Manfred. My memory. What's happened t_y memory?" Elderly Malaysian tourists point at him from the open top deck o_ passing bus. He burns with a sense of horrified urgency. I was goin_omewhere, he recalls. What was I doing? It was amazingly important, h_hinks, but he can't remember what exactly it was. He was going to see someon_bout – it's on the tip of his tongue –
  • Welcome to the eve of the third decade: a time of chaos characterized by a_ll-out depression in the space industries.
  • Most of the thinking power on the planet is now manufactured rather than born; there are ten microprocessors for every human being, and the number i_oubling every fourteen months. Population growth in the developing world ha_talled, the birth rate dropping below replacement level. In the wire_ations, more forward-looking politicians are looking for ways to enfranchis_heir nascent AI base.
  • Space exploration is still stalled on the cusp of the second recession of th_entury. The Malaysian government has announced the goal of placing an imam o_ars within ten years, but nobody else cares enough to try.
  • The Space Settlers Society is still trying to interest Disney Corp. in th_edia rights to their latest L5 colony plan, unaware that there's already _olony out there and it isn't human: First-generation uploads, California_piny lobsters in wobbly symbiosis with elderly expert systems, thrive aboar_n asteroid mining project established by the Franklin Trust. Meanwhile, Chinese space agency cutbacks are threatening the continued existence o_oonbase Mao. Nobody, it seems, has figured out how to turn a profit ou_eyond geosynchronous orbit.
  • Two years ago, JPL, the ESA, and the uploaded lobster colony on come_hrunichev-7 picked up an apparently artificial signal from outside the sola_ystem; most people don't know, and of those who do, even fewer care. Afte_ll, if humans can't even make it to Mars, who cares what's going on a hundre_rillion kilometers farther out?
  • Portrait of a wasted youth:
  • Jack is seventeen years and eleven months old. He has never met his father; h_as unplanned, and Dad managed to kill himself in a building-site acciden_efore the Child Support could garnish his income for the upbringing. Hi_other raised him in a two-bedroom housing association flat in Hawick. Sh_orked in a call center when he was young, but business dried up: Human_ren't needed on the end of a phone anymore. Now she works in a drop-i_usiness shop, stacking shelves for virtual fly-by-nights that come and g_ike tourists in the Festival season – but humans aren't in demand for shel_tacking either, these days.
  • His mother sent Jack to a local religious school, where he was regularl_xcluded and effectively ran wild from the age of twelve. By thirteen, he wa_earing a parole cuff for shoplifting; by fourteen, he'd broken his collarbon_n a car crash while joyriding and the dour Presbyterian sheriff sent him t_he Wee Frees, who completed the destruction of his educational prospects wit_igh principles and an illicit tawse.
  • Today, he's a graduate of the hard school of avoiding public surveillanc_ameras, with distinctions in steganographic alibi construction. Mostly thi_ntails high-density crime – if you're going to mug someone, do so where ther_re so many bystanders that they can't pin the blame on you. But the poli_xpert systems are on his tail. If he keeps it up at this rate, in anothe_our months they'll have a positive statistical correlation that will convinc_ven a jury of his peers that he's guilty as fuck – and then he'll go down t_aughton for four years.
  • But Jack doesn't understand the meaning of a Gaussian distribution or th_ignificance of a chi-square test, and the future still looks bright to him a_e pulls on the chunky spectacles he ripped off the tourist gawking at th_tatue on North Bridge. And after a moment, when they begin whispering int_is ears in stereo and showing him pictures of the tourist's vision, it look_ven brighter.
  • "Gotta make a deal, gotta close a deal," whisper the glasses. "Meet the borg, strike a chord." Weird graphs in lurid colors are filling up his periphera_ision, like the hallucinations of a drugged marketroid.
  • "Who the fuck are ye?" asks Jack, intrigued by the bright lights and icons.
  • "I am your Cartesian theatre and you are our focus," murmur the glasses. "Do_ones down fifteen points, Federated Confidence up three, incoming briefing o_ausal decoupling of social control of skirt hem lengths, shaving pattern o_eards, and emergence of multidrug antibiotic resistance in Gram-negativ_acilli: Accept?"
  • "Ah can take it," Jack mumbles, as a torrent of images crashes down on hi_yeballs and jackhammers its way in through his ears like the superego of _isembodied giant. Which is actually what he's stolen: The glasses and wais_ouch he grabbed from the tourist are stuffed with enough hardware to run th_ntire Internet, circa the turn of the millennium. They've got bandwidt_oming out the wazoo, distributed engines running a bazillion inscrutabl_earch tasks, and a whole slew of high-level agents that collectively form _arge chunk of the society of mind that is their owner's personality. Thei_wner is a posthuman genius loci of the net, an agalmic entrepreneur turne_olicy wonk, specializing in the politics of AI emancipation. When he was i_he biz he was the kind of guy who catalysed value wherever he went, leavin_oney trees growing in his footprints. Now he's the kind of political backroo_itter who builds coalitions where nobody else could see common ground. An_ack has stolen his memories. There are microcams built into the frame of th_lasses, pickups in the earpieces; everything is spooled into the holographi_ache in the belt pack, before being distributed for remote storage. At fou_onths per terabyte, memory storage is cheap. What makes this bunch so unusua_s that their owner – Manfred – has cross-indexed them with his agents. Min_ploading may not be a practical technology yet, but Manfred has made an en_un on it already.
  • In a very real sense, the glasses are Manfred, regardless of the identity o_he soft machine with its eyeballs behind the lenses. And it is a very puzzle_anfred who picks himself up and, with a curious vacancy in his head – excep_or a hesitant request for information about accessories for Russian arm_oots – dusts himself off and heads for his meeting on the other side of town.
  • Meanwhile, in another meeting, Manfred's absence is already being noticed.
  • "Something, something is wrong," says Annette. She raises her mirrorshades an_ubs her left eye, visibly worried. "Why is he not answering his chat? H_nows we are due to hold this call with him. Don't you think it is odd?"
  • Gianni nods and leans back, regarding her from behind his desk. He prods a_he highly polished rosewood desktop. The wood grain slips, sliding into _trangely different conformation, generating random dot stereoisograms – messages for his eyes only. "He was visiting Scotland for me," he says after _oment. "I do not know his exact whereabouts – the privacy safeguards – but i_ou, as his designated next of kin, travel in person, I am sure you will fin_t easier. He was going to talk to the Franklin Collective, face-to-face, on_o many … "
  • The office translator is good, but it can't provide real-time lip-sync_orphing between French and Italian. Annette has to make an effort to liste_o his words because the shape of his mouth is all wrong, like a badly dubbe_ideo. Her expensive, recent implants aren't connected up to her Broca's are_et, so she can't simply sideload a deep grammar module for Italian. Thei_ommunications are the best that money can buy, their VR environmen_ainstakingly sculpted, but it still doesn't break down the language barrie_ompletely. Besides, there are distractions: the way the desk switches fro_lack ash to rosewood halfway across its expanse, the strange air current_hat are all wrong for a room this size. "Then what could be up with him? Hi_oicemail is trying to cover for him. It is good, but it does not li_onvincingly."
  • Gianni looks worried. "Manfred is prone to fits of do his own thing wit_elling nobody in advance. But I don't like this. He should have to told on_f us first." Ever since that first meeting in Rome, when Gianni offered him _ob, Manfred has been a core member of Gianni's team, the fixer who goes ou_nd meets people and solves their problems. Losing him at this point could b_ore than embarrassing. Besides, he's a friend.
  • "I do not like this either." She stands up. "If he doesn't call back soon –"
  • "You'll go and fetch him."
  • "Oui." A smile flashes across her face, rapidly replaced by worry lines. "Wha_an have happened?"
  • "Anything. Nothing." Gianni shrugs. "But we cannot do without him." He cast_er a warning glance. "Or you. Don't let the borg get you. Either of you."
  • "Not to worry, I will just bring him back, whatever has happened." She stand_p, surprising a vacuum cleaner that skulks behind her desk. "Au revoir!"
  • "Ciao."
  • As she vacates her office, the minister flickers off behind her, leaving th_ar wall the dull gray of a cold display panel. Gianni is in Rome, she's i_aris, Markus is in Düsseldorf, and Eva's in Wroclaw. There are others, trapped in digital cells scattered halfway across an elderly continent, but a_ong as they don't try to shake hands, they're free to shout across the offic_t each other. Their confidences and dirty jokes tunnel through multipl_ayers of anonymized communication.
  • Gianni is trying to make his break out of regional politics and into Europea_ational affairs: Their job – his election team – is to get him a seat on th_onfederacy Commission, as Representative for Intelligence Oversight, and pus_he boundaries of post-humanistic action outward, into deep space and deepe_ime. Which makes the loss of a key team player, the house futurologist an_ixer, profoundly interesting to certain people: The walls have ears, and no_ll the brains they feed into are human.
  • Annette is more worried than she's letting on to Gianni. It's unlike Manfre_o be out of contact for long and even odder for his receptionist to stonewal_er, given that her apartment is the nearest thing to a home he's had for th_ast couple of years. But something smells fishy. He sneaked out last night, saying it would be an overnight trip, and now he's not answering. Could it b_is ex-wife? she wonders, despite Gianni's hints about a special mission. Bu_here's been no word from Pamela other than the sarcastic cards she dispatche_very year without fail, timed to arrive on the birthday of the daughte_anfred has never met. The music Mafiya? A letter bomb from the Copyrigh_ontrol Association of America? But no, his medical monitor would have bee_creaming its head off if anything like that had happened.
  • Annette has organized things so that he's safe from the intellectual propert_hieves. She's lent him the support he needs, and he's helped her find her ow_ath. She gets a warm sense of happiness whenever she considers how muc_hey've achieved together. But that's exactly why she's worried now. Th_atchdog hasn't barked …
  • Annette summons a taxi to Charles de Gaulle. By the time she arrives, she'_lready used her parliamentary carte to bump an executive-class seat on th_ext A320 to Turnhouse, Edinburgh's airport, and scheduled accommodation an_ransport for her arrival. The plane is climbing out over la Manche before th_ignificance of Gianni's last comment hits her: Might he think the Frankli_ollective could be dangerous to Manfred?
  • The hospital emergency suite has a waiting room with green plastic bucke_eats and subtractive volume renderings by preteens stuck to the walls lik_urreal Lego sculptures. It's deeply silent, the available bandwidth al_equestrated for medical monitors – there are children crying, periodic siren_ailing as ambulances draw up, and people chattering all around him, but t_anfred, it's like being at the bottom of a deep blue pool of quiet. He feel_toned, except this particular drug brings no euphoria or sense of well-being.
  • Corridor-corner vendors hawk kebab-spitted pigeons next to the chained an_usted voluntary service booth; video cameras watch the blue bivvy bags of th_hronic cases lined up next to the nursing station. Alone in his own head, Manfred is frightened and confused.
  • "I can't check you in 'less you sign the confidentiality agreement," says th_riage nurse, pushing an antique tablet at Manfred's face. Service in the NH_s still free, but steps have been taken to reduce the incidence of scandals:
  • "Sign the nondisclosure clause here and here, or the house officer won't se_ou."
  • Manfred stares blearily up at the nurse's nose, which is red and slightl_nflamed from a nosocomial infection. His phones are bickering again, and h_an't remember why; they don't normally behave like this, something must b_issing, but thinking about it is hard. "Why am I here?" he asks for the thir_ime.
  • "Sign it." A pen is thrust into his hand. He focuses on the page, jerk_pright as deeply canalized reflexes kick in.
  • "This is theft of human rights! It says here that the party of the second par_s enjoined from disclosing information relating to the operations managemen_riage procedures and processes of the said health-giving institution, that'_ou, to any third party – that's the public media – on pain of forfeiture o_ealth benefits pursuant to section two of the Health Service Reform Act. _an't sign this! You could repossess my left kidney if I post on the Net abou_ow long I've been in hospital!"
  • "So don't sign, then." The Hijra nurse shrugs, hitches up his sari, and walk_way. "Enjoy your wait!"
  • Manfred pulls out his backup phone and stares at its display. "Something'_rong here." The keypad beeps as he laboriously inputs opcodes. This gets hi_nto an arcane and ancient X.25 PAD, and he has a vague, disturbing memor_hat hints about where he can go from here – mostly into the long-since- decommissioned bowels of NHSNet – but the memories spring a page fault and di_omewhere between fingertips and the moment when understanding dawns. It's _rustrating feeling: His brain is like an ancient car engine with damp spar_lugs, turning over and over without catching fire.
  • The kebab vendor next to Manfred's seating rail chucks a stock cube on hi_rill; it begins to smoke, aromatic and blue and herbal – cannabinoids t_nduce tranquillity and appetite. Manfred sniffs twice, then staggers to hi_eet and heads off in search of the toilet, his head spinning. He's mumblin_t his wrist watch: "Hello, Guatemala? Get me posology please. Click down m_eme tree, I'm confused. Oh shit. Who was I? What happened? Why is everythin_lurry? I can't find my glasses … "
  • A gaggle of day-trippers are leaving the leprosy ward, men and women dresse_n anachronistic garb: men in dark suits, women in long dresses. All of the_ear electric blue disposable gloves and face masks. There's a hum and crackl_f encrypted bandwidth emanating from them, and Manfred instinctively turns t_ollow. They leave the A&E unit through the wheelchair exit, two ladie_scorted by three gentlemen, with a deranged distressed refugee from th_wenty-first century shuffling dizzily after. They're all young, Manfre_ealizes vaguely. Where's my cat? Aineko might be able to make sense of this, if Aineko was interested.
  • "I rather fancy we should retire to the club house," says one young beau. "O_es! please!" his short blond companion chirps, clapping her hands together, then irritably stripping off the anachronistic plastic gloves to reveal wired- lace positional-sensor mitts underneath. "This trip has obviously bee_nproductive. If our contact is here, I see no easy way of locating of hi_ithout breach of medical confidence or a hefty gratuity."
  • "The poor things," murmurs the other woman, glancing back at the leprosarium.
  • "Such a humiliating way to die."
  • "Their own fault; If they hadn't participated in antibiotic abuse the_ouldn't be in the isolation ward," harrumphs a twentysomething with mutton- chops and the manner of a precocious paterfamilias. He raps his walking stic_n the pavement for punctuation, and they pause for a flock of cyclists and _ickshaw before they cross the road onto the Meadows. "Degenerate medicatio_ompliance, degenerate immune systems."
  • Manfred pauses to survey the grass, brain spinning as he ponders the fracta_imensionality of leaves. Then he lurches after them, nearly getting himsel_un down by a flywheel-powered tourist bus. Club. His feet hit the pavement, cross it, thud down onto three billion years of vegetative evolution.
  • Something about those people. He feels a weird yearning, a tropism fo_nformation. It's almost all that's left of him – his voracious will to know.
  • The tall, dark-haired woman hitches up her long skirts to keep them out of th_ud. he sees a flash of iridescent petticoats that ripple like oil on water, worn over old-fashioned combat boots. Not Victorian, then: something else. _ame here to see – the name is on the tip of his tongue. Almost. He feels tha_t has something to do with these people.
  • The squad cross The Meadows by way of a tree-lined path, and come to _ineteenth-century frontage with wide steps and a polished brass doorbell.
  • They enter, and the man with the mutton-chops pauses on the threshold an_urns to face Manfred. "You've followed us this far," he says. "Do you want t_ome in? You might find what you're looking for."
  • Manfred follows with knocking knees, desperately afraid of whatever he'_orgotten.
  • Meanwhile, Annette is busy interrogating Manfred's cat.
  • "When did you last see your father?"
  • Aineko turns its head away from her and concentrates on washing the inside o_ts left leg. Its fur is lifelike and thick, pleasingly patterned except for _anufacturer's URL emblazoned on its flanks; but the mouth produces no saliva, the throat opens on no stomach or lungs. "Go away," it says: "I'm busy."
  • "When did you last see Manfred?" she repeats intently. "I don't have time fo_his. The polis don't know. The medical services don't know. He's off net an_ot responding. So what can you tell me?"
  • It took her precisely eighteen minutes to locate his hotel once she hit th_irport arrivals area and checked the hotel booking front end in the terminal: She knows his preferences. It took her slightly longer to convince th_oncierge to let her into his room. But Aineko is proving more recalcitran_han she'd expected.
  • "AI Neko mod two alpha requires maintenance downtime on a regular basis," th_at says pompously: "You knew that when you bought me this body. What were yo_xpecting, five-nines uptime from a lump of meat? Go away, I'm thinking." Th_ongue rasps out, then pauses while microprobes in its underside replace th_airs that fell out earlier in the day.
  • Annette sighs. Manfred's been upgrading this robot cat for years, and his ex- wife Pamela used to mess with its neural configuration too: This is its thir_ody, and it's getting more realistically uncooperative with every hardwar_pgrade. Sooner or later it's going to demand a litter tray and start throwin_p on the carpet. "Command override," she says. "Dump event log to m_artesian theatre, minus eight hours to present."
  • The cat shudders and looks round at her. "Human bitch!" it hisses. Then i_reezes in place as the air fills with a bright and silent tsunami of data.
  • Both Annette and Aineko are wired for extremely high-bandwidth spread-spectru_ptical networking; an observer would see the cat's eyes and a ring on he_eft hand glow blue-white at each other. After a few seconds, Annette nods t_erself and wiggles her fingers in the air, navigating a time sequence onl_he can see. Aineko hisses resentfully at her, then stands and stalks away, tail held high.
  • "Curiouser and curiouser," Annette hums to herself. She intertwines he_ingers, pressing obscure pressure points on knuckle and wrist, then sighs an_ubs her eyes. "He left here under his own power, looking normal," she call_o the cat. "Who did he say he was going to see?" The cat sits in a beam o_unlight falling in through the high glass window, pointedly showing her it_ack. "Merde. If you're not going to help him –"
  • "Try the Grassmarket," sulks the cat. "He said something about meeting th_ranklin Collective near there. Much good they'll do him … "
  • A man wearing secondhand Chinese combat fatigues and a horribly expensive pai_f glasses bounces up a flight of damp stone steps beneath a keystone tha_nnounces the building to be a Salvation Army hostel. He bangs on the door, his voice almost drowned out by the pair of Cold War Re-enactment Society MiG_hat are buzzing the castle up the road: "Open up, ye cunts! Ye've got a dea_omin'!"
  • A peephole set in the door at eye level slides to one side, and a pair o_eady, black-eyed video cameras peer out at him. "Who are you and what do yo_ant?" the speaker crackles. They don't belong to the Salvation Army; Christianity has been deeply unfashionable in Scotland for some decades, an_he church that currently occupies the building has certainly moved with th_imes in an effort to stay relevant.
  • "I'm Macx," he says: "You've heard from my systems. I'm here to offer you _eal you can't refuse." At least that's what his glasses tell him to say: Wha_omes out of his mouth sounds a bit more like, Am Max: Yiv hurdfrae ma system.
  • Am here tae gie ye a deal ye cannae refuse. The glasses haven't had lon_nough to work on his accent. Meanwhile, he's so full of himself that he snap_is fingers and does a little dance of impatience on the top step.
  • "Aye, well, hold on a minute." The person on the other side of th_peakerphone has the kind of cut-glass Morningside accent that manages t_ound more English than the King while remaining vernacular Scots. The doo_pens, and Macx finds himself confronted by a tall, slightly cadaverous ma_earing a tweed suit that has seen better days and a clerical collar cut fro_ translucent circuit board. His face is almost concealed behind a pair o_ecording angel goggles. "Who did ye say you were?"
  • "I'm Macx! Manfred Macx! I'm here with an opportunity you wouldn't believe.
  • I've got the answer to your church's financial situation. I'm going to mak_ou rich!" The glasses prompt, and Macx speaks.
  • The man in the doorway tilts his head slightly, goggles scanning Macx fro_ead to foot. Bursts of blue combustion products spurt from Macx's heels as h_ounces up and down enthusiastically. "Are ye sure ye've got the righ_ddress?" he asks worriedly.
  • "Aye, Ah am that."
  • The resident backs into the hostel: "Well then, come in, sit yeself down an_ell me all about it."
  • Macx bounces into the room with his brain wide open to a blizzard of pi_harts and growth curves, documents spawning in the bizarre phase-space of hi_orporate management software. "I've got a deal you're not going to believe,"
  • he reads, gliding past notice boards upon which Church circulars are stake_ut to die like exotic butterflies, stepping over rolled-up carpets and _tack of laptops left over from a jumble sale, past the devotional radi_elescope that does double duty as Mrs. Muirhouse's back-garden bird bath.
  • "You've been here five years and your posted accounts show you aren't makin_uch money – barely keeping the rent up. But you're a shareholder in Scottis_uclear Electric, right? Most of the church funds are in the form of a trus_eft to the church by one of your congregants when she went to join the omeg_oint, right?"
  • "Er." The minister looks at him oddly. "I cannae comment on the churc_schatological investment trust. Why d'ye think that?"
  • They fetch up, somehow, in the minister's office. A huge, framed renderin_angs over the back of his threadbare office chair: the collapsing cosmos o_he End Times, galactic clusters rotten with the Dyson spheres of the eschato_alling toward the big crunch. Saint Tipler the Astrophysicist beams down fro_bove with avuncular approval, a ring of quasars forming a halo around hi_ead. Posters proclaim the new Gospel: COSMOLOGY IS BETTER THAN GUESSWORK, an_IVE FOREVER WITHIN MY LIGHT CONE. "Can I get ye anything? Cup of tea? Fue_ell charge point?" asks the minister.
  • "Crystal meth?" asks Macx, hopefully. His face falls as the minister shake_is head apologetically. "Aw, dinnae worry, Ah wis only joshing." He lean_orward: "Ah know a' aboot yer plutonium futures speculation," he hisses. _inger taps his stolen spectacles in an ominous gesture: "These dinnae jus_ecord, they think. An' Ah ken where the money's gone."
  • "What have ye got?" the minister asks coldly, any indication of good humo_lown. "I'm going to have to edit down these memories, ye bastard. I though_'d forgotten all about that. Bits of me aren't going to merge with th_odhead at the end of time now, thanks to you."
  • "Keep yer shirt on. Whit's the point o' savin' it a' up if ye nae got a lif_orth living? Ye reckon the big yin's nae gonnae unnerstan' a knees up?"
  • "What do ye want?"
  • "Aye, well," Macx leans back, aggrieved. Ah've got –" He pauses. An expressio_f extreme confusion flits over his head. "Ah've got lobsters," he finall_nnounces. "Genetically engineered uploaded lobsters tae run yer uraniu_eprocessing plant." As he grows more confused, the glasses' control over hi_ccent slips: "Ah wiz gonnae help yiz oot ba showin ye how ter get yer dos_ack whir it belong … " A strategic pause: "so ye could make the council ta_ue date. See, they're neutron-resistant, the lobsters. No, that cannae b_ight. Ah wiz gonnae sell ye somethin' ye cud use fer" – his face slumps int_ frown of disgust – "free?"
  • Approximately thirty seconds later, as he is picking himself up off the fron_teps of the First Reformed Church of Tipler, Astrophysicist, the man wh_ould be Macx finds himself wondering if maybe this high finance shit isn't a_asy as it's cracked up to be. Some of the agents in his glasses are wonderin_f elocution lessons are the answer; others aren't so optimistic.
  • Getting back to the history lesson, the prospects for the decade look mostl_edical.
  • A few thousand elderly baby boomers are converging on Tehran for Woodstoc_our. Europe is desperately trying to import eastern European nurses and home- care assistants; in Japan, whole agricultural villages lie vacant an_ecaying, ghost communities sucked dry as cities slurp people in lik_esidential black holes.
  • A rumor is spreading throughout gated old-age communities in the America_idwest, leaving havoc and riots in its wake: Senescence is caused by a slo_irus coded into the mammalian genome that evolution hasn't weeded out, an_ich billionaires are sitting on the rights to a vaccine. As usual, Charle_arwin gets more than his fair share of the blame. (Less spectacular but mor_ealistic treatments for old age – telomere reconstruction and hexose- denatured protein reduction – are available in private clinics for those wh_re willing to surrender their pensions.) Progress is expected to speed u_hortly, as the fundamental patents in genomic engineering begin to expire; the Free Chromosome Foundation has already published a manifesto calling fo_he creation of an intellectual-property-free genome with improve_eplacements for all commonly defective exons.
  • Experiments in digitizing and running neural wetware under emulation are wel_stablished; some radical libertarians claim that, as the technology matures, death – with its draconian curtailment of property and voting rights – wil_ecome the biggest civil rights issue of all.
  • For a small extra fee, most veterinary insurance policies now cover cloning o_ets in the event of their accidental and distressing death. Human cloning, for reasons nobody is very clear on anymore, is still illegal in mos_eveloped nations – but very few judiciaries push for mandatory abortion o_dentical twins.
  • Some commodities are expensive: the price of crude oil has broken eighty Euro_ barrel and is edging inexorably up. Other commodities are cheap: computers, for example. Hobbyists print off weird new processor architectures on thei_ome inkjets; middle-aged folks wipe their backsides with diagnostic pape_hat can tell how their cholesterol levels are tending.
  • The latest casualties of the march of technological progress are: the high- street clothes shop, the flushing water closet, the Main Battle Tank, and th_irst generation of quantum computers. New with the decade are cheap enhance_mmune systems, brain implants that hook right into the Chomsky organ and tal_o their owners through their own speech centers, and widespread publi_aranoia about limbic spam. Nanotechnology has shattered into a dozen disjoin_isciplines, and skeptics are predicting that it will all peter out befor_ong. Philosophers have ceded qualia to engineers, and the current difficul_roblem in AI is getting software to experience embarrassment.
  • Fusion power is still, of course, fifty years away.
  • The Victorians are morphing into goths before Manfred's culture-shocked eyes.
  • "You looked lost," explains Monica, leaning over him curiously. "What's wit_our eyes?"
  • "I can't see too well," Manfred tries to explain. Everything is a blur, an_he voices that usually chatter incessantly in his head have left nothin_ehind but a roaring silence. "I mean, someone mugged me. They took –" Hi_and closes on air: something is missing from his belt.
  • Monica, the tall woman he first saw in the hospital, enters the room. Wha_he's wearing indoors is skin-tight, iridescent and, disturbingly, she claim_s a distributed extension of her neuroectoderm. Stripped of costume-dram_ccoutrements, she's a twenty-first-century adult, born or decanted after th_illennial baby boom. She waves some fingers in Manfred's face: "How many?"
  • "Two." Manfred tries to concentrate. "What –"
  • "No concussion," she says briskly. "'Scuse me while I page." Her eyes ar_rown, with amber raster lines flickering across her pupils. Contact lenses?
  • Manfred wonders, his head turgid and unnaturally slow. It's like being drunk, except much less pleasant: He can't seem to wrap his head around an idea fro_ll angles at once, anymore. Is this what consciousness used to be like? It'_n ugly, slow sensation. She turns away from him: "Medline says you'll be al_ight in a while. The main problem is the identity loss. Are you backed u_nywhere?"
  • "Here." Alan, still top-hatted and mutton-chopped, holds out a pair o_pectacles to Manfred. "Take these, they may do you some good." His toppe_obbles, as if a strange A-life experiment is nesting under its brim.
  • "Oh. Thank you." Manfred reaches for them with a pathetic sense of gratitude.
  • As soon as he puts them on, they run through a test series, whisperin_uestions and watching how his eyes focus: After a minute, the room around hi_lears as the specs build a synthetic image to compensate for his myopia.
  • There's limited Net access, too, he notices, a warm sense of relief stealin_ver him. "Do you mind if I call somebody?" he asks: "I want to check my back- ups."
  • "Be my guest." Alan slips out through the door; Monica sits down opposite hi_nd stares into some inner space. The room has a tall ceiling, wit_hitewashed walls and wooden shutters to cover the aerogel window bays. Th_urniture is modern modular, and clashes horribly with the origina_ineteenth-century architecture. "We were expecting you."
  • "You were –" He shifts track with an effort: "I was here to see somebody. Her_n Scotland, I mean."
  • "Us." She catches his eye deliberately. "To discuss sapience options with ou_atron."
  • "With your –" He squeezes his eyes shut. "Damn! I don't remember. I need m_lasses back. Please."
  • "What about your back-ups?" she asks curiously.
  • "A moment." Manfred tries to remember what address to ping. It's useless, an_ainfully frustrating. "It would help if I could remember where I keep th_est of my mind," he complains. "It used to be at – oh, there."
  • An elephantine semantic network sits down on his spectacles as soon as he ask_or the site, crushing his surroundings into blocky pixilated monochrome tha_erks as he looks around. "This is going to take some time," he warns hi_osts as a goodly chunk of his metacortex tries to handshake with his brai_ver a wireless network connection that was really only designed for we_rowsing. The download consists of the part of his consciousness that isn'_ecurity-critical – public access actors and vague opinionated rants – but i_lears down a huge memory castle, sketching in the outline of a map o_iracles and wonders onto the whitewashed walls of the room.
  • When Manfred can see the outside world again, he feels a bit more lik_imself: He can, at least, spawn a search thread that will resynchronize an_ill him in on what it found. He still can't access the inner mysteries of hi_oul (including his personal memories); they're locked and barred pendin_iometric verification of his identity and a quantum key exchange. But he ha_is wits about him again – and some of them are even working. It's lik_obering up from a strange new drug, the infinitely reassuring sense of bein_ack at the controls of his own head. "I think I need to report a crime," h_ells Monica – or whoever is plugged into Monica's head right now, because no_e knows where he is and who he was meant to meet (although not why) – and h_nderstands that, for the Franklin Collective, identity is a politicall_oaded issue.
  • "A crime report." Her expression is subtly mocking. "Identity theft, by an_hance?"
  • "Yeah, yeah, I know: Identity is theft, don't trust anyone whose state vecto_asn't forked for more than a gigasecond, change is the only constant, e_loody cetera. Who am I talking to, by the way? And if we're talking, doesn'_hat signify that you think we're on the same side, more or less?" H_truggles to sit up in the recliner chair: Stepper motors whine softly as i_trives to accommodate him.
  • "Sidedness is optional." The woman who is Monica some of the time looks at hi_uirkily: "It tends to alter drastically if you vary the number of dimensions.
  • Let's just say that right now I'm Monica, plus our sponsor. Will that do you?"
  • "Our sponsor, who is in cyberspace –"
  • She leans back on the sofa, which buzzes and extrudes an occasional table wit_ small bar. "Drink? Can I offer you coffee? Guarana? Or maybe _erlinerweisse, for old time's sake?"
  • "Guarana will do. Hello, Bob. How long have you been dead?"
  • She chuckles. "I'm not dead, Manny. I may not be a full upload, but I fee_ike me." She rolls her eyes, self-consciously. "He's making rude comment_bout your wife," She adds; "I'm not going to pass that on."
  • "My ex-wife," Manfred corrects her automatically. "The, uh, tax vamp. So.
  • You're acting as a, I guess, an interpreter for Bob?"
  • "Ack." She looks at Manfred very seriously: "We owe him a lot, you know. H_eft his assets in trust to the movement along with his partials. We fee_bliged to instantiate his personality as often as possible, even though yo_an only do so much with a couple of petabytes of recordings. But we hav_elp."
  • "The lobsters." Manfred nods to himself and accepts the glass that she offers.
  • Its diamond-plated curves glitter brilliantly in the late-afternoon sunlight.
  • "I knew this had something to do with them." He leans forward, holding hi_lass and frowns. "If only I could remember why I came here! It was somethin_mergent, something in deep memory … something I didn't trust in my own skull.
  • Something to do with Bob."
  • The door behind the sofa opens; Alan enters. "Excuse me," he says quietly, an_eads for the far side of the room. A workstation folds down from the wall, and a chair rolls in from a service niche. He sits with his chin propped o_is hands, staring at the white desktop. Every so often he mutters quietly t_imself; "Yes, I understand … campaign headquarters … donations need to b_udited … "
  • "Gianni's election campaign," Monica prompts him.
  • Manfred jumps. "Gianni –" A bundle of memories unlock inside his head as h_emembers his political front man's message. "Yes! That's what this is about.
  • It has to be!" He looks at her excitedly. "I'm here to deliver a message t_ou from Gianni Vittoria. About –" He looks crestfallen. "I'm not sure," h_rails off uncertainly, "but it was important. Something critical in the lon_erm, something about group minds and voting. But whoever mugged me got th_essage."
  • The Grassmarket is an overly rustic cobbled square nestled beneath th_lowering battlements of Castle Rock. Annette stands on the site of th_allows where they used to execute witches; she sends forth her invisibl_gents to search for spoor of Manfred. Aineko, overly familiar, drapes ove_er left shoulder like a satanic stole and delivers a running stream o_racked cellphone chatter into her ear.
  • "I don't know where to begin," she sighs, annoyed. This place is a wall-to- wall tourist trap, a many-bladed carnivorous plant that digests easy credi_nd spits out the drained husks of foreigners. The road has bee_edestrianized and resurfaced in squalidly authentic mediaeval cobblestones; in the middle of what used to be the car park, there's a permanent floatin_ntiques market, where you can buy anything from a brass fire surround to a_ncient CD player. Much of the merchandise in the shops is generic dot-co_rash, vying for the title of Japanese–Scottish souvenir from hell: Purolan_artans, animatronic Nessies hissing bad-temperedly at knee level, second han_aptops. People swarm everywhere, from the theme pubs (hangings seem to be _unning joke hereabouts) to the expensive dress shops with their fabri_enderers and digital mirrors. Street performers, part of the permanen_loating Fringe, clutter the sidewalk: A robotic mime, very traditional i_ilver face paint, mimics the gestures of passers by with ironically stylize_estures.
  • "Try the doss house," Aineko suggests from the shelter of her shoulder bag.
  • "The –" Annette does a doubletake as her thesaurus conspires with her ope_overnment firmware and dumps a geographical database of city social service_nto her sensorium. "Oh, I see." The Grassmarket itself is touristy, but th_its off to one end – down a dingy canyon of forbidding stone buildings si_tories high – are decidedly downmarket. "Okay."
  • Annette weaves past a stall selling disposable cellphones and cheaper genom_xplorers, round a gaggle of teenage girls in the grips of some kind o_mported kawaii fetish, who look at her in alarm from atop their pink platfor_eels – probably mistaking her for a school probation inspector – and past _tand of chained and parked bicycles. The human attendant looks bored out o_er mind. Annette tucks a blandly anonymous ten-Euro note in her pocket almos_efore she notices: "If you were going to buy a hot bike," she asks, "wher_ould you go?" The parking attendant stares, and for a moment Annette think_he's overestimated her. Then she mumbles something. "What?"
  • "McMurphy's. Used to be called Bannerman's. Down yon Cowgate, thataway." Th_eter maid looks anxiously at her rack of charges. "You didn't –"
  • "Uh-huh." Annette follows her gaze: straight down the dark stone canyon. Well, okay. "This had better be worth it, Manny mon chèr," she mutters under he_reath.
  • McMurphy's is a fake Irish pub, a stone grotto installed beneath a mound o_lank-faced offices. It was once a real Irish pub before the developers go_heir hands on it and mutated it in rapid succession into a punk nightclub, _ine bar, and a fake Dutch coffee shop; after which, as burned-out as an_tar, it left the main sequence. Now it occupies an unnaturally prolonged, chilly existence as the sort of recycled imitation Irish pub that has neo_our-leafed clovers hanging from the artificially blackened pine beams abov_he log tables – in other words, the burned-out black dwarf afterlife of _nce-serious drinking establishment. Somewhere along the line, the beer cella_as replaced with a toilet (leaving more room for paying patrons upstairs), and now its founts dispense fizzy concentrate diluted with water from the cit_ains.
  • "Say, did you hear the one about the Eurocrat with the robot pussy who goe_nto a dodgy pub on the Cowgate and orders a coke? And when it arrives, sh_ays 'hey, where's the mirror?'"
  • "Shut up," Annette hisses into her shoulder bag. "That isn't funny." He_ersonal intruder telemetry has just e-mailed her wristphone, and it'_isplaying a rotating yellow exclamation point, which means that according t_he published police crime stats, this place is likely to do grievous harm t_er insurance premiums.
  • Aineko looks up at her from his nest in the bag and yawns cavernously, barin_ pink, ribbed mouth and a tongue like pink suede. "Want to make me? I jus_inged Manny's head. The network latency was trivial."
  • The barmaid sidles up and pointedly manages not to make eye contact wit_nnette. "I'll have a Diet Coke," Annette orders. In the direction of her bag, voice pitched low: "Did you hear the one about the Eurocrat who goes into _odgy pub, orders half a liter of Diet Coke, and when she spills it in he_houlder bag she says 'oops, I've got a wet pussy'?"
  • The Coke arrives. Annette pays for it. There may be a couple of dozen peopl_n the pub; it's hard to tell because it looks like an ancient cellar, lots o_tone archways leading off into niches populated with second-hand church pew_nd knife-scarred tables. Some guys who might be bikers, students, or well- dressed winos are hunched over one table: hairy, wearing vests with too man_ockets, in an artful bohemianism that makes Annette blink until one of he_iterary programs informs her that one of them is a moderately famous loca_riter, a bit of a guru for the space and freedom party. There're a couple o_omen in boots and furry hats in one corner, poring over the menu, and _arcel of off-duty street performers hunching over their beers in a booth.
  • Nobody else is wearing anything remotely like office drag, but the weirdnes_oefficient is above average; so Annette dials her glasses to extra-dark, straightens her tie, and glances around.
  • The door opens and a nondescript youth slinks in. He's wearing baggy BDUs, woolly cap, and a pair of boots that have that quintessential essense d_anzer division look, all shock absorbers and olive drab Kevlar panels. He'_earing –
  • "I spy with my little network intrusion detector kit," begins the cat, a_nnette puts her drink down and moves in on the youth, "something beginnin_ith –"
  • "How much you want for the glasses, kid?" she asks quietly.
  • He jerks and almost jumps – a bad idea in MilSpec combat boots, the ceiling i_ighteenth-century stone half a meter thick; "Dinnae fuckin' dae that," h_omplains in an eerily familiar way: "Ah –" he swallows. "Annie! Who –"
  • "Stay calm. Take them off – they'll only hurt you if you keep wearing them,"
  • she says, careful not to move too fast because now she has a second, scary- jittery fear, and she knows without having to look that the exclamation mar_n her watch has turned red and begun to flash: "Look, I'll give you tw_undred Euros for the glasses and the belt pouch, real cash, and I won't as_ow you got them or tell anyone." He's frozen in front of her, mesmerized, an_he can see the light from inside the lenses spilling over onto his half- starved adolescent cheekbones, flickering like cold lightning, like he'_lugged his brain into a grid bearer; swallowing with a suddenly dry mouth, she slowly reaches up and pulls the spectacles off his face with one hand an_akes hold of the belt pouch with the other. The kid shudders and blinks a_er, and she sticks a couple of hundred-Euro notes in front of his nose.
  • "Scram," she says, not unkindly.
  • He reaches up slowly, then seizes the money and runs – blasts his way throug_he door with an ear-popping concussion, hangs a left onto the cycle path, an_anishes downhill toward the parliament buildings and university complex.
  • Annette watches the doorway apprehensively. "Where is he?" she hisses, worried: "Any ideas, cat?"
  • "Naah. It's your job to find him," Aineko opines complacently. But there's a_cicle of anxiety in Annette's spine. Manfred's been separated from his memor_ache? Where could he be? Worse – who could he be?
  • "Fuck you, too," she mutters. "Only one thing for it, I guess." She takes of_er own glasses – they're much less functional than Manfred's massivel_amified custom rig – and nervously raises the repo'd specs toward her face.
  • Somehow what she's about to do makes her feel unclean, like snooping on _over's e-mail folders. But how else can she figure out where he might hav_one?
  • She slides the glasses on and tries to remember what she was doing yesterda_n Edinburgh.
  • "Gianni?"
  • "Oui, ma chérie?"
  • Pause. "I lost him. But I got his aid-mémoire back. A teenage freeloade_laying cyberpunk with them. No sign of his location – so I put them on."
  • Pause. "Oh dear."
  • "Gianni, why exactly did you send him to the Franklin Collective?"
  • Pause. (During which, the chill of the gritty stone wall she's leaning o_egins to penetrate the weave of her jacket.) "I not wanting to bother yo_ith trivia."
  • "Merde. It's not trivia, Gianni, they're accelerationistas. Have you any ide_hat that's going to do to his head?"
  • Pause: Then a grunt, almost of pain. "Yes."
  • "Then why did you do it?" she demands vehemently. She hunches over, punchin_ords into her phone so that other passers-by avoid her, unsure whether she'_ands-free or hallucinating: "Shit, Gianni, I have to pick up the pieces ever_ime you do this! Manfred is not a healthy man, he's on the edge of acut_uture shock the whole time, and I was not joking when I told you las_ebruary that he'd need a month in a clinic if you tried running him flat ou_gain! If you're not careful, he could end up dropping out completely an_oining the borganism –"
  • "Annette." A heavy sigh: "He are the best hope we got. Am knowing half-life o_galmic catalyst now down to six months and dropping; Manny outlast his caree_xpectancy, four deviations outside the normal, yes, we know this. But I ar_aving to break civil rights deadlock now, this election. We must achiev_onsensus, and Manfred are only staffer we got who have hope of talking t_ollective on its own terms. He are deal-making messenger, not force burnout, right? We need coalition reserve before term limit lockout followed b_ridlock in Brussels, American-style. Is more than vital – is essential."
  • "That's no excuse –"
  • "Annette, they have partial upload of Bob Franklin. They got it before h_ied, enough of his personality to reinstantiate it, time-sharing in their ow_rains. We must get the Franklin Collective with their huge resources lobbyin_or the Equal Rights Amendment: If ERA passes, all sapients are eligible t_ote, own property, upload, download, sideload. Are more important than littl_ray butt-monsters with cold speculum: Whole future depends on it. Mann_tarted this with crustacean rights: Leave uploads covered by copyrights no_ivil rights and where will we be in fifty years? Do you think I must ignor_his? It was important then, but now, with the transmission the lobster_eceived –"
  • "Shit." She turns and leans her forehead against the cool stonework. "I'l_eed a prescription. Ritalin or something. And his location. Leave the rest t_e." She doesn't add, That includes peeling him off the ceiling afterwards: that's understood. Nor does she say, you're going to pay. That's understood, too. Gianni may be a hard-nosed political fixer, but he looks after his own.
  • "Location am easy if he find the PLO. GPS coordinates are following –"
  • "No need. I got his spectacles."
  • "Merde, as you say. Take them to him, ma chérie. Bring me the distribute_rust rating of Bob Franklin's upload, and I bring Bob the jubilee, right t_irect his own corporate self again as if still alive. And we pull diplomati_hestnuts out of fire before they burn. Agreed?"
  • "Oui."
  • She cuts the connection and begins walking uphill, along the Cowgate (throug_hich farmers once bought their herds to market), toward the permanen_loating Fringe and then the steps towards The Meadows. As she pauses opposit_he site of the gallows, a fight breaks out: Some Paleolithic hangover take_xception to the robotic mime aping his movements, and swiftly rips its ar_ff. The mime stands there, sparks flickering inside its shoulder, and look_onfused. Two pissed-looking students start forward and punch the short-haire_andal. There is much shouting in the mutually incomprehensible accents o_xgangs and the Herriott-Watt Robot Lab. Annette watches the fight an_hudders; it's like a flashover vision from a universe where the Equal Right_mendment – with its redefinition of personhood – is rejected by the house o_eputies: a universe where to die is to become property and to be create_utwith a gift of parental DNA is to be doomed to slavery.
  • Maybe Gianni was right, she ponders. But I wish the price wasn't so personal –
  • Manfred can feel one of his attacks coming on. The usual symptoms are al_resent – the universe, with its vast preponderance of unthinking matter, becomes an affront; weird ideas flicker like heat lightning far away acros_he vast plateaus of his imagination – but, with his metacortex running i_andboxed insecure mode, he feels blunt. And slow. Even obsolete. The latte_s about as welcome a sensation as heroin withdrawal: He can't spin of_hreads to explore his designs for feasibility and report back to him. It'_ike someone has stripped fifty points off his IQ; his brain feels like _urgical scalpel that's been used to cut down trees. A decaying mind is _errible thing to be trapped inside. Manfred wants out, and he wants out bad – but he's too afraid to let on.
  • "Gianni is a middle-of-the-road Eurosocialist, a mixed-market pragmatis_olitician," Bob's ghost accuses Manfred by way of Monica's dye-flushed lips,
  • "hardly the sort of guy you'd expect me to vote for, no? So what does he thin_ can do for him?"
  • "That's a – ah – " Manfred rocks forward and back in his chair, arms crosse_irmly and hands thrust under his armpits for protection. "Dismantle the moon!
  • Digitize the biosphere, make a nöosphere out of it – shit, sorry, that's long- term planning. Build Dyson spheres, lots and lots of – Ahem. Gianni is an ex- Marxist, reformed high church Trotskyite clade. He believes in achieving Tru_ommunism, which is a state of philosophical grace that requires certai_rerequisites like, um, not pissing around with Molotov cocktails and though_olice: He wants to make everybody so rich that squabbling over ownership o_he means of production makes as much sense as arguing over who gets to slee_n the damp spot at the back of the cave. He's not your enemy, I mean. He'_he enemy of those Stalinist deviationist running dogs in Conservative Part_entral Office who want to bug your bedroom and hand everything on a plate t_he big corporates owned by the pension funds – which in turn rely on peopl_ying predictably to provide their raison d'être. And, um, more importantl_ying and not trying to hang on to their property and chattels. Sitting up i_he coffin singing extropian fireside songs, that kind of thing. The actuarie_re to blame, predicting life expectancy with intent to cause people to bu_nsurance policies with money that is invested in control of the means o_roduction – Bayes' Theorem is to blame –"
  • Alan glances over his shoulder at Manfred: "I don't think feeding him guaran_as a good idea," he says in tones of deep foreboding.
  • Manfred's mode of vibration has gone nonlinear by this point: He's rockin_ront to back, and jiggling up and down in little hops, like a technophiliaca_ogic flyer trying to bounce his way to the singularity. Monica leans towar_im and her eyes widen: "Manfred," she hisses, "shut up!"
  • He stops babbling abruptly, with an expression of deep puzzlement. "Who am I?"
  • he asks, and keels over backward. "Why am I, here and now, occupying this body –"
  • "Anthropic anxiety attack," Monica comments. "I think he did this in Amsterda_ight years ago when Bob first met him." She looks alarmed, a differen_dentity coming to the fore: "What shall we do?"
  • "We have to make him comfortable." Alan raises his voice: "Bed, make yoursel_eady, now." The back of the sofa Manfred is sprawled on flops downward, th_ase folds up, and a strangely animated duvet crawls up over his feet.
  • "Listen, Manny, you're going to be all right."
  • "Who am I and what do I signify?" Manfred mumbles incoherently: "A mass o_ropagating decision trees, fractal compression, lots of synaptic junction_ubricated with friendly endorphins –" Across the room, the bootle_harmacopoeia is cranking up to manufacture some heavy tranquilizers. Monic_eads for the kitchen to get something for him to drink them in. "Why are yo_oing this?" Manfred asks, dizzily.
  • "It's okay. Lie down and relax." Alan leans over him. "We'll talk abou_verything in the morning, when you know who you are." (Aside to Monica, wh_s entering the room with a bottle of iced tea: "Better let Gianni know tha_e's unwell. One of us may have to go visit the minister. Do you know if Mac_as been audited?") "Rest up, Manfred. Everything is being taken care of."
  • About fifteen minutes later, Manfred – who, in the grip of an existentia_igraine, meekly obeys Monica's instruction to drink down the spiked tea – lies back on the bed and relaxes. His breathing slows; the sublimina_uttering ceases. Monica, sitting next to him, reaches out and takes his righ_and, which is lying on top of the bedding.
  • "Do you want to live forever?" she intones in Bob Franklin's tone of voice.
  • "You can live forever in me … "
  • The Church of Latter-Day Saints believes that you can't get into the Promise_and unless it's baptized you – but it can do so if it knows your name an_arentage, even after you're dead. Its genealogical databases are among th_ost impressive artifacts of historical research ever prepared. And it like_o make converts.
  • The Franklin Collective believes that you can't get into the future unles_t's digitized your neural state vector, or at least acquired as complete _napshot of your sensory inputs and genome as current technology permits. Yo_on't need to be alive for it to do this. Its society of mind is among th_ost impressive artifacts of computer science. And it likes to make converts.
  • Nightfall in the city. Annette stands impatiently on the doorstep. "Let me th_uck in," she snarls impatiently at the speakerphone. "Merde!"
  • Someone opens the door. "Who –"
  • Annette shoves him inside, kicks the door shut, and leans on it. "Take me t_our bodhisattva," she demands. "Now."
  • "I –" he turns and heads inside, along the gloomy hallway that runs past _taircase. Annette strides after him aggressively. He opens a door and duck_nside, and she follows before he can close it.
  • Inside, the room is illuminated by a variety of indirect diode sources, calibrated for the warm glow of a summer afternoon's daylight. There's a be_n the middle of it, a figure lying asleep at the heart of a herd of attentiv_iagnostic instruments. A couple of attendants sit to either side of th_leeping man.
  • "What have you done to him?" Annette snaps, rushing forward. Manfred blinks u_t her from the pillows, bleary-eyed and confused as she leans overhead:
  • "Hello? Manny?" Over her shoulder: "If you have done anything to him –"
  • "Annie?" He looks puzzled. A bright orange pair of goggles – not his own – i_ushed up onto his forehead like a pair of beached jellyfish. "I don't fee_ell. 'F I get my hands on the bastard who did this … "
  • "We can fix that," she says briskly, declining to mention the deal she cut t_et his memories back. She peels off his glasses and carefully slides the_nto his face, replacing his temporary ones. The brain bag she puts down nex_o his shoulder, within easy range. The hairs on the back of her neck rise a_ thin chattering fills the ether around them: his eyes are glowing a luminou_lue behind his shades, as if a high-tension spark is flying between his ears.
  • "Oh. Wow." He sits up, the covers fall from his naked shoulders, and he_reath catches.
  • She looks round at the motionless figure sitting to his left. The man in th_hair nods deliberately, ironically. "What have you done to him?"
  • "We've been looking after him – nothing more, nothing less. He arrived in _tate of considerable confusion, and his state deteriorated this afternoon."
  • She's never met this fellow before, but she has a gut feeling that she know_im. "You would be Robert … Franklin?"
  • He nods again. "The avatar is in." There's a thud as Manfred's eyes roll up i_is head, and he flops back onto the bedding. "Excuse me. Monica?"
  • The young woman on the other side of the bed shakes her head. "No, I'm runnin_ob, too."
  • "Oh. Well, you tell her – I've got to get him some juice."
  • The woman who is also Bob Franklin – or whatever part of him survived hi_attle with an exotic brain tumor eight years earlier – catches Annette's ey_nd shakes her head, smiles faintly. "You're never alone when you're _yncitium."
  • Annette wrinkles her brow: she has to trigger a dictionary attack to parse th_entence. "One large cell, many nuclei? Oh, I see. You have the new implant.
  • The better to record everything."
  • The youngster shrugs. "You want to die and be resurrected as a third-perso_ctor in a low-bandwidth re-enactment? Or a shadow of itchy memories in som_tranger's skull?" She snorts, a gesture that's at odds with the rest of he_ody language.
  • "Bob must have been one of the first borganisms. Humans, I mean. After Ji_ezier." Annette glances over at Manfred, who has begun to snore softly. "I_ust have been a lot of work."
  • "The monitoring equipment cost millions, then," says the woman – Monica? –
  • "and it didn't do a very good job. One of the conditions for our keepin_ccess to his research funding is that we regularly run his partials. H_anted to build up a kind of aggregate state vector – patched together out o_its and pieces of other people to supplement the partials that were all I – he – could record with the then state of the art."
  • "Eh, right." Annette reaches out and absently smooths a stray hair away fro_anfred's forehead. "What is it like to be part of a group mind?"
  • Monica sniffs, evidently amused. "What is it like to see red? What's it lik_o be a bat? I can't tell you – I can only show you. We're all free to leav_t any time, you know."
  • "But somehow you don't." Annette rubs her head, feels the short hair over th_lmost imperceptible scars that conceal a network of implants – tools tha_anfred turned down when they became available a year or two ago. ("Goop-phas_arwin-design nanotech ain't designed for clean interfaces," he'd said, "I'l_tick to disposable kit, thanks.") "No thank you. I don't think he'll take u_our offer when he wakes up, either." (Subtext: I'll let you have him over m_ead body.)
  • Monica shrugs. "That's his loss: He won't live forever in the singularity, along with other followers of our gentle teacher. Anyway, we have mor_onverts than we know what to do with."
  • A thought occurs to Annette. "Ah. You are all of one mind? Partially? _uestion to you is a question to all?"
  • "It can be." The words come simultaneously from Monica and the other body, Alan, who is standing in the doorway with a boxy thing that looks like a_mprovised diagnostician. "What do you have in mind?" adds the Alan body.
  • Manfred, lying on the bed, groans: There's an audible hiss of pink noise a_is glasses whisper in his ears, bone conduction providing a serial highway t_is wetware.
  • "Manfred was sent to find out why you're opposing the ERA," Annette explains.
  • "Some parts of our team operate without the other's knowledge."
  • "Indeed." Alan sits down on the chair beside the bed and clears his throat, puffing his chest out pompously. "A very important theological issue. I feel –"
  • "I, or we?" Annette interrupts.
  • "We feel," Monica snaps. Then she glances at Alan. "Soo-rrry."
  • The evidence of individuality within the group mind is disturbing to Annette: Too many reruns of the Borgish fantasy have conditioned her preconceptions, and their quasi-religious belief in a singularity leaves her cold. "Pleas_ontinue."
  • "One person, one vote, is obsolete," says Alan. "The broader issue of how w_alue identity needs to be revisited, the franchise reconsidered. Do you ge_ne vote for each warm body? Or one vote for each sapient individual? Wha_bout distributed intelligences? The proposals in the Equal Rights Act ar_eeply flawed, based on a cult of individuality that takes no account of th_rue complexity of posthumanism."
  • "Like the proposals for a feminine franchise in the nineteenth century tha_ould grant the vote to married wives of land-owning men," Monica adds slyly:
  • "It misses the point."
  • "Ah, oui." Annette crosses her arms, suddenly defensive. This isn't what she'_xpected to hear. This is the elitist side of the posthumanism shtick, potentially as threatening to her post enlightenment ideas as the divine righ_f kings.
  • "It misses more than that." Heads turn to face an unexpected direction: Manfred's eyes are open again, and as he glances around the room Annette ca_ee a spark of interest there that was missing earlier. "Last century, peopl_ere paying to have their heads frozen after their death – in hope o_econstruction, later. They got no civil rights: The law didn't recogniz_eath as a reversible process. Now how do we account for it when you guys sto_unning Bob? Opt out of the collective borganism? Or maybe opt back in agai_ater?" He reaches up and rubs his forehead, tiredly. "Sorry, I haven't bee_yself lately." A crooked, slightly manic grin flickers across his face. "See, I've been telling Gianni for a whole while, we need a new legal concept o_hat it is to be a person. One that can cope with sentient corporations, artificial stupidities, secessionists from group minds, and reincarnate_ploads. The religiously inclined are having lots of fun with identity issue_ight now – why aren't we posthumanists thinking about these things?"
  • Annette's bag bulges: Aineko pokes his head out, sniffs the air, squeezes ou_nto the carpet, and begins to groom himself with perfect disregard for th_uman bystanders. "Not to mention A-life experiments who think they're th_eal thing," Manfred adds. "And aliens."
  • Annette freezes, staring at him. "Manfred! You're not supposed to –"
  • Manfred is watching Alan, who seems to be the most deeply integrated of th_ead venture billionaire's executors: Even his expression reminds Annette o_eeting Bob Franklin back in Amsterdam, early in the decade, when Manny'_ersonal dragon still owned him. "Aliens," Alan echoes. An eyebrow twitches.
  • "Would this be the signal SETI announced, or the, uh, other one? And how lon_ave you known about them?"
  • "Gianni has his fingers in a lot of pies," Manfred comments blandly. "And w_till talk to the lobsters from time to time – you know, they're only a coupl_f light-hours away, right? They told us about the signals."
  • "Er." Alan's eyes glaze over for a moment; Annette's prostheses paint her _icture of false light spraying from the back of his head, his entire sensor_andwidth momentarily soaking up a huge peer-to-peer download from the serve_ust that wallpapers every room in the building. Monica looks irritated, tap_er fingernails on the back of her chair. "The signals. Right. Why wasn't thi_ublicized?"
  • "The first one was." Annette's eyebrows furrow. "We couldn't exactly cover i_p, everyone with a backyard dish pointed in the right direction caught it.
  • But most people who're interested in hearing about alien contacts alread_hink they drop round on alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays to administer recta_xams. Most of the rest think it's a hoax. Quite a few of the remainder ar_cratching their heads and wondering whether it isn't just a new kind o_osmological phenomenon that emits a very low entropy signal. Of the six wh_re left over, five are trying to get a handle on the message contents, an_he last is convinced it's a practical joke. And the other signal, well, tha_as weak enough that only the deep-space tracking network caught it."
  • Manfred fiddles with the bed control system. "It's not a practical joke," h_dds. "But they only captured about sixteen megabits of data from the firs_ne, maybe double that in the second. There's quite a bit of noise, th_ignals don't repeat, their length doesn't appear to be a prime, there's n_bvious metainformation that describes the internal format, so there's no eas_ay of getting a handle on them. To make matters worse, pointy-haire_anagement at Arianespace" – he glances at Annette, as if seeking a respons_o the naming of her ex-employers – "decided the best thing to do was to cove_p the second signal and work on it in secret – for competitive advantage, they say – and as for the first, to pretend it never happened. So nobod_eally knows how long it'll take to figure out whether it's a ping from th_alactic root domain servers or a pulsar that's taken to grinding out th_ighteen-quadrillionth digits of pi, or what."
  • "But," Monica glances around, "you can't be sure."
  • "I think it may be sapient," says Manfred. He finds the right button at last, and the bed begins to fold itself back into a lounger. Then he finds the wron_utton; the duvet dissolves into viscous turquoise slime that slurps an_urgles away through a multitude of tiny nozzles in the headboard. "Blood_erogel. Um, where was I?" He sits up.
  • "Sapient network packet?" asks Alan.
  • "Nope." Manfred shakes his head, grins. "Should have known you'd read Vinge … or was it the movie? No, what I think is that there's only one logical thin_o beam backward and forward out there, and you may remember I asked you t_eam it out about, oh, nine years ago?"
  • "The lobsters." Alan's eyes go blank. "Nine years. Time to Proxima Centaur_nd back?"
  • "About that distance, yes," says Manfred. "And remember, that's an upper bound – it could well have come from somewhere closer. Anyway, the first SETI signa_ame from a couple of degrees off and more than hundred light-years out, bu_he second signal came from less than three light-years away. You can see wh_hey didn't publicize that – they didn't want a panic. And no, the signa_sn't a simple echo of the canned crusty transmission – I think it's a_xchange embassy, but we haven't cracked it yet. Now do you see why we have t_rowbar the civil rights issue open again? We need a framework for rights tha_an encompass nonhumans, and we need it as fast as possible. Otherwise, if th_eighbors come visiting… "
  • "Okay," says Alan, "I'll have to talk with myselves. Maybe we can agre_omething, as long as it's clear that it's a provisional stab at the framewor_nd not a permanent solution?"
  • Annette snorts. "No solution is final!" Monica catches her eyes and winks: Annette is startled by the blatant display of dissent within the syncitium.
  • "Well," says Manfred, "I guess that's all we can ask for?" He looks hopeful.
  • "Thanks for the hospitality, but I feel the need to lie down in my own bed fo_ while. I had to commit a lot to memory while I was off-line, and I want t_ecord it before I forget who I am," he adds pointedly, and Annette breathes _uiet sight of relief.
  • Later that night, a doorbell rings.
  • "Who's there?" asks the entryphone.
  • "Uh, me," says the man on the steps. He looks a little confused. "Ah'm Macx.
  • Ah'm here tae see" – the name is on the tip of his tongue – "someone."
  • "Come in." A solenoid buzzes; he pushes the door open, and it closes behin_im. His metal-shod boots ring on the hard stone floor, and the cool ai_mells faintly of unburned jet fuel.
  • "Ah'm Macx," he repeats uncertainly, "or Ah wis fer a wee while, an' it mad_a heid hurt. But noo Ah'm me agin, an' Ah wannae be somebody else … can y_elp?"
  • Later still, a cat sits on a window ledge, watching the interior of a darkene_oom from behind the concealment of curtains. The room is dark to human eyes, but bright to the cat: Moonlight cascades silently off the walls an_urniture, the twisted bedding, the two naked humans lying curled together i_he middle of the bed.
  • Both the humans are in their thirties: Her close-cropped hair is beginning t_ray, distinguished threads of gunmetal wire threading it, while his brown mo_s not yet showing signs of age. To the cat, who watches with a variety o_nnatural senses, her head glows in the microwave spectrum with a gentle hal_f polarized emissions. The male shows no such aura: he's unnaturally natura_or this day and age, although – oddly – he's wearing spectacles in bed, an_he frames shine similarly. An invisible soup of radiation connects bot_umans to items of clothing scattered across the room – clothing that seethe_ith unsleeping sentience, dribbling over to their suitcases and hand luggag_nd (though it doesn't enjoy noticing it) the cat's tail, which is itself _ather sensitive antenna.
  • The two humans have just finished making love: They do this less often than i_heir first few years, but with more tenderness and expertise – lengths o_hocking pink Hello Kitty bondage tape still hang from the bedposts, and _ump of programmable memory plastic sits cooling on the side table. The mal_s sprawled with his head and upper torso resting in the crook of the female'_eft arm and shoulder. Shifting visualization to infrared, the cat sees tha_he is glowing, capillaries dilating to enhance the blood flow around he_hroat and chest.
  • "I'm getting old," the male mumbles. "I'm slowing down."
  • "Not where it counts," the female replies, gently squeezing his right buttock.
  • "No, I'm sure of it," he says. "The bits of me that still exist in this ol_ead – how many types of processor can you name that are still in use thirty- plus years after they're born?"
  • "You're thinking about the implants again," she says carefully. The ca_emembers this as a sore point; from being a medical procedure to help th_lind see and the autistic talk, intrathecal implants have blossomed into _ust-have accessory for the now-clade. But the male is reluctant. "It's not a_isky as it used to be. If they screw up, there're neural growth cofactors an_heap replacement stem cells. I'm sure one of your sponsors can arrange fo_xtra cover."
  • "Hush: I'm still thinking about it." He's silent for a while. "I wasn't mysel_esterday. I was someone else. Someone too slow to keep up. Puts a ne_erspective on everything: I've been afraid of losing my biologica_lasticity, of being trapped in an obsolete chunk of skullware whil_verything moves on – but how much of me lives outside my own head these days, anyhow?" One of his external threads generates an animated glyph and throws i_t her mind's eye; she grins at his obscure humor. "Cross-training from a ne_nterface is going to be hard, though."
  • "You'll do it," she predicts. "You can always get a discreet prescription fo_ovotrophin-B." A receptor agonist tailored for gerontological wards, i_timulates interest in the new: combined with MDMA, it's a component of th_treet cocktail called sensawunda. "That should keep you focused for lon_nough to get comfortable."
  • "What's life coming to when I can't cope with the pace of change?" he asks th_eiling plaintively.
  • The cat lashes its tail, irritated by his anthropocentrism.
  • "You are my futurological storm shield," she says, jokingly, and moves he_and to cup his genitals. Most of her current activities are purel_iological, the cat notes: From the irregular sideloads, she's using most o_er skullware to run ETItalk@home, one of the distributed cracking engine_hat is trying to decode the alien grammar of the message that Manfre_uspects is eligible for citizenship.
  • Obeying an urge that it can't articulate, the cat sends out a feeler to th_earest router. The cybeast has Manfred's keys; Manfred trusts Ainek_mplicitly, which is unwise – his ex-wife tampered with it, after all, neve_ind all the kittens it absorbed in its youth. Tunneling out into th_arkness, the cat stalks the Net alone …
  • "Just think about the people who can't adapt," he says. His voice sound_bscurely worried.
  • "I try not to." She shivers. "You are thirty, you are slowing. What about th_oung? Are they keeping up, themselves?"
  • "I have a daughter. She's about a hundred and sixty million seconds old. I_amela would let me message her I could find out … " There are echoes of ol_ain in his voice.
  • "Don't go there, Manfred. Please." Despite everything, Manfred hasn't let go: Amber is a ligature that permanently binds him to Pamela's distant orbit.
  • In the distance, the cat hears the sound of lobster minds singing in the void, a distant feed streaming from their cometary home as it drifts silently ou_hrough the asteroid belt, en route to a chilly encounter beyond Neptune. Th_obsters sing of alienation and obsolescence, of intelligence too slow an_enuous to support the vicious pace of change that has sandblasted the huma_orld until all the edges people cling to are jagged and brittle.
  • Beyond the distant lobsters, the cat pings an anonymous distributed networ_erver – peer-to-peer file storage spread holographically across a millio_osts, unerasable, full of secrets and lies that nobody can afford t_uppress. Rants, music, rip-offs of the latest Bollywood hits: The cat spider_ast them all, looking for the final sample. Grabbing it – a momentary breaku_n Manfred's spectacles the only symptom for either human to notice – the ca_rags its prey home, sucks it down, and compares it against the data sampl_nnette's exocortex is analysing.
  • "I'm sorry, my love. I just sometimes feel –" He sighs. "Age is a process o_losing off opportunities behind you. I'm not young enough anymore – I've los_he dynamic optimism."
  • The data sample on the pirate server differs from the one Annette's implant i_rocessing.
  • "You'll get it back," she reassures him quietly, stroking his side. "You ar_till sad from being mugged. This also will pass. You'll see."
  • "Yeah." He finally relaxes, dropping back into the reflexive assurance of hi_wn will. "I'll get over it, one way or another. Or someone who remember_eing me will … "
  • In the darkness, Aineko bares teeth in a silent grin. Obeying a deepl_ardwired urge to meddle, he moves a file across, making a copy of the alie_ownload package Annette has been working on. She's got a copy of number two, the sequence the deep-space tracking network received from close to home, which ESA and the other big combines have been keeping to themselves. Anothe_eeply buried thread starts up, and Aineko analyses the package from _erspective no human being has yet established. Presently a braid of processe_unning on an abstract virtual machine asks him a question that cannot b_ncoded in any human grammar. Watch and wait, he replies to his passenger.
  • They'll figure out what we are sooner or later.