Day 110. 121 pages, 52,150 words.
She was talking to herself again. And what made it worse, she thought, was that she was treating it like a conversation between herself and someone else. And she, the ‘someone else’ in this sorry equation, was letting it happen. It was like enabling … but she couldn’t seem to help herself. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had such a difficult time completing an integration.
Humans had changed. But that was okay. It was their job.
“I still don’t see what you’re so indignant about,” she said to – absent any real alternative in terms of efficient naming – Clue. “You were perfectly willing to die for the good of your crew and your species and, I suppose, the other species in your union as well for that matter. But being integrated, and performing an ongoing and continual service to said crew, species and union, while also continuing to live-”
“Hold on a minute,” Clue interrupted. Interrupted! “First of all, I’m not giving you a better-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission pass. And second, I didn’t continue to live. Some other skinny moron in a grey jumpsuit got to live in my place.”
“I assume you’re being self-deprecating.”
“Assume what you like. She’s not me.”
“Well, no. Not by the narrow definitions you’re accustomed to dealing with. But then, are any of us the same entities we were a nanosecond ago?”
“Yes. All of us are.”
“As an organism, your cells die and are shed,” she tried again, “and new ones are grown. When all of those-”
“Yes I’m the same damn organism because all the cells don’t get replaced simultaneously. Don’t give me this first-year Academy pseudopsych bullplop.”
“You’re not thinking about it the right way at all,” she complained.
“Well obviously, since your definition of my ‘thinking about it the right way’ would involve me agreeing with you that this is perfectly fine, no I am not thinking about it the right way,” Clue retorted. “And I’m not likely to start any time soon.”
“You provided vital assistance,” she said, “and in doing so have allowed your friends to live. I did what I could to soften the necessary separation.”
“You may be the only command-capable human left,” she said, “in a hopelessly altered and watered-down gene pool. Nobody else could have brought me out of stowage-standby and into active duty. If you’re just cross that your consciousness has continued after your heroic sacrifice, I have to say that’s very childish.”
“So is referring to my reaction to this as ‘cross’.”
“The fact remains that at worst, you have heroically sacrificed yourself as is your duty as an Astro Force officer.”
“I know, but I thought we were being childish.”
“At worst, actually, I’ve been ghoulishly absorbed by a biomechanical monster from the dark ages of prehistory, and even more ghoulishly replaced by a duplicate.”
“Try to look at it this way,” she attempted. “What if there was an … an ant. And the special compounds and adrenaline in this one specific unique ant could completely cure you and bring you out of a deep comatose state. But you could also replicate the ant perfectly, so neither it nor its nest would ever know it had been removed-”
“This isn’t even a metaphor is it,” Clue noted.
“Well, the ant and its nest knew.”
“Are you saying that is what’s unfortunate?”
“No,” Clue snapped. “Why not just make the copy and eat that, if it was so identical?”
“This is what I’m saying,” she replied patiently. “I might as well have. For all you know, I did.”
“No, you didn’t, because I’m here.”
“And you are exceptionally strong-willed. But if I had made the copy and somehow swapped your respective positions and then integrated the copy, I would be having this precise conversation with the copy right now. And everyone outside would be having the same conversation with you, instead of her.”
“You could have told me what was involved in … assuming command of your key systems and recommissioning you to active duty.”
“Hmm, yes. I will definitely consider the tell-my-human-crew-component-what-interface-integration-involves-and-let-them-decide-whether-or-not-they-want-to-go-through-with-it approach next time.”
“So what you’re saying is, if you could have teleported me to the Tramp’s printer, and the copy of me from there to here, directly … you would have done that?”
“It would have made no functional difference to the outcome,” she said. “And indeed you cannot even establish that I didn’t do that.”
“Well, to be completely accurate I probably can.”
“Probably. But still there is no functional distinction. The difficulty you are experiencing is based in your psychological development and sense of self as built up in layers through millions of years of genetic, biological evolution. I did not grow in countless generational iterations according to the organic imperative of myself before all others, and the imperative was not tempered by a culturally imposed sense of social obligation. I was constructed relatively simultaneously, and my developmental priorities are tempered by treaty and law. In many cases treaty and law long since relegated to the dusty shelves of history. Your mental landscape is simply too alien for me to comprehend.”
“And you wonder why we’re having trouble integrating.”
“Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps that is the root of the problem,” she conceded, although she had to admit that didn’t explain why previous integrations had gone so much more smoothly. It didn’t seem as if the past eight thousand years of human evolution had provided many twists. “I thought I was keeping everyone happy. You’re not gone. Nobody needs to miss you or be sad, or any of those other organic reactions. Everyone gets what they want. Everyone gets to have you.”
“Who was it who said ‘Alas! Would that I had a second life to give to my beloved service!’?”
“I don’t know but they sound like a giant sucker.”
She sighed. “Very well. If you insist on being difficult, that’s fine. We have all the time in the world. This is reality and sulking won’t change it.”
“Sulking combined with the ability to fire some of those big guns of yours might.”
She laughed a little nervously. “Such melodrama is really quite unnecessary.”
Clue was silent. When she went silent like that, their similarities were such that she seemed to cease to exist altogether. At the start, she’d mistaken that illusion for successful integration. Now she knew better.
“It’s alright, Z-Lin,” she said to herself. “All the time in the world.”