By Jason Stoddard
20 September 2004
Part 2 of 2
Paolo had grown up in a tiny house in Venice, within walking distance of the warm Pacific. Somehow, the tiny bungalow, built in the 1940s, had survived almost unaltered to this day. I could have sent a flyeye to scope it and flash the model into Arcadia, but I went myself. There are too many things the camera misses or distorts. I got the permission of the couple who lived there, and did the walkthrough when they were away.
A front porch, simple wood, unaltered except for a coat of peeling paint. Traces of a path leading to the side of the overgrown house. I crawled in, wondering if Paolo had done the same thing as a child.
Under the bushes it was cool and close. There was a dark hole in the house's foundation, a tiny slot through which a child could wriggle. I tried to imagine Paolo concealed under the house. Was he playing a game? Or hiding from bullies?
I walked the house in a daze, knowing the layout had been redone. But perhaps the kitchen window survived. It looked old enough. Did Paolo look through this as a child towards the bright blue Pacific? I didn't know.
When I left the house, Ferri was waiting for me.
"How perfect," she said, resplendent in a Hueser wrap.
"I don't expect you to understand."
"Can't you see we're past this?" She looked at me in a strange, familiar way that left me chilled. Her eyes were direct, honest, clear; so different from before.
"What did you do?"
"I thought I'd see how it was, living on your side."
"You removed your Edits?"
"All of them?"
"Well . . ."
I shook my head. Trying to pass as natural, maybe even believing it. It was sad.
"How do you like it?"
"Let's have lunch."
"I don't think so . . ."
"Come on! What a scandal! They'll think you converted me. Me!"
Somehow I doubted that, but it had been a long time since I'd enjoyed a beautiful woman's company.
She had me follow her to a strange little sushi place in old Westwood, where they still served non-genetically-engineered fish on archetypal rice.
"If we are to be primitive, we should go all the way," she said. But I wasn't really listening to her. I was looking at the passersby.
Los Angeles has always been a city full of vanity. But what I was seeing was not a crowd of vain people. I was seeing something very much like a parade, where everything was scripted for the benefit of the onlookers. Women wearing the fur of mammals never found in nature danced artfully around the polychrome middle-class, showing by the cast of their heads and their stance how they felt about such a proletarian invasion of their space. The chromies and the upwardly-mobiles smiled in perfect humor, their faces filled with religious awe. And everyone orbiting around Ferri as if she wore a crown or a halo or both, subtly aware of her position in some higher realm. I watched the show for a time, knowing Ferri was looking at me, weighing, assessing.
"What are you looking at?" she asked suddenly.
A questioning silence.
"They're robots," I said, finally.
Ferri pointed at a woman with the body of a teenager and the eyes of middle age, who pranced down the street as if buoyed by an invisible current. "That's an Ayanami Edit," she said.
"How can you tell?"
"And that's an Ozaki," she said, pointing out a slim woman. "And a couple of Gehs—he likes couples—and a Queen Dominatrix, you can always tell. She only works on people who have lots of experience, like growing up in an eco-exempt Swiss Chalet or being raised by Martian renegades on a biomed asteroid. Cheating, really. She works with that meme-seeder Templeton, as if she couldn't do it herself. Probably can't."
"You can tell their Editor just by looking at them?"
Ferri shrugged. "Oh, there's plenty of fakes. Head up to the edges of town and you'll probably see half a hundred fake Gehs for every real one."
"How can you tell?"
"A good eye. Guesswork. And crossfeed doesn't hurt."
"You wear a headwire?"
"So do you," she said. "So do most people. Let's get lunch."
Lunch was surprisingly pleasant. I didn't believe that she'd removed all her Edits for me, or even that she could, but she was bright and lively company, making fun of the waiters (enhance Servility, tie to Drive, cross with a dash of Questionability, and lay it down on a sauce of artificial memes taken from slavery simulations), the overdramatic chefs (plundering the dreams of failed samurai), and the various customers in turn. I felt as if on a stage, watched by many eyes. And I probably was. The crowd turned subtly towards us to track our actions. A hundred dustmote flyeyes probably recorded that lunch for posterity.
"So how's the primitive life?" I asked her.
"I don't know if it's better or just different."
"You may find you like it better." Play along. Why not?
"Like my father will?"
Careful. "He asked me to help him, and I will do my best."
"But no guarantees."
"There never are."
"There are on designer packages. If I want to be happy and carefree, I can be happy and carefree. If I want to be serious and smart, I can be serious and smart. If I want to be a primitive raised out in the wilderness I can be that."
"But it's not you."
"How do you know?"
"Ferri, have you ever done Editing?"
"Do you know there's no going back?"
"What do you mean?"
"There's no UNDO button. There's no 'just kidding' switch. Edits are permanent. Your mind is forever changed."
"Then how can I undo all I did?"
"I don't think you can."
"But I did."
It is very possible you don't remember who you really were, I thought. I found the thought infinitely sad. Every true individual, lost under a sea of designer identities. This wasn't what Editing was supposed to be! My eyes brimmed with tears and I wiped them away, angry at being forced to feel emotion for this thing.
"Someone guessed at who you were, and made you into that guess."
"I'm not a guess," she said. Softly. Sadly. Not angry. Not very Ferri at all.
"Ferri, you're not much more than a robot."
She began, very softly, to cry. I blinked at her, completely surprised, and reached out to touch her hand. She jerked it away. "No!" Now everyone was looking at us openly.
"No you're not!" she said. "I did this for you! To understand you!"
"For Paolo, you idiot! You don't think I want to see my father happy again?" She stood up and stomped out the door.
I sat for a moment, the center of attention, wondering how I could feel so right and so wrong at one instant in time.
When I got back to the house, Ferri was in her father's study, drinking.
"Ferri," I said.
"I don't want to hear you say anything. Anything."
"No, you're not."
And in some ways, she was right. I did want to hurt her. I wanted to make her pay for all the pain I'd seen Paolo go through since I had entered his house. He had relatively lucid days that he spent corresponding with the El Dorado, and could sometimes hold himself together long enough to have meaningful conversation with me, but that was not how he spent the majority of his time. Several times per week, Security had to pull him back to the house from the gate or the outlying foothills.
She whirled, sloshing Laphroaig in my general direction. "You hate me."
"I want to help your father."
"So do I!" she cried. "But I don't know what to do. Ozaki said that a simple repatterning will take care of him, but now we can't even do that, with him wanting you and you doing all your research!"
"I'm getting close."
She went to the bar and poured me a drink. Glass. Scotch. Lots of it. Handed it to me and clinked her glass against it.
"To helping Paolo," she said.
I could drink to that. I raised the glass and the scotch was warm and peaty and good. I tossed it back and she filled the glass again.
"What's wrong with him?"
I shrugged. She could Edit herself back into belligerence and have me for slander against Ozaki.
"Okay, forget I asked. Change the subject. What did you do before Paolo?"
"You know. I was an Editor . . ."
"No, in that big freehold! What did you do, all those years? Your last recorded Edit is in 2109."
I smiled, somewhat sadly, imagining myself wandering around that lonely and empty place for the last nine years. I took another drink. What had I done? Sank lower into my pit of despair. Grew colder and greyer and less human.
"Girlfriends? Wives? Contracts?" Ferri asked, playfully.
I shook my head. "No. None of that."
"Not that, either."
"Any virtual little Miss Andersons running around? You do have a headwire."
"No." Had my life really been that empty? Another drink.
"Just you alone?"
She sloshed more Laphroaig into my glass. I was feeling it, and it was warm and good. Like a comfortable blanket, little-used but still familiar.
"How come you never asked me about my father?" Ferri asked.
"Because . . . well . . ."
"Because I was an ill-tempered bitch?"
"Well, yes, that."
She laughed. "I know you're interviewing everyone else. Would you like to hear my story?"
"Or would you rather have your software do it?"
"No," I said. "I don't want to admit, but I am enjoying your company."
"Surprise surprise," she said, and touched my hand. She was warm and soft and very, very female. It had been too long. Far too long. "Ask away."
"I'll be recording," I said, toggling the airscreens into two-ways.
"Tell me what you remember," I said.
"The big things," I said. An old phrase came back. "The sharp-edged things that press at the surface of your mind."
"Very poetic," she said. "But I know what you're saying. Let me tell you about going to the El Dorado the first time. Of course, it was still the Reagan then. Derelict. Paolo was one of the guys who got the Meritists all charged up about the whole thing. He took me up there and gave a speech about how all children like me should get a chance to not just see the stars, but go to them. I saw myself alone in this big spooky ship and started crying in the middle of the ship. I don't think it helped him any."
"It didn't seem to hurt." I did a quick crosscheck and the memory was verified, there was even a video of it.
Had she reverted? As far as she could?
"Tell me more," I said.
She told me things that only a child could know. What he liked for breakfast, what he got her for Christmas (and when he forgot a gift that she had especially asked for, that was very clear), the fact that she had never known who her mother was, and later found that it was a Womb With a View, shuttling back and forth between El Dorado and home. Stories about the past, things he used to tell her about Oversight, the disappearances and the Independent Communities and the Three Options and the Twelve Days in May, of course, all mixed up like a child would tell it. It checked out within memory margins with some of my other sources. Some conflicted, but it was usually with a less reliable source.
Had she reverted? Dare I use her as a source?
She filled the glasses again and stretched out on her father's couch. She really was a very beautiful woman. She raised her hands above her head and clean, perfect skin showed on her midriff where her top rode up. Such a familiar thing. Did all women do that?
I took another drink and sat next to her on her father's chair. I was getting very, very drunk. She was still talking about her childhood, some of her earliest memories of a small house in the Valley with a pink tile roof. I listened to her wind down. She sounded completely sincere, completely true.
"What am I missing?" I asked. "What haven't you told me?"
She looked up at me, eyes large and mysterious. "The Editing. Why."
"Because he hated me."
"He told you this?"
She shook her head. "I was never good enough. I wasn't born with his mind. I tried and tried, but I just couldn't fit things together in my head the way he wanted them. I went from science and math to literature and humanities, but nothing really interested me. To him, I was spoiled, the idle daughter of the working rich."
"He told you this?"
She rose up off the couch and put her face close to mine. "It wasn't what he said!" she yelled. "It was what he did!"
I couldn't stop myself. I reached out, cupped the back of her head, and pushed her lips to mine. For a moment she tried to pull away, then relaxed and started to return the kiss. Her lips were warm, full, velvet. It seemed to last an eternity.
When we broke, she looked at me with confused, darting eyes.
"What are we doing?" I asked.
"This," she said, taking my hand.
I followed her through the house, to her cool bed. I knew it wasn't love, but I was willing to settle for happiness. Or even a little hope.
The next week was a surreal journey. Thoughts of Ferri were always in my mind, a pleasant haze that made my work recede into the distance. She and I went to see their old neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, but little remained of the tiny house. She followed me on a couple of in-person interviews and hung discreetly out of sight as I went through the ritual of question and answer. We piloted our autojets through a brief downpour, emerging to a beautiful rainbow that seemed to end on her father's land. We shared her bed. We shared small glances and shivery surreptitious touches.
"What happens when you're done and he hates me again?" she asked.
"He won't hate you."
"That's an easy answer."
"Ferri, you may have been . . . oversensitive to it. You said he never actually said anything to you."
She looked up at me, suddenly insecure and afraid. I held her for a moment, but I knew she was waiting for me to say something. Time for the truth.
"I don't know if I can bring him back," I said. "Not all the way."
"How bad is he?"
"He's torn apart," I said. Paolo had some lucid days when he would work with some of the younger engineers on the El Dorado, but most days he sat staring at walls in his study, or maniacally seeking release in interactives.
She held me tighter and sobbed a little.
"I have to rebuild him, almost from the ground up. I'm working on a model based on deep research into his life. But it's not done. I don't know if it will ever be done."
"Have you ever done this before?"
"No. These are uncharted spaces."
I held her for a long, long time. Eventually we ended up in her bed. When it was over, I looked down at her quiet face, wearing a tiny sleep-smile.
What was she? Was she playing some terrible game with hidden rules? Or had she reverted like she said? If so, how far had she gone?
If only I could View her! I'd started to ask her a dozen times. But each time, I stopped myself. I knew the question was the beginning of the end. Of trust. Of us. Of everything.
The next morning, we came down for another late breakfast. Paolo was lucid enough to say hello and even ask me how things were progressing. I told him about some of the challenges, and admitted that I would never have a complete model of him.
"Anything is better than this."
"You don't want to jump without looking."
"Maybe I do," he said sadly, and turned away, muttering to himself. Ferri followed him out, probably to make sure he was staying away from the garage. When she came back, she gave me a long-suffering smile that I remembered from so many people who have borne someone on their backs for so long they think the weight is their own, and that they will never be light and free ever again.
And that was when she did it. She looked at me through her hands, holding them as if they traced the outside of a rectangular frame. Not like in the old-time linears. A very unique gesture, something that was charming and memorable.
"You will be my savior," she said, through the frame of her hands.
Something in my mind stopped.
I swear the ground moved. The sun grew dim. And her voice became distant and faraway.
She was Afelia.
That was her gesture, her quirk. I'd seen her do it a hundred times, a thousand times. Even after all these years, I could still see her perfect face, framed in that askew rectangle of her slim hands.
"What's wrong?" Ferri said. She saw it. Oh yes, she saw it. She had slipped. She'd gone a bit too far.
"You stole her!" I yelled.
"Who?" She looked around. Frightened. Genuinely confused.
Sudden fright glazed her eyes. Her gaze darted quickly from side to side, trying to avoid mine.
"You never de-Edited! You stole Afelia and laid her on your shriveled soul! You're a monster!"
Ferri's eyes dropped to the floor. She knew. She knew, and she did it anyway! She'd taken those years of pain and hurt and smeared them in my face. I wanted to pick up the table and throw it through the window. I wanted to beat her until she hurt as bad as I did. I could feel my fists clenching, my eyes searching . . .
"It was only a tiny bit," she said, in a very small voice.
"It was just records. Extrapolations. It wasn't her mind."
I let out an inarticulate cry.
Ferri stood up straighter. Her eyes flared, suddenly angry. Words poured out of her in a high-pressure torrent. "I only did it because I liked you! You were the first one who asked questions, the first one who wouldn't do anything I wanted!"
"The first what?"
"Editor! Damn it, Gillam, I still like you. And we could make it more!"
"No." A sudden thought. "Not unless you give me a View."
Ferri shook her head. "Can't you accept me for what I am?"
"A monster, patched together from pieces of other people's minds?"
"It was there for the taking." Ferri's voice was low, dangerous. She looked at me with eyes of fire and pain, and stomped out of the room.
I stood there, trying to get my emotions under control. I wanted to chase her down and tell her I was sorry, that I didn't mean it. I wanted to rip out her throat.
Eventually, my breathing slowed and my heart became less of a hammer-blow in my throat. By the time Paolo poked his head into the room and asked if I was all right, I was able to shake my head and laugh a little.
Nothing had changed. It was back to the status quo. Me and Paolo, sharing the house with someone who hated us.
At least there was one life I could save from his little monster.
When I started Editing Afelia, it was only on special occasions: her birthday, the time when she sold that one linear concept to Disney, on the spur of the moment, after one very special evening. We were together for almost a year before I Edited her for the third time.
But after the third Edit, she was called into her manager's office for turning in low-quality work. Twice. Which wasn't like her. I asked her about it, but she said it was nothing to worry about. That wasn't like her, either. I poked around a bit and changed a couple of minor things, including a very slight tweak of Drive. When she came up, she said she felt better, but her smile didn't reach her eyes.
From then, Editing became monthly, then weekly. I couldn't achieve a balance that kept her productive at work and yet not manic and overzealous. Her core Drive was so deeply crosslinked that I couldn't untangle it. Sometimes the swings were wide, sometimes they were subtle. But it was never perfect. And the fear in her eyes when she was manic and near to losing her job spurred me to keep working at it. Editing. More and more.
In one of those quiet times, when I was trying to recapture the lively and alert and engaged Afelia, she looked up at me and said, "Give me an overlay."
"An overlay. Something from John K, or Disney."
"Afelia, I'm chasing it down . . ."
"It's not enough!" she cried. "I can't wait! I have to get back on track!"
"If I install an overlay, you won't even be you anymore."
"I don't care!"
"I do. Afelia, I can fix—"
"Why can't I be put back the way I was?"
Because there's no going back, I thought. "I can't do it."
"You have to."
"If you don't, I'll leave."
The argument swirled round and round for what seemed like hours, purposeless and deadlocked. I promised to go back and learn more about Editing, but she told me she didn't have the time. I said that I'd start an intensive session right then, it didn't matter how many hours it took with the interViewer, I would make it work, but she wanted guarantees I couldn't give.
In the end, very late that night, I agreed to what she asked for. We sat down in front of the Vista and scrolled through the available overlays. I sat behind her and held her tight, knowing that I was losing her, that this was one of her last moments as herself, as Afelia. I felt nauseous and lightheaded. I wanted to scream and stomp around the room.
She picked something that seemed mild enough. The description made it seem almost like an intelligent autobalancer, not adding any significant memory or personality structures and making only small changes to the underlying configuration.
I went in for the install. It wasn't necessary, but I wanted to look out over the simple beauty of her mind again. It sang to me in a strong, clear voice like a choir. I would have cried if I could.
Install overlay, I subvocalized.
It was as if the universe of her mind had aged ten billion years in a day. Whole star clusters winked out. New ones sprang into view, their colors bright and primary and unnatural. Links fell out without counting. Her light-cone shrunk in intensity, and the voice of her mind took on a harsh, artificial edge.
Abort! I yelled.
Install is nearly complete. Complete.
No! No! No! I looked out over the new wasteland of her mind.
I brought myself up out of immersive mode. It was a grey dawn over the Pacific. The house was quiet and still. I reached out and touched Afelia's hand and her eyes fluttered open.
She looked at me. And through me. When she smiled, it was like something you'd see from an old-time politician. Her eyes had a bright and unnatural cast.
I squeezed her hand. "Afelia?"
"Yes," she said, taking her hand out of mine.
"Are you all right?"
She looked around the house and back at me, as if seeing them for the first time. "Thank you," she said, after a time.
"Yes?" Attentive. Polite. Engaged, no.
"I . . ."
She sat there with a small smile and said nothing.
"I think . . ."
That day, we orbited each other like two similarly charged particles, never touching, never connecting, always driving each other away. She did some work and seemed better at dinner, chatting about a new concept for Disney. She worked late into the night, until I had given up distracting her and gone to bed. Eventually I slept.
The next morning, she was gone.
I never saw her again.
Thoughts of Ferri kept resonating through my mind the rest of that day. I was glad to see the monster gone, but fleeting ideas of some imaginary perfect future with her kept clanging through my thoughts. I tried to continue my research, but I was too distracted to do much real work.
I was nearing the end of the information trail, though. The model of what Paolo had been was growing asymptotically towards some approximation of himself in Arcadia. But how close was the model to reality? Fifteen percent? Seventy? Ninety? I didn't know. I had no dreams about Paolo's model being Edward's Vision, the Door Through to permanent residence in Arcadia, but maybe this was something that the true wizards of Arcadia would point back to as a milestone along the way. It was a more ambitious Editing job than anyone had ever attempted, as far as I knew.
I was able to have a reasonable conversation with Paolo over dinner. It was the longest I'd seen him hold himself together since his initial trip up to my home. Which made it all the more amazing. What effort of will had it taken to make it up the coast? I couldn't imagine.
"She likes you," Paolo said, over a good Australian port.
"She really does."
I sighed. "I don't know if she knows what she likes. I don't even know if she knows who she is, or if there's any of her left anymore."
"She's not bad, not evil."
"That's not you saying that."
A sad look. "Maybe not."
I had a hard time going to sleep that night. I tossed and turned in my now-unfamiliar room, overwhelmed by thoughts of Ferri. Was it possible she had done exactly what she said, and used models of Afelia simply as a way to make me feel comfortable, as an expression of what she felt for me?
No. I couldn't believe that.
I lay awake, listening for the sound of her autojet landing, or a door closing, or even her voice. But the house was relentlessly silent, and eventually I dropped off into a troubled sleep.
When I woke, the house seemed to have closed in on itself, as if some great storm hovered nearby. I didn't know how near until I went down to the dining room and saw Ferri there, and Dr. Ozaki at her side. Paolo sat at the table with them, tearing into his breakfast and smiling broadly. When I walked in, they all looked at me. Ferri with a catlike gleam of triumph, Ozaki with contempt and a tiny bit of pity, and Paolo with a hard, focused, unseeing gaze.
"Is this him?" Paolo asked. His voice was loud and direct, nothing like the confused, retiring Paolo I'd known.
"Yes, father," Ferri said.
Paolo looked me up and down. "Thanks for your help," he said, "but I don't need you anymore."
"What did you do!" I cried.
Ferri smiled. "What we should have done a long time ago. Complete wipe and repattern."
No. They couldn't have. It was impossible, nobody was wiped and repatterned anymore. But Ozaki's eyes darted down to the ground, and I knew it was true.
"You can't do this! He's under my care! He asked for me."
"How can someone who's incompetent ask for you?" Ferri said. She nodded and a flyeye image appeared in my airscreens: she and I, talking about Paolo. "He's torn apart," I said. "I have to rebuild him, almost from the ground up. I'm working on a model based on deep research into his life. But it's not done. I don't know if it will ever be done."
Ferri circled me as I was stunned with memory. "What other choice did we have? You gave us the key. I just turned it."
I killed him, I thought. It was my fault. One simple statement, there for all to see. Enough to get him declared incompetent. Which put Ferri in control of his destiny.
"How . . . how could you do this to him?"
"Because I love him!" she screamed. "I wanted him back."
I looked at Paolo, still eating breakfast as if nothing was happening.
"It's not him," I said.
"It's enough for me," Ferri said softly.
"He's a machine. There's nothing left!"
"You don't understand."
"I don't need to hear this," Paolo said. "Thank you for your help. Please bill me for any of your time to date. But please consider your contract terminated. I'd like you off my property before noon, if that is convenient for you."
I looked into his eyes and saw nothing, blackness, the abyss of infinity. He didn't know me. There was nothing left of what he had been.
"Paolo," I said.
"Yes? You need more time?"
He stood up and threw his napkin on the plate. "Then please excuse me. Security will be programmed to exclude you at midday. Be off the property before then."
He turned and left. I watched him walk down the hall, a powerful and purposeful and totally alien stride. As calculated and synthetic as a plastic fruit. Once again, I felt tears welling.
"Goodbye," Ferri said, taking Ozaki's arm.
"Goodbye," I said softly, after they had left.
It was over.
I went back to my house on the coast. Nothing had changed. The mists still swirled about the cliffs in the morning, the sun-room was just as perfect and delightful, it was as quiet and peaceful as it had been.
Paolo was gone.
Or was he? Could I imagine rebuilding Paolo even now, from the model I held in Arcadia?
No. It was stupid to even think about it. Paolo was gone, Ferri was lost, I was home, and this was my universe. And even if I thought I could rebuild him, the Third Rule was: You are a guest who does not go where you are not invited. If there are second thoughts, you do not Edit. Even if you think it in the client's best interest, you do not force yourself on them.
But he'd wanted my help. He'd managed to hold onto a fragmentary personality for hours. Long enough to reach me and cry for help. Longer by far than he'd been able to after he'd found me. Surely that showed the true compass of his desires.
Ferri would have me hung if I tried.
Did it matter?
I probably couldn't do it, not with the model I had.
Did it matter?
I had Infinitee deliver a long-term support capsule with all the options. I would be spending a lot of time in Arcadia. Enough time to become a man I had never really known.
Why are you doing this? I wondered.
Because it's what I need to do.
Reality shattered and broke into a million tiny fragments.
For the next two months, I lived in Infinitee.
Models, infinite and dense. Extrapolations. Interpolations. A trillion tiny facts dredged up by Constructs, fed to super-powerful simulations, trial-fitted to the template of Paolo, cross-checked and changed and repurposed and made consistent. I lost my body in the blur of Weaving, more than Editing or Overlay-creation or Meming or Persona Artistry. Weaving was what it was, the creation of a coherent—reasonably coherent—realistically incoherent—believable tale of personality, making it hang together, and knowing it in its totality. There were minutes, hours, days where self was lost. The boundaries fell away, and I stood over the Blue and looked past the edges of Arcadia.
Algorithms grew dense and complex, shortcuts became almost self-aware, compression schemes became smarter and more efficient. Personality inference was within my grasp. I pulled more resources from Arcadia. More. More. I had the funds. I could imagine the whole of Arcadia slowing slightly as it processed my totality, my thoughts. I imagined it spinning towards overload. More. More. Just a little more.
A momentary thought, an echo from long ago: But it is impossible to know the totality of a person.
Uproarious laughter. Edging into insanity.
Something like a cry of pain. Something like an infinity of suns.
I was the model.
We cracked open Infinitee and squinted out upon the world. We knew where we were going. We knew what we had to do.
The bedsores were still healing when we limped up the road to our house. It was night, but we didn't need the darkness. The security callouts were the last test, an easy one. We knew exactly what they were.
Gillam, Gillam, Gillam, we thought. Hang on to that. We were only a small part of Paolo. The rest was in Arcadia, Woven, waiting impatiently for a body. But Gillam kept slipping, and he had to stay. We needed his skills for what would happen next.
Airscreens showed flyeye views of our house, flickering in our vision like dark wings. Paolo was in his media room, playing some simplistic interactive on a Vista. Ferri was not in the house. The garage showed her autojet gone.
We opened the front door silently and slid through the house like oil. Security was all ours now, from voice challenge to antipersonnel weapons. Paolo's airscreens showed him nothing but our lies. He played on, oblivious.
When we stepped into the media room, we felt a strange doubling, as if viewing ourself through a funhouse mirror of the soul. Paolo called to us, drew us, and I had to hold to Gillam as he tried to slip away.
"Paolo," we said. "This is for you."
Paolo jumped and started to whirl, but before he had half-turned, we were in the constellation of his mind, bright primary colors and childlike voices raised in a shout. It was the pattern a first-year Editor would imagine to be the perfect model, discrete clusters of colors, direct links, an almost total absence of mist and noise. The mind of a machine.
Is there any of me left? we wondered. Our model depended on there being some deep-pattern traces left by the wipe. We toggled the interViewer and Insight and went down deep into the dark.
Synthetic, Insight said.
Synthetic, synthetic, synthetic, it said again.
Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. An hour.
Synthetic, synthetic, synthetic.
Is there anything left?
I cannot tell.
Another hour. We sped down dark channels, deep on the edge of his mind's light-cone. Everything kept coming back synthetic. Every part of his mind bore a trademark.
Then, a very old memory of the house in Venice. Different color. Different trees. But the same house. POV of a young child looking out on the street, where another boy about his age was being pulled along behind an impatient mother. Embryonic feelings of confusion and concern.
There is something here, Insight whispered.
Can you help us trace it?
Another hour. Two. The small traces grew slowly into a shadowy picture of being, an outline of the man Paolo was to become. But it was thin, like an old-time wireframe, and its edges were fuzzy and indistinct.
Would it be enough? It would have to be.
We opened a link to Arcadia and brought in the Weave. And for a long, long time, what was left of Gillam ceased to exist. He was a conduit, a tube. It was an instant. And an eternity.
No, you're not Paolo!
Yes, I am.
Was there another?
There still is. Look for him.
Searching. No. Nothing.
I felt a tiny tug. Yes, here!
Snap! Yes. Paolo?
Let's put the final polish on these constellations, shall we?
I toggled the interViewer and Insight on. And for a long time there was nothing but me and the universe, singing a complex tune.
Dawn slashed across my eyes. I blinked into its brilliance and raised a hand. Around me, dark shapes hovered and danced. I felt rough hands lift me up.
"What did you do?" Ferri's voice, behind me.
I tried to turn, but the hands held me. I blinked away the blobs of sunlight. I was being held by two big Security guys dressed in bright orange. They turned me around to face Ferri, who was kneeling in front of the crumpled figure of Paolo.
"What did you do?" she screamed again. Tears had cut golden channels down her cheeks in the warm dawn light. Her eyes were red and well-worn from crying. "What did you do to him?"
"I brought him back," I said.
Ferri shook her head wildly. "From what? There's nothing left."
I looked down. How did I explain? How did I describe the Weaving?
"Why isn't he awake?" she cried.
"Ferri, sometimes . . ."
"You hurt him! You killed him!"
"It takes time to integrate after a deep Edit," I said. And this was more than a deep Edit.
An uncomprehending look. She grabbed Paolo's shoulders and shook him. "Father! Daddy!"
He didn't move. She shook him harder.
"I'll see you hang," Ferri said. "I don't care what I have to pay for your trial. I'll see your end."
A groan from Paolo. Ferri looked startled and let him drop.
Paolo sat up in his chair and turned around to look at me. For a second he looked scared and confused, then dropped me a conspiratorial wink.
"That's quite enough, beautiful Ferri," Paolo said.
Paolo stood up. "Let him go," he told Security.
"Sir . . ."
"No!" Ferri cried. "He broke into your house! He invaded your mind!"
"I don't care about that now."
"I do. And I'll prosecute," Ferri said.
I looked at Paolo, looked deep and long. His eyes were expressive and honest, bright with intelligence well-honed by time. "Are you OK?" I asked.
Was he? Was he really himself, or just another shell? I had to think the former. I had to. Or else what had I done? I looked at him a while longer. The expression fit the lines of his face. The personality fit what I knew about (us) him.
He turned back to Ferri. "Daughter, won't you let this poor man be?" His words were kind, but his tone was stern.
She glanced at me. The rage and hate and pain were all back, intense, fiery, all-consuming.
"No. He did something to you." She circled him, frowning suspiciously. "Is it you? Is Paolo in there at all? Is this something that he created?"
I swallowed. If she could convince the court it wasn't really Paolo, I could hang. Literally.
Paolo saw it too. "I can't stop this. We can only hope she comes to her senses."
"I know what I'm doing!"
"Why'd you do this?" Paolo asked me. "You knew how it would end."
"Because I had to."
In the end, Security took us both away. I could see the next months spread before me, trying to describe the Weaving to the court. Trying to describe the techniques that had leapfrogged Editing. Trying to get them to comprehend. And then trying to prove that Paolo was Paolo, and his testimony could be trusted.
As they led me out of the room, I looked back at Ferri. Was that sadness that I saw? Was that a softening of the armor? Was that the Ferri I had known for a few short weeks?
I had done the best I could.
It would have to be enough.