The Cloud, 9 am, EST, Sunday, November 16th, 2132, Michael, Ferdinand and Slavica at Ferdinand's office
"I checked with Sven before going into the harness this morning," said Michael. "Peter is fine; I fed him several times on the plane, and Sven had rounded up a human wet nurse. They're at Sven's place in New York. It's only a temporary fix, of course. What we do next depends on you, Slava."
"I'm just so miserable without him. It's really unbearable. It feels as if there is part of my body missing. I suppose I'll get used to it."
She sighed. Then smartly:
"But how come I'm here at all? Why didn't they wipe me altogether?"
"It shows how much we damaged them," ventured Ferdinand. "They couldn't get at your e-clones to wipe them. Frans had been recording you, anyway, ever since Michael told us about it."
"It's still not very nice, being killed," complained Slavica. "Now I know how the others felt. And feel. They're always complaining about lack of input. Actually I don't remember it happening, there wouldn't have been time to update the e-clones. There's a blank after we arrived at the airport. Then I surfaced in the e-clone after about twenty minutes. How did that happen? Michael, did you have someone throw the switch in the harness."
"No," said Michael, "I asked the surgeon about that. There's a circuit in the e-clone that clicks in when communication is lost to the fizz body. It makes a few checks and then switches consciousness into the e-clones."
"We've been here before, haven't we, indeed," said Ferdinand. "We'll have to grow you all over again. The others are doing really well, just two years in. Originally we thought it would take ten years, but it looks as if it can be got down to about five years. There are new drugs, new techniques. They're already at school, talking, walking. Bit by bit we're splicing in sections from the e-clones, then we're updating them normally. The specialists are really excited by it, to have so many people to experiment on at once. It's been quite a rare event for them, in the past."
"Gee, thanks, that's really comforting." A passable imitation of a growl came from Slavica. "I can't wait."
"Now don't get me wrong," came from Ferdinand in pleading tones, "but this will really help with the Assembly. It proves that we haven't manged to get rid of the mob, so it really strengthens the case for moving further away from fizz. Everyone does know that they can't follow us into the cloud. They really live in the past, with piles of real money, real guns, dead bodies. In the cloud we'd be on to them in a trice."
Slavica's silence was more eloquent than anything she could have said.
"It's a bit soon to expect me to agree with you about that. I'm still thinking more about Peter. What are the options?"
Michael and Ferdinand looked at each other, metaphorically. Although it was normal to appear fully realized in such meetings in the cloud, close friends often didn't do so unless it was a social occasion where appearances mattered. On this occasion, the three of them were on their own, and wouldn't bother with such niceties. But it was still possible to transmit a facial expression, just as one might do in fizz. After a pause, Ferdinand began.
"We can't accelerate him. He will have to be three, as usual, before we can begin to introduce him to the cloud, and that will take three years. You might think it could be quicker, like your progress, but in your case your fully-grown personality is already in the e-clone; it's just a matter of transferring it to the fizz body when that is organically mature enough, but in Peter's case he has to go through the normal human maturation process, and we don't have any way of speeding that up without damage. In the meantime, your new body, so to speak, will be growing, but after three years it will be roughly at age seven, and we can't really introduce a seven-year-old to Peter as his mother. From three, Peter will have an e-clone, and then you can meet him and know him in the cloud. In the meantime all we can do is to make sure he has as much input from you as possible, in all sorts of ways. You can talk to him, sing to him, we can tell him about you, show him pictures of you, but I don't see how you can touch him for the next three years, or even really until your fizz body has reached the equivalent of say 15, in seven years' time. That's going to be difficult for you to accept, I realize. Of course, we can probably tell him the truth about the situation as soon as he is old enough to understand. When he is five, perhaps? It's still five years, and your fizz body will be aged 12, approximately."
Slavica was silent, not giving off any detectable qualia.
Michael took over.
"There aren't too many options. For the next few months, Sven could manage with the wet-nurse, although it's a lot to ask of him, and what relationship should he seek with the child? After that, adoption springs to mind, but you are presumably going to be against that, because emotionally it's quite final. And I would hate it. An orphanage, very up-market, could be considered, where I could visit, even quite soon, and be the father quite openly.
"Then there is Sven to consider. He is 22. Normally, it would be the wrong thing to do to ask him to look after a child at that age, especially if it's not his, but he has a girl-friend, and as luck would have it, she is pregnant. I like her, but the family is quite against her keeping the child, so there is talk of an adoption. She's seven months gone. Sven is torn, he can't make up his mind. I only had a few minutes with him this morning, but he is considering marrying the girl and having two children for the price of one, so to speak. It would be a remarkable girl who would contemplate such a thing, but Sven thinks she might. She would have to accept that she would lose Peter to you eventually; but maybe Peter could handle two mothers? A lot better than none!"
Then Slavica's sardonic amusement.
"Oh, Michael, you have manipulated me since I first met you, and I find myself liking it just as much as I ever did. But you have to make the greater sacrifice. You can't ever be Peter's father on that basis. It will be Sven. And what about Betty? How can Sven explain an 4-month-old baby at the same time as a new baby?"
"There are options. We could pretend that Sven already had a baby with another girl, who didn't want to keep it? Or I could tell the truth. Either way Betty gets a grandchild. For me, I have to accept the consequences of my situation. Being a pretend grandfather is a lot better than losing the child altogether. Anyway it all depends on Sven. I musn't push him. He has to really want to marry this girl, or we can't do it."
"I'll think about it," said Slavica with finality. "Meanwhile, what about the RCC? Can I still be involved. Should I be?"
"It's just a prototype, isn't it?" This was Ferdinand. "Perhaps I shouldn't use that word anywhere near you, Slavica; yet there is quite a lot of work to do to integrate it into the cloud, if I can get them to agree, and there are bound to be changes to accommodate all their fancy suggestions. Of course I want you to be involved. And the Institute goes forward. Now we have to find out what's possible with unlimited numbers of participants. We can't just launch the new RCC and cross our fingers. About what happened, Frans says it was just one last, desperate and really futile attempt to stop history."
"I can't even be a martyr, then?"
"Well, we can put up a statue to you, if you like? Anyway, you're going to be the most protected person on the planet, I can promise you. If Michael had only asked permission, it would never have happened."
"Would you have given it, Ferdie?" enquired Michael humbly.
"Of course not," came the sharp response.
"It wasn't his fault," admitted Slavica. "I seduced him. And while I'm making confessions, I've got one more."
"Oh no, please not," groaned Ferdinand, holding imaginary hands to his head.
"It's a minor thing, I hope. But I have broken the rules a bit, so I'm asking for your forgiveness in advance. Michael, I want you to imagine a number, any number, in the background, so it's not visible to me or Ferdie."
"OK," agreed Michael, "I'm imagining one. It's quite long."
"Can you see it, Ferdie?"
"It's pi, 3.14159265359."
"Yes," said Michael, "I'm sorry to say that you're right."
"Now I'm thinking a sentence," said Slavica. "Tell me what it is."
"Ceux qui vivent sur le point de l'epee meurent sur le point de l'epee."
"Correct, although you missed out the accents. Did you see it, Ferdie?"
"No, sadly I didn't. What have you done, Slava?"
"I put back the telepathy channels and the basal ganglions into my e-clone. You knew that, I told you ages ago. I had to in order to test it against the new RCC. I'm not sure if I was right to copy that revised e-clone into the cloud, but I did it anyway. What was naughty, though, was that I added the same channels to Michael's e-clone in the cloud without asking his permission. I thought I had to, so that I could test it without his knowing. And we just did. I'm really sorry. Please forgive me!"
"I'm speechless," said Ferdinand. "Well, wordless, at least. But I can't criticize you; it's a reasonable piece of research. What I don't understand though is how it comes through so clearly in the e-clone, when in a fizz brain it's obscured."
"The e-clone is very selective. It goes back to bandwidth, again. They only put in what was necessary, and since telepathy wasn't in their original model, they didn't need to put in the repressive circuits that damp it down. Not that they knew it was there in the first place; or if they did, they denied it. Broca's area, and Wernicke's, do a lot more than just enable speech, and one of their functions is to dis-enable telepathy, to prevent it from getting in the way of semantic speech."
"Another question," continued Ferdinand: "How come that telepathy can deal with words and numbers? Surely it evolved before the brain could handle words and numbers? Therefore it should be good at images, feelings and so on, but it should stop there."
"Not so easy to answer," admitted Slavica, "but I suppose that you've got to imagine esp as a sensory mechanism just in the way that sight or sound are mechanisms. Sight and sound emerged long before words or numbers, but they can handle both without a problem. The same with esp, therefore. It's just a channel. Well, a field is a better way of describing it."
"Perhaps I'm imagining this," chipped in Michael, "but it seems to me that I have more depth of perception than I had before. I feel more like my physical self. More like me."
"I would have been disappointed if you didn't," said Slavica. "There is more work to be done on finding other channels that have been excluded from the e-clone, but the esp ones were the most obvious lacunae. Another thing is that I'm not sure what will happen when we put extended e-clones into the new RCC. It has to be tested. I can't tell in advance whether it will help, or even possibly hinder, since the esp channels have been specifically included in the RCC, and there might be a conflict. Anyway, that doesn't get in the way of the proposition that with esp-enabled e-clones and RCCs, once we've explored all the possible pathways, there will really no longer any need for fizz bodies. I suppose there will always be people who want the original experience, sort of nativists, but that's all it will be, a kind of illusion of reality. Reality will be the closeness of the group, as it was before. Only, unimaginably more powerful."
"It's horrendously expensive, all this backing-up," mused Ferdinand. "And it's unnecessary in your vision. That's why the mob is so against it. They could see that clearly enough. That's why they went after you. The whole fizz/cloud apparatus represents about 75 percent of the ongoing maintenance cost of the regime. If we could make it voluntary without reducing the quality of experience of an individual, it would be a massive saving. Pregnancy, though. We can't do that in the cloud yet."
"Am I right that the proportion of people wanting fizz pregnancy is going down quite rapidly?" asked Michael. "I'm sure I've seen some such report."
"It was confidential," said Ferdinand. "But you're right. Despite Slavica and Sven, the average age of first pregnancy is more than 35, and only 37 percent of people bother with children. That's down from 67 percent in the last fifty years. Actually, the race is shrinking. But so what? There are quite a lot of us."
"You can have simulated sex in the cloud," offered Slavica. "People say it's quite good." A surreptitious look at Michael. "So people would have to really want children. I'm not quite clear whether it would matter if we abandoned them. Do we have enough control over genetic characteristics to manage without sexual variation?"
"Technically, yes," said Ferdinand. "We have ongoing research projects on it, and just as in the same way we can recreate you, physically, we can create an individual with any given bundle of genetic characteristics. We haven't done it, because after all there are plenty of people. But the technology is there. And there is the question of socialization. But then we are immortal: if RCCs can be a sort of combination of the people who make them up, do we actually need new individuals, all the paraphernalia of bringing them up, educating them, stopping them being little monsters? An RCC with say 500 members surely has every gene that exists. And we can make more, in case we need to."
"This is why we need Slavica to carry on," said Michael. "And more Slavicas. There is so much to be found out. We can't answer those sorts of question without knowing a whole lot more about the behaviour of groups in RCCs."
"Sorry, Slavica," apologized Ferdinand. "You may be undead, but there's no stake through your heart, now or ever. We need you!"
"Men," she thought. "So bloody useless."
"I heard that," said Michael. "Just be more careful in future."
now or ever. We need you!"
"Men," she thought. "So bloody useless."
"I heard that," said Michael. "Just be more careful in future."
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