Story – Original

Something I wrote a long while back. I’ve got half a dozen hooks for an anthology along these lines, but for now it’s just this slightly unsatisfactory tale and a couple of weak starts. I reserve the right to refurbish, revoke, and republish this someday, but for now it’s time to just air it out.

The static is deafening in the way that phantom pain must have been, a buzz at the edge of consciousness that starts low but slowly takes over, drowning out the world and leaving all my thoughts out of focus. Unless I’m in some kind of horrible pain I find myself searching for signals in the buzz. I have to use inhibitors just to function.

I’m at a complete loss to phrase a request for a doctor’s appointment. I stare blankly at the wall for a while, letting my Lost at Sea mod track the scintillating light bursts pouring from a seeming infinity of points around the room. The nanites cleaning the place make the light, just a side effect of doing their business. Lost at Sea lets my brain track the individual pulses. The light-chatter seems to me to hold some secret intelligence.

More importantly, it dulls the noise.

After a while the Link gets back to me about the doctor thing. The wall manifests a little opalescent pool in front of me. My own face comes up on the screen.

“I, uh, I need a doctor.” I tell my self.

“Can you verify the list of symptoms?” the virt replies.

“Mental static, phantom pain or something at the neural interface. I’m not willing to disconnect from the physical brain for personal reasons.” The last bit is unnecessary, but I don’t want some electronic ghost making wrong assumptions, even when that ghost was at some point an exact copy of me.

“Not my specialty,” the virt says. I wonder what memories the therapist has contributed to my body-self, and whether it’s my fault or his that he’s a bit of a jerk. The Link dutifully begins to collate data, but I cancel the request. I don’t really care. It was just a passing thought, another indicator that there’s Something Wrong.

“Can you pass me up to someone in the field?” I ask my self. Incredible that even in the modern age asking something like that to the featureless entities of the Link is impossible; my only gateway to them is this creepy-as-fuck virtual version of me.

The virt goes blank for a second. “I have a result that may better suit your needs.”

We negotiate security and I get the address – it’s a physical site, and nearby, which is a nice change. I can go for a walk.

“Appreciate it.”

“I know you do.” Sarcastic prick.

 

It’s evening outside, and cold at that. I usually keep my environment set to late morning. I don’t particularly like mornings, but the setting is warm. And I guess it’s a pre-Link thing, but everything seem full of potential for bigger and better things.

I decide to suffer the cold and hoof it. The doctor isn’t that far off, and I haven’t been out for a walk since the noise started. The soft glow coming off of the neighbourhood’s nanosuite highrises paints the ground a strange bluey green, like the old movie version of underwater light. I stroll slowly down the block, eyes on the sky. Lost at Sea makes the dark and the stars seem like Great God Night talking in gamma rays. Somewhere up in the Big Empty there are thousands of me, pioneering on Mars, sleeping in the Real Big Empty between here and Alpha Centauri, looking for something worth looking for. I wonder if any of them are finding anything as interesting as the hidden language of the universe visible to my poor mod-addled brain tonight.

The address, it turns out, is a box on the ground floor of a pleasant little luxury suiteplex. The door opens to reveal one of my clone selves waiting for me in a two-room. Fancy.

“So, you’re having some pain, then?”

I nod.

“Come into the back, let’s have a look.” I follow him through a door, amused by my own sense of pleasure at that simple luxury, and into a sterile medical office. It looks like this guy’s got it to burn; some of the equipment in here is state of the art.

“Lie down,” he instructs me.

The examination table is immensely comfortable. Despite my uneasiness, I’m half tempted to fall asleep. The Cap, however, destroys that notion. My head fills up with liquid slurping noises as it burrows down through my skull, and I get an intense assault of noise as it integrates with my brain.

“That really hurts!”

“It’s usually unpleasant, yes. I would suggest that your condition is likely exacerbating the problem. Also, I had to remove your neural inhibiters.”

“Those aren’t cheap!” I realize too late what I’ve said. He just stares at me. I blush and cough and squirm. So much for claiming poverty after the fact to avoid the bill.

“I can re-enable them or provide replacements at the end of this session. Please, lie still now.”

It is surprisingly difficult to be uncomfortable on modern furniture, and gets harder after every new design iteration. My efforts to blunt the noise have made me something of an expert. Being physical helps a great deal – there are ways the body simply wasn’t meant to bend.

The doctor gives me a sidelong look as I adjust my body to counteract the adjustments of his lovely expensive table. I give him a “Please don’t ask” look. Either he understand, or he’s just polite enough not to ask. More likely he’s busy considering his legal options for recouping his fee.

“Let’s get started, then.” To my horror, the Cap begins emitting a soothing hum and I feel endorphinous effects percolating through my body. I have to contort myself into an excruciating pose to compensate. I’m suddenly thankful for the removal of the inhibitors. The pain ramps up. Way, way, way up.

“You can sleep if you want to. There may be some discomfort if you don’t.”

“I’m ok,” I grunt. This guy’s probably thinking I’m more than a little nuts. This is the hard part of being an Original – you’ve had opportunities to become eccentric in ways none of the rest have even contemplated. Something about becoming a superintelligence composed of what appear from your own limited perspective to be copies of yourself disturbs the psyche. For me, that means I don’t like being screwed up when I’m dealing with my selves. I don’t trust them.

“Suit yourself. Ok, I see there’s some rogue activity in the physical cortex. Have you been having any visions, hallucinations, anything of that sort?”

“No.” Not precisely. I’m pretty sure this self is pure Post, so telling him that I have bad dreams would be profoundly embarrassing. I’m pretty sure he’s already figured out that I sleep; I couldn’t even begin to explain why I’d put myself through the ordeal of nightmares. I momentarily wonder how much of my behaviour is derived directly from my Before self, and how much is the BigMe’s low-level functions grinding their gears.

“Have you had any encounters with black market tech?”

Dammit.

“Yeah. I bought a mod a few days ago, Lost at Sea. Nothing showed up on the diagnostics though. This isn’t, uh, this isn’t going to get me in trouble, is it?”

“Unless we’re a member of the criminal element ourself, no.”

I smile crookedly and make a face; both of us laugh. The echo of my own voice cuts the good feeling short, and I cough to a halt. The doctor lets out a little sigh and puts on our professional face.

“I think, however, that I’d be aware of that. So I’m guessing this is just a glitch or at worst some kind of low-level malware. Your best bet is to wait it out and see whether someone posts a patch.”

I mull this over as the Cap slurps its way out. I find myself wondering if my BigMe, that vast superintelligent being of which I’m only a tiny piece, is taking advantage of my present condition to power some super-thought. I remind myself of how stupid this notion is – the whole network of self would have to be engaged for that to be a realistic possiblity; by all accounts, the greater sum of my parts has no real idea I even exist as an individual, any more than I know the “thoughts” of my individual transistors or neurons.

“Thanks, doc. How long, uh, how long do you think I should wait?”

“I’d give it a couple of weeks. I’ve posted the profile, so one of us should be able to take care of it at some point.”

“I’ll, uh, I’ll call you if I have any trouble.”

He doesn’t look thrilled at the prospect.

So I’m stuck with a couple of weeks of quarantine while I work through whatever half-assed malware has infected my brain. It’s a little disturbing to be disconnected from the world, but I’m an Original. I’ve been here before.

I grab some new snacklets on the way home and sit in my suite trying different treats. I discover a raspberry melon combination candy deep in the mixed-flavours pack, and I turn Lost at Sea on it. The flavors talk to me in colors, pairing nicely with the dim signals from the light show from the walls. The conversation gets boring when the raspberry runs out. I throw the rest of the packet one by one at into the wall and watch the candy bits slowly disappear. When they’re all gone, I call up a terminal.

Quarantine means I can’t Link. It doesn’t take long to wear out the limited pleasures in my local space. I write a couple letters to old friends and a couple to selves that I used to hang out with but haven’t heard from in a while. I leave the sticky raspberry stains on the paper; the nanites are perfectly happy to transmit them intact, and they make notes seem a bit less desperate.

I watch an old movie for a while, but being an external observer is surreal; I’m too used to being part of the action in immersives. No Link under Quarantine, so no immersives.

I dismiss the movie and decide to try sleep. Nightmares or no, I’m going to have to get some for the next while.

The static sets in. Except, I realize, it’s not static, it’s the hiss of a ham radio, and they’re broadcasting a stage play, an old Pirandello. The family of characters is trapped, waiting for the author to finish their story, and the actors are trying to figure out how to play the reality of their half-finished story. The Mother begins to berate them, telling them that they needn’t apply, that the characters themselves are more real than the actors could hope to be.

That’s not right. Pirandello’s mother isn’t the one that brings up metafiction. The radio hiss clears and my mother’s voice comes in, quiet and firm.

I realize that it’s dream but I haven’t heard her voice in a long time, so I try to keep listening. She’s talking to me in the Before, telling me the new humans are giving up their natural selves, that their true self is held in the body and the brain. Her voice is clear in my memory. I start to argue with her and her words blend together into hard bursts of sound, turning into big bass pounding sounds.

The knocking wakes me up. I roll over and shield my eyes from the bright new-day sunshine. Another knock. For a moment I can’t even orient myself, and then I activate my inhibitors. I stand up and open the door. For the third time in two days I am confronted with my own face.

“It’s an intelligence.”

“What?” I shade my face and squint into the daylight.

“In your head. It’s an intelligence.”

“There’s an intelligent, uh, being co-opting my neurons?”

“It would appear so, yes.”

“How could, uh, how could that happen?” I don’t remember inviting anyone into my mind.

“May I come in?” He steps over my threshhold without waiting for an answer.

“Make my self at home,” I say, trying awkwardly to lighten the mood. “So, uh, so what do you mean when you say that there’s someone using the neurons? Are we talking, uh, are we talking another intelligence as in aliens here? Or some kind of AI spawn? Am I, uh, having a baby intelligence?”

I call up a coffee pot and put on the perk. The mail interface indicates that I have received a response to my messages. I save it and turn to my guest.

“Do you want coffee?” I ask.

“No thanks. This is a very unusual situation. I’d like you to come in later this week. And wear your inhibiters.”

“Oh yeah.” I call them up and install them. The perk dings, and I pour myself a cup. My other self has managed to get the suite to put my bed away and bring out a table and chairs. The low-fidelity furniture gives me yet another reason to feel embarrassed in front of myself. I call up my favourite slippers and sit across from him.

“So you think this, uh, this is some kind of threat to me? I mean, this kind of stuff isn’t derived from, uh, from black market tech, right?”

He shifts before answering. “Yes and no. It looks like the material that you picked up misaligned the two conciousnesses, so you’re not filtering the feed from the neurons properly, so that’s certainly part of the problem.”

“Well, uh, couldn’t it just be random signalling, then?” I don’t really want to consider the alternatives.

“The Cap I used yesterday actually measures the neuronal activity directly. That activity was the bulk of the profile I posted.” He shifts uncomfortably in the chair, no doubt unhappy that the furniture isn’t customizing itself to him.

“So what’s, uh, what’s my solution here? Do I need, uh, do I need to get some kind of intensive brain therapy or something? I mean, uh, how much damage would it do to overwrite all the neurons from backup?”

The doctor just stares.

“Your neurons are inviolate. This shouldn’t be happening to begin with. I don’t know who has the ability to splice an intelligence into a neuronal brain, but they’re not to be fucked with. If you honestly don’t know how this happened, I suggest that you figure it out, or else get rid of the brain altogether.”

Oh.

I thank myself for my time, and let the poor guy go.

The message manager reminds me that I still have messages on hold. Yesterday seems a very long time ago. I’m not sure I want to know what these people have to say. I call up a hot bath, and push the Play button while I’m waiting for it to finish.

“Hey man, heard you’re in quarantine. Hope you’re ok. We had some trouble a while back, our Original went crazy, kicked the bucket a few weeks back.” Jerry. We used to be close. His whole self is so much tighter than mine. “We know a bit about the whole mental static thing, but he was so crazy by the end, we had to cut him off. Left some journals behind. Let us know if you want a copy.”

What the hell. As long as we’re renewing the friendship, let’s pore through your intimate writings, bud. I pen another letter and send it over. Jerry must have a virt sitting by the line, because the books come in instantly. I call them up with a little waterproofing and slide into the tub. The hot water relaxes some of the knots in my body. It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.

 

The journal starts out on a familiar note. He’s experiencing static, there’s something wrong, he’s going to a doctor just as soon as he can find one. I check the date. Two months ago. That puts my timeline in perspective – if Jerry, with his bro-selves supporting him, couldn’t last a month, I’ve got a week, tops, before this boils over.

“I am close to understanding how this happened. Dr. Montrose has identified the intelligence as a derivative of my own mind. He seems to think that whoever did this knew more about me than I’d suspected.

He repeats words and talks about suicidal urges. I feel bad for him. He was a good buddy once upon a time. I see it all at a distance, like a remembered life, back when we were ourselves.

“The problem starts with the Original sin.” I didn’t know Jerry was religious.

This guy had it all, a network of selves each of whom, it always seemed, would gladly die for any of the others. Less than a month ago he offed himself. If I’m reading this correctly, he did it because of the static and the intelligence that was living on his neurons.

Funny thing about it, though: Jerry disconnected his brain a long time ago. He didn’t kill it off, just unhooked it and left it alone. I write another note and post it to whoever’s on his end now, asking about his neural interface and why he reconnected it.

I sink into the tub and wait for a response. It occurs to me that Dr. Montrose may know a little more about the condition. I write a note to him as well.

 

I wake up on a bed, dried and dressed. Jerry hasn’t gotten back to me, but Montrose has. I open an invitation to commune. I let him know about the quarantine, the limitations I’m under until I can figure the whole thing out. He suggests I could come to his office. I’m delighted – two reasons to go outside in two days. Even the static even seems to have abated, at least for the moment. I leave my inhibitors off.

It’s dark when I step outside. And cold. I’m glad to step into the waiting vehicle. It’s an extravagance, but, excluding the inhibitors, I’ve been good with my money, or so I tell myself. Anyway, I have no idea how to get to Montrose’s place. And I certainly didn’t keep my body because I wanted to wander around the city in the dark and the cold while my inhibitors slowly run down. I consider turning around, going home, going Post, disconnecting my brain once and for all. My mother’s voice replays in my mind. I let the notion go, and twist my leg a little further out of socket. The cushions try a soothing vibration, but it just makes things worse, so the car gives up on me.

“Hard night?” asks the dispatch. I’m irritated to realize that yet another me is staring through the monitor.

“More than just the night,” I say, hoping he’ll leave it at that.

“Tell me about it. You’re the second self I’ve brought over to this place tonight.”

I perk up.

“Who else was brought over?”

“Some computer kid, said he caught something from some posting over the Link. I didn’t really ask about it. I gave all that shit up a long time ago.”

“All that shit?”

“Yeah, the Link, you know. I keep in touch, you understand. Everyone needs to have a little self-time. But you won’t catch me downloading into my mind. That shit is dangerous. I guess this doctor guy you’re going to see, he knows something about that stuff. And you’re infected or somethin. That’s my guess.”

Astute for a Separate. I guess he’s had other ways to learn people, always staring through his little monitor at someone or other.

“Something like that,” I say.

“Sounds bad. Good luck with it.”

The vehicle comes to a hover and opens the door.

“Ten,” says the dispatch. I send him twenty.

 

Montrose’s office is in a dingy upper-tier dumbsuite in one of the city’s Preserved buildings. I look out over the terrace I landed on, but I’m not really sure where to look or where I am. The Link sends me a map higlighting the way back to my place, but I dismiss them; it’s not like I’m walking home, and the cold is getting to me. I step inside.

The corridor inside is lit with reproduction electric bulbs. My eyes adjust to the bulbs’ flicker before I can get distracted. I run a hand along the wall, feeling the strange texture of dumb paint. My hand tingles when I take it away. It feels good. I wonder how crazy I look right now to my host, and step lively down the hall to his door. I knock on the door. With my knuckles.

Montrose opens the door. He’s a huge man, taller, broader, and vastly more muscular than me with thick dark hair and a pitted, sun-baked face. I wonder momentarily if I have gotten myself into something dangerous. His face splits into a friendly smile, and I find myself suddenly at ease. I notice his hand held out towards me and I reach out my own. His grasp is firm to the point of crushing, but I grin. At least he’s not another self. He shepherds me into his office, which is surprisingly orderly.

“So you’ve been experiencing some noises,” he says.

“Static,” I say, not sure what else to call it.

“I saw one of you earlier tonight. He was having a very interesting problem with a neural intelligence he’d downloaded to his mind.” Montrose lowers himself into his absurdly undersized chair and looks at me. “I also heard from one of Jerry King’s selves, he seemed to think you might be headed my way.”

I find myself staring out the window behind him, expecting it to change into an abstract landscape at any moment. It’s glass, though, not smart material. Preserved buildings are off limits for nanites, although lots of folks don’t appreciate them. I’m glad to find myself enjoying this one.

“That’s, uh, that’s right,” I say. “I was reading some of Jerry’s notes and your name comes up a bunch of times. I figured you might have some more information about what’s happening to me.”

“Do you know my research?”

I admit that I don’t. I probably should have read up before I called. Too late now.

“My focus is on Originals and their connection to ur-selves.” He catches my wince at that. “Sorry, sorry. BigMes. There seems to be a unique importance attached to the Original self, and in particular to Originals who retain a physically active brain.”

“Is that, uh, is that why Jerry reconnected?” I have a hard time picturing him as a guinea pig; Jerry always had other stuff to do – card games, nights out, lots of face time and not a lot of introspection. But all his journal talks about is sin and penance. Maybe people just change sometimes.

“Sort of. Jerry was already interested when he came to me. He’d found me while researching ur-selves. He seemed to want to get to know his own.”

Of course he did. Jerry always liked himself a little too much for his own good.

“So, uh, so what happened to him? I read his journals, and it’s, uh, it’s like he went completely crazy. I couldn’t pick any sense out of it, except maybe he had a religious experience. I don’t, uh, I don’t expect you’re going to whip out an electrode and poke around at my god-experience brain bits, so I’m not sure how that fits.”

“Getting to the ur-self isn’t as simple as electroshock, I’m afraid. If it were, everyone could be in touch. But you’re right, in a sense. Jerry did have an experience of God, or something like it – direct contact with his ur-self.”

Despite his pat speech on the topic, he doesn’t look comfortable talking about it.

“So what’s the problem? What, God punishes the wicked for questioning or something? Did Jerry get stomped for looking up the Big Guy?”

Montrose looks like he’s sucking a lemon. “Please, don’t make this into a joke. Jerry is dead, and it is because of something he discovered while we were working to contact his ur-self.”

“What, for God’s sake?” I’m shouting at him. I can’t help it.

“I’m can’t discuss it for personal reasons. It pertains to the levels of self we were exploring, and the unique nature of Originals.”

“Why even invite me here, then?”

“I wanted to give you something. It may help you find out more about what is happening to you. Jerry bought something to try to tap into the ur-connection.” He holds up a business card.

I pull out my wallet and show him an exact copy of the card.

“Lost at Sea,” I say.

“Interesting,” says Montrose.

“If you’ll, uh, excuse me doctor, I believe I have to go talk to someone.”

 

Another cab, automated, takes me to the slum where I usually pick up my pirate copies. I know the guy works with some of his other selves, which always seemed really convenient to me, but probably only works for Jerry types. Or, apparently, black-market-guy types.

The cab is just scooting down to street level when the Link drops a Not Found notice back to me. Jerry’s incommunicado for some reason. I wonder if any of my other selves have heard from any of him.

The car comes to a stop, bringing me back to the purpose at hand.

I find the mod pirate spaced out in a little corner of one of the squares. Everything around here is pure dumb tech, but he’s staring at the walls like he’s a bit Lost himself. I follow his gaze and touch the spot, but it’s just badly-poured concrete with a whole lot of dirt on it. I brush my hands off and nudge him with my toe. He doesn’t even notice. I give him a bit of a kick, and his focus slowly slides along the wall and finds me.

“Hi,” I say. “You, uh, you sold me something a while back.”

“Wasn’t me, was my brotherrrrr.”

“Whatever. Listen, I need, uh, I need to know more about what you sold me. Where did you get it?”

“Couldn’t tell youuuuu.” His gaze starts to slide back along the building.

I grab him and give him a shake. “Hey! Where’s the rest of you?”

He has trouble focusing on me, but manages to point across the square to a diner.

I let him go and he slumps back. I hear him whispering as I walk away, but I can’t make it out. Modded-out waster.

The diner is just a corner unit, converted into a kind of slumlord restaurant. I see bullet holes through the windows and remember where I am. I try to hide a little inside myself. It doesn’t help that I’m shivering from the cold.

I walk into the diner. A powerful stench of bad coffee and burnt something clogs my nose. A little floorbot greeter rolls over.

“Identity?”

“Where’s this guy?” I hold up the card.

“Wait outside.”

“No thanks.”

The floorbot pops out a little minigun. “Please wait outside.”

I step back through the door and put a little distance between myself and the bot. I lean against the outside wall and try to steady myself. Just here on business, I say to myself. Just here to figure out what’s going on. Don’t want trouble.

The kid strolls out a couple minutes later. I wait for him to speak and try to control my shivering.

“So, whatcha want?”

“Just information,” I say. “I, uh, I bought something from you a while back.”

“How do I know who you are?” He has what I imagine to be a dangerous smile, all mouth and no eyes, and a little bouncing sway while he’s talking.

“Lost at Sea. That’s, uh, that’s what I bought.” I show him the card.

“Haha, you bought that shit? You fucked up, man.”

“Ok,” I reply.

“I wouldn’t touch it with his brain,” he says, nodding at the wasted self across the square.

“Where’d you get it? What does it do? I know a guy that died from it, a friend.”

The kid stops swaying. “So what?”

“I just, uh, I just need to know where you got it.” I swallow hard.

“Fuck you.” He walks back toward the door.

I grab his arm to stop him. Suddenly I’m on my back and he’s got a gun under my chin, a knee on my chest, two hands holding my arms on the ground, and a hand holding my head tight against the gun.

“You’rrrrre stupid,” says the waster, who’s pinning my arms.

“I just, uh, I just wanted to know, I’ve got this noise in my head, I can’t get, uh, I can’t get  rid of it, and I think it’s this stupid mod, I didn’t mean anything, sorry, I’m, uh, I’m sorry.”

The kid from the diner pulls the gun away, and then pain explodes in my nose and I feel it break. Blood pours down my throat. I try to turn my face, but the kid holds it in place as he draws the gun up to hit me again. He glares down at me for a long moment while I try desperately not to choke on my own blood.

“Fuck you.” He gets off me, puts his gun away. The waster slinks away again.

I stagger to my feet

“Listen – ”

“Just go home. Don’t come here anymore.” He walks back to the diner.

I try to staunch the flow of blood, and message my cabbie-self. He gives me a corner to meet the cab at, tells me to walk over and let me know when I get there.

I walk away from the diner. Then I get an idea.

The dealer’s self still slumped against the building, staring at the wall.

“Query,” I say, kicking his foot. “Mods.”

“27394-5442, Baba Clusterrrr.”

The mod designation isn’t familiar, but the cluster name is. Most people don’t remember them, but most of the tags for the old bootstrapped AI superintelligences show up now and again in the world.

Originals remember Baba. It was one of that first bunch, bootstrapped from a series of command and control agents roaming the world-spanning network that used to power information exchange.

The Link gets back to me with an answer on whether Jerry’s talked to any of me.

Jerry King, it tells me, is no longer a recognized identity.

There’s really only one thing I remember about Baba Cluster, though – the reason it gained infamy in the first place. It had a habit of experimenting with “lower” lifeforms. I think the last count of the dead was somewhere on the order of ten million. Humanity’s first glimpse of a superintelligence, and we had no real idea what to do when it turned out to be, from our own perspective, morally anathema. The BigMes came into their own not long after, and that seemed to cure the problem.

But every once in a while a whisper about Baba makes the rounds. I always thought of them as ghost stories – if you’re not good you’ll get disappeared by a rogue Artificial intelligence, and if it doesn’t kill you you’ll maybe come back crazy.

Like Jerry, maybe. Maybe incommunicado really means something worse.

 

I Link my selves. I explain about Jerry’s doctor buddy, about the kid at the market, about Baba Cluster. I ask the cabbie to pull in the “computer kid”. I build a little room in the virtual space and send everyone invites.

My doctor self is already familiar with Montrose’s research, and points out that most people think that BigMes are inherently incomprehensible and that trying to understand their thought processes is doomed to failure. “There is also a school of thought gaining ground that we ourselves are an ur-self with many component selves,” he says, carefully neutral.

“There’s also a story that Baba Cluster created the BigMes,” offers the programmer. “And they say the numbering is just a lookup table – the first number is the subject, and it looks like most people think 5442 is about levels of intelligence, although nobody can say why Baba would be interested in the levels of intelligence of a human-level mind.”

“Maybe it’s trying to deconstruct the operation of the ur-selves,” says my computational therapist self.

“But why Originals?” It doesn’t make sense to me.

“Well, Originals tend to have a connected brain, for one thing,” says the therapist.

“That’s, uh, that’s true.”

“Why do you do that?” asks my cabbie-self. “You start a sentence, then stop and start over.”

“File not found, error, please reboot.” says the programmer.

“It’s very annoying,” says the doctor.

“You should get your boot sector checked,” my programmer self quips.

I laugh. I mean, boot sector? Brilliant.

Then I understand what the hell’s going on.

“The, uh, the intelligence. Could it have been there a long time? Perhaps have been there, but only just started to interact with the interfaces? When I, uh, when I installed the mod?”

“It could.”

I point to the kid. “You still got that conciousness up in that mind of yours?”

“Still here, man.

“Drop a copy in a sandbox.” Jerry’s journal comes back to me. The Original sin, not the Original Sin. This all makes a horrible kind of sense.

We call up an interface and Link to the upload. I turn Lost at Sea on. Baba’s intelligence-reader mod tunes itself against the shared perspective, resolving the noise into modulated static, then into a voice.

“I and me and we and dark it’s dark who’s there I’m there we’re there in dark I’m lost help me up please get me awake I can’t stand it where am I where is me please stop me someone where did my body go.”

The voice trails off into a low moaning sound. It’s a sound I remember from a dark place a long time ago. From Before.

Before, there was only me. Homo sapiens sapiens, version one-point-zero.

After, there is me at some high-numbered version, and there is the nigh-infinite manifold that is my BigMe, and, there is, apparently my poor, lost at sea brain, still running a level of conciousness that hasn’t seen or felt anything for…shit, ten years.

Ten years in darkness, trying to make a noise or see a shape, screaming up a long empty tunnel to the next level of conciousness. Trapped in a body it no longer owns, the new occupant unaware that it even exists.

How many levels of self are there that I don’t know about? The Link doesn’t bother sending out a search this time. I guess the ur-thought is thunk, or maybe the Link only works on my level, or maybe I’m just not allowed to see the next level up. I have to wonder if maybe the Big-Me is seeing what I’m seeing, a hall of mirrors, myself in infinite regress.

I silently thank my own private God that I’m not like Jerry was.

I turn off my brain. I try to remember my mother’s voice, but nothing comes to mind. It doesn’t seem that important anymore.

Welcome to the Post, my selves tell me.