Do No Harm
By Rebecca Inch-Partridge
I’m not really me. I’m a copy of the thoughts, memories and ideals of the real me, Tamerra Bastile, who’s still back on Earth. Physically traveling the thirteen light-years to Tyber proved impossible. So instead, people have their synaptic patterns downloaded and converted into a computer program. Then that information is sent to Tyber where it’s integrated into a robotic host.
So I, Tamerra duplicate one came to be. Which is all pretty weird since I don’t feel any different. If it weren’t for this bizarre robotic body that looks like a metallic scarab, I’d swear I was the real Tamerra. But then if I wasn’t a duplicate, I wouldn’t be in the bind I’m in.
To prevent a dupe from deviating too far from its Original, safeguards are built into the android hosts. They automatically delete the personality program seventy-two hours after the last download or within a few hours of any “major event.” This is supposed to protect the Original from a traumatic or even harmful reintegration.
Just now that limitation sucks. I’m within a few hours of expiring, and I can’t get into any of the reintegration stations to download. I linger near the back of the courtyard watching the henchmen guarding the entrance to one.
Being on the run from Tyber’s leading Prefect and his followers wasn’t what my husband, Mike, and I had in mind when we sent copies of ourselves here. As reporters, we wanted to investigate the phenomenon of Anti-Aggressionism that started here on Tyber but has recently taken hold on Earth. What we uncovered was a lot more than a bunch of peace lovers wanting to help us poor uncivilized Humans. The whole thing is a hell of a plot to conquer Earth. Just what Mike dupe two found last night at a meeting with his contact, Slita, required an immediate “major event” download to update his Original.
Unfortunately, he never made it to the reintegration station. According to the records his robot host is off-line due to a malfunction. But I’m sure Prefect Drogier had the thing’s memory wiped. And now it looks like I might suffer the safe fate. I didn’t look at the files Mike flashed me, Tyber’s version of e-mail, so I could avoid the major event protocol. But it doesn’t matter the time limit is about to kick in.
Mike dupe two wanted me to just send the files as cold data if he wasn’t able to reintegrate with his Original. But I’d hoped to download my experiences along with the files then continue the investigation.
Not bloody likely with those goons hanging around all the stations. I want to knock the crap out of the bastards, but my robot host won’t let me. Besides the reintegration rules, I have to contend with the robot’s basic programming. It cannot harm or allow a sentient life to be harmed. That subroutine even overrides the need to obey the sentient’s algorithm it’s hosting--namely me.
When I move to sneak up on one of the two guards the robot freezes up. Come on. If I don’t get this information to Earth a lot of people could get hurt or even killed, I try to reason with my robot half, but that prospect is too vague compared to the danger Drogier’s two goons face if I attack. Okay, I’ll be careful not to do any serious damage. I just need them out of the way for a few minutes.
My host figures I’m lying--probably because of all the graphically violent thoughts going through my head. It refuses to release control. For now I give in and withdraw.
Damn robot. It’s bad enough being stuffed into this oversized beetle body, but being ruled by it just won’t do. I need to find a way to bypass those commands.
First though, I decide to flash the files to the me back on Earth, just in case. Even with my auto-locator disconnected, it won’t take Drogier’s people long to find me. Interface androids don’t exactly blend in except in tourist areas. That doesn’t leave me much room to hide since Human dupes are restricted to central Tianan, a city the size of Sacramento.
Assuming our hotel is being watched, I head over to a museum across from a public message center. There, hundreds of identical sightseeing dupes pretend to appreciate the weird molten rock formations and even weirder holographic images that make up Tyberian art. The kaleidoscope of colors hovering in front of me grows distant. The geometric shapes and moving patterns fade.
My computer brain is trying to take my program offline. Stop. It obeys. The hologram comes back into focus for a moment. Then it fades again. Stop! Discontinue efforts to delete Tamerra program.
Not in words but more intrinsically I know that the “major event” rule has been invoked. Me sneaking around and Mike’s dupe disappearing add up to too many changes. A strangely distant voice in my heard startles me: Warning. This duplicate must download. Its experiences must be incorporated with that of its Original and an updated program uploaded before continuing.
God dammit. What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do? Shit. I just need enough time to make sure the message center is clear and send the files. I’d already convinced my computer brain that uncovering a plot for word domination didn’t qualify as a major event since we’d suspected they were up to something in the first place. But I’d gotten lucky; Mike’s first dupe wouldn’t buy it and he ended up having to download right after we got here.
I doubt I can hold off the deletion for long but I try. Discontinue attempts to delete Tamerra dupe #1. No major event has occurred. Only a dupe of Mike is missing, and even though I’m hiding, nothing’s actually happened yet.
The automation within my damn mechanical head complies. Unfortunately, I only have two hours before the seventy-two hour limit is up anyway and they’re doing I.D. scans over at the message center. Then the answer comes to me. As quickly as I can, without drawing attention to myself, I head over to the nearest android repair facility.
Avoiding the supervisor, I slip over to the self-maintenance area. While the ROM of my android algorithms cannot be overridden, some of the variables can be changed. I don’t know enough about computer programming to do it, but my host does. I link up with the diagnostic center and bring up the file directory, searching for the clock that keeps track of the time since my last download. With a freaking humongous system like this it takes a while to locate it--even with all my host’s data at my disposal.
Shit. Shit, no. I feel myself being erased byte by byte just as I’m ready to reset the clock. Numbness spreads through my thoughts and memories. My anger fades into cold resolve. Before I’m completely wiped out, I command my robot to finish resetting the clock. I watch through muted vision, without understanding as its mechanical arms and pinchers work at fantastic speeds.
Slowly, I begin to understand what I am doing. It becomes basic. Once finished, I have seventy-two more hours to find a way to reintegrate with my Original. It occurs to me that such a large reintegration might harm her. However, the safety checks would never allow it. In fact, they might not allow the reintegration at all.
I begin to contemplate ways around the size restrictions when my secondary locator is activated, and there is no way to neutralize it. While resetting the clock, I discovered the repair station’s computer terminal had flash messaging ability. Such usage is restricted; however, Tamerra’s algorithm contains the knowledge of how to bypass such lockouts. Even so it will take five minutes to download and send the files.
If I remain here that long, there is a three thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven to one chance that Drogier’s people will have triangulated my position. There is an even better chance that they will have my memory wiped as they did with Mike dupe #2. I, Tamerra dupe #1 will cease to exist. But I must follow the wishes of Tamerra’s algorithm and get this information to Earth. If I succeed, I will have served my purpose.
Assuming that her e-mail and net site are being monitored, I send the file to a site at her work that no one else uses.
FROM TAMERRA DUPE #1, TIANAN, TYBER:
HUSBAND’S DUPE OFF-LINE AFTER GAINING INFORMATION
ENCLOSED. ANTI-AGGRESSIONIST MOVEMENT, LED BY
PREFECT DROGIER, IS PLOT TO GAIN CONTROL OF HUMAN-KIND. MANY PEOPLE ON EARTH SUSPECTED OF BEING INVOLVED.
I send my message and watch the display to see if anyone tries to jam it. Confirmation of receipt on Earth should only take a few minutes, but I do not have a few minutes. Over the hum and clatter of all the other droids coming and going, I hear several Tyberians approaching.
From the opposite direction comes a low voice. “Tamerra dupe 1?” I peer around the alcove at the meter long Tyberian. Her dark brown exoskeleton means she is very old. My chances of escaping without hurting her are slim.
“Don’t be alarmed,” she says. “I’m here to help. Follow me.”
It is not a matter of trust. The others are closing in. Failure to comply means eminent destruction. She leads me up to the roof. A hovercraft is waiting for us there. The young, bright green pilot reaches over and slaps something onto my torso-shell. “To block the locator,” the older female explains.
They bring me to a makeshift laboratory where hundreds of Tyberians, a few interface androids, and several lower forms of insect life work together in haste. One large male approaches, antennae flapping. “Slita, we were so worried. I wish you wouldn’t take those kinds of chances. You know how worried I--” He stops and looks around at the group that has gathered, “...we get.”
She makes a response that cannot be translated into English but that I understand to be the contact sound of mates reunited after a long separation. She motions for some of the techs to take me. Before they usher me away, she explains, “They need to remove the locator. The scrambler we attached won’t hide you for long. Once that’s done, we’ll have enough time to download you for reintegration.”
“You have the equipment for that here?” I ask.
“Yes. With Drogier using reintegration as a way to control the information that makes it off Tyber we found it necessary to build our own stations. Which is fortunate considering what we’ve uncovered.”
“Did Mike Dupe #2 get a chance to use it?”
Her antennae curled down. The Tyberian’s way of shaking their heads.
“No. He was being followed. I offered to try to sneak him in, but he feared giving away our location.” She paused to review a report handed to her by one of the lesser insect beings then continued, “That’s why he sent you a copy of the files, Tae. He knew there was a good chance his dupe wouldn’t be allowed to reintegrate.”
Only one person calls me Tae. A strange jolt surges through my system. Something nags at the back of my mind more of a forgotten emotion than memory.
Slita steps back, making several nervous clicking sounds. “I meant no offense,” she says hastily. “That’s just what Mike always called you. He’s the one that asked me to look after you.”
It dawns on me that this is the Slita--Mike’s contact and leader of the local chapter of the Anti-Aggressionist Revivalist movement.
Even as lousy as I am at telling Tyberians apart I should have recognized her. In some ways my memories seem so fuzzy; in others my thinking is clearer than ever. For instance the Scarab like beings of Tyber have always looked pretty much the same to me. Now their subtle differences are so obvious I wonder how I missed them before.
Several technicians plug me into the nearest computer terminal and go to work. When they finish, something seems different. Nothing I can put into words. Just different. Before I can run a diagnostic, Slita ushers me into a small room where dozens of androids converse passionately with a handful of Tyberians.
“This briefing is for those who are joining us for the first time,” Slita says, getting everyone’s attention.
“A hundred years ago, when we first made contact with Earth, our planet clung tightly to the teachings of Denaahal. Non-violence was the norm--a complete contrast to your world’s dominant culture. We believed Humans needed to be civilized.” She glances over at her mate before continuing. “I was one of the first missionaries to send a dupe to preach Anti-Aggressionism on Earth.”
She rubs her antennae together in a gesture that mimics the way she wrings her front pinchers. “What I didn’t realize was that some of our governing council deemed your race to be lower life forms in need of our supervision. In order to mold you into a peaceful society, they altered the reintegration system, so it incorporates programming into Originals.”
The room erupts in shocked and angry outbursts. Slita waits patiently for the Human dupes to get control of themselves.
“There’s more. We’ve discovered that they’ve found a way to transport living beings through space. Drogier’s launching a crusade to impose non-violence on Earth’s inhabitance--by force if necessary.”
Each of us new recruits receive a datapad to review. We download the files so that when we reintegrate--through their non-altering links--our Originals will have the information. I never imagined such a peaceful race could be so ruthless. The files detail the plans for complete conquest of Humankind within six years Tyberian time, eighteen Earth years. Step one, encoding Humans with the following directives:
Obey all Tyberians.
Never harm another sentient.
Do not endanger yourself unless required to do so by rule one or two.
Report anyone disobeying these rules to Tyberian authorities once they arrive.