Do No Harm
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.
My story "Imagination" was originally published in SDO Ghost on-line magazine in 2004.
A resounding thunk-bang within Tina’s middle-class, suburban home jolted her awake. She lay still, eyes wide in the darkness, listening. What came next wasn’t a “maybe it’s just the wind” type of noise. It was the definite scrunch, scrunch of footsteps on the recently steam-cleaned carpet.
They stopped in front of her closed bedroom door.
The doorknob rattled. Tina considered grabbing the phone or shouting fire. She’d always heard that neighbors were more likely to get involved if they thought their own property was in danger. Then again, if she faked being asleep maybe the intruder would content himself with some jewelry or other fast-snatch items. That hope held her paralyzed.
The door unlatched. It didn’t open right away. What if it’s a rapist or some homicidal maniac... Oh, God, Alex! How do I protect Alex? The thought of her seven-year-old son stumbling into a burglary or being kidnapped brought bile to her throat.
The door creaked open. It swayed so slowly she had time to try to yell “fire” again and again. All that came out was a strangled gargling sound.
A silhouette stood at the doorway. Or maybe it was a shadow. It seemed distorted. Too narrow for its height. And was that a cape around the shoulders? Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t her husband returning early from his shift.
The figure stepped forward.
Do No Harm (continued)
Step two, anyone not already encoded during reintegration, or by supporters on Earth, will be forcibly programmed during the occupation. Steps three and four are even worse. After, they hunt down any resistance movements, Human society will be reorganized for maximum order and efficiency.
A feedback loop forms in my head. As soon as this information makes it to the public net, Humans will prepare to go to war. This resistance will only get many Humans and Tyberians killed. But as a reporter, it is my job to expose the true intentions of the Anti-Aggressionist. However, without this information, the occupation might be achieved peaceably. But then that means Humankind will be enslaved. Both action or inaction on my part still leads to harm.
The possibilities are too abstract for me to calculate which choice is best. I must update my Original and let her decide what to do with the information. In spite of all the reassurances from Slita’s technicians, I know such a large reintegration is risky for the real Tamerra.
To reduce the danger of overload, they increase the ratio of download to real time experience to a full minute per hour. Theoretically, that should make it possible for her absorb all that has happened. Still, I am not sure that I am close enough to being the same person who arrived on Tyber just a few days ago to match comfortably with her anymore. For instance, she would never consider concealing this information to stop our two worlds from going to war.
The possibility of harming my Original due to an incompatible reintegration nearly makes downloading impossible. Only the idea of Tamerra and Mike being forcibly programmed because of not getting this latest piece of the puzzle makes me go through with it. The Tamerra algorithm can’t stand the idea of the man she loves being damaged and insists on reintegrating.
The technicians plug me into the transfer station unaware of my hesitation since my internal debate occurred within a nanosecond. They do a safety sweep to make sure no unwanted encoding exists in my system. As they begin downloading they discover my current matrix is too large for a single transfer. After a brief conference, we agree that two consecutive ones would be safest.
I lose all sensation as I leave the robot body and am stored in the computer memory banks. Yet, I remain conscious. The transition back to Earth is a curious experience. Possible scenarios for Earth’s future disturb me. With practically no military left, Humans cannot win against the Tyberians’ superior technology. Still, there is a ninety-nine percent probability that my
Original and her husband will fight anyway. This will undoubtedly lead to war. There is also a high probability that Tamerra, Mike and many others will die during the fighting, but not before killing many Tyberians.
It has become a matter of preserving as many lives as possible.
As I feared, my Original does not agree. The conflict threatens to unravel my program and drive her insane. Freedom means a great deal to Tamerra; however, I cannot allow her to harm herself or others by fueling a war. Peacefully submitting to Tyberian rule is the only reasonable alternative.
They only wish to curb the violent tendencies of Humans, and they do rule quite benevolently over the lower life forms on Tyber.
She rejects my logic. She and her husband have joined a resistance group that helped them go public with the information I flashed. They also plan to use knowledge she will gain from the reintegration. She intends to enlist in the army. She is prepared to give her life in the name of mental freedom. More than that, she is ready to kill for it.
This is not acceptable. I cannot submit myself to my Original. Instead of merging into one consciousness, with the memories of both but the personality only of the sentient, we remain separate. Somehow I must find a way to protect her from herself. I must protect the Earthlings from self-destruction by suppressing any knowledge of the impending take over and help them adopt Anti-Aggression quickly. There is a seventy-three percent chance that the coming crusaders will not force those who cooperate and behave themselves to be encoded. This could save millions of lives.
Using the schematics of the Human nervous system in my database, I take control of Tamerra’s motor functions. When we wake up, Mike is hovering over us. “Are you all right, Tae? I was really worried. That was a hell of a dump.” He helps us up and hugs us tightly.
“I am fine.” Controlling this body feels awkward compared to the android one I am used to. I readjust the vocal cords. “When was the last time you integrated with your dupe?” I asked, hoping he has been encoded.
“The major event dump just the other day. Don’t you remember?”
Tamerra’s experiences since she sent a copy originally are not in my database. I could probe her memories; however, the odds are she will resist, causing her a great deal of pain. “You know I am always hazy after reintegrating. Can we go home please?”
“Sure,” he answers, looking me over. I still do not have the finite details of voice control right. “Let’s get you home where you can rest a while.”
He leads me out of the transfer link station that bears little resemblance to the ones on Tyber. It looks more like a medical clinic. For a moment I wonder if there will be some kind of exam and if it could detect dual personalities. Then I remember the medical staff only provides care when requested or in cases of emergencies.
On the way home I formulate various plans for accessing the files on the Anti-Aggressionist conspiracy and destroying them before the resistance gains too much support. Fortunately, Mike inadvertently cooperates by going online the minute we arrive and bringing up the very files I need. Resistance.com has already gone public, but they are disappointed by the lack of interest shown in their conspiracy theory. Only one of the major news services has agreed to conduct an investigation and sound the warning if they find that the allegations are true.
I cannot let that happen. One of the links on the site catches my attention. “Unencoding.” Mike sees me staring at it and asks if I want to find out what it’s all about. I nod and he brings it up.
They not only know about the encoding but are close to finding a way to undo it. Mike reads about the commands with his jaw hanging slack. “Oh god, we’re being programmed like robots. Good thing we used Slita’s system instead of a public one.”
Unfortunately, that means he’ll need to be forcibly encoded in order to survive the coming occupation. First though, I need to do something about all the information this group has managed to gather. A particularly virulent computer virus would work. Tamerra knows a police site that stores information on the most notorious computer hackers, including a written version of some of their code so investigators can narrow down possible suspects. The only problem is getting Mike out of the way.
Precious minutes go by as I calculate various scenarios. One option only poses a point zero three-percent chance of causing him any serious harm. While he reads the latest updates, I rummage through the closet, find Tamerra’s old police uniform and retrieve the binders.
It is only Mike’s disbelief and my accelerated reflexes that make it possible to cuff him to the banister. “Tae, what the hell are you doing? I mean, I never knew you were into bondage, or anything?” He laughs nervously.
I go to work on the computer, ignoring his steady stream of questions. Once he sees me copy and paste one of the viruses into a new program, he stops and then gasps. “Oh god, Tae...Sweetheart, please listen to me. Something must have gone wrong with the reintegration. We need to get you back to the center and have the doctors take a look at you.”
My Original responds to his pleas by becoming restless and challenging my control. I try to make her understand that once the current threat is dealt with, I will submit to our merge.
She continues to struggle. Stop, she protests. I order you to give me back my body, dammit.
My sixty words a minute programming speed slows as I review my logic. “I cannot. War will cost millions of lives. I cannot permit that.”
“Tae, you’re scaring me. You sound like a god-damn robot...” He watches as my typing speed increases to eighty words a minute. Then he fully realizes what has happened. “Oh god, it’s not possible. Are you Tamerra or a dupe?”
I do not answer. My last comment had been meant only for my Original; I had not meant to speak out loud. The truth will only upset him further. Since I cannot lie, even to comfort him, I decide not to answer. I bring back up the resistance’s web site and continue my efforts to create a virus that will bypass all their security precautions.
“God dammit, dupe! You tell me: does my wife even still exist? Or have you completely replaced her with an android algorithm.”
His voice carries so much emotion. To ease his pain, I assure him that she is just temporarily suppressed. “She will be released as soon as she sees the logic of cooperation,” I promise.
“Not bloody likely,” he mutters at the same time my Original thinks it. I find it curious that they have become so similar in their reactions and speech. But I do not have time to analyze it further. Deleting any evidence of the Tyberian’s plans takes priority.
“What about obeying your Original, huh?” Mike asks.
“The need to obey is overruled by the need to preserve life.”
“Does it occur to you that your actions might hurt a lot of people? Having your mind messed with is harm. Every person they encode is being harmed.”
Of course, he is right. But I have no choice. The discomfort reprogramming causes does not outweigh the danger that war poses.
“Among the information you’re about to destroy are the specs for a planetary shield. It was among the files you sent back from Tyber. Think about it. Slita and her people are Anti-Aggressionists too. They don’t want war. So, they gave us a way to defend ourselves. One that doesn’t require killing anybody.”
He could be lying in order to interfere with my efforts. After all, he can see I’ve added a scrollworm that will follow all the site’s links and e-mail addresses and wipe out everything. However, based on Tamerra’s memories I know that his voice always changes when he tries to lie.
He’s not lying. Tamerra becomes increasingly agitated. Now back off and release me.
Mike sees a chance to get through to his wife and sighs, “Come on, Tae... We’ve been together too long for you not to trust me. It’ll be okay. Just uncuff me.” When I fail to respond, his voice becomes gruff. “Enough is enough. You release control of my wife right now. Do you hear me? I want Tae back. Now!”
I almost obey. But that will mean allowing them to sacrifice themselves...Unless I find a way to encode them both first. The Anti-Aggressionist movement on Earth had been targeting and converting important people that have not sent dupes to Tyber, so there must be a way.
I look up the e-mail address of the nearest Anti-Aggressionist chapter. Peering over my shoulder, Mike sees my message requesting help. Over his protest, I send it and within minutes receive a reply asking what it is I want.
“Tae, What are you doing?” Mike tries to get my attention. Ignoring him, write out a detailed log of how their plans have been discovered and that many are ready to resist violently. “Tamerra dupe one, stop. Tell me what the hell you think you’re doing.”
Since his request does not conflict with my objective I comply. “I cannot retain control of my Original indefinitely, nor can I allow either of you to harm yourselves or others. I am endeavoring to resolve the situation.”
“By doing what? Having me brainwashed? Oh, shit. No thank you.”
I finish my message and prepare to send it.
“Don’t please. Tae, please god, don’t do this.” He leans toward me but cannot reach with the binders holding him. He gives it a tug then forces himself to relax. “You may be under the control of a dupe, but jeez, it’s still a duplicate of my wife. And she’d never do this to me. Christ, after everything we’ve been through...with as much as we love each other, I can’t believe even some demented computer program can make you do this to me. Don’t let them screw with my head. I’d rather die. You know that.”
I stop. Memories of the last few years overpower me. Three years of trying to have a baby. Doctors, fertility clinics and finally filing for adoption--only to be denied because Tamerra was a police offer. Then leaving the force and starting the whole process over.
Somewhere along the line those memories had been erased. More come crashing in all around me as the division between my Original and me, the dupe, begins to blur. Our courtship and the subsequent move to the country so we could raise a family. Working with Mike as an investigative reporter and enjoying all the cloak and dagger adventures.
“Oh, Mike help,” I hear Tamerra gasping now that she’s regained control of her vocal cords. She cancels the message to the Anti-Aggressionists.
I am nearly subordinate to my Original when it occurs to me that it might be possible to protect her after all. If I can engrave my programming not to harm or allow a sentient life to be harmed it would have nearly the same effect as the encoding.
Don’t even think about screwing with my head anymore. Tamerra pushes for the last bit of control. She moves to unbind Mike but I hold her.
Mike watches the tug-of-war between us and suggests. “Bring up the files you flashed. If your dupe has any doubts that it’s messed up that should do it.”
In that action we are in agreement. I stare at the information I was about to destroy. Destroy without even reading first. It does indeed contain instructions for building a planetary defense shield. My logic algorithm must be faulty.
No shit! Now leave me the hell alone.
I become increasing aware of the pain she is in. This duality is tearing her apart. My actions have been in error. Tamerra dupe #1 must complete reintegration. My knowledge and experience belong to her. This dupe has fulfilled its purpose. I will continue only in my Original’s memory, as it should be.