Chapter 53: I Said to Myself, "Self..."
Meanwhile (or elsewhile), while our other heroes were dashing from
trans-dimensional pillar to cross-continuum post, braving mountain
passes, and fighting flying tigers, Robbie has been having a very
Robbie confirms to the Djinnistani Ambassador his wish to see the cities of Djinnistan. He then feels himself sucked into a rushing vortex. After a bit, he realizes that he has been standing for some time in a quiet place overlooking a great, multi-layered city. The city bustles with traffic and gleams with green and gold. Lots of the material looks like precious or semi-precious stone and metal, and the architecture runs to domes and spires a lot. There is a waterfall behind the city, lots of which is built on wide metal plates that float in mid-air.
That air has a lot of traffic, mostly in the form of birds -- peacocks, Birds of Paradise, and "firebirds" -- that is, birds that seem quiet content to have all their feathers burning. Robbie also notes lots of air-gondolas and long, delicate bridges. He sees a boat sail off the top of the waterfall, into the air.
The subject of air traffic makes Robbie notice that he is, himself, floating in mid-air. As soon as he notices this, he starts to drop in a classic example of cartoon physics. However, he can fly just fine when he thinks to, and so no harm is done. As he regains his hover, he sees the Ambassador calmly walking down the air toward him, as if down invisible stairs. She explains that this is Djinnibad, the capital of Djinnistan. Robbie politely says that it's lovely, and she explains that she chose this arrival point for the nice view. Is Robbie ready to continue? "Absolutely." The Ambassador companionably takes his elbow and escorts him down the air.
They touch down on a balcony running around the waist of a hugh, gilded onion-dome. Robbie's feet make a satisfying clang and he stops levitating. The Ambassador asks if there's anything in particular he wanted to see. No, he's just generally curious. Should he just wander about? "Oh, I don't think that would be wise."
She leads him around the walkway. He follows and gives himself a systems check. Everything's fine, but he has the nagging feeling he's missing something. When he tries to isolate oddities, he lights on the clanging sound his feet make on the walkway. For the first time, he realizes that he is no longer in the humanoid Sim body he's been using for months. He is back in the turret-like, heavy-duty body he was long accustomed to adventure in on behalf of his Time Patrol. How did that happen?
Detailed inspection shows that this body is, in fact, a touch more humanoid than his original chassis, but still ... how did that happen? "What happened to my body?" he asks.
"I'm sure it's fine," the Ambassador replies.
"This isn't the one I had in Vinyagarond."
"I hadn't noticed." Believable. She has shifted shape herself. Rather than looking like a pixie-dusted human or a black silhouette full of stars, she now looks somewhat metallic in skin-tone. "Is it important?" she asks.
"Yes..." He explains he is not used to changing shape ... so ... often. She sympathizes; it must be very trying to be shape-lame.
Experimentally, he tries to morph back into the Sim shape. He becomes still more humanoid, but he retains a hard, shiny veneer, in the black-and-silver colors he had in his original body. "I normally can't do that," he remarks thoughtfully. He doesn't quite know how to react. It's bad to have misplaced one's body, but to be able to shapeshift is undeniably cool.
She leads him through a doorway, into the interior of the dome. Another walkway circles it inside. It's big. VERY big. As in, too big to fit into the exterior he just now saw, vast though that was.
Huh. "Very big" is not how Robbie usually estimates size. Usually, he gets a numerical value out of his parallax routine. As soon as he reflects on this, an exact value of the distance to the far wall -- 324.3 meters -- pops into his mind.
Suspicious, he re-does his systems check. Everything's fine. He feels sure. Only... He didn't get his usual report from an actual subcommittee of little processors. He just feels nothing's wrong with him. He is starting to doubt this.
He tries out his zoom lenses on the far wall. The view zooms in nicely. Then he realizes that he is standing in mid-air again, and it's not the view that zoomed in, but he that zoomed out. The Ambassador flicks into position at his side. While he floats over the railing and back onto the inside walkway, he makes a concerted effort to find and interrogate some of his peripheral processors. He fails.
This could be very bad. On the other hand, traveling by zoom lens has its attractions.
Laying that aside for the moment, he looks down, on the floor of the dome. There, he sees an odd scattering of objects on the vast floor -- furniture, large vases, clumps of potted plants and very large indoor gardens and pools. The Ambassador leads him out onto a sort of spur off the walkway, which smoothly descends to this floor. She then offers to show him the gardens.
She leads him to a view of a big park. Their path takes them onto a huge flying carpet of intricately figured foil. It conveys them down to the park proper and merges into the tile pattern on the walkway. They are by a very large fountain, full of somewhat baroque sculpture and dramatic water jets.
Robbie looks around and experimentally tries launching his third eye. He succeeds! He sends it out to examine the sculptures in the fountain, then retrieves it. He plucks it out of the air with his hand and examines it. His original third eye was a little metallic ball with a lens on the front and a bit of antenna wire trailing. This one looks more like ... well, an eyeball. Green iris. He tries to make the eyeball transparent. It just winks at him. Which is disconcerting, since it hadn't any lid before or after the wink.
He tries launching another eye, for a grand total of four, counting the two in his head and the one in his hand. Yes, he can do that, but it costs. For the first time, he appreciates what vertigo is directly, not just as something coming over the telepathy net from unfortunate human companions. He tries closing the eye in his hand. It develops a lid and closes. He sneaks a glance at the Ambassador; she doesn't appear to find anything odd.
They move on and Robbie now notices several other people in the park. (He's almost sure they weren't there before. He tries making a frame-by-frame examination of his recent visual record, but can't, though he gets some very clear visual memories of the immediate past.) They pass a vaguely Victorian fellow in top hat and fangs, with metallic gold skin. Then a young woman in Arabic garb, with cloud for hair. They pass around a clump of trees and see another fountain, this one with heraldic dolphins. In the middle distance is a couple; you'd think the lady must know her dress is on fire, so it must be okay with her...
He tries leaning up against a tree. Yes, he can, so he's palpable. He then tries zooming in on the dolphin fountain while leaning against the tree. Then he looks back. He gets another first-hand dose of vertigo, plus a side-order of queasiness. It all ends up with him standing by the Ambassador near the tree, and it's not clear what happened. He asks for a place to rest.
Sure. Would he like a view of fire or water? This turns out to mean fountains spouting one or the other element, and since the fire seems real enough in terms of heat, Robbie picks water. She then shows him to a copse of trees with a nice little bungalow in it, with a view of a (water) fountain. The bungalow is small but ornate, with only a couple of rooms and lots of glass. "How do I pay for it?" Robbie asks.
The Ambassador tilts her head and answers that the djinn don't bother with economics on such a small scale. Fine. Robbie asks for a couple of hours' privacy. She shows him a small silver bell on a crystal tray. This will summon any assistance he may need. Then -- pop -- she's gone.
Robbie tries to recall the images of the people he saw in the garden. He gets very clear memories, but not the usual, neat, time-indexed datastream. He tries focusing on the images and decomposing them into pixels. After a while, he thinks he succeeds, but he may be just imagining the pixels, not remembering them.
Okay, how about these eyes? He sits down and tries launching three eyeballs. He can, but it still means vertigo. He takes one and pokes at it. He can feel it with his finger, but there's no sensation of being poked in an eye. He tries to examine the feeling of vertigo. It's not like error messages from his gyroscopes. It doesn't seem to be coming from any identifiable data channel. He doesn't seem to have any identifiable data channels.
He tries pushing his hand through the table, to see if he can be impalpable if he wants to be. Not apparently.
He tries rezzing up an ectoplastic sphere. Yes, he can. But he would have expected a shiny white plastic-looking thing. This one is rather sparkly and gold-toned. Hm. Well, call it a win anyway.
He tries doing cyberclair on himself. He gets that totally absent result that would indicate the system is simply not there, or is down. But he is the system. Isn't he?
Meanwhile, the rest of the party is making its way down into the valley. Rounding a curve, we come on a scenic view across the valley to the city in the distance. There are trees, bushes, and flowers of both mundane and fantastic varieties, and our newly-acquired pixie buzzes about, examining them. Salimar notes a gateway in the middle distance, and launches a clairvoyant viewpoint out over it. The gate is wooden, with some ornate carving, the doors standing open. Beyond is a sort of boardwalk along the slope, with the valley beyond and below. Tethered to the boardwalk -- or dock -- are two boats, floating in mid-air, like fantastical variations on a Venetian gondola.
Soon, the whole party is aboard, except for the large and (fortunately) winged dragon and gargoyle. Dafnord soon figures out how to manipulate the tiller so as to control speed and direction, and the party coasts, a little unsteadily, over the valley, rather than taking the long way around on the road.
Once we're out and about, we spot some similar air-boats in the distance, plus some moving lights that could be anything, and a giant bird of the raptor persuasion, and three winged serpents. Salimar says these last might have been represented in the murals of the first guardhouse (or whatever it was) they stopped at.
We dock on one of the floating strata of the city, without grave misadventure. Salimar dowses for Robbie and gets a clear bearing on him. Our arrival has drawn some curious on-lookers, but not a huge crowd, since we can hardly look stranger than they do themselves, on almost any criteria. Some are animal-headed. A number have golden metallic skin. One appears to be made of flame, barely contained in skin of soap-bubble. A few look pretty normal. Costumes vary wildly, as do sizes.
The pixie notices one on-looker who appears to be carved of wood. As Salimar the Diplomat waves in friendly fashion to the small crowd, Daphne buzzes over to the wooden man and says hello. After he returns the greeting, she asks, "Do you live here?" "Of course." "I came from a long way away." "So I'd imagine." She nods back at the rest of us; "They're looking for someone." "Did they bring you?" "I don't know?" she answers, which puzzles the wooden man. He looks us over, lingering on Braeta and the dragon. Daphne asks him what tree he's made of. He isn't; he's just wood.
The pixie gives up and flits after the rest of the party, now off the boat and following Salimar up a ramp/street to another part of the city. Shortly, we come to the gardens and home in on Robbie's bungalow near the fountain. We knock.
Inside, Robbie awakes (!) feeling a little disoriented and not at all the way he usually feels after going off-line for a bit of batch processing. He is understandably surprised to see the lot of us at his door, plus a pixie he's never met, plus the dragon at full size, plus...
"Robbie?" asks Salimar uncertainly, since Robbie does not look as he used to. "How'd you guys get here?" he asks. Salimar, now confident that this is Robbie, says, "We, uh, have you here..."
We now point out to his body to him, strapped to the dragon. He gapes. He sputters. He listens in horrified fascination as Salimar and Gannar catch him up on our recent events. He catches us up on his recent events and demonstrates the fluid nature of his current form by flowing slightly. (Only slightly. He may be ... setting.)
We go inside and Robbie rings the service bell. The Ambassador herself appears, sees who's here, and asks if it was wise to bring Robbie's body. We say we thought it was necessary if we were to put him back together. We also ask if Robbie could even exist in any other realm, now. She believes he would have no trouble existing in Faerie or the mundane world.
The next question is whether or not Robbie even wants to try going back into his old body. He tells us some more about his recent experiences, including apparent new powers, and demonstrates his ability to toss out arbitrary numbers of flying eyeballs. Salimar snatches one out of the air, which causes Robbie considerable vertigo.
Dafnord asks the Ambassador if she could return Robbie to his body. It would be difficult, especially if she tried it in the mundane realm.
Gannar examines Robbie. He can't make telemetric contact. There are no access seams or hatches in the new body.
Experimentally, Robbie tries spawning a process into his old body. He gets some contact with a few peripherals that are on standby, but that's it. After all, the main processor, Robbie's erstwhile brain, is still down. After some discussion, we power it up again.
Robbie telepaths at his old body, which is sitting up and looking around. "Who are you?" Robbie 1.1 asks of the original Robbie 1.0. "I'm you," he replies. "No, I'm me," the new one insists. Telepathy reveals it/he is still very confused. Robbie 1.0 tries to explain the situation and compares the results to process spawning. "No, it's very different," V1.1 insists.
Still in the spirit of experiment, Salimar tries driving the telepathic contact all the way down to the id level. This lets the two Robbies update each other's memories, but no mind-fusion results. V1.1 is still thinking about that Rembrandt he saw a few minutes ago (by his internal clock). It still "means" something important to him, but he doesn't know what.
As it becomes clearer and clearer that V1.1 is a new and distinct personality that doesn't want to merge or go away, Robbie declares himself unwilling to force either of these on his new "twin."
Salimar asks Gannar about the transportability of AIs, considered as software. In the technologies he knows -- including Robbie's -- they just aren't transportable. With such huge systems, no two have truly identical hardware, and AIs "customize" themselves to their unique brains.
So we are left contemplating what to do next. Leave well enough alone? Try to put Robbie into a fresh, new, blank body? In which case, how? Hm.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.