A story in 10 parts
Chapters 1 and 2 were published in Shoreline of Infinity 30.
Chapters 3 to 10 are released fortnightly for free on the website.
The novella Approaching Human will be published in paperback in Autumn 2022.
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Approaching Human 7: At the Grave Garden
Patrick Lyle and I3 passed beneath the wrought-iron archway of the Long Island grave garden and strolled through the trees. An ineffable sense of calm hung over the impeccably manicured glades.
“Do you really think that Hans copied his identity to the data pin, Mr Zorn?”
“There’s always that possibility.”
“If so…” He hesitated, and held the pin out on the flat of his hand. “Does this contain the real Hans Tallis?”
“I suppose the only answer to that question is another one: what is real?”
“But if it’s a copy, how can that be the original?”
“It isn’t the original. But then you didn’t ask if it was. You asked if it might contain the real Hans Tallis.”
He nodded. We walked on.
“Tell me … as an AI, you must make copies of yourself as a matter of course.”
“That’s right,” I3 said. “As security backups.”
“So are the copies of you the real Rob Zorn? I mean, do they consider themselves…” He stopped there, smiling to himself. “Silly question! Of course they consider themselves real, even though they know they’re not the original.”
“As a matter of fact, I am a copy of the ‘original’ Rob Zorn, who you met a couple of hours ago at your apartment. I know I’m not the original, but I consider myself real. After all, what is a sentient entity but a cache of identity signifiers, memories, emotions? Whether those attributes reside in a biological or mechanical nexus is irrelevant.”
“I suppose,” he said, “it comes down to whether you acknowledge the existence of an immortal soul.”
“I suppose it does,” I3 conceded.
We strolled on towards the sapling beneath which the ashes of Hans Tallis were interred.
“I guess what I’m driving at,” Patrick said, “is whether the version of the man I loved, Hans Tallis, is…” He waved a hand in frustration.
“If the data pin does indeed contain the cognitive identity of Hans,” I3 said, “then the Hans we’re about to meet has memories of your time together. He’ll have compassion, empathy, the ability to feel love.”
He stared at me3, stricken. “But what will that matter if I can’t … if I can’t – ”
“Hold him?” I3 finished, thinking of Mona.
“Yes,” he said. “Hold him.”
“But you will be able to, in VR.”
He stared at me3. “I will? In VR? Will that be possible?”
I3 assured him that it would be. “And you won’t be able to tell the virtual experience apart from the real.”
I3 pointed ahead to a slim oak standing in a shaded glade. “I think we’re here.”
We halted before the tree and the terminal stalk that rose beside it.
“I’m nervous,” he said.
“Go ahead. You’ve nothing to fear. I’ll give you two some time alone.”
I3 collapsed my3 avatar, but hung a few feet away, looking on.
Hesitantly, he reached out and inserted the data pin into the terminal’s port, then stepped back as the figure of a tall, slim man with a golden beard materialised beside the sapling.
“Hans…” Patrick said.
The tall man smiled. “Patrick… I did wonder if you’d be able to … to face this. It’s good to see you.”
“Hans…” Patrick repeated, reaching out, but staying his hand before it discovered the lie of the projection.
“You waited a while,” Hans said in mock reprimand.
“I came here,” Patrick said, “but I never used the pin. I … I was unsure whether I wanted to … to – ”
“I understand completely. And you know something? I wouldn’t have been at all put out if you decided you didn’t want to…”
“The shock… And then to find out…”
“I know, my love.”
“Where have you been? ” Patrick asked. “I mean … where do you exist?”
The golden-haired man smiled. “In my thoughts,” he said, “in the rich universe of my memories. But you know, we could meet in VR, if you’d like that?”
“More than anything in the world,” Patrick whispered.
“But first of all … I need to know how it happened? My death.”
Patrick nodded, swallowed, then haltingly described the fateful morning he’d received the call. “But you knew there was a risk when you agreed to the procedure,” he said. “So why didn’t you tell me?”
The projection of Hans Tallis raised a hand. “Angel DiMatteo said there was a minimal risk. I assessed those risks and decided to go ahead. I … I didn’t want to worry you.”
“You could have at least talked it through with me.”
“I know, Patrick. I’m sorry.” He smiled. “I know how you worry over nothing.”
“Not nothing in this case, you bozo.”
“Anyway,” Hans said, “after I’d undergone the upload procedure, I found out that the risk was greater than DiMatteo had let on. Jake Carrelli contacted me, said he needed to talk.”
“Jake,” Patrick murmured.
“So we met – just the day before I died, as it turned out.”
“What did he want?”
“He wasn’t specific, but he was unsure about the upload, and what DiMatteo was telling him – ”
“Hans,” Patrick said, interrupting, “Jake himself underwent the upload procedure just days after you passed.”
Hans shook his head. “Jake did? But…” He looked confused.
“And on the same day as the upload,” Patrick said, “he disappeared.”
Hans took this in, then shook his head. “But I’m sure, given what he told me, that he wouldn’t have undergone the process voluntarily.”
At this stage, I3 hovered close to Patrick and murmured, “If you’d introduce me to Hans – explain why I’m here – I’d like to question him.”
Patrick nodded, and as I3 activated my3 persona and materialised beside him, he told Hans who I3 was and the nature of my3 investigation.
“Good to meet you, Mr Zorn,” he said.
“So you think that Angel DiMatteo might have coerced Jake Carrelli into undergoing the procedure?” I3 asked.
He gestured. “I can’t see how he would have readily agreed.”
“And yet everyone I’ve spoken to said he volunteered because he believed in the project.”
“He believed in the theory, Mr Zorn. He was less gung ho when it came to the practice. And he was uneasy about something else. You see, we were denied access to the clinic in the basement of the OmniScience building. Only DiMatteo and a trusted team of techs had access to the area.”
I3 looked from Patrick to Hans, then asked, “Did Jake have any idea what DiMatteo and her team were working on in there?”
“He didn’t say – but he did speculate that there were players behind DiMatteo bigger than the directors of OmniScience.”
“Was that just a suspicion,” I3 asked, “or did he have some hard evidence?”
“In his investigations,” Hans said, “he discovered that the project was being bankrolled by the corporation behind the ASA mission to Mars.”
“I wonder why ASA might be interested in the project?”
Hans spread his hands and smiled. “Join the club.”
For the next half hour, I3 quizzed Hans Tallis about every aspect of the project, and his conversations with Jake Carrelli. I3 learned nothing more than what I3’d discovered so far: that Carrelli had been suspicious of DiMatteo’s motives, and that ASA were funding OmniScience’s work on the project.
Later, I3 thanked Hans and Patrick. “I’ll leave you two to catch up,” I3 said, before collapsing my3 avatar and leaving the grave garden.
I3 contacted Ed Carrelli and arranged to meet in the real world.
He was waiting on the rooftop bar of the Flatiron Building, gazing south over Manhattan, when I3 turned up.
“Anything on the investigation?” he asked.
“Plenty, but I’m not sure where it gets us.”
I3 gave him everything I3 knew, and then said, “So the more I look into it, the more I think DiMatteo and OmniScience are not only behind Jake’s disappearance, but have something bigger to hide.”
“And ASA’s involvement?”
“The copying process might be useful in spaceflight missions,” I3 said, “but I’m only speculating.”
“So what next?”
“I need to give that some thought,” I3 said, “but there’s one thing I need to know, Ed.”
“Jake and Ella’s marriage was on the rocks, right?”
Ed grimaced. “You worked that out too?”
“I know Ella was having an affair,” I3 told him. “Thing is, was Ed seeing anyone? It might not be important, but I’d like to follow up all the leads.”
“As it happens, he was head over heels with a colleague at OmniScience.”
“You don’t happen to know her name?”
“Sure, Jake mentioned her once or twice – LaFay,” he said. “LaFay Oyeyemi.”
Ed ordered another drink and we chatted as the sun went down over the city.
Eric Brown has published over seventy books. His latest is Murder Most Vile, and later this year is the SF novel Wormhole, written with Keith Brooke. Also with Brooke, the Enigma Season quartet of novellas is forthcoming from PS Publishing. He lives near Dunbar in Scotland.
His website is at: ericbrown.co.uk
Artwork: Mark Toner
Approaching Human by Eric Brown is a serial in 10 parts. Episodes 1 & 2 were first published in Shoreline of Infinity 30, and subsequent episodes will be published fortnightly on the website from the 7th June onwards.