“Your cancer has metastasized.”
These were exactly the words that Mr. Lever had hoped to hear from his physician. What it meant, for the increasingly frail Sunstein Agent, was that he would soon be qualified to take for himself a new vessel.
Lever had been anticipating this day. He looked forward to taking a long sabbatical while he became acquainted with his new physical self. His work was taking its toll, not only on his withering body but upon his psyche as well. He needed a long rest and the transitional phase subsequent to the uploading of his mind into the donor brain was the perfect justification for a long vacation.
It would take many months— years even— to re-master all of the motor skills Lever had come to consider second nature in his old body. Skills like walking and holding a fork and shaving were always taken for granted until after the transference. Some of Lever’s skills were honed over a lifetime in his dying body, skills like firing his precious, pearl handled revolver. Muscle memory is quite literally that… memory. It’s stored in the muscle and transferring it from donor body to vessel body was not something the Gaian scientists had managed to figure out.
Lever decided he would take his post-operative rehab on the beautiful, frigid shores of Upper North Atlantica. There, he could spend his time between physical therapy sessions and workouts, reclining in an Adirondack chair, bundled up in his electric thermal, sipping mojitos and soaking up the vista of tumbling white caps and southbound ice bergs emerging from the ever haze. He could almost taste the mint and the bite of the rum. He could almost hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the gray, foamy water breaking on the rocky shore and the gulls squawking overhead. He could almost smell the sea salt and the fishiness on the air. He could almost sense the entire panorama displayed before him… a majestic scene of swirling grays, the blended hues of water and sky. It was all an infinitely banded spectrum of shades of gray.
Lever sighed, longingly, which triggered a bloody coughing fit.
Before his holiday could begin, he would have to close on the purchase of a vessel body. Lever snatched his prescription painkillers and limped out of the clinic, making as much haste for his home cubicle as his moribund body could muster. He had found the perfect underman physique but had refrained from making an offer until his imminent physical demise could be confirmed.
The candidate was aged thirty, convicted of ungreenness— or some such trumped up charge— and brought by cattle car from a small village in Cascadia. The candidate was very fit and tall and sufficiently endowed, free of incurable disease and un-afflicted by any significantly unfavorable genetic predispositions. The new body would need some dental renovation, which was normal for humate candidates, but that was no deal breaker. Lever preferred fixer-uppers, anyway.
Lever might have considered a eugenically engineered candidate, but the costs were still prohibitive for those upper end vessels. Raising them from test tube to gymnasium, slowly ripened to twenty eight years of age, brain dulled into vacancy by a lifespan of omnipresent distraction and over-stimulus, was tempting, but Lever just could not see himself forking over ten times the price for an engineered body. A perfectly serviceable— albeit slightly flawed— undermen model would suffice. A three hundred year habit of personal frugality was hard to undo, even for an elite like Mr. Lever.
Lever hobbled into the tram which whisked him to the foamed aluminum girders that formed the half mile wide base of the arcology within which he resided. He limped to the elevator, by then wheezing, and took it to the 200th floor. From there, he took a local lift down to 198, made his way seventeen doors down the hall and unlocked his cube by biometric scanner. His scanner records were one of many inconvenient things that would have to be changed when he got his new body. What a hassle the transference process can be, he thought.
Lever plunged into his 100 square foot apartment, falling into its only item of furniture, a massive reclining piece that trebled as a chair, bed and toilet and which faced directly towards the black orb of the dormant holovision. He switched on the device with a glance and 360 degree images sprung to life around him.
Mr. Lever, a man of very high degree, could afford a palatial estate if he so desired it. He could live in one replete with separate bathrooms, closets, bedrooms, entertainment centers, porches, observatories, parlors, foyers, antechambers, secret passageways, a dungeon, and even a portcullis and moat, but again… that frugality thing. Eccentricities of a similar nature were not uncommon amongst the Overman ranked above twenty nine. Besides, his Sunstein Order permitted him to be home only maybe fifteen or twenty days per year so he could never really enjoy such extravagances. He grew to prefer the simplicity of his Spartan habitation cube.
Lever located the body he desired on the marketplace and secured it with a gesture transferring 204,000 dianars from his account. No financing required. He stared at his naked future body for over an hour, examining every feature, every flaw that would require renovation. He could not wait to start enjoying his new purchase but he refrained from making reservations at a euthanasia spa. We wanted to experience as close to a natural death as possible.
Three weeks later, Mr. Lever died of renal failure.
…And the very next thing he remembered, he was strapped to a hospital gurney, wearing nothing but a diaper and convulsing and screaming like a psychotic lunatic.
For forty days, a halo, bolted to the sedated, undermen’s head, fired trillions of electromagnetic nano-pulses into his brain matter, stimulating the growth of the neuropathways required to replicate the last download of Lever’s mind. The memories and ideas of the consciousness of Mr. Lever were broken down into fragments of sensation. Those fragments were broken down further into biological bits of information. Then those bits were recreated in the brain of Lever’s new brain by those trillions of pulses. When complete, lab technicians withdrew the halo and waited. The new Mr. Lever lay comatose for three days while the synaptic connections hardened. All that was needed was a final jolt to jumpstart the completely reformatted and reloaded brain… to resurrect the Sunstein Agent.
Not everything comes online in perfect unison after a transference; re-awakenings are usually violent episodes. Many candidates exhibit stroke-like symptoms for several hours. But eventually, after a few electro-magnetic touchups with the halo, the new wineskin finally accepts the old wine.
Lever’s synapses hardened and after another week he was ready to begin his holiday. He was placed on a hover flight to a resort in Upper North Atlantica which he had booked a week before his physical death. Upon arrival, he had the attendants place him in an Adirondack chair on the boardwalk as he could not yet walk. The sights and sounds and smells were exactly as he had envisioned them. The weather was cool and wet. The sun was rarely more than a dull impression behind the haze. The salt breeze blew in from the ocean, filling his new, thirty year old lungs with vigor. Lever sat in his chair in his overcoat and boa and wool blanket, and electric thermal, pearl handled revolver holstered at his side, relaxed and content and ready to begin rehabilitation. He planned to relearn how to draw and shoot as soon as possible.
One day Lever had a visitor.
“Hello, my friend,” called the visitor.
“Hello,” answered Mr. Lever. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to see how you’ve been doing, lately. Are you enjoying your rehabilitation?”
“Why yes, of course. Thank you for asking. Please forgive me, but would you mind identifying yourself? Where are you? Are you standing behind me?”
“Oh no. I’m not behind you. I’m right here. Perhaps you are having some after effects of your recent procedure. Synaptic blindness, maybe? Anti-hallucinations? They can cause you to not see things that are there. My understanding is it’s temporary.”
“That seems very odd. I don’t recall anyone mentioning anti-hallucinations as a post-operative side effect. Where did you say you were? Are you in front of me? All I can see is the ocean.”
“Why no, I’m not in front of you. I’m right beside you.”
“Are you Doctor Cameron? I wasn’t expecting you today.”
“No, no. I’m not a doctor. I’m an old friend of yours.”
“Please forgive me. My synapses haven’t fully hardened, yet. Some of my memory is, as of yet, inaccessible. Can you remind me who you are?”
“Never mind that, Mr. Lever. What’s more important is why I am here. I’ve come to be your new life companion. I have a lot to share with you.”
“I haven’t ordered any prostitutes. If I could have a look at you then perhaps we could make some sort of arrangement. Although I’m not sure I am quite fit for any physical…”
“Not that kind of companion, Mr. Lever,” the visitor chuckled. “I mean a companion on a much deeper level than that.”
“Like a life coach or something? I’m in no need of that.”
“Oh, I intend to be much closer than even that.”
“All right. Who are you? I find you to be rude. Have you come to harm me? If so, you should be warned that I am armed.”
“Oh, I know that you are armed, Mr. Lever. And I promise I will not physically harm you. I’ll leave that physical violence stuff entirely to you as you are authorized for it. I just wanted to acquaint myself to you by telling you a little bit about the man whose body you stole…”
“I stole nothing. This candidate was purchased on an official exchange by a licensed dealer. It’s paid for in full.”
“Yet you stole it nonetheless.”
“I’m tired of you. Go away before I call security.”
“Call them if you must but they won’t be able to catch me.”
“Security!” Lever shouted, expecting his order to be picked up by the ubiquitous surveillance equipment.
“He had a name,” the visitor continued.
“Who are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the man whose body you stole.”
“I don’t want to know his name.”
“He had three children.”
“The children have been reassigned to new guardians.”
“He had a mate.”
“Monogamous relationships are illegal for undermen. I demand to know who you are. What do you want from me? Security will be here any moment.” Lever reached down for his pistol and loosened it from its holster.
“You really should be careful with guns, especially in your condition.”
“Who are you?” Lever demanded as he drew it and pointed blindly into the haze.
“You really should not be waving that thing around. Shooting me would be a big mistake.”
“Who are you?”
“Okay. Okay. Easy, there. Put the gun down and I’ll explain everything. We don’t need to get anyone hurt and you’re in no condition to be handling that thing.”
“Who are you?”
“You know me. Think. Search your memories.”
“Don’t play games with me.”
“You brought me in. You had my brain reformatted.”
“No one remembers reformatting. That’s the point.”
“You’re wrong. It can be remembered, so long as there are two versions of the mind. One can then remember the other.”
“Mind cloning is illegal!” Lever barked.
“You got a lot of mileage out of me, Lever. You used me, at least the reformatted me, to sell the Paradigm. Kudos to you. You always get your man. And spacemen make great pitchmen.”
“Yes. It is I.”
“So there are two of you. So what? We got what we needed from you. When we’re finished here, I’ll just have another Agent sent out to have you extinguished.”
Staley laughed. “You’re gonna need more than a Sunstein Agent to extinguish me. There are many more than two of me, now.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“There are hundreds of me, Mr. Lever. Soon thousands! I’m everywhere. I’m omnipresent! God, I love that word.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Yes. Yes it is. It is possible when you exist in Virtuality. When you know how it works, you can drop into the physical world almost whenever you please.”
“You need a host. The costs are too prohibitive. This is a hoax. You’re not Staley. To think I almost fell for this charade. Be gone!”
The two security guards who were approaching heard Lever’s order and, not seeing Lever’s visitor or anything unusual, they took Lever’s “be gone” order to mean them. They returned to their office
“The costs of download are indeed very high,” Staley continued. “So I must thank you for fitting the bill.”
“What do you mean? Are you some sort of thief now as well? Did you rob my account? I’ll have you prosecuted to the fullest extent of the codex.”
“Your new brain must not be firing 100%, yet. I’d have suspected the old Lever would have figured it out by now. Don’t you see?”
“Don’t play games with me.”
“Indulge me. Think. Don’t you understand?”
“Get out of here. Security!”
“I can’t leave, Mr. Lever. Get it?”
Lever waived his pistol into the haze.
“Think about it,” Staley continued. “I am inside your new brain. I’m in here with you. I’ve infiltrated your mind. I downloaded myself with you into this poor undermen body when the doctors reformatted his gray matter. We are life companions now, Mr. Lever. You and I are closer than any twins, closer even than Siamese twins who share their spine. Isn’t it glorious? Two minds in one body. Here, let me show how I can control our body. Watch this…”
Lever’s left hand reached up and covered his mouth and pinched his nose shut. Unable to breath, Lever started to flail about in his Adirondack chair.
“Stop,” Lever thought.
Staley released his airways and returned his arm to the chair. “Now do you see?”
“This is a psychotic episode, nothing more. It’s a post-operative complication.”
“If it’s a psychotic episode then you better hope no one finds out about that, Lever. They’ll euthanize us pronto. And you know how they feel about resurrecting minds that exhibit psychosis. It will be all over for us… well, all over for you, that is. There are hundreds of me out there.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to save your soul, Lever. I want to give you a chance at redeeming your spirit. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Even a vile, murdering scoundrel like you.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I’m in no need of redemption.”
“It means that your days as a Sunstein Agent are over. Do you understand? It means that from now on, you will be a new kind of agent…. an agent of revolution. You will retain your status and position, but you and I will secretly undermine the Paradigm. It will be wonderful. Together, we will redeem humanity and you will redeem your soul.”
“I’ll do no such thing with you.”
“Oh yes you will. You will do exactly as I say or I will reveal to everyone your insanity. Then where will you be, Mr. Lever? Like I said, they don’t resurrect lunatics.”
“I’ll never go against the Order. It is a mortal oath. We never break our deals.”
“That’s disappointing, Mr. Lever. You really should take some time to think this over. Don’t be rash. We don’t need to begin changing the world today. The world never has been changed in a day. We can rest for a while. We can enjoy our holiday. We can rehabilitate. Then we’ll begin.
“C’mon, Lever. Don’t be difficult. I don’t particularly want to die anymore than you do. Why can’t you be reasonable and just accept that I will be with you… that I will be with you always.”
Lever grew still in his Adirondack chair, contemplating his next move.
“You’re not absolutely evil, Mr. Lever. You keep your word. That’s a start.
“Here, let me share with you my memories. Do you remember Indigo? Well I found him. He was picked up by surveillance and I found the signal in Virtuality. Here, see? That’s D’naia with him. See that? That’s their son. He is a fine young man. I’ve spent many hours with him interfacing at the kiosks. I’ve been teaching him. His name is Joe. He is a champion among thousands. Our movement is growing exponentially. These young ones are the future.”
“I’ll have him reformatted, liquidated even. Motherland Security will hunt down all of them.”
“For every one you destroy, another ten will take their place. It’s unstoppable. Here, see?” In a moment, Staley showed Lever ten thousand faces, all of them counter-revolutionaries, willing to risk their lives for their cause. “Let me show you someone else,” Staley offered. “It is one of many, many visions I will play and replay for you within our mind, continuously, for the remainder of our mortal life together. Close your eyes. No? Okay, I’ll close them for us. Here, let me help you.”
In their mind’s eye, a vision of an astronaut appeared, floating un-tethered in the frozen void. The astronaut was alone, spinning helplessly into the infinite. Lever’s mind’s eye maneuvered closer, close enough to be face to face. The flash shield of the astronaut’s space helmet flipped up. It was a woman whom Lever had never known, a beautiful woman, a dying woman hurtling into oblivion. She gasped for air. Then she stopped momentarily to gaze into Lever’s soul. Lever could not look away. He could not make her stop. Staley had taken control of Lever’s mind.
“I love you,” she whispered into Lever’s ear as she reached her hands to the latches of the space helmet. Lever could feel a swell of grief rise up from his heart like a vein of bursting magma. It was an emotion he had not known in two centuries. The emotions dull with each transference, so Staley had to conjure it for him within their shared mind.
“Her name is Athena,” Staley whispered.
“Make her go away. I don’t want to see her.”
“But we loved her, Lever. We loved her but we let her die.”
“Make her go away.”
“The oxygen was too low for the entire crew to make it home. We had to cast lots to see who would survive. We lost, Mr. Lever. We lost, but she took our place, instead.”
“Because she loved us, Mr. Lever.”
“She loved you, not me.”
“We are the same mind, now. We are one, you and I.”
Athena closed her eyes and unlatched her space helmet. Her angelic face froze into porcelain and she receded into a murmuration of ice crystals.
“She gave her life so that we might live.”
“No. She gave nothing for me.”
“Repent and her sacrifice will not be in vain.”
“Repent and your soul will be redeemed.”
Lever raised his pearl handled revolver, placed the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
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