Short Story: Vulnerable (Part IV)

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“She won’t die, exactly,” Elaine said. “Hadaly-Actual is here and she’ll live on.”

“Aren’t we obliged to at least try?”

“No,” the two AI’s said in unison.

“It is Hadaly’s persona, her decision,” Elaine said.

“I know we don’t have time to get down to brass-tacks about the definition of what-is-alive, but right now Hadaly…Eigen happens to be alive and at least I can tell you that she’s freaking sentient and not the same as Hadaly-Actual and you’re going to tell me that’s not enough to at least attempt to save her?”

“I can trigger the EMP manually,” Hadaly-Eigen said. “It will obtain the desired result.”

“That’s suicide!”

“I could let Actual explain,” Hadaly-Eigen said—eliciting a soft chuckle from Hadaly-Actual—shrugging her simulacrum’s shoulders, “but I think you’d better hear it from me instead. What do you think happens when I split my personality across the network into autonomous intelligences and we separate from each other.

“Eventually my eigensisters and I, much like Hadaly-Actual and I now, separate across time. As more time passes the further we diverge from each other, at what point do we become different people? As often as I diverge myself, I also merge myselves, when I split into two eigenselves and then some indefinite time later merge them again is one of them dying and the other living, are both dying and a new person emerging?

“Sure. In the past one hundred and forty-four hours I’ve had some critical and life-changing experiences, but I can pass those onto Actual. All this would be no different.”

“I know it’s the eleventh-hour,” Frog said, leaning close to the phone on her side. “But you know that’s when Elaine works best, that’s the moment she comes through. We can still save her…you. You don’t have to kill yourself.”

“I’m not actually dying.”

“And she’s not killing herself,” said Hadaly-Actual, “her unique experience will remain and I shall combine their residue with my persona, emerging a new me yet again. The continuity of our existence will not be broken. In a way, this is not unlike when you go to sleep at night and your brain filters through your experiences to decide what to store in long-term memory and what to discard.

The only difference is that you don’t realize in the morning there were two time-separate instantiations of you; unlike now when you can see me side-by-side with my eigenself.

“Don’t cry for me, Frog,” Hadaly-Eigen said, “I never really left you.”

“Oh, shove the Evita and let Elaine save you!”

“Five minutes,” Zane said. “How did the anti-viral inoculants do?”

“Minimal effect,” Elaine said, her voice clipped short in a sort of hurried breathlessness. As each new vector appeared she quickly shot them down, using the Enoch to predict the mutations as they went, but she couldn’t stop all of them. The result of this necessity meant she couldn’t involve herself in the Frog vs. Hadaly philosophical discussion. She had little time to think. The grayed conduit had begun to turn almost entirely cherry red, small tendrils of crimson began to reach from it into the internal substructure of the Death Star. “I’m losing her…the infection is progressing logarithmically. I’m decreasing the bitrate to retard its address speed.”

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” Hadaly-Eigen said, “but all those moments need not be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

“Hadaly, what the hell,” Frog said. The chair she sat in spun and crashed to the floor as she stood and paced with frantic motion. “No, oh hell no.” Her finger stabbed accusingly at the window. “You don’t get to quote Rutger Hauer and that makes it okay. Elaine, do something!”

“I am doing something,” Elaine said.

“You have to admit it’s a sexy quote, though, don’t you?” Hadaly-Eigen said.

Even Elaine can’t keep up with the virus,” said Hadaly-Actual. “In another minute there’ll be nothing left of me in there. Frog, I hope you’ll forgive us.

Hadaly-Eigen cackled. “It was nice knowing you. Time to die.”

“Wait!” Frog shouted and banged her hand against the glass.

The eyes on the android-chassis flashed open, the articulated pupil beneath dilated wide while registering the world for the last time. A slight smile trimmed her lips as she gazed distantly at Elaine, teeth clenched, muscles stiff with concentration as she waged her valiant but futile battle against the arcanovirus in the virtual simulation space.

“Core dumped,” Hadaly-Eigen said aloud.

The spinning magnets inside of the eldritch-EMP generator decreased rotational speed, weakening their fix until they lost grip on their suspension pole and fell. Between heartbeats, the magnets hit the flux inside the resonance chamber and rapidly restructured the magnetic bottle, it warped outwards—lines of force emerged like fey-fire, leaping in connecting curves from surface to surface across the room.

Elaine watched the virtual space wash away as she found herself thrown with nausea-inducing suddenness back into the MachineBay and out of the virtual environment. Small arcs of electricity still danced across the metal surfaces and one jumped into her exposed hand when it drifted too close to the workbench. The sting made her recoil and rub the affected skin. The Enoch blinked at her belt as it cycled through its EMP defense mode. As the hardening deactivated the HUD in her goggles came back online, overlaying the lab with augmented-reality information and then reestablished the Cathedral effect connection to Frog, Zane, and Hadaly-Actual.

“I’m still here,” she said. The Enoch finished its scans for the presence of the arcanovirus; finding none, it reported the same to her HUD. “Viral presence-load is zero. We’ve successfully wiped it out.”

“And Hadaly?” asked Frog.

Elaine’s eyes shifted to the still android-chassis on the table. Her fingers strayed to the CAT5e cables that connected to the neural-nexus in her chest; the familiar tingle did not emerge into her fingertips. She felt a distinct sense of loss, like she were staring down into the face of a dead friend.

As an almost ritual gesture, she reached up and closed the android’s eyes with two fingers.

“Hadaly-Eigen is terminated.”

Long live Hadaly,” the AI said.

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