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|Sub-Genre Tags:||Mind Uploading|
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In a perilous future where disposable duplicate bodies fulfill every legal and illicit whim of their decadent masters, life is cheap. No one knows that better than Albert Morris, a brash investigator with a knack for trouble, who has sent his own duplicates into deadly peril more times than he cares to remember.
But when Morris takes on a ring of bootleggers making illegal copies of a famous actress, he stumbles upon a secret so explosive it has incited open warfare on the streets of Dittotown.
Dr. Yosil Maharal, a brilliant researcher in artificial intelligence, has suddenly vanished, just as he is on the verge of a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. Maharal's daughter, Ritu, believes he has been kidnapped-or worse. Aeneas Polom, a reclusive trillionaire who appears in public only through his high-priced platinum duplicates, offers Morris unlimited resources to locate Maharal before his awesome discovery falls into the wrong hands.
To uncover the truth, Morris must enter a shadowy, nightmare world of ghosts and golems where nothing -and no one-is what they seem, memory itself is suspect, and the line between life and death may no longer exist.
A Good Head for Wine
...or how Monday's green ditto brings home fond memories of the river...
It's hard to stay cordial while fighting for your life, even when your life doesn't amount to much.
Even when you're just a lump of clay.
* * *
Some kind of missilea stone I guesssmacked the brick wall inches away, splattering my face with stinging grit. There wasn't any shelter to cower behind, except an overstuffed trash can. I grabbed the lid and swung it around.
Just in time. Another slug walloped the lid, denting plastic instead of my chest.
Someone had me nailed.
Moments ago, the alley had seemed a good place to hide and catch my breath. But now its chill darkness betrayed me instead. Even a ditto gives off some body heat. Beta and his gang don't carry guns into this part of townthey wouldn't darebut their slingshots come equipped with infrared sights.
I had to flee the betraying darkness. So while the shooter reloaded, I raised my makeshift shield and dashed for the bright lights of Odeon District.
It was a risky move. The place swarmed with archies, dining at cafs or milling about near classy theaters. Couples strolled arm-in-arm along the quay, enjoying a riverside breeze. Only a few coloreds like me could be seenmostly waiters serving their bland-skinned betters at canopied tables.
I wasn't going to be welcome in this zone, where owners throng to enjoy their long, sensuous lives. But if I stayed on back streets I'd get hacked into fish food by my own kind. So I took a chance.
Damn. It's crowded, I thought, while picking a path across the plaza, hoping to avoid brushing against any of the sauntering archies. Though my expression was earnestas if I had a legit reason to be thereI must have stood out like a duck among swans, and not just because of skin color. My torn paper clothes drew notice. Anyway, it's kind of hard to move delicately while brandishing a battered trash lid between your vitals and the alley behind you.
A sharp blow struck the plastic again. Glancing back, I saw a yellow-hued figure lower his slingshot to load another round. Furtive shapes peered from the shadows, debating how to reach me.
I plunged into the crowd. Would they keep shooting and risk hitting a real person?
Ancient instinctseared into my clay body by the one who made meclamored to run. But I faced other dangers nowfrom the archetype human beings surrounding me. So I tried to perform all the standard courtesies, bowing and stepping aside for couples who wouldn't veer or slow down for a mere ditto.
I had a minute or two of false hopes. Women chiefly looked past me, like I didn't exist. Most of the men were more puzzled than hostile. One surprised chap even made way for me, as if I were real. I smiled back. I'll do the same for your ditto someday, chum.
But the next fellow wasn't satisfied when I gave him right of way. His elbow planted a sharp jab, en passant, and pale eyes glittered, daring me to complain.
Bowing, I forced an ingratiatingly apologetic smile, stepping aside for the archie while I tried to focus on a pleasant memory. Think about breakfast, Albert. The fine odors of coffee and fresh-baked muffins. Simple pleasures that I might have again, if I made it through the night.
"I" will definitely have them again, said an inner voice. Even if this body doesn't make it.
Yes, came a reply. But that won't be me. Not exactly.
I shook off the old existential quandary. Anyway, a cheap utility rox like me can't smell. At the moment, I could barely grasp the concept.
The blue-eyed fellow shrugged and turned away. But the next second, something struck pavement near my left foot, ricocheting across the plaza.
Beta had to be desperate, shooting stones at me amid a throng of real citizens! People glanced around. Some eyes narrowed toward me.
And to think, this morning started so well.
I tried to hurry, making a few more meters farther across the plaza before I was stopped by a trio of young menwell-dressed young archiesintentionally blocking my path.
"Will you look at this mule?" the tall one said. Another, with fashionably translucent skin and reddish eyes, jabbed a finger at me. "Hey, ditto! What's the rush? You can't still be hoping for an afterlife! Who's gonna want you back, all torn up like that?"
I knew how I must look. Beta's gang had pummeled me good before I managed to escape. Anyway, I was only an hour or two short of expiration and my cracking pseudoflesh showed clear signs of enzyme decay. The albino guffawed at the trash can lid I was wielding as a shield. He sniffed loudly, wrinkling his nose.
"It smells bad, too. Like garbage. Spoilin' my appetite. Hey! Maybe we have cause for a civil complaint, you reckon?"
"Yeah. How about it, golem?" the tall one leered. "Give us your owner's code. Cough up a refund on our dinner!"
I raised a placating hand. "Come on, fellas. I'm on an urgent errand for my original. I really do have to get home. I'm sure you hate it when your dittos are kept from you."
Beyond the trio, I glimpsed the bustle and noise of Upas Street. If only I could make it to the taxi stand, or even the police kiosk on Defense Avenue. For a small fee they'd provide refrigerated sanctuary, till my owner came for me.
"Urgent, eh?" the tall one said. "If your rig still wants you, even in this condition, I'll bet he'd pay to get you back, eh?"
The final teen, a stocky fellow with deep brown skin and hair done in a wire cut, appeared more sympathetic.
"Aw, leave the poor greenie alone. You can see how badly it wants to get home and spill. If we stop it, the owner may fine us."
A compelling threat. Even the albino wavered, as if about to back off.
Then Beta's shooter in the alley fired again, hitting my thigh below the shielding trash can lid.
Anyone who has duped and inloaded knows that pseudoflesh can feel pain. Fiery agony sent me recoiling into one of the youths, who pushed me away, shouting.
"Get off, you stinky thing! Did you see that? It touched me!"
"Now you'll pay, you piece of clay," added the tall one. "Let's see your tag."
Still shuddering, I managed to hobble around so he stood between me and the alley. My pursuers wouldn't dare shoot now, and risk hitting an archie.
"Fool," I said. "Can't you see I've been shot?"
"So?" The albino's nostrils flared. "My dits get mangled in org-wars all the time. You don't see me griping about it. Or bringing a fight to the Odeon, of all places! Now let's see that tag."
He held out a hand and I reflexively reached for the spot under my forehead where the ID implant lay. A golem-duplicate has to show his tag to a realperson, on demand. This incident was going to cost me... that is, it would cost my maker. The semantic difference would depend on whether I made it home in the next hour.
"Fine. Call a cop or arbiter," I said, fumbling at the flap of pseudo-skin. "We'll see who pays a fine, punk. I'm not playing simbat games. You're impeding the double of a licensed investigator. Those shooting at me are real criminals... "
I glimpsed figures emerging from the alley. Yellow-skinned members of Beta's gang, straightening paper garments and trying to look innocuous amid the crowd of strolling archies, bowing and giving way like respectful errand boys, not worth noticing. But hurrying.
Damn. I never saw Beta this desperate before.
"...and my brain holds evidence that may be crucial in solving an important case. Do you want to be responsible for preventing that?"
Two of the teens drew back, looking unsure. I added pressure. "If you don't let me get about my owner's business, he'll post a charge for restraint of legal commerce!"
We were attracting a crowd. That could slow Beta's bunch, but time wasn't on my side.
Alas, the third punkwith the artificially translucent skinwasn't daunted. He tapped his wrist screen.
"Giga. I got enough juice in the bank to cover a blood fine. If we're gonna pay this dit's owner, let's have the joy of shutting it down hard."
He seized my arm, clenching with the strength of well-toned musclesreal muscles, not my anemic imitations. The grip hurt, but worse was knowing I'd overplayed my hand. If I'd kept my mouth shut, they might have let me go. Now the data in this brain would be lost and Beta would win after all.
The young man cocked his fist dramatically, playing for the crowd. He meant to snap my neck with a blow.
Someone muttered, "Let the poor thing go!" But a noisier contingent egged him on.
Just then a crash reverberated across the courtyard. Voices cursed harshly. Onlookers turned toward a nearby restaurant, where diners at an outdoor table hopped away from a mess of spilled liquid and shattered glassware. A green-skinned busboy dropped his tray and murmured apologies, using a rag to wipe glittering shards off the upset customers. Then he slipped, taking one of the infuriated patrons along with him in a spectacular pratfall. Laughter surged from the crowd as the restaurant's matredit rushed out, berating the greenie and seeking to appease the wet clients.
For an instant no one was looking at me except the albino, who seemed miffed over losing his audience.
The waiter hammed it up, continuing to dab at upset archies with a sodden cloth. But for a...
Copyright © 2002 by David Brin
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