“The Policeman's Daughter” by Wil McCarthy
The courier didn't come bearing packages, or letters marked Carmine Strange Douglas, esq., Adjudicant, Juris Doctor and Attorney at Law. He didn't need to. Instead, he came barreling down the hallway like a team of horses, shouting "Door!" at the wall of my office. When a rectangle of frosted glass appeared and swung inward, he jumped inside.
"Carmine. I have something for you," he panted.
"Did you run all the way over here?" I asked him. "There are quicker ways—"
But the courier didn't answer. Instead, he approached the fax machine—a vertical plate of gray material, vaguely shimmery in the wellstone light of my office—and said, "Reconverge." Then he threw himself at the plate and vanished with a faint blue sizzle.
Reconverge, hell. I'd sent two couriers out to question potential witnesses in the Szymanski divorce, and one had self-destructed rather than share his waste of time with me. The other, apparently, had come back with something both critical and hard to explain. Go figure.
Myself, I'd just finished researching the details on the case, poring over written documents and public records, mental notes and fax traces in an effort to figure out who, if anyone, had promised Albert the cabana boy permanent residence on that tiny estate. Certainly he'd made the claim in public several times, within the hearing of one or both Szymanskis, and neither had corrected him.
This by itself carried a certain legal weight, even if the original claim was baseless, so if the Szymanskis sold the property—and it looked like they were going to have to—Albert's claim might have to be bought out at his own named price, or sold along with the property as an easement in perpetuity. And in a world without death, perpetuity could be a long damned time! Oh, what a jolly old mess.
It was four-thirty in the afternoon, late enough to kill brain cells with a clear conscience, and I'd just cracked the seal on an opensource bourbon of excellent pedigree. Damn. Sitting open to the atmosphere would not improve it. Still, the courier's news sounded important in a pay-the-mortgage kind of way, and like most decent bourbons this cost almost nothing to print. And when you're immorbid, baby, there's always tomorrow.
Sighing, I got up from my desk, from my too-comfortable chair, and strode over to the fax's print plate. "Confirming reconvergence, all parameters normal." Then I followed the courier through.
Stepping into a fax machine is like falling face-first into a swimming pool. The sensation isn't cold, or liquid, or electric, but it's just as distinct. There is, of course, no sensation of being inside the fax machine, since the part of you that passes through the print plate is immediately whisked apart into component atoms. Technically speaking, there should be no consciousness at all as the head disappears, as the body is destroyed and rebuilt, sometimes in combination with other stored images. But consciousness is a funny thing, an illusion that struggles to preserve itself against any insult. The courier and I stepped out of the plate only a moment after I'd stepped into it. Facing into the room, now, not out of it.
The courier was, of course, myself. We were one and the same, briefly split and now rejoined in that seamless ball of wonderfulness that was Carmine Strange Douglas. Like any good investigative counsel, I did this five or six times a day. Hell, if not for plurality laws—three thousand copy-hours per month, rigidly enforced by the fax network itself—I'd do it more than that.
Anyway, now that I was one person again I knew details of my—of the courier's—meeting with Lillia Blair, and I knew all the details of my morning and afternoon research. Reconvergence: the collapsing of two waveforms into one. Like any scattered thoughts the pieces took a few seconds to come together in my mind, but when they did, the legal strategy was clear.
"Call Juniper," I said to the wall.
The wall considered this for a moment before answering, "I assume you mean Juniper Tall Szymanski."
I glared at the wall without answering, irritated because I'd already called June Szymanski twice this week, and the only other Juniper I knew—Juniper Pong—I hadn't spoken to in months. Taking the hint, the wall patched the message through, and created a hollie window beside the open doorway.
For two seconds it displayed nothing but gray; that deep, foggy, three-dimensional gray that some people—myself included—use for a null screen. But then, presently, June Szymanski's face appeared in the hollie, and behind it her living room. She might as well be standing right outside my office. She might as well be solid, physical, here. I've had some practice in distinguishing real windows from hollies, but it takes a microscope and some patience.
"Hi," June said, looking both anxious and pleased to hear from me. "What've you got?"
People are always glad to hear from Carmine while their case is unresolved, and especially when the strategy hadn't been figured out yet. At times like these, I'm everybody's best friend. If the issue came to trial, I figured June and I would be friends for another week, week and a half. But in light of what I'd just figured out, a trial seemed rather unlikely.
"According to Lillia," I said, "Albert's exact words were 'I can stay until I decide to leave.'"
"So?" she asked, absorbing that without really getting it.
"So, that's a very different thing from 'I can stay forever,' or even 'I can stay as long as I want.' Because 'decide to leave' is a distinct event in time and space. It can be measured, logged, and read into the court records. And we can make a case—a strong one—that simply setting foot outside that cabana will bring the implied contract to an end."
"Huh. Meaning what? I can evict him?"
Can anyone evict anyone these days? "No," I told her. "Not now, and not without a lot of work. But you can inform him that leaving the poolhouse is grounds for eviction."
Juniper's face relaxed. "Oh, my God. Thank you so much. I do want to be civil about this, but I can't have that . . . I can't face this . . . well, this makes everything a lot easier. You're a genius, Carmine."
And that was true. I was a genius, I am, but so are all the other lawyers in town. These days it's impossible practice law—to practice much of anything—if you aren't unimaginably good at it. Because if you're not, someone who is will simply print an extra copy of him- or herself, and take over another chunk of your market.
False modesty is bad for business; I'm not ashamed to say I aced my bar exam, went to the best schools and did well in them. I reckon I'd make a good generalist, not only in the practice of law but in a range of other fields. I was 100 years old, immorbid, and absorbed knowledge voraciously.
But even that wasn't enough to hold a job in Denver anymore. You had to be generalist and a specialist. You had to be broad and brilliant, but lensed down to a unique pinpoint. You had to get your name associated with some particular little quirk or gimmick of the business so that people, when they ran afoul of it, would know whom to call. Even 'interpersonal disputes' cut too broad a swath for a viable legal practice. And anyway it was boring: the same disputes over and over again, with only the names and faces changing. And anymore the faces—sculpted by faxware to beauty and perfection—weren't so different either.
But I've always had a flair for the dramatic and a nose for the bizarre. My directory ad said it all: "If you've been wronged, call a lawyer. If you've been stranged, call Carmine Strange Douglas."
"This could still turn ugly," I warned June. "That's a wellstone cabana, right? Fully programmable, no restrictions? And he's got his own fax machine in there. Creme brulee and ostritch bisque, anytime he likes. If he decides to make a siege of it, he could hold out for a long time."
"Can't we just shut off the electricity?"
"Ahem! No. And even if you could, he's got the right to generate his own. Wind, sun, and rain—the Free Three, as they say. Albert has taken sides, Mrs. Szymanski. Specifically he's taken your husband's, and he's not going to vacate just because you ask him nicely. He wants this to be difficult.
"I'll write a threatening letter if you want, give him something to think about, but my advice to you as a friend is to talk things over with your husband. It's all right to get bored with each other—if we're going to live forever, it's almost inevitable. But somebody's got make a gesture, here. This is no way for two people to behave, who ever loved each other."
At this, Juniper Szymanski's face closed down. "You don't know anything about it, Carmine. Beyond the bare facts. I'm guessing it's a long time since you've been hurt."
And then she cut the connection, and her hollie window winked out.
What a small-minded thing for her to say! I'd been hurt plenty, and bad. In the broken-heart shuffle that began the moment people stopped dying, everyone got hurt. Or maybe they always had, and always would. This was just one of those facts of life, which you could put out of mind if you didn't happen to be an interpersonal lawyer. Divorces were far and away the worst part of the job, and if I didn't get the strange ones—the ones snarled hopelessly in unique legal challenges—I don't know what I would've done. Soldiered on, probably; an eternity of less-than-happy labors.
"Close door," I said to the wall, and it obliged me by swinging shut that rectangle of white frosted glass and, with a slight crackle of programmable matter, merging it back with my yellow marble decor again.
Too late, I realized there was someone out there in the corridor. There came a polite rapping on the wall outside, and a muffled voice murmuring, "Door. Door."
With a whispered command, I could make the wall perfectly soundproof. I even did it sometimes, but only when I was really busy and wanted the world to go away. Generally, I liked to feel I was part of the world.
Anyway the office would, of course, not obey the commands of a stranger, so I said, "Door." And like some crayon rubbing on a bas relief, the door magically reappeared, then clicked and swung open with a phony creak of phony hinges. A man stood on the other side with his hat pulled down and his shoulders hunched, glancing furtively to his left and then his right. He stepped inside, then quite rudely pushed the door until it swung closed again, engaging with a click of imaginary latches. "Carmine Douglas," the stranger said, "I hear you solve people problems."
"I help people with problems," I answered guardedly.
"That's fine," the man said. "That's close enough. It's good to see you, Carmine. You're looking well."
The lighting in my office—yellow spotlights and venetian-blinded daylight—created pools of atmospheric shadow, and the man had gravitated into one of these, denying me a clear view. But suddenly there was something very familiar about his face, his voice, the way he moved. "Double apparent brightness," I told the room, though I hated it the way that washed things out. "And whiten it up a bit. Kill these shadows."
The windows and ceiling did as I commanded, and there, plain as day, like a ghost from the past, was the face of Theodore Great Kaffner, my old roommate from my last three years at North Am U. He hadn't aged a bit, which shouldn't surprise me at all, since I'd never known anyone who did. But still, the sight of my old friend was a shock, a discontinuity. How many decades did that image leap across?
"Hey, Carbo. It's been a long time."
"You look terrible," I said, because that was true as well. "What sort of problem are you having?"
Theddy seemed to cringe at the question. He pointed to the windows on the office's other wall. "Can we darken those? D'you have some sort of privacy mode, here? A really strong one?"
I did, though I rarely used it. Speaking the commands, I watched my prized yellow marble and peach plaster melt away, turn cold. Within moments the whole room—floor and walls and ceiling alike—was seamless, featureless gray steel, and would obey only my commands, and only from within.
"All right?" I asked, waving my hands at the new decor.
"No," Theddy said. "Conductive surfaces block EMI, but lend themselves to transmissive tampering. We need an insulating layer on top."
Did we, now? How interesting. "Glass?"
"Glass will do."
I gave the appropriate commands, then gave my old friend an annoyed "Well?" sort of look.
And when Theddy shrugged his shoulders noncommittally, I advised him, "Nothing you say will leave this office, or be recorded in anything but my own brain, and yours. But be advised, with a proper warrant the court can search those. They can also take this room apart electron by electron, recording the quantum traces. Nothing is ever truly secret."
"It isn't secrecy I'm concern about," Theddy said, eyeing the walls warily, "it's security. Someone very clever is trying to kill me."
Naturally this statement brought me up short, because it was virtually impossible to kill a person in the Queendom of Sol. Oh sure, you could kill their body, could destroy whatever memory they'd built up since the last time they stepped through a fax machine, or stored their atomically perfect image in an archive somewhere. But the archives themselves were unassailable. People had died in the chaos of the Fall, eighty years before, and since that time a lot of precautions had been put in place. A lot of precautions.
Fearing some sort of transient mental illness in Theddy—a delusional paranoia?—I chose my next words carefully. "Thed, that sounds like a matter for the police. If what you say is true, they can have a team on it before you draw your next breath. We can make the call from here."
But Theddy was shaking his head. "I'm not an idiot, Carbo. This isn't a criminal matter. It's civil, or maybe administrative, or something which if I knew what it was, I wouldn't need you."
"Slow down, Theddy," I tried. "You're stringing words together, but you're not making sense. Administrative murder? What's that? Who exactly is trying to kill you?"
And here, Theddy fixed his old roommate with a level, half-panicked gaze. "I am. And I'm doing a good job of it, too."
Generally speaking, keeping old copies of yourself was like keeping anything else. Found objects, hobby collections, treasured letters or artifacts from childhood—whatever. You could only fit so many in a shelf or cabinet, so at some point you boxed them up and stuck them in the attic, or fed them into the fax to be stored as data. And once that happened, chances were you wouldn't see those things again, nor ever miss them.
Archive copies were exactly the same way: there were people who kept only one, the latest and greatest incarnation of their perfect selves. There were even those who, for financial or aesthetic reasons, stored only the differences between themselves and some idealized manikin of human perfection.
But with either strategy it was possible to make a mistake, to internalize and record some experience which weakened or cheapened or traumatized the soul. And you couldn't always know that this had happened, and if you'd overwritten your earlier backups then you were pretty much stuck with the results for eternity. You could also, in the same way, lose track of what you were supposed to look like, lose track of your God-given body which had been really good at baseball or algebra, which had just felt right somehow. Most people had a bit of this disconnection in their lives—it was pain of an ordinary sort—and admittedly the real horror stories were rare.
But they happened, and in fact I'd encountered enough victims in my practice—their circumstances ranging from tragic to absurd—that for more than half my life I'd been following the costlier and more restrictive change control regimen favored by the various mental health councils. This involved archiving my entire self every five to ten years, and storing each copy, with annotations, alongside the previous ones in a facility that was guaranteed to remain uncorrupted by natural forces for a minimum of ten million years. Effective infinity, in other words, because even if I somehow lived that long, I reasoned that I'd be unlikely to care what I'd thought or felt or looked like as a mere centenarian.
Theddy had apparently followed a similar practice, though in some dangerous and backward-looking way. "Being unhappy with your life doesn't mean you necessarily want to scrap the whole decade and start over. We all have our troubles. I like the wisdom I've accumulated, but along the way I seem to have lost the spirit I had as a younger man. Some of it, enough of it. And shouldn't we, as immorbid beings, have both? I guess I was mixing and matching."
"Listen, I was attending a matter programming conference on Mars. The rest of me were all back home, taking care of personal and professional minutia. Or so I presume. So I infer from the circumstances, as an outsider. As for what I was thinking, what exactly I was doing, I can only speculate."
I thought that over. People had different viewpoints on plurality; some even claimed that every copy of them had its own unique soul. Fortunately, the law rarely ruled in their favor with a legal twinning, or the world would quickly overpopulate with nearly identical people. Xeripollution: the arrogant assumption that the world needed more and more and more of your precious, perfect self. And that question had been settled—with fire and blood—in the Dallas of the Late Modern era, and I doubted very much whether society wanted to repeat the experiment.
I personally liked to keep my copies close together in both time and space. I didn't send myself on vacation while the rest of me worked. I didn't cover multiple long-term assignments in parallel, and then reconverge afterward. It just gets confusing, when the experiences of your copies have diverged that much. My sense of self was, I suppose, a small thing: capable of encompassing only a handful of very similar instantiations. But while Theddy Kaffner had his fair share of faults, timidity was not among them.
Nor, tellingly, was malice. The Theddy of old was an irate fellow, but never a hurtful one. If he pushed someone down the stairs every now and then, he did it in the spirit of horseplay, knowing that no permanent harm could possibly result. Broken bones were just a fax plate away from their old glory, right? And Theddy, the programmer, was far more likely to just hack your shirt's wellcloth with a smear of ink or something, or throw himself down the stairs for a laugh. He'd been full of rages and frustrations, but he'd channeled them into useful hobbies, which included running and acting and the building of wooden models. The idea of his committing a murder, or even threatening one was . . . strange.
"What do you mean by mixing and matching?"
Theddy's stressed-up expression relaxed for a moment, into a smile as wistful as I had lately seen. "You're the food freak, Carbo. You know how it is: a pinch of this, a dash of that . . . a soupcon of my angry young self, to spice up my flavor a bit. I suppose I overdid it. Angry Young Theddy was a force to be reckoned with; did even I, myself, underestimate him? Did ten percent of him overwhelm ninety percent of the canonical me? Or maybe it just felt good. Maybe I kept turning the knob, adding more and more of him until it was too late."
I spread my hands, unsure what to say. "More than anything, Thed, this sounds like a communication problem. Have you tried talking to yourself?"
"Yeah, briefly," Theddy said, the stress snapping back down over his features like a new matter program. "Until I kidnapped myself, with a force of three Theddies. These guys, who said they were me, they lifted me right off the floor. They were going to throw me through the print plate of my own goddamn fax machine in my own goddamn living room. Can you imagine? 'You're the last one,' they said, 'and it's one too many.' The way they were laughing, the way they were—I don't know, handling me. It went beyond contempt, Carbo. This was hatred. 'How could I turn into a fuck like you?' That was what Angry Young Theddy said to me.
"But he underestimated the power of fear. They meant to kill me, erase me—there was no question about that. They weren't fighting for their lives, and I was, so in the end they couldn't hold me. I felt their bones breaking. I felt an eyeball pop. As long as I live, I never want to feel a thing like that."
Okay, yeah, this was complicated. If there was a right place for Theddy to come to with this problem, my office was probably it. But where to begin?
"I'll need a full power of attorney," I said for starters, "and since you appear to have valid concerns for your physical safety, it may be best to store you here, in my office fax, under a seal of attorney-client privilege. The state can open that—the state can open anything—but you can't. The pattern that comprises you right now, right here, will be preserved no matter what Angry Young Theddy thinks or does."
"He's cleverer than you suppose," Theddy warned.
But I just laughed. "Nobody's cleverer than I suppose."
There was a bit more to it than that, but Theddy wanted help, and wasn't in a mood to argue. His agreement was not difficult to secure, and neither, as a result, was his physical person. It didn't take three guys to push him through the plate, and truthfully, I wasn't sure three guys could have stopped him if they'd been here to try. It was a safer place, and he wanted in.
A Pedestrian Encounter
When you traveled by fax machine—and who didn't?—no place in the solar system was more than a few hours away, and if you were the one being transmitted, not the one waiting around at the other end, then from your point of view the journey was instantaneous. With a handful of steps, I could have found myself on the landing outside any home or apartment, anywhere. It was a funny thing, though: Theddy had lived less than a mile from my office for almost twenty years. How strange, that we should live so close for so long without realizing it! But living forever can be like that: it's easy to put things off, to assign them to the infinite and amorphous future. Even important things; even close friends.
Anyway, Denver was a historical preservation zone where walking was actively encouraged. In the eight square kilometers of the downtown district, faxing was actually illegal for anything but official business or the direst emergencies, and the city was adorned for tens of kilometers all around with roads and sidewalks, trails and quaint little bridges arching across the streams and rivers. This classic look was a large part of the city's appeal, and I wasn't about to abuse it by teleporting six blocks. The walk might take me twenty minutes, and might represent more exercise than most people got in a year, but my body, rendered eternally youthful by the fax filters, was surely up to the job. Whose wasn't? People who don't like walking, who don't like mountain views and fresh air and strangers on the street, well . . . they should live someplace else. Denver was not made for indoor souls.
Still, once outside I felt a twinge of regret for my decision, as the November afternoon rolled over me with shocking, unseasonable heat. "Mild winter" didn't begin to describe the weather we were having that year, but I kept forgetting. I kept dressing for wind and fog and the possibility of snow. My jacket did its best to fight off the heat (blasting it behind me in a stream of warm air), but in the shade of downtown's towers it had no ready power source, so there wasn't a lot it could actually do.
There's an irony for you: on a hot day it's cooler in the sun than the shade! But the shirt underneath was having a hard time as well, and I couldn't remove the jacket without revealing the sweat stains it was failing to disperse from under my arms. Life can be so unfair.
Anyway, Theddy's case was heavy on my mind, and June Szymanski's still hadn't left it, and the two were filling up very different pieces of my brain. So I was deeper than usual in thought, and found the bustle and jangle of the crowds annoying. Some street wisdom I heard that day:
"Hollywood is a plant, Gabriel. The city, they were calling it that way before they started making hollies there."
"There's nothing noble about boredom, aye? Are there people you could be helping? Societies you could enrich? Don't you give me that look, you vegetable."
"Oh, of course you have the right to design a new life form. Everyone does. But for criminy's sake, John, that doesn't mean you have the right to instantiate it in the real world."
Yeah. Real pearls, those. The streets of this city had always been crowded, or nearly always, but even I, a mere centenarian, could remember a time when the crowds had all had someplace to go, some purpose in their steps. As often as not it was someplace they were forced to go, to stave off economic ruin in a scarcity-based economy, but still. The city's loitering laws had never been repealed, and ought at least occasionally to be enforced.
With its bright colors and piled-high fashions, its buskers and mimes, its living sculptures "dancing to the din of a dozen decades," the city resembled a carnival that day as much as a center of business or residence or learning. And for some reason I found this deeply irritating.
On the other hand, it wasn't like anyone was holding a sword to my neck, forcing me to interact, to be here at all. I was a champion of strangeness, and these, for better or worse, were my people. And anyway it was a short walk before I found myself in front of Theddy's apartment building, a retro-opensource brownstone in the twenty-second-century style.
"How may I help you, sir?" The building asked, in what was surely its politest voice.
"I'm here to see Theddy Kaffner."
"I'm afraid Mr. Kaffner isn't in at the moment," the building clucked, with quite a good semblance of regret.
"It's a serious matter," I told the building. "A legal matter, I'm afraid. If you have a buffer copy of Mr. Kaffner on hand, and I imagine you do, then I must request you print him and allow me to speak with him at once."
The building's intelligence didn't like that one bit, and sounded cross. "On what grounds? You're not a police officer." (And this was true, although I knew a lot of police, and had once loved a policeman's daughter.) "Nor do you bear the carrier signal of a government official. By studying your face I can make a guess as to your identity, but I would prefer that you simply explain yourself."
Fair enough. "My name is Carmine Strange Douglas. Mr. Kaffner's attorney. The rest I'll say to him, if you don't mind."
"I have no record of this association," the house said skeptically, "although your face and pheromone signature match that name, and the social network archives indicate you have fraternized with Mr. Kaffner in the past. Do you have any proof that this arrangement exists?"
I held up a bonded, self-notarizing copy of the power of attorney, and the building opened instantly, curling aside a broad doorway of gold and pearl and other substances I couldn't identify. "Please come in, sir, and excuse my rudeness in detaining you. One can't be too careful these days, and in any case my security settings are at legal maximum."
"No offense taken," I assured it, since the thing was only doing its job, following its program, and had no actual feelings. Or so the law declared. Inside, among furnishings assembled from white puffy pillow-cubes, I found Theddy in deep conference with the wall.
Presumably, he was receiving a briefing on this turn of events—my arrival and such—since from his own perspective he had just moments before stepped through the fax machine on his way to somewhere quite different. This was a buffer copy, probably not more than a few hours old, and he had no way of knowing why I was here.
When Theddy saw me, he looked up with an expression of wonder. "Carbo? My God, man, what're you doing here? It's great to see you! But when exactly did you become my lawyer?"
"About half an hour ago," I said, extending a warm handshake. "There's a copy of you in my office who claims he was assaulted. By you, or rather, by several instances of you. I was hoping you could shed some light on the subject."
Theddy's hand withdrew from mine, and his face grew cautious, and right away I could see there was something different about him. He was less like the Theddy in my office, and more like the one I'd remember if I really thought back. The angry prankster. A composite sketch of New Theddy would be all broad lines and shallow curves, but while Young Theddy looked the same, he wore it differently. Here was a fellow of edges and points and sharp, staccato movements.
"There was an altercation," Theddy admitted, "but he started it. All I did was defend myself."
Theddy's answering look was not quite a sneer. "That copy must have got some bad poison along the way, Carbo. He was irrational, and slow. It would have taken a lot of patience to get any sense out of him, and who's got the time?"
Well, that sounded believable enough.
"Did you try to push him into the fax?"
"It was the only way I could think of to, you know, figure out what his problem was. Merge a little bit of him with a lot of myself, and see what was on his mind."
I'd never been one to beat around the bush, so I came right out with it: "Theddy, have you been mingling your image with archive copies of yourself? Would a personality scan reveal sudden, dramatic changes in your character?"
"Yes," Theddy said, as if it were the most normal thing the world.
"Hmm. Well, listen, this allegedly deviant copy of yourself is the contemporary version. It's who all his friends and neighbors and colleagues are used to seeing. If he were in fact stored in your personal fax machine, per your plans, would you ever print him out again?"
"Hell no," Theddy answered, with that same matter-of-fact, self-righteous conviction. As if people did that sort of thing every day. Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy. Some dangerous cocktail of thoughts and experiences had come together in this copy's brain. Theddy—the real Theddy—was right to be afraid: this man was not only capable of self-murder, but felt it was, in some way, his legal right. And I wondered: where was the case law to prove otherwise?
And to think I'd thought the Szymanski divorce was a mess! "What we have here," I said cautiously, "is a case of disputed identity. Two divergent copies of the same individual, laying claim to editorial rights over each other. That being the case, I personally have a conflict of interest, and must make no further contact with you, except if necessary in court. If you intend to prosecute your rights in this matter—and I find it difficult to imagine otherwise—you'll need to retain your own counsel. I cannot advise you in this."
Theddy scowled. "Oh you can't, can't you? Maybe the years have eroded your memory, dear friend, but you and I have an agreement which predates any contract you may have with . . . that other bloke. That failed experiment. That shriveled old creature who does not deserve to wear Theddy Kaffner's skin."
Though it might be a breach of ethics, I took the bait. "What agreement is that?"
"I'll find it."
Theddy stepped to the wall and began whispering to it. A hollie window appeared there, displaying lists of text with little thumbnail images beside them. Theddy poked at the display several times, muttering, and finally said, "Ha! Found it."
A beer-stained cocktail napkin tumbled out of the fax machine, into Theddy's waiting hands. He scanned it briefly, nodding, then handed it to me. It said, in appallingly familiar handwriting,
I, Carmine Douglas, through the power vested in me by the state of inebriation, do solemnly swear that I will never lose my faith or spirit, and that I will look out for my friend Theddy come what may, for all eternity and throughout the universe.
It was signed and even—though the hologram was hard to make out—notarized.
"You can't be serious," I said, waving the thing as if to dry it. "This isn't legally binding." But even as the words were out of my mouth, I realized it might not be so. There were times in the historical past when what was legal and what was right were two different things, when valid arguments could be crafted to excuse almost anything, but the Queendom of Sol took a dim view indeed of broken promises. Theddy saw it in my face, too; he was a hard man to hide things from. I sighed and asked, "What do you want? What does it take to make this thing go away?"
Theddy sneered in youthful triumph. "If you want to go legal on me, old friend, I can only respond in kind. I do want my own counsel, as promised to me in this old contract. I want you. Not this stuffy alien creature you've become, but the young, angry, lovesick Carbo I went to school with. Well, I suppose you'd have to add a couple of years to that, or he wouldn't be a lawyer yet, but you see what I mean. I want my old roommate to defend me."
With a sinking feeling I realized that might just stick. Theddy might just have a point which the law, in its finite wisdom and limited experience, had never yet addressed. The right of archive copies to be revived? To seek the company of their peers? To repudiate their future lives?
"Call my office," I said, sighing uneasily. "I'll authorize it to set something up. Not because I have to—and certainly not because I want to—but because you've raised an interesting point, and it needs to be properly explored. Even a younger me, a green me fresh out of school, is better qualified than most attorneys to wrestle this particular alligator. In fact, if I didn't buy into it voluntarily, the court might well assign it. In which case they'd offer you a disposable copy of me, which would self-destruct once the dispute was resolved. And that, my friend, is an involuntary servitude I would not wish on my younger self, who was an innocent and charming lad."
All of which was true, insofar as it went. Unlike Theddy, and with a single and quite excusable exception, my own younger self could be trusted. So why, in my heart just then, did the prospect of unleashing him bring nothing but dread?
Rummaging through the archives took a lot longer than I expected. The storage companies are happy to take your money to capture the backup, but when it comes time for the free restore they're a lot less helpful. Wading through the layers of bureaucracy and "technical assistance" proved so difficult and involved that in the end I had to print out a dedicated copy of my recent self, who spent several days working on the problem exclusively.
Of the fifteen images I'd stored at one point or another in my life, the best fit for young Theddy seemed to be a Carmine two years out of law school, working at a big firm in Milan and flush, for the first time in his short life, with the income and respectability of gainful employment.
Memories washed over me. Those had been good years, but turbulent ones, too. Money and power and youth were a potent combination, and bred the sort of arrogance that led to personal troubles. And if there was a god of Love—and Strife, for they were bound together as a single entity in Queendom mythology—then poor Eros had spent some busy seasons that year, looking after the torrid romance between myself and Pamela Red. Even now, more than seventy years after the fact, the memory brought a poignant flutter of excitement and pain. I'd had a number of lovers before her, and quite a bit more after—I'd even been married twice—but when I looked back over the conquests and treaties, surrenders and defeats of my immorbid love life, Pamela's shadow seemed to loom over all of it. She was the standard against which all others were measured.
This was of course no great novelty in the Queendom, where the phenomenon was common enough to have its own name: the guidepost affair. And rumor had it that if you lived long enough, if you loved well enough, your guidepost would fade, would be replaced, or even—strange thought—subsumed entirely by the one true love of your life, who would stay with you forever. A guidepost affair was, by definition, buried deep in your past—something that didn't or couldn't or wouldn't work out. Something painful. But ah, we still believed in a higher sort of love than that, else how could we face eternity?
Not that there wasn't other strife in that era, as well. Like any human being, the Carmine of that day had had a sackload of mundane troubles which to him seemed very serious and immediate, though today I could scarcely remember them. But I did my best to align myself with that mental space, in the hours and minutes—and finally the seconds—before Angry Young Carmine stepped out of the fax.
"Welcome," I said to myself, for I remembered this young man with great fondness and admiration. Angry Young Carmine, looking me up and down, recognized me at once, but the first thing he said was, "Hello, Carmine. You look . . . different. Considering the fact that I've just this second archived myself, for the benefit of my future self, I can only assume that some years have passed."
"Correct," I said, beaming at this lad's quick mind.
"Something has gone wrong, then. Ah, Carmine, have you been poisoned? Traumatized? Worn down or worn out with the passage of years?"
"There is a problem," I agreed with gentle amusement, "but not with me. It's Theddy."
"Theddy needs an archived copy of me? That sounds damned peculiar, and complicated. Brief me on the specifics, if you would."
And here I felt the first tingle of irritation, for I was clearly the senior partner in this endeavor, and this young man had no right to give me orders. But without noticing or without caring, Young Carmine pressed on: "I also need to orient myself. I'll need news highlights for each of the intervening years, and if you don't mind, a sampling of the clothing and music fashions as well. And the food."
"Ahem. Young man, you might find it helpful to let others get a word in now and then. The time capsules you describe are in the fax's buffer memory right now, awaiting your attention."
"Ah. What year is it, anyway?"
I told him, and watched his expression tense briefly and then relax.
"That's a long time, old man. I assume it's a short-term assignment you've woken me for?"
Young Carmine's smile was pained. "Reconverging our experiences could be problematic when this is finished. You should probably check with a doctor, or maybe a quantum physicist, but I'm not sure consciousness can bridge a gap that large."
I adopted what I hoped was a look of patience. "My plan is to filter you in as a percentage, to reintegrate a tincture of you with my current self. Carefully, of course, but everything admirable about you will be preserved and magnified, and with luck our flaws will mask one another."
"Oh really. I see." Young Carmine's tone was skeptical, poised on the cusp of anger. "And what percentage, exactly, did you plan on granting me? Twenty-five percent?"
At this, I was afraid to answer truthfully, because the actual figure I had in mind was .25%, or possibly .5%. But to this living, breathing young man, that would sound like murder. I had the legal right to do exactly that, to print disposable copies of myself and then, you know, dispose of them. But I'd never done it when there were major life experiences at stake. Why would I? I wouldn't want to be the disposable copy whose memories died, and I wouldn't want to be the one who lived on without those memories, either. A no-win scenario.
But this was different, right? Everything important about Young Carmine was preserved in me. I was a superset of him, and in that sense his erasure would mean nothing, cost nothing, hurt nothing. Except from his point of view. And to enforce the right of erasure against his will . . . To enforce the right, I might have to print extra copies of my current self, and overpower Young Carmine, and hurl him forcibly into the fax. Or contact a lawyer of my own, and let the courts decide. And didn't that put Theddy's case in an interesting light?
Afterward, I was never sure what my younger self read in my face at that moment, but whatever it was, he answered with an obscene gesture and a barked command at the office wall, which, recognizing the voice of its owner, opened a door and let him out.
"Ah, hell," I said, following behind, trying to put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him. To reassure myself. But Young Carmine was having none of that, and in fact took the gesture as a hostile one. Which might not be too far from the truth. Young Me jerked his shoulder away, then ducked and ran down the hallway.
I said, "You're going to want—you'll need—hey!" But the lines of communication had broken down entirely, and the next comments I received from Young Carmine would, I realized, have a letterhead at the top. Damn. My body hadn't aged a day in all this time, and I supposed I could simply run after myself, tackle myself, fight it out physically and force myself to listen. But I'd be hard pressed to win against so equal an opponent, and if the concept of "youth" meant anything at all in this day and age, would it really be so equal?
What I actually did, like a useless old man, was race down the hallway and scream down the stairwell at myself: "You stay away from Pamela Red, do you hear me! You caused her enough trouble when you were . . . back when you were . . . " Real.
The Daughter's Policeman
The next morning found me on the far side of the moon, in a scenic dome at the pit of Jules Verne crater, with the sharp-toothed hills of the crater lip rising up all around. Here it wasn't morning at all, but early evening by the Greenwich Mean shift clock and somewhere close to midnight by the actual position of the sun. Given the full moon in Denver last night—always a peak time for strangeness—it made sense that the moon's sulking farside, faced always away from Earth, should be bathed in darkness.
Any school child of the early Queendom knew that on that big, pre-terraformed moon, the sun rose and set every twenty-eight days. But unless you'd spent time on Luna yourself, it was hard to appreciate just how irrelevant the daylight really was. Aside from the anachronism of gravity tourism, Luna didn't really offer anything the rest of the Queendom particularly needed, and as a result the great dome cities at Tranquility and Grimaldi were money pits, gone to seed in a state of not-quite completion. The moon's million permanent residents were mostly scattered in small, economically depressed communities, and the great bulk of its housing was underground. You lived there because you loved it, basically. Because you'd bought into the romance of it: a wild frontier on Earth's very doorstep.
And on that frontier, for some historical reason I'd never bothered to learn, the clocks were set, planetwide and regardless of longitude, to British time. Not that it really mattered to me—the hour or the darkness. Such transitions—day to night, winter to summer to hard vacuum—were common to the point of dullness in a faxwise society. That's just the way things were.
In any case, Verne was a small town inhabited mainly by astronomers and small-time trelium prospectors, who had taste enough to keep the dome lights low and green. Night lights, so that the stars could shine down in all their glory through the near-invisible wellglass of the dome. I'd seen this place in the daytime once—on a sadly similar errand—and the dome had been frosted a translucent blue-white which didn't mimic an Earthly sky so much as pay homage to it. Good for the soul, I reckoned at the time. Better for the plants and animals than the searing unfiltered light of Sol herself.
Also tasteful was the way Verne's visitors were encouraged, through transit fee structures and hierarchical addressing, to enter through the fax ports in the park level immediately beneath the dome. It wasn't a big park as such things go, but its colored brick pathways folded back on themselves many times, with the view of grassy meadows blocked here and there by stands of dwarf bamboo and twisty, lunar-tall apple trees. So it felt bigger than it really was, and the walk from fax to elevator took a good three minutes. An actual elevator, yes; to get to any particular home, office or storefront in Verne you had to find the right color-coded shaft, and ride the elevator down to the appropriate subsurface level.
As a longtime resident of Denver—a city similarly trapped in the romantic past—I could only approve. Beauty was so much finer a thing than convenience! Even (or perhaps especially) when you were in a hurry.
Too bad it was guilt, not beauty, that brought me there that day. But hey, even that guilt, that shame and worry, could ultimately be blamed on beauty. On one particular beauty, in fact, which I had sought above all others. Nearly to my ruin, yes, and I might spend the rest of eternity shaking off the consequences, but in this sense I regretted nothing, and would do it all again if I could.
By blue starlight and the green glow of the dome's perimeter, I trod a path of yellow bricks in platinum-white mortar. My bootheels clopped and rang. I'd come here expecting to ask directions, from a wellstone pillar if not a live human, but I found to my surprise that my feet still knew the way. Through the gloom of an orchard and back out into starlight again, I came to a low pink cottage with the words GOVERNMENT AND UTILITIES carved into its lintel and glowing that same soft green, with modestly animated crests on either side to emphasize the point.
I entered the building, and found myself in a traditional lobby complete not only with elevators but with a human security guard seated behind a desk. This might seem laughable in an age where superweapons had nearly obliterated the sun, but the man's gray uniform—bearing the five-pointed star of the Verne Crater Sheriff's Office—was thicker than ordinary wellcloth, and lent him a formidable air. In time of trouble, the suit would no doubt extend to cover his face, his head, his hairy-knuckled hands, and the thing's capacitors and hypercomputers would be prepared to amplify his strength, to shoot all manner of energy beams from his fists, from his eyes, from the edges of any wound an attacker might somehow manage to inflict.
This, too, was nothing special—most cops dressed this way most of the time—and anyway a pair of gleaming, hulking Law Enforcers lurked robotically in the corners behind him, just in case anyone still had any thoughts about getting cute.
"Carmine Douglas, Attorney at Law," I said, although by now the guard must already know this. Like all professionals everywhere, he'd be unemployed if he weren't uncannily competent. "I'm here to see Waldo Red."
"Yeah?" The cop looked me over with a bored expression. "What for?"
The guard thought that one over. "I don't have you on my visitors list. Is he expecting you?"
"No. Well, possibly." Depending on what Angry Young Carmine had or hadn't done, Waldo might well be drafting a warrant for my arrest. Or tying a hangman's noose. "But he knows me."
"So he does," the cop said, glancing down at some social network display on his desktop. He tapped the surface several times in quick succession, like a harp player working the strings. "He . . . will see you. But—whoa. According to my stats, there's a ninety percent chance of verbal confrontation and an eight percent chance of violence. On his part; you're down in the noise, an innocent victim of potential attack. My goodness. Do . . . you want an armed escort?"
"No," I said. "Thank you. I'm here to make peace."
"Huh. Well, go on ahead. Level nineteen, end of the hallway and turn right."
The guard shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. "Hey, buddy? Uh, you don't have to answer this or anything, but, I mean . . . Deputy Waldo isn't exactly a thug. What does a guy have to do to burn him off like that?"
"Sleep with his daughter," I said, and turned for the elevator.
The first thing Waldo said to me when I walked into his office was, "Hmmph. So now you're stalking me."
And there was a lot of evidence coded in this statement: it meant that Young Carmine had gone to see Pamela, and that the visit had been less than welcome. It meant that she'd called her father afterward, and that he considered the incident, at least in his heart, to be a criminal offense. Which was silly, because that old restraining order had expired forty years ago, and I had no history, either before or since, of criminally rude behavior. But then again, there was no telling what Young Carmine might've said. Or done. Truthfully, I had forgotten how forceful and intense I'd really been as a young man. And pointlessly so, for it had only gotten me in trouble.
I held up my hands in mock surrender. "Hi, Waldo. I'm sure you're angry—and not without reason!—but it's not what you think. There's an old, old copy of me running around."
Waldo studied me, thinking that one over. Whatever he'd expected me to say, that wasn't it. Waldo was seated on his desk, which had gone soft beneath him in response. His arms were crossed, and his single, heavy eyebrow was pulled down in an almost comical frown. In his harrumphy way he said, "Rogue or authorized?"
"A little of both," I answered, unsure what else to say about it.
Waldo digested that, and finally nodded. "Hmm. Humph. Yeah. One of those."
A bit of the tension went out of the room. The details must surely be unique, but Waldo had been a cop for a hundred years longer than I'd even been alive. He'd seen his share of weirdness, and understood that the law was gray. What cop didn't know that? The law was designed for assaults and robberies, angry neighbors fighting over the pruning of a tree or the disposition of its fruits. By definition, you couldn't legislate the unanticipated, and existing laws—sensible laws—sometimes yielded perverse or even contradictory results. Do we divide the child in two?
And in this age of plenty there just wasn't all that much thuggery. The sorts of things that had value anymore were not sorts of things you could steal at gunpoint, and anyway such obvious crimes were always solved, always punished. With enough decades behind them, even the most hardened criminals eventually got the message.
So what did that leave? Juvenile mischief, and the weirdness at the margins of the grown-up world. The need for cops and courtrooms would never go away.
"Why are you here?" Waldo asked with less hostility.
I tried on a half smile. "It seemed . . . more polite than going directly to Pamela. I figured he'd go and see her. I knew he would. He's an archive copy from when that . . . issue was relatively fresh."
"So why'd you print him?"
"Contractual obligation, I guess you'd say. I'll spare you the insipid details."
"Hmmph. Thanks. Are you going to get rid of him?"
I could only shrug. "I'm not sure I can, Waldo. He's defending another person's archive copy against exactly that procedure. Removing him would be a form of pre-trial tampering, and if his case prevails—which it very well might—then it's anyone's guess what my legal rights are. Pray for a wise judge."
Waldo didn't like that answer. "Really. How convenient. There's a little Carmine running around from the period of the restraining order—and believe me, you were a nitwit back then—and he's got all the rights of being you and none of the responsibilities of being himself. He can bug my daughter all he likes, unless I file an updated order against you. Which I guess I'll just have to do."
And that made me angry, because the revival of a seventy-year old restraining order would look bad on my record. It would hurt my image, hurt my business, hurt my pride. And for what? "You know, Waldo, your darling Pamela wasn't exactly an innocent in all this. If there were courts of law for faithless lovers . . . "
"You were a nitwit, and your friends were nitwits, and you made her sad. The only surprise is that it took her two years to realize the fact. And like a shit, you refused to crawl back under your block. You just couldn't leave it alone. You wanted to own her. You tried buy her like a doll."
At that, in a wildly uncharacteristic gesture, I slammed the wall sideways with my fist, hard. "I wanted nothing of the kind, Deputy. Even now, you refuse to acknowledge my point. It was simple enough for a small town cop and his daughter to understand, if they put their minds to it. For years I licked the wounds she inflicted so casually. For years. Like an old tree, I got whole again only by growing around the scar. Burying it inside me, surrounded it with strong, healthy tissue. But the defect itself is permanent."
"Love always is," Waldo lectured, as if to a child. "We all have our little scars. It doesn't give you any special rights. And just for your education, punk, you fix a tree by printing an undamaged copy. If that 'wound' of yours is so terrible, why do you keep it?"
"You've been in love, Waldo. You know why."
The old cop sighed and harrumphed. "I don't know where you crawled out from, pal, and I don't care, but understand: we keep the peace here in Jules Verne. You know how many arrests I've made this year? Six, and three of them were the same guy. You know how many times I've called the Constabulary in the past decade, to solve some capital crime of Queendom-wide importance? Zero."
Waldo answered with a mocking expression, and then a more seriously threatening one. "I may not have jurisdiction outside this crater, Mr. Douglas, but you've got five minutes to get your ass out of here before I throw it in jail. Don't let me catch you here again, ever."
And this was a strong statement indeed, because Waldo Red would never die, never grow old and retire. Never forgive a young man's trespasses.
Well, I had my own rights to worry about, and said so: "If you do that, or file an injunction of any kind, I'll sue for defamation. I'll make it stick, too."
And with that I stomped out, feeling in spite of everything that the visit had gone better than expected.
Pamela herself, whom I visited next, surprised me by being a lot more understanding.
"Daddy called," she said by way of introduction. "I heard about your little . . . technical difficulties."
Her house was one of nine at the summit of Mt. Terror, on Antarctica's Ross Island overlooking both the volcano's active caldera and the Ross Sea coast, aglow in the lights of McMurdo City and, across the water, of Glacia and Victoria Land. It was nighttime here as well, in a place where night was winter, or in this case early spring. And Pamela's foyer, like many in cold climates, was poorly insulated on purpose, to discourage surprise visitors.
My wellcloth suit did the best it could, but it had been out of the sun for hours now, and its power reserves were getting low. It settled for swathing me in black velvet, lined with some crinkly, unbreathable superreflector that left my skin feeling hot and suffocated, even as my body heat bled away through my uncovered hands and head.
"You look cold," Pamela said, ushering me in through her open doorway. "You want some coffee? Soup?"
"Spiced almond chowder," I answered gratefully, following her inside. There was no such thing as a poorly furnished home in the Queendom of Sol, but there were copyrighted patterns available only to those with money, and there were expert decorators and geomancers who could customize a space to its owners with striking—and strikingly expensive—skill. And everyone had access to a fax machine, if not in their own houses and apartments then, by law, within forty paces of their door. But to fill a house with fax machines—I counted five in my first quick look around, including the one in the foyer—took resources. And the view, also not free, was spectacular.
"Looks like you're doing all right, here," I said, while she stepped up to her dining room fax to fetch my soup. "I hope you don't mind my saying so."
"Not a bit," she laughed. "But I'll be the first to admit, I got lucky. Matter programming is funny that way: sometimes you hit the right combination, and this substance you've just invented is gorgeous, and it's waterproof, and it's diamagnetic, and some construction outfit on Pluto is offering you cash up front and a ten percent share of their leasing profits."
"Sounds nice," I told her, fighting to keep any deeper feelings at bay. For the moment, I was succeeding; it had been a long time, and seeing her now was more nostalgic than painful. "Theddy became a programmer, too, you know, but he doesn't live like this."
She smiled. "Theddy. My goodness, how is he?"
"In trouble," I said.
"Well, that figures. I suppose you're representing him?"
"That figures, too. As for my alleged wealth, don't be too jealous. It won't last. Unless I get lucky again, I'll have to sell this place in a few centuries. Maybe move back to farside, although they're still talking about evacuating the entire moon, and crushing it to boost the surface gravity. You can't go home again, isn't that what they say?"
Thinking about that, I looked her over, studying my feelings as they unfolded. Things weren't the same as they had been long ago, that much was definite. Her mere presence no longer panicked me, made me stupid or impulsive. Which was probably just as well, although there was a part of me that would always miss feeling that way. You can't go home, indeed.
"That would be a shame," I said, "destroying the moon like that. Where would all the shady people go?"
She could easily have taken that the wrong way, but she chose not to, and chuckled instead as she pulled my mug of steaming soup from the fax. "The shady people always find a place, Carbo. Isn't that what keeps you in business?"
"Well," I admitted, "sort of. It's the rich shady people that can afford my services. The poor ones get their legal help from software, which is worth every penny of the nothing they pay for it."
"Their matter programming, too," she said. And suddenly we were laughing together, just like old times. It felt good. Cleansing. If all our times had been like this . . .
"Look," I told her, "I want to apologize for inflicting Young Me on you like that. I hope he didn't scare you."
"Not in the least. Actually, he was quite charming." She handed me the soup, and I tasted it. It was good, and here too I sensed some vague tincture of money, some subtle designer flavor to which I myself had never been privy. And I was not exactly a poor man, nor a gustatorial simpleton.
"What did he do? What did he want?"
"The usual," she laughed. "A bit of me for his collection."
Suddenly I found myself fighting down anger again, for the second time in a single morning. Because it wasn't funny, damn it. Not to me it wasn't. The request had seemed simple enough at the time. Pamela and I had archived ourselves at the height of our passion, wanting—literally—to preserve that glorious feeling for all eternity. Later, when things had soured, when we started fighting and she finally turned me out, I had asked her to revive that feeling. Not even in her own skin, necessarily. Couldn't she print out an alternate copy, an older, younger version who was still in love with Carmine Douglas? Wasn't that the whole point of the backup?
But apparently it wasn't, at least in her mind, and apparently I had pressed the point too firmly. Well, no "apparently" about it; love could make a man do stupid things, and no force in heaven or Earth could make him regret them afterward. In love especially, we behave as we must.
In any case, my defense had taken me all way to the Solar Court itself, where my stalking and harassment convictions were narrowly upheld. I was clever enough not to lose my license over it, but the court forbade me to have any contact with Pamela Red, or her friends and family, for three long decades. The mark would be on my record forever: Carmine Douglas, sexual deviant. What was funny about that?
"Look," she said, catching my expression, "We were young. We applied our passion to each other, and when it didn't work out we applied our passion against each other. It's the oldest story in the world. I'm assuming we both got over this a long time ago, like good little grown-ups, so let's not start fighting now. Okay? I'm genuinely sorry, about all of it."
That stung too, its own way. "About all of it? You're sorry it even happened?"
And to my surprise, her face melted in a strange mix of amusement and dismay. "Sorry it happened? What . . . What are you even talking about? We were fresh, we were new, we were burning with passion for the first time in our tiny little lives. What's the point of living forever if you only get to feel that way once? Carmine, Carbo, baby doll, it was the hottest fling of my life."
What came next made perfect sense, because if I'd ever had any willpower in the Pamela Red department, we wouldn't be standing there talking about it. And if she hadn't loved me—truly loved me with all her heart, at least for a while—I wouldn't have had anything to press her about, to get in trouble about. An explosion could not occur without heat. But it was one more bit of strangeness, and I honestly didn't know if there were any law or rule or ethical guideline being broken. Would society prevent me from hurling myself on this additional complication?
It hardly mattered. Yes, I tumbled into bed with her, and she with me. Heedless of the consequences, we remained there for three days, refusing all calls. And it was worth any price.
When I finally got home, my head was clearer somehow. It was one thing to stir up ghosts from the past, but quite another to have them walking around spouting threats. But making peace with Pamela—making more than that!—put a different face on things. Anyway, I did what I should've done in the first place, which was to file a motion for Division of Self for Theodore Kaffner, and another for Carmine Douglas.
Divisions of Self—so-called twinnings—had a sparse but readily traceable case history, and seemed the most appropriate vehicle for dealing with this mess. True, no one had ever and attempted an involuntary twinning before. Generally, they were granted to individuals who had lost a genuine twin somewhere along the way, or who could, for whatever reason, prove some tangible need to divide themselves into two legally distinct individuals. Because they'd grown in different ways, and no longer believed they were compatible.
Angry Young Theddy's argument was quite different: that he should have the right to delete his later self and try his whole adult life over again. But if the older and younger Theddies were two different people, then this desire would be nonsense from a legal standpoint, and acting on it would be murder. Which, to my thinking, sounded about right.
And Young Carmine's position was different still: having been granted the flesh and breath of life, he simply wanted to continue. He didn't want to be erased, and truthfully neither would I, if our circumstances were reversed. And the law was supposed to mean what was right, right?
The next step was to file a temporary restraining order—actually four restraining orders—prohibiting the various Theddies and Carmines from harming one another, or having any sort of contact all outside a courtroom setting. We could send legal communiques to one another through the proper channels, and that was all. Sadly, this would be another mark on my own record, another opportunity for me to look like some sort of mad stalker, but since my name was on the order as both plaintiff and defendant, it would seem more strange than incriminating. And anyone researching my background that deeply would know, should know, that Strange is my middle name.
Then I did another thing I should've done right away, which was to call my parents and let them know what was happening. "Aren't you a bit old for shenanigans like this?" my father wanted to know.
"I'm beginning to think so," I answered.
For good measure, I called Theddy's parents as well, and found to my mild surprise that Angry Young Theddy was actually staying there with them, having vacated his apartments in Denver. This of course forced me to cut the conversation short, but that was all right. The Kaffners were drunks and dreamers, with never all that much to say to me, nor I to them.
And since these orders were of the sort that could easily be handled by hypercomputer, the so-called Telejudges—I had a stack of bonded approvals in hand within a few minutes. The Telejudges of course demanded a flesh hearing, ten days hence, so a human judge could review the facts of the case and decide the long-term disposition of the orders, and of the humans tied up in them.
And that wasn't so hard, really. Strangeness is nothing more than the shock of the new: a thing never seen before, never felt or tasted or lived through. But strangeness by itself it didn't make this thing intractable, nor guarantee in any way that the future—the Theddies and Carmines and Pamelas of centuries hence, indeed all of society—would find them unusual. Indeed, to the extent that society took any notice of this case at all, it would be as one more precedent in the legal definition of identity. No big deal of all. Or so I reasoned at the time.
And so, somewhat anticlimactically, I found that my job was complete. With those orders posted, there wasn't a fax machine in the Queendom that would reconverge the older and younger Theddies, or a door that would open for them, if the opening might place the two in the same room. My client was safe, and so was I. And I found, also to my surprise, that I was shaking with relief. How about that! This was another thing my job had going for it: no matter how long I did it, there was still this aura of excitement and danger and fresh discovery. Most especially when it was about me.
After that there was only one thing left to do: call my office fax machine and retrieve Theddy—the real, contemporary Theddy—from storage.
My apartment at the time was a pseudopenthouse—its large balcony was roofed over but otherwise genuine, and the rooms themselves were on the thirteenth floor of a hundred story building. But the balcony's overhang was programmed to look like sky—an illusion so good that I myself sometimes forgot—while the apartment ceiling was a fiction of dormer vaults and skylights looking up at the other tall buildings as though the higher stories of my own did not exist. This was not an extravagance; the patterns had to be customized by experts and hypercomputers, but it only took an afternoon. A team from Sears-Roebuck had done it for less money than I made in a week. Why, hundreds of people in Denver alone had the exact same decor, probably an even dozen in that very building. But low-cost and cheapness were not the same thing, and most visitors found the effect both striking and laudable.
In this, Theddy Kaffner was no exception. He leaped from the fax all stiff with anxiety, but once I'd explained the situation to him, and handed him a glass of wine, the first thing he did was look around and say, "Jesus Christ. Nice place."
The fireplace was also an illusion—you couldn't jab it with the ornamental poker or wave your hand through the flames—but it looked perfect, and crackled just so, and gave off exactly the right amount of heat for a November evening that was suddenly, finally beginning to feel like fall. I faxed up some throw pillows, and the two of us sprawled in the firelight, chugging our drinks and laughing like we had in the good old days.
The purveyors of copyright bourbon tended to regard their products as perfect, and thus subsisted mainly on royalties, reinvesting little or none of it back into research and development. Which was a losing strategy in the long run, because the opensource and public domain recipes got a little bit better every year. Not the same as the copyright brews, obviously, but just as good in their own way. This meant that spending real money on bourbon didn't make sense, except as a way of flaunting one's wealth. Since I rarely had enough to flaunt, I tended to stick with the cheap stuff.
But the wine industry, long accustomed to change and adaptation, had seen the writing on the early Queendom's walls, and rolled with the times. They still grew their grapes the old-fashioned way, with robot labor and nano-optimized soil conditioners, and while they copyrighted every vintage, they actually copied and sold only the best of the best. But except in rare cases, they revoked the old recipes at the end of every market year, replacing them with new ones from the latest crop. If you really liked a particular vintage, you were obliged to buy as many bottles as your cellar would hold, because its like would never come again. So you either had to fill a cellar with the stuff, or pay the aftermarket prices on the collectors' market. Ouch.
I, however, belonged to the Wine Resistance movement. If you knew a bit, and were a good researcher of long-dormant archives, you could dig up the pattern of some ancient vintage whose creators had died heirless and alone. The public domain wines were mostly swill, but I had personally discovered two of these grayware vintages, which could be freely duplicated to my heart's content, and I'd bartered them for a dozen more on the semisecret Resistance exchange.
They were always the same, alas, but so were the "perfect" bourbons. This particular bottle was an atomically exact Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio, from 2203 at the tail end of Late Modernity. Possibly the oldest surviving Pinot Grigio, as delicate and fruity as the day it was archived. And it was excellent, even when chugged.
"You'll never guess who I saw this week," I said to Theddy as I uncorked our second bottle.
"Pamela Red," Theddy answered immediately. Was I that transparent? A lawyer really did need a better poker face than this, because Theddy read even more from my expression. "Oh, you saw her, did you? In the biblical sense? Did you run into her as well? Come across her, so to speak? Good for you, old boy."
I suffered some more teasing of an even less gentlemanly sort, until Theddy finally asked, "How's she doing, anyway?"
"Well. Very well. She's got a gorgeous house down in AntiLand, on the top of Mount Terror. You should see it sometime."
"She got that on a programmer's salary?"
"Well, she calls it a fluke, and I believe her. But yes, she's a programmer. Specializing in materials design."
"Mmm," Theddy said around a heavy swallow of dirt-cheap Pinot. "That would explain it. That's where all the glory is, where all the money is these days. If you ask me, my job is harder: making sure the materials actually work. However wonderful your brick may be, if it's wellstone you've still got to run power and data from point A to point B. You've got to manage waste heat, and if there's gas and fluid transport involved, the plumbing has to go somewhere. Also, a lot of materials aren't structural without an impervium mesh woven through them, and if you ever want the brick to be anything else, to be programmable like the rest of the world, then you'd better have some computing elements listening for commands. These things don't happen by themselves."
"I thought hypercomputers did all that."
"Everybody thinks that. That's why the job doesn't pay well. But hypercomputers don't feel, Carmine, not like we do. You can load them with algorithms for aesthetics and common sense, but it doesn't make them human. It's a human world we want, right? Computers are always seeking pathological solutions—you know, kill the cockroaches by roasting the whole apartment and then faxing fresh people. That actually happened! And if nothing else it takes a human to add those boo boos to the common-sense database. No do, you stupid machine.
"But we do a lot more than just that. There are copyright issues, security and permissions issues. Hypercomputers will follow the letter of the law every time—they have to—and they're practically paralyzed as a result. To no one's benefit. And there are always profiteers exploiting loopholes, sneaking adware materials onto private property and then wrapping themselves up in the law. Sanctimonious jerks. Half my house calls are to defeat some security system or other, because the wellwood stopped working or the window glass is suddenly demanding back royalties."
"So it's an art," I said, "like everything else that matters."
"Speaking of which, are you still involved with the theater?"
"Indeed I am," Theddy said. "In fact, that's where my troubles began. I was going to so many plays, and posting so many opinions about what I saw, that one of the news services finally signed me on as part of their appreciators pool."
I knew about of those, yeah: appended to the remarks of professional reviewers were the Aficionados' and People's Choice scores, along with occasional snippets of commentary from their discussion boards. I'd even considered, at one point, quitting law to become a poverty-stricken food appreciator. But I didn't see a connection to Theddy's case, and said so.
Theddy's glass was empty again, and he waved it for a refill, which I provided. "See, the other appreciators were getting really burned off with me. 'You've already got a job,' they said. 'Why're you hogging an aficionado slot as well? You're taking a livelihood away from someone on Basic Assistance. Someone who loves the theater as much as you do."
"Now that's pathetic," I said.
But Theddy's take on it was more forgiving: "There are a lot of people who have nothing else to contribute, Carbo. They make good spectators, and where would the arts be without good spectators? But they can be really pushy about it. Really defensive. Some of these people, it means a lot more to them than it should. They started getting ugly, making threats."
"Ah. And you thought Angry Young Theddy could help."
"Well, yeah. A bit of him, anyway. The fire of youth to temper the iron of wisdom. But fire is tricky."
Those were Theddy's last words, and for the record, when the Constabulary had reconstructed the events that followed, I was fully exonerated of any negligence or inaction. The tampering with my home and office records had occurred during the moments while Theddy's image was in transit, and had triggered no firewall alerts or quantum decoherence flags. The camera that appeared in my ceiling was a mesh of microscopic sensors which my eyes could not possibly have discerned, even if I'd known where to look.
And although I was in fact looking right at Theddy—pouring the last of the Pinot Grigio into his glass, in fact—when the wellcloth of the pillows beneath him crackled and turned to metal, when the floor became a grid of high-voltage lines . . . I'll feel terrible about it for the rest of my life—forever, in other words—but I didn't know what was happening, or why, and even if I did there was really nothing I could have done about it.
When the corners of Theddy's lips drew backward and upward, exposing his teeth, I thought at first that he was smiling. But then his body began to jerk, and smoke, and his eyes grew milky, and I hope to God that the brain damage happened early, because if it didn't, then Theddy, paralyzed and twitching, felt his own hair catch fire, his own skin blacken and peel away. Was the general alarm the last thing he heard?
These were not only my speculations, but those of an entire Queendom of voyeurs, for there hadn't been a lurid murder in twenty years, nor an electrocution in over a hundred. And such events—even before they'd become rare—had always been strange.
The trial was only two hours long, and very nearly a formality. Theodore Great Kaffner, Sr.'s only physical body had been murdered, and the only recent copies of him—in the fax buffers of my home and office—had been expertly deleted. Angry Young Theddy did not deny his involvement in these acts, and even if he'd tried, he wouldn't have gotten very far in light of the Constabulary's overwhelming evidence.
On the face of it, he was guilty as sin, but Young Carmine, true to his beer-soaked promises, had mounted a spirited defense. Theddy was guilty, yes, but of what, exactly? Young Carmine consistently used the term "voluntary file maintenance" to describe the incident, and insisted that at the time of said maintenance, Young Theddy had had no way of knowing he'd been legally partitioned into a pair of twins. Thus, he was incapable of criminal intent in the commission of these acts, and if any loss or suffering resulted, it was—to Theddy's mind—of a self-inflicted sort which the law could frown on but not actually forbid.
It was, I thought, quite a savvy maneuver for a counselor so young. It made sense, and if justice were a purely logical affair, or an attempt to move forward with the minimum social damage, it might possibly have prevailed. But the other function of law is to frighten, to make examples, to discourage further thoughts of wrongdoing in the hearts of human beings. And the facts of the case remained incontrovertible: one legal individual was killed through the deliberate and premeditated actions of another. In the end, Young Carmine did about as well for Theddy as anyone could expect: malicious negligence resulting in death.
Tragically, of the durable archives Theddy had stored over the course of his life, the most recent was nearly twenty years out of date, and when it was printed and briefed and placed on the stand to provide commentary for the sentencing, all it could do was hang its head and weep. There was just too much missing from its life. It couldn't make sense of the actions of older or younger Theddy, nor of the circumstances it found itself awakened to. When the court asked if it wished to be marked disposable, and thus erased, the copy nodded slowly and was led away by the bailiffs.
As for Young Theddy, he was sentenced to 100 years' hard labor, without the possibility of parole, and since he was barely twenty-five years in subjective age, this was about as close to a death sentence as a person could get, without murdering thousands or attempting to destroy the sun. A century of subjugation, of cheek-to-jowl contact with humanity's hardest customers. When that was over, nothing would remain of the Theddy I went to college with. Theodore Great Kaffner had managed to destroy himself, and this date was one I would always remember as the true time and place of his death.
There have always been tragedies, and perhaps there always will be: sad events with a momentum of their own, which benefit no one and which make the world a poorer place. And yet, in a way, this was a fitting end for a prankster like Theddy. Hoist on his own petard, indeed. What a lark! I sobbed off and on throughout the trial, dabbing at my tears with a wellcloth handkerchief, but even so I could not avoid the occasional giggle or snort. Even Theddy's younger self, doomed to ruin, seemed on some level to appreciate the irony. He smiled and waved as they led him away, and would no doubt make friends in prison by throwing himself down the stairs.
Ever mindful of the convenience of its patrons, the court had scheduled my own case next on the docket. And this one really was a formality, for I had sent an offer to myself the night before, and accepted it gratefully. I, the older Carmine, would cede that portion of my wealth which the younger Carmine had rightfully earned, and Young Carmine would cede the name, changing his own to Ralph Faxborn Douglas. He would also move to a different city, seek new acquaintances, and change his face and hairstyle in minor but telling ways. As for Ralph's ongoing maintenance, I offered a generous five-year stipend, to give him a chance to get on his feet, to find a job or found a business somewhere. But Ralph, awash in notoriety, had no shortage of job offers, and had already licensed his story—our story—for a tidy sum which I agreed not to dispute or attach in any way. No further settlement was needed.
On the stand I was asked by the judge to confirm that yes, these were the terms I had agreed to. And I felt a momentary pang before answering, for letting go of my youth was a hard thing to do. But I spoke clearly for the record: "Yes, Your Honor. Ralph Douglas and I are in full agreement."
It was a sad affair all the way around, made all the more stressful and surreal for me by the presence of Pamela Red in the audience. What was she doing here? The question plagued me throughout both trials, only to be answered at the end, when I watched her fall happily into the arms of Ralph Faxborn. This was not my Pamela at all, the Antarctican matter programmer, but rather the archived student, still burning with passion, over whom I had pined for a decade and more, risking nearly everything. I watched the two of them, warm and happy together, and wondered if I'd ever feel a thing like that again. Was youth a necessary component?
Against my better judgment, I went over to talk to them. "You two look . . . happy together."
"Thank you for everything," Ralph said. "For life itself. I apologize for not trusting you."
And I answered him sternly: "Never apologize for being cautious. The world is full of nasty surprises, and lawyers, at least, must stand prepared. Until I'd thought about it, I was going to erase you." I paused a moment and then added, "Look, I've learned a lot over the years, about being you. We should sit down. Have a chat."
"And turn me into yourself?" Ralph laughed at that. "Another generous offer, sir, but I'll have to decline. Is my own future not bright? If you survived our trials and tribulations, I reckon I won't do any worse. And time will tell, sir, but I reckon I have a certain advantage as well, coming to this world as a traveler from its past. It gives a certain outsider's perspective which ought, I think, to be useful. So if it's all the same to you, I will ignore you as I would my own father. Fair enough?"
"You're a clever boy," I said, and it wasn't entirely a compliment.
All the while, young Pamela had been looking me over with great curiosity. And if this was painful, why, returning her gaze was like leaping into a furnace. "And you, young lady," I said as evenly as I could manage. "I'm quite flabbergasted to see you here."
"I imagine you are," she said, with a sympathy that was agonizingly genuine, and equally condescending. "I don't know your history, and I don't care to. But it upsets me to think I've caused you pain."
And that one really knocked the stuffing out of me. Young Pamela had always had a knack for that, for hitting me where I was weakest while trying, in some vague way, to be nice. And suddenly I was able to forgive her for that, for all of it. Because she was just some kid, and didn't know any better. How could she?
I nodded slowly. "Yes. Well. The intent behind your words is appreciated. Have you spoken with . . . yourself?"
"I have," she said, "and it's her you should be talking to, not me. I felt her letting go of a lot of anger. If you want to . . . you know, pounce in a moment of weakness . . . well, now would be time."
"Thanks for the tip," I said, laughing in spite of myself. And then, more thoughtfully: "She and I fought such battles over you. It's ironic, and rather sad, that she didn't surrender you sooner."
Pamela just looked at me then, with a wise sort of weariness, and said, "Love isn't a surrender, but a gift. Sometimes we return it unopened, but we never fail to appreciate it. If you're going to talk about me like a thing, at least have the right sort of thing in mind, all right? The real question to ask yourself is why she suddenly feels like giving."
God, she sounded so good. So lovely, so perfect. And Ralph, too, was everything a mutant, sexually deviant father could hope for. Surely here was a young man who could do no wrong, no matter what the provocation.
"I wish you both the very best of luck," I said with conviction.
And the two of them smiled at me as they might a distant relative, and then turned, arm-in-arm, and walked away. The perfect couple, yes. This was no longer the world they'd been copied from, and they were not those people. Not quite. Maybe things would be different this time.
The smart thing for me to do then would have been to go back home and get to work. There was plenty of work for me, always. But life was too short for that, yes? Even if it lasted forever. I had a flair for the dramatic and a nose for the strange; it was time to take a risk.
Still, it took all my strength to keep from shouting after them, "Fool! She's five months from dumping you!"
Copyright © 2005 Wil McCarthy
"The Policeman’s Daughter" is set within the world of Wil McCarthy’s novel The Collapsium, out in April 2020 from Baen Books. McCarthy is a former contributing editor for WIRED magazine and science columnist for the SyFy channel, where his "Lab Notes" column ran for ten years. His short fiction has graced the pages of magazines like Analog, Asimov's, WIRED, and SF Age. His novel Antediluvian is out from Baen Books. Lost in Transmission, an entry in McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol series is out from Baen, and The Collapsium, The Wellstone, and To Crush the Moon will appear in all-new Baen editions throughout 2020. McCarthy has also written for television, and appeared on the History Channel and the Science Channel. In addition to fiction and journalism, McCarthy also writes patents for a top law firm in Dallas.