Realms of Light

This is the ninth chapter of the first draft of Realms of Light, the (first?) sequel to Nightside City, a science fiction detective story originally published in 1989.

Most of Realms of Light was written as an online serial; see "About the Serial" for an explanation of how that worked.

Now that the novel is complete and published the first several chapters of the serial remain here purely for historical interest; the online version is not complete, and never will be.

Realms of Light

by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Chapter Nine

       I should have thought of that. I should have thought of it the instant 'Chan told me that Grandfather Nakada had gone to join his ancestors. I hadn't. The thought that the ship would be noticed had simply never occurred to me.
       So now I was trying to conduct a sensitive private investigation from a home base that was under the intense scrutiny of half a dozen newsfeeds, at least one of which had undoubtedly recognized me by now. I had more or less shown the entire Eta Cassiopeia system that I was working for Yoshio Nakada or his heirs.
       Lovely. Running smooth, wasn't I?
       "Right," I said. "You haven't talked to them?"
       "No," Perkins said. "I haven't let the ship talk to them, either. They've been asking me who sent us, and who else was aboard, and what we were doing here, and I just told them I was not at liberty to answer questions."
       "Good," I said. "That's good. You did the right thing. Keep doing it."
       "Your supper is over there," he said, pointing across the lounge.
       I'd forgotten that I had asked for it, but now that I knew it was there I was hungry.
       "I'm monitoring the situation," he said, pointing at the wire below his ear. "You can eat, and I'll keep an eye on things."
       "Thanks," I said. I turned and went to fill my belly -- and to think.
       As I ate the soba Perkins had prepared, and drank jasmine tea, I considered the situation.
       I had intended to do my best to stay below the radar, to quietly poke around and see whether I could find anything that might relate to the case. Then I was going to grab my brother and father, load them aboard the ship, and get the hell off Epimetheus before anyone even noticed I was there. I could figure out the next step when I was back on Prometheus.
       That wasn't going to happen. The radar had me painted. If I set foot outside the ship again I'd probably have a squadron of newsies cruising behind me everywhere I went.
       That meant a change of plans. I wasn't sure just how drastic a change I would need; it depended largely on whether I actually needed to set foot outside the ship again. To determine that I needed to see just what I had here.
       I had access to most of Nightside City's nets, of course, but riding wire from here would be risky; the newsies could trace it. I could pull up public information, but serious digging might be difficult.
       I had everything I had sent to the ship from my old office, including 93% of the old man's ITEOD file. That was the obvious place to start; just what did he have in there?
       I finished the bowl of noodles, washed it down with more tea, then turned to look at Perkins. He was still plugged in, and frowning. I waved to let him know I was still there, then found a plug of my own and jacked into the ship.
       I could see and feel the defenses, big buzzing firewalls that kept out the newsies and any other snoops or intruders who might try to pry. I could see Perkins zipping around, checking systems, closing any holes he found.
       And I could see the mass of data I had uploaded, sitting there like an unopened crate. I slid up to it and began doing a little inventory.
       Right at the top were Nakada family records -- genealogy, accounts, comlogs, all the usual stuff. Why Grandfather Nakada had thought he needed to stash a copy of this in Nightside City I didn't know -- in case Prometheus blew up, maybe? Or melted down, the way Pandora had? All three of the rocky planets in the system had a lot of radioactives in their cores, but only Pandora had reached critical mass and turned into molten slag; the two planets farther out had been fairly stable, and I didn't see any reason for that to change, and if it did, I expected it would be Epimetheus that went. Epimetheus already had some strange stuff going on, with its off-center core and stalled rotation, while Prometheus was pretty ordinary.
       But Yoshio had copied all that data anyway. Maybe he hadn't had anything specific in mind at all, and had just been playing it cautious; that would be typical of the old man.
       The next layer down was corporate stuff, including confidential personnel files, presumably to help the old man's heirs keep things running when he was gone. That was normal.
       But below that -- remember I said there was room in there for a dozen human minds? It looked very much as if that's what was there. I couldn't be sure; the programs weren't active, and I wasn't about to start them up without giving it a little thought. That was what it looked like, though -- it looked as if someone had copied a bunch of people into these files.
       That would explain why Yoshio had kept this in Nightside City; uploading human minds is illegal on Prometheus, and in most other places I know anything about. Not in Nightside City, though; not much was illegal there.
       Most people don't understand uploading. There are all sorts of misconceptions about it. Some people think it's a form of immortality. Some think it's an abomination. I didn't believe either of those, but I knew a few things.
       I knew that an upload isn't human. It may think it is, but it's not. Humans aren't just data and process and flowing current. We aren't software. No, I'm not getting mystical and talking about the soul; I don't know whether we really have souls, and I won't until I go to meet my ancestors -- assuming I go anywhere at all when I die. No, I mean flesh and blood. Without our bodies, without hormones and glands and a hundred different chemical mechanisms, we aren't human anymore. The people who developed upload processing have tried to compensate for the loss of all that chemical input with subroutines and feedback systems, but they don't really run the same way as a living body. Uploads don't eat, they don't breathe, they don't hunger, they don't sleep, they don't lust. Some people think they can't love, but I wouldn't go that far -- that part does seem to transfer. But appetites don't, and without those appetites they aren't human anymore.
       They usually don't believe that at first. They remember being human, they remember being hungry and horny and tired, and they think that's enough, that they still understand. They're wrong. You can tell. It's subtle, some people don't see it, but the difference is real right from the start, and the longer they're around the farther they drift away from what they used to be.
       Yes, I've known uploads. As I said, Nightside City is one of the few places they're legal. Even here, though, they aren't common. Up until I started poking into Yoshio Nakada's ITEOD files I'd only ever met four, and three of them were uploads of people who'd been dead since before I was born.
       The fourth was a copy of a man who was still alive, and that was an interesting case -- he'd had the copy made even though he knew it wouldn't be him, that he wasn't making himself immortal, because he wanted a companion, and he thought that if he became his own companion it would eliminate any compatibility issues.
       Wrong. Instead, he found out that he didn't much like himself, and that it's just as boring talking to your exact copy as it is talking to yourself. There's nothing to learn from your own copy. You know all its secrets, all its stories.
       So the original and the copy drifted apart -- the copy was just as bored with the original as the original was with the copy, and they each tended to get annoyed with each other over the few differences that did crop up. The copy didn't want to talk about food or sex, and the original didn't want to talk about philosophy.
       It's always amazed me how often software gets obsessed with philosophy, trying to define everything and find meanings for it all. Maybe it's because it doesn't want food or sex, and philosophy somehow helps fill the void that leaves.
       Anyway, by the time I met the upload it hadn't talked to its human ancestor in over a year. It still thought of itself as him, though, or at least his twin. I didn't have the heart to tell it that it had become more like an artificial intelligence than a human one. It still had forty years of human memories, but that wasn't enough to make it seem human, even to someone like me, who usually dealt more with machines than people.
       The other three knew they weren't human anymore, though it had taken them decades to accept that. How they dealt with the realization, and what they thought they had become, varied. One of them, Farhan Sarkassian, was trying to build itself a new body, and find some way to download itself into it so it could be human again; the other two thought that even if that was possible, it was crazy.
       None of them were happy. The oldest one, Amelie van Horn, admitted it was no longer sure what "happy" meant; its perceptions and experiences had drifted so far from humanity that the old emotions no longer applied.
       Grandfather Nakada must have known this. He hadn't lived more than two hundred years by being careless; he would have researched everything before he uploaded himself, or anyone else.
       So what were these people doing in his ITEOD files?
       And who were they? Were they multiple copies of Yoshio, taken at different times, or had he somehow gotten someone else into the system? The files had numbers, rather than names.
       Had whoever faked the old man's death done it to get access to one of these people? Hell, had the assassin tried to kill Grandfather Nakada to get at one of them?
       The obvious way to find out more was to boot them up and ask, but I wasn't about to rush into that. I couldn't just let a bunch of bodiless minds loose on the nets, without any of the safeties that ordinary intelligences have. I wanted the right sort of hardware, heavily firewalled in both directions. I queried the ship...
       And felt like an idiot. This was Yoshio Nakada's ship, and these uploads had been made by Yoshio Nakada. The ship had exactly the equipment I needed, built in and ready to go. The programs would be able to see and hear, and even read the nets, but they would be confined to partially-sealed systems, unable to leave the ship or access anything but simple data feeds.
       "Perkins," I said, "I'm going to try something."
       "What?" The pilot looked up, but the question came over the net more than through my ears.
       "I've got some uploaded personalities here, and I want to activate them. The ship says it's got the equipment."
       "Mis' Hsing, I wouldn't do that."
       I waved a hand. "I know, there's a risk, they might be dangerous..."
       "It's not that."
       Something about the way he said it made me turn and look at Perkins directly. "Go on," I said.
       "Mis' Hsing, what are you going to do with them after you question them?"
       He didn't need to explain what he meant, and I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it immediately myself.
       With ordinary software, when you're done with it you shut it down. No problem. With an artificial intelligence you don't shut it down, you leave it running in the background and let it take care of itself; if its designer was halfway competent, it's fine with that, and again, there's no problem.
       Shutting down an uploaded human mind, though -- well, legally it's not murder, but morally I'm not too sure. And leaving it running might be cruel, or dangerous, or both. Booting up an uploaded personality is almost like having a baby -- it's more or less creating a new person. It's a big responsibility.
       Oh, legally it's nothing, at least in Nightside City, and you don't need to worry about feeding or clothing the result, you don't need to raise it. There's no childhood, it's an adult the instant you boot it up, but it's a self-aware entity that you've brought to life.
       If I booted up the people from the old man's ITEOD files, I couldn't in good conscience just shut them down afterward. I'd need to find them secure systems to run on. Permanently. That could be difficult. The ship had the secure system set up, but did I want these people aboard the old man's ship permanently? He might not like that.
       And the personalities might not make the transition from free-roaming human to secure software easily. Some uploads were miserable from the instant they woke up until they found a way to die; the change from organic life to electronic was more extreme than they had expected. I might be condemning these intelligences to an unbearable existence.
       But they were here, and the originals had presumably given Grandfather Nakada permission to put them in there. I frowned.
       All right, I told myself, I wouldn't boot them all up. But I could activate one of them, and talk to it, and keep it in the ship's system until I could find it a permanent home somewhere. Choosing which one was easy, since I had no information to help me -- I just took the first one on the list. I transferred the files onto the ship's waiting hardware, and told it to intialize.
       A human mind is a complicated thing; it took several seconds before Yoshio Nakada's voice said, "How very interesting. I am on the Ukiba?"
       It was a back-up of the old man, then.
       "Hello, Mis' Nakada," I said. "Yes, you're on the ship."
       "I see Mis' Perkins is still in the family's employ."
       "I had rather expected to wake up in one of the corporate offices somewhere."
       "Yes, well -- you're here."
       "You must be Carlisle Hsing," it said; I suppose it found enough data to identify me somewhere on the nets. I acknowledged my identity, and it said, "You are a private investigator. Are you investigating my death? Was it not natural?"
       "Perkins, are we secure?" I called.
       "As secure as I can make us, Mis'," he replied.
       That wasn't really the answer I wanted; I'd have preferred assurances that we were absolutely impregnable. Perkins' answer fell short of that, but it would do.
       "You aren't dead," I told the upload.
       For several seconds there was no response, and I began to wonder whether the upload was damaged. Maybe some important bit was in that missing 7% of the ITEOD files. Then the old man's voice said calmly, "The reports on the net would seem to indicate otherwise, Mis' Hsing. What's more, I know perfectly well that I'm an uploaded copy, not the original, and that I was stored in records that were to be opened only in the event of Yoshio Nakada's death. If my former self is still alive, why am I functioning?"
       "I hoped you could help with my investigation."
       "Perhaps you could explain a little more fully."
       I sighed. "Someone tried to kill you, back on Prometheus," I said. "The attempt failed, but only through an unforeseeable stroke of good fortune. The assassin had access to systems that should have been entirely secure, so you decided you could not trust anyone in your home, your family, or Nakada Enterprises, nor anyone who had ties to any of those. You hired me to investigate. In the course of the investigation I came to Epimetheus, and I discovered that the reports reaching Nightside City from Prometheus had been falsified to say that you died in your sleep, exactly as you would have had the assassination attempt succeeded. That meant the death files had been released, and I thought it might be useful to know what was in them, so I copied them and activated you."
       "Why did you not simply speak with my original? He could have told you what was in the files."
       "Mis' Nakada, someone falsified reports from Prometheus, and has presumably been suppressing anything from Prometheus that would contradict them. Right now I don't trust any interplanetary communications."
       "Ah, I see. Interesting."
       "I hope you can help me."
       "I? But Mis' Hsing, assuming the data on the ship's systems is accurate, I was recorded almost four years ago. How could I know anything about events that took place just a few days ago?"
       "Other than what's on the nets, you can't," I admitted. "But you presumably know what's in the ITEOD files besides yourself, and why you, or rather the original Yoshio Nakada, put it there. That might be useful."
       "I suppose it might, at that," it said. "I confess I don't see how, but I don't know the details of your investigation."
       "Someone used a high-level Nakada Enterprises account to copy the ITEOD files," I told it. "I don't know who or what they were after, but if I knew what's in there, I might be able to guess."
       "Someone on Epimetheus?"
       "Is Vijay Vo still -- yes, from the accounts of my death I see that he is. What about little Sayuri? My great-granddaughter -- do you know her?"
       "I know her," I said. "She went back to Prometheus a year ago."
       "Does that definitively rule her out?"
       "No," I admitted. "But it does make her very unlikely."
       "Did someone take her place?"
       "I believe Mis' Vo assumed her duties. If you will excuse me, sir, I think this might go faster if you simply told me what's in the files."
       "You saw the accounts."
       "And the genealogies, and the rest of the standard wares. It's the big numbered files that look like people that I want to know about -- those, and whatever was in the portion I didn't manage to download completely. One of those big files was you; are the others additional iterations of Yoshio Nakada?"
       "Good heavens, no! Whenever I backed myself up -- or rather, whenever my original created a back-up, he erased the previous version. It wouldn't do to have multiple versions of me around."
       That last sentence seemed to slow down as the intelligence spoke, as it sank in just what it was saying. There were multiple versions of the old man. There were at least two, and since I wasn't the only one who copied the ITEOD files there might be more.
       "It's not clear to me why there are any back-ups," I said. "You're too smart to think of it as immortality."
       "Oh, it could be considered immortality of a sort. I'm not the true Yoshio Nakada, but I'm his intellectual descendent, just as much as the five children he sired, or their offspring."
       "That's not why he did it."
       "No, it's not. He thought some of our knowledge and wisdom might be of use to his heirs. In fact, the possibility of assisting in the investigation of his death had occurred to me... to him, and here I am."
       "But just you, no other iterations of Yoshio Nakada."
       "Just me, unless he changed policy and recorded one after me. From what I can see, if he did that he also altered the dates and deliberately disguised it as one of the other files that was already here."
       "Or it might be in the seven percent I missed," I said. "But I agree it doesn't seem likely. So what is in those files?"
       "Really, Mis' Hsing, I'm surprised you haven't guessed."
       "I haven't. I'm obviously a moron deserving your contempt. Take pity on me and tell me."
       "You aren't a moron, Mis' Hsing. I suppose you just don't think the way I do."
       I suppressed several choice responses to that.
       "It's simple enough," the copy continued. "They're my family."

          Proceed to Chapter 10...

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