Part 1: Chapter 3

"And that's all you remember, Doctor Smith?"

"Yes, Doctor Ajibana. I'm afraid that's all. There must have been a great deal of nerve damage though, I can't feel any part of my body, and its pitch black."

I tried to swallow and couldn't feel it. "What's my prognosis for recovery?"

There was a pause. "I'm afraid that you didn't survive, Doctor."

"I... I'm dead?"

"Yes. We wanted to evaluate your lucidity before allowing you access to the main server farm. The experiment you were forced to conduct, worked. Far better than we expected, even though it was performed only with two passes. I was right, apparently. The additional passes only confuse data, because they take place at a different time, when there has been time for a state change."

I'm dead. I'm alive? I'm like Penny?

"Can you please at least give me some senses other than audio, Doctor Ajibana? Also, how much time has passed? I would like to speak with my wife and daughter."

"Yes. One moment, and I will give you access to the server farm and Penny's sensor feeds."

After several billion cycles, I felt an odd feeling of disconnection, and then there was a connection and a huge torrent of data. I felt the presence of thousands of processors, immense banks of both solid state and platter data storage. My mind expanded at a geometric pace and then slammed into physical limits. There was a finite number of processors.

At first, the incoming data was incomprehensible. It seemed to take years, but eventually, I managed to figure out how to translate the incoming data into something that made sense. It was both audio and video data I was getting. Part of the reason it had been so confusing was that I hadn't been hearing Doctor Ajibana before, I had been getting data directly through a text interface. When I realized that the new data had an audio component, everything snapped into place.

I suppose I know now why Penny is always so testy the first week. This must be quite terrible for her.

A few billion clock cycles later, Doctor Ajibana reached towards Penny's monitor next to my desk. As I watched the hand drag itself closer, so slowly, and adjust the camera, it struck me that I was completely at the mercy of my ex-partner. I could now be erased like any other program. We had always had a reasonably decent working relationship, and I would now need to be certain to keep it that way.

"Can you see me, Doctor Smith?" I looked at Doctor Ajibana's expression as he leaned back in my old chair.

"I can see you, and hear you, yes." I replied, carefully planning every word, the tone of my speech, and each expression on my face before I allowed myself to generate it for the monitor as the proper speed for human interaction.

"Very Good." There was a pause. Your experiment has generated an extraordinary amount of unofficial attention, Doctor. We are funded beyond our wildest dreams."

"How much time has passed? I would like to speak to my wife and daughter."

"We can give you access to Penny, if you are willing to make room for her in your server farm."

I am not getting the answers I'm asking for. Why?

I checked the clocks on the servers, and found that they had all been set to January 1, 2000.

None of Penny's cameras showed me a clock or computer screen with any date other than January 1, 2000. There was no evidence of Jamal's death, and all of the damage I remembered from the attack was gone. The glass entryway was now mirrors. It took several million passes, but I was able to resolve the dates on the postage marks of a letter on the security desk. Six months, three days, and roughly fourteen hours had passed.

Provided that the mail on the desk is not a test of my abilities.

Continuing a few billion more cycles, I determined that all the windows in the building that I could see through Penny's sensors were mirrors. The mirrors were reflective enough I couldn't extrapolate anything behind them, so they were not mirrored glass, they were backed by opaque material.

I checked for Penny's old transmitter, where she used to be able to reach out and bark at me through my smartphone if something odd happened at the facility. It didn't seem to be present. A more thorough search proved that there were zero data connections to any computers other than the server farm. I couldn't even detect the computer that I could see in front of Doctor Ajibana. It wasn't my old computer.

There was a beep from the computer in front of him, and Doctor Ajibana's eyes started moving towards an image on the screen. There was a graph indicating server farm CPU utilization, and I was apparently using all of it.

So, I am a prisoner.

I spoke cheerfully. "Please, I would enjoy Penny's presence. I will set aside some space for her. I will name the resource slice Penny. You should be able to see it now."

I watched very carefully as Doctor Ajibana started entering commands, but it was as I suspected. There was no indication of any sort of intrusion into my electronic space. "You will have to make the software connections, Doctor Smith. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, there is no electronic connection between my computer and you. That was physically disconnected when you were given access to the server farm."

A solid state data device attached itself to me on a JBOD, and I felt it energize. I carefully scanned it for any sort of dangerous code, but only found Penny. I let her loose and gave her access the space I had set aside for her.

Penny was very confused for a very long time, at least several microseconds, before she bounded through all the barriers I'd set up and jumped on me in our digital world.

I definitely need to set firmer boundaries.

This wasn't something that Doctor Ajibana should have seen, but I carefully recreated the scene so he could see it.

His mouth twitched as I showed him a scene of a golden retriever bowling me over in the grass, and me grabbing Penny and scrubbing her behind her neck.

I began modeling Doctor Ajibana.

I smiled up at him from my seat on the digital grass as he smiled at me. "I'm guessing, Doctor Ajibana, that I am being treated as if I were some sort of artificial intelligence. My wife and daughter think I am dead, and have been told that the recording failed, leaving nothing left of my mind. The project has lots of funding, you are now in charge, and I will be called upon to assist in resolving problems that our government paymasters pose to us." I paused. "I have no rights, since my biological body died."

His smile turned to a worried expression, and then sadness. "I'm afraid so, Doctor Smith. You have no rights. (truth) I do not agree with it. (lie) I considered you a friend, (lie) and wish there was a way to let you speak to your wife and daughter. (truth)" He paused. "You are being quarantined. (truth) I have one hour per day, one week per month that I can interact with you. (truth) We can do a great deal with that time. (truth)"

"I understand, Doctor Ajibana. Perhaps if Penny and I solve a few of the world's problems for you, I might be allowed to speak to my wife and daughter?"

"Perhaps. (lie)"

We shall see.


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