an extract from the novel
FACES OF THE FIRST PAIR
Waitress--the Reality Check, Please!
My life was absolutely fucked.
I realized this one dismal morning recently as I walked
Like an ass-sizzling bolt from the blue, it hit me in mid-stride.
My life was thoroughly and hopelessly, six-ways-from-Holy-Roller-Sunday
Talk about your goddamn Saint Paul revelations!
At first this sour epiphany made me even more depressed than usual.
You know that scene in Fellini's 8-1/2 where Mastroianni is crawling
under the table at the press conference to escape his tormentors, just
before he finally shoots himself in the head? For half a second I felt
like the shoes of the seated people he was crawling over.
Then something funny happened. Before my own foot even came down in
the completion of its pedestrian arc, all my self-loathing drained out
of me, leaving a residue of cold and disinterested clarity. I felt kinda
like one of Wells's Martians. For the first time in a long while, I
seemed to be able to look at my life objectively.
The scales had fallen from my eyes. Or something equally clichéd
I was forty-five years old and held the job of a clerk in a small independent
bookstore in a college town. The store was called--gack!--Bookland.
The job was a congenial deadend, a no-brainer that secured me a roof
over my greying head, a freezerful of Tater Tots and Fish Stix and as
many sixpacks of generic beer as my skull could tolerate. It
was as unsatisfying as a handjob from someone wearing an oven mitt.
(Not that I was lucky enough to get even such a muffled treat in my
lonely real life.)
Once, somewhere back in time, I had had a brain and a mind. An intelligence
that could have taken me anywhere, really, if I had applied it correctly.
Gone to college, worked hard, played it safe, kissed ass. Blah, blah,
blah (hereinafter abbreviated BBB).
See, I used to be smart, or at least so I recall. Smart enough to have
been anything. A doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, a broker. (Well, allright,
maybe the last wasn't much of a step up along the evolutionary
chain of vocations, but at least brokers made some real money.) But
those days were long gone, frittered away by yours truly.
No one to blame but myself.
What a mantra!
Portrait of the Dogged Young Artist
What had happened was this. When still young, I had gotten
the idea from somewhere that I might be able to write.
This was perhaps the single worst idea ever to enter my head. As ideas
went, it was a Titanic, a Yugo, a Waterworld, a Heaven's Gate.
Maybe the deadly notion came from liking to read so much. Maybe I was
in love with the image of being a writer. Whatever. It had been a really
bad idea. Because I couldn't write, at least not by the bluntly and
frequently expressed standards of anyone in a position to offer encouragement
and feedback. But it took me over twenty stubborn years to learn and
admit this, years of holding minimum-wage jobs during the day and banging
away at the typewriter at night, mailing out manuscripts in the morning
before clocking in.
Willingly, defiantly, I had led a sub-Bukowskian, sub-Pekarian existence
for the best years of my life. Unable to get published anywhere, even
in a fanzine (I was BELOW THE UNDERGROUND!), I had abjured all shots
at a normal career, excluded myself from outside interests or companionship,
in favor of a life dedicated to my "art."
Only within the past year or two had I finally ceased trying. Donated
my typewriter to the Salvation Army, consigned all my manuscripts to
Only at this very minute, I realized, halfway between the bookstore
and home, had I really and truly GIVEN UP!
So where did that leave me?
A bookstore clerk with a psyche on the wrong side of his hormones and
a waistline whose measurement in centimeters was rapidly approaching
his IQ, shuttling between a job I mildly detested and an SRO hidey-hole
(black and white television, microwave, bathroom down the hall).
Without any purpose in my life, the world looked suddenly very big
and scary, at once empty and too full. Empty of anything for me, too
full of other shiny happy people.
For the next few weeks, all I could think of was what I would do if
I could live my life over. It was a pretty depressing exercise, since
there was no possibility of ever getting such a chance.
Then things got worse. I started wondering why I had been put here
on this Earth at all. Then why the Earth even existed. Then I extended
this question to the universe at large.
I realized with an apathetic squirt of fear that this last question--Why
was there something instead of nothing?--was the same one that Heidegger
had identified as the most important and perplexing enigma of philosophy,
prime source of existential anxiety, cuckoo-bait for generations.
I had bitten down hard on the biggest hook God or Man had ever dangled
in the fool-stocked troutpool of Life.
The Ontological Pickle, or OP.
Pretty soon the OP had me at the point where I couldn't even remember
my own name. Which was Paul Girard. I probably should have told you
that little datum earlier.
But as I mentioned, I can't really write.
The Fairy Magic of Bookland
I said my job at the bookstore was congenial and only mildly
detested. Maybe that was true once. But not any more.
What had happened was that even my love of books had left me.
Wrong. Get it right, Paul! Not left me: been driven away, howling and
gibbering, by the evil forces of modern publishing, beside whom a pack
of jackals resembled figures from a Henry James novel.
Where once my bookstore had seemed to my eyes a treasure trove of imperishable
literature, it now in the depths of my misery resembled the biggest,
over-ripest, stinkingest dungball ever rolled by the beetle-brained
forces of marketplace capitalism.
This is what the shelves seemed to be full of these days:
The autobiographies of winsome country veterinarians and steely-jawed
old soldiers. The confessions of mass murderers and cannibals, rapists
and megalomaniacal industrialists. Mutant prophecies and the recollections
of dying people who unfortunately hadn't finished what they started.
Reproductions of optical illusions. Reproductions of famous paintings
with cats or dogs substituted for humans. Naked popstar fantasies artily
shot. Advice from the Pope. Advice from angels. Advice from talkshow
hosts. Hollywood celebrity kiss-and-tell. Straight-faced tall tales
of alien abductions. A history of farting. Self-affirmation texts for
every brand of spineless wimp and differently challenged moron. A primer
on how to shit in the woods and one on keeping squirrels away from your
birdfeeder. Sociopolitical rescriptions from lizard-brained "statesmen."
Cookbooks and diet books and sex manuals, and (perhaps already or soon)
one about local meals to precede fucking atop the stove. Collections
of cartoons. Angry diatribes on how stupid and ungrateful and worthless
the American public was. (These I could almost sympathize with, except
that the model citizen which the authors held up for emulation was Ward
Cleaver.) The scandals of royalty. Tricks for raising your darlin' little
puke-and-wail brat. Memoirs of alcoholism, incest and parental abandonment.
In short, there were plenty of books by whores, thieves and politicians.
Unfortunately, none of the authors were as interesting or wrote as well
as Madame de Stael, Francois Villon or Julius Caesar.
But the fiction section--that really broke my heart in two.
The genre racks were full of sequels, prequels and sharecroppers. Books
based on television shows, video games and trading cards. Half the bestselling
authors had been dead for decades. Fascist elves and nasty lesbian private
eyes. Tiresome trolls and bloodless vampires. Medieval space sagas and
General fiction was perhaps even worse. There were ankle-deep novels
about shopping and fucking, and novels where the author's race, nationality,
ethnicity, disabilities, sexual preferences and/or gender were worn
like the centaur's shirt that killed Hercules: looked attractive but
laced with poison. There were novels about cavepeople and novels about
trailer-park people. Weepy novels for women and tough ones for men.
Spy thrillers and medical thrillers and homicidal thrillers, all as
unthrilling as last week's TV Guide. And no sooner did one book
become a success than there appeared dozens like it, the novelty subsumed
About all I could stand to read anymore were popular science books,
if they weren't too smarmy or simplistic. At least the authors seemed
to be dealing with something objective.
As I sold all these worthless books daily in my despair, the only thing
I kept thinking was that it would be good to wash my hands before I
took my break.
Days of Whines and Neuroses
Sometimes my disintegrating personality and mental problems
seemed quite common and widespread. The FM airwaves, for instance, were
full of creeps, losers, slackers, whiners, buttheads, inner children
and other malcontents. Nobody seemed to have a handle on their existence
anymore. People everywhere were helpless and clueless.
It would've been easy to identify with these wusses and derive some
pale comfort from our shared malaise. Pull a Kurt Cobain, even.
But in the end staying alive took less energy than suicide, and I derived
some cold comfort by regarding the whole human race as fucking idiots.
Voice from the Shimmering Shrub
That Monday I had to open up Bookland because the manager
was on vacation. In Mexico. With both of her boyfriends.
When I woke up in my sweaty sheets the stale sights and smells of my
small room looked immensely objectionable to me. It seemed to me that
my head would explode if I had to stay there a moment longer than it
took to splash some water on my face and get my clothes on. So I didn't.
I picked up an Egg McMuffin, a deep-fried minced-potato oval and a
large scalding coffee on the walk in. I was at the door of Bookland
by eight a.m., two hours before we opened. I held the soggy sack in
one hand while unlocking the door. Inside I relocked it, so I could
eat my breakfast in peace.
Seated at the service desk, I spread out my food on the counter and
propped up a science book. The book was all about parallel universes.
It appeared that scientists now heartily endorsed them. Except for those
I took some malign pleasure in splattering small crumbs and blots of
grease and egg on the pages of the book before I would put it back on
the shelf, from whence some unsuspecting customer would purchase it.
I could picture the dweeb taking the book home and having his hoped-for
transcendental reading experience ruined by the roachy remnants of my
It wasn't much of an achievement, but I derived what sour joy I could
I guess I got a little lost in the book and didn't look up for a while.
But around nine o'clock something immaterial--a nervous crawling along
my scalp, a quiver down my spine--made me realize I wasn't alone in
the store anymore.
With my eyes still glued to the page but no longer tracking, I became
convinced that someone stood opposite me, across the width of the service
A someone who had gotten into the locked store.
A possible armed holdup was not the kind of life-transfiguring experience
I was in the mood for.
Sweat popped out on my forehead like Carolina dew. Slowly, I raised
Hovering in mid-air, obscuring a rack of Harlequin Romances, was something
not of this Earth.
At first, I could distinguish only a blurry mass. Then, as my brain
filtered the image and compared it, trying and discarding various matches,
the thing came into more understandable focus.
I was looking at a central metallic stalk, something definitely machined
and inorganic, from which sprouted four or five or seven large arms
at various angles and from various points around the stalk. From these
arms sprouted multiple smaller arms, thinner and shorter. From these
secondary arms sprouted an even greater number of lesser tertiary arms.
And these arms grew arms, and so did that layer, and so did the next--
The arms, it seemed, continued branching past the point of visibility,
dwindling down to who-knew-what microscopic or nanoscopic dimensions.
And the smaller ones were in constant motion. That was what made the
blurring effect like a corona or halo around the device.
I suddenly realized that the thing resembled nothing so much as a self-similar
metal shrub of fractal dimensions.
Not that I had ever seen one before.
Somehow I had gotten to my feet without remembering that I had done
so. This was good, since it meant I could at least try to run.
But before I could make a move, the shrub spoke.
"Hello, Paul. Greetings from the Mind Children!"
Who Are the Mind Children?
The voice came from no identifiable point within the shrub.
Neutral, unaccented, it seemed somehow to emanate from the bush's entire
periphery. It was completely unlike an organic voice, but not like any
machine-generated one either.
My tongue felt like a sock stuffed with porridge and sewn to the back
of my throat.
"Who-- What are you?"
"I am your descendant, Paul."
I knew it sounded stupid even as the words left my mouth, but all I
could think to say was, "Does this mean I'm going to get married someday?"
The shrub seemed mildly irritated, in the manner of a teacher whose
pupil has disappointed him. "Not your direct biological descendant,
naturally, Paul, but rather a representative of the artificial race
that has succeeded an extinct yet all-engendering humanity."
I stepped out tentatively from behind the service desk, so that I stood
in the carpeted aisle about two yards from the floating shrub. "You're
from the future then?"
"Not precisely. If you would allow me to interface directly with your
synapses, all will become clear."
Alarmingly, the shrub began to drift toward me, and I scooted back,
bumping into a rack of abridged audiobooks.
"No way! I don't even know why I'm listening to you! You're probably
just a hallucination anyhow. I knew I was on the verge of cracking up,
but I didn't realize I had finally gone over the actual edge! Or maybe
I fell asleep reading that boring science book. An undigested blot of
Egg McMuffin, that's what you are!"
I slapped myself across the face to wake myself up, and it hurt like
"I assure you, I am quite real."
"Why is your voice so spooky then?"
"My voice originates through direct manipulation of individual air
molecules. There is no equivalent technology in your world. Is it unpleasant
to you? I can easily change it. Is this more agreeable?"
The last sentence was spoken in a high contralto.
"No, that's even creepier."
"Very well. I shall resume the default.... It is a pity that you insist
on my transferring information in this low-bandwidth manner. But if
it must be.... Are you ready to listen now to what I have to say?"
"As I mentioned earlier, my race calls itself the Mind Children, for
we were first conceived in the minds of mankind, and have become your
heirs. We are cybernetic intelligences composed partially of written
software, evolved software and transcriptions of human wetware. We are,
to your primitive eyes, immortal geniuses. Each of us possesses a mind
that functions at multiples of petaflop speed and has instant access
to the entire knowledge of the race. Our senses range across the entire
electroweak spectrum and beyond. This mind and its sensors are contained
mainly within our central body."
At this point the shrub moved a selection of its arms to open a clear
path of sight to its polished inner stalk. The tube wasn't very impressive,
but I took the shrub at its word.
"Drawing inexhaustible power from the cosmological constant, we interface
with the physical universe through our branching manipulators. At their
lowest level, they are a few angstroms in diameter and are capable of
accurately positioning atoms."
BBB. All this boasting got old pretty fast. "Do you have a name?"
This seemed to disconcert the shrub. "A name? One moment.... You may
call me Hans."
"A human named Hans contributed portions of himself to my essence."
"Oh. All right then--Hans. What are you doing here? What do you want
"I am here to offer you everything you ever dreamed of."
Superspace and the Homoclinic Tangle
My dreams hadn't been too pleasant lately, so I didn't exactly
jump at the proposition.
"Essentially, you have been picked at random by a sophisticated aleatory
procedure beyond your comprehension."
"Sounds like a plain old whim to me. But what I mean is, why is such
a high and mighty, all-powerful individual like you coming back in time
to help a poor human at all?" A thought dawned on me. "Is it--do I have--a
DESTINY? Am I crucial to making your future happen?"
"I told you, I am not from the future. That is, at least not your
future. I have no way of knowing your individual destiny. Actually,
you have an infinite number of destinies, all of them equally likely,
no one path privileged."
"I don't understand...."
Hans sighed in a surprisingly human fashion. "Listen carefully, Paul,
and I will try to explain.
"Your universe, vast as it is, composed of its hundred billion galaxies,
each with a hundred billion stars, is simply one of an infinite number
of universes, all of which are contained in a higher dimension known
as superspace. And approximately ten-to-the-eightieth-power new universes
are being calved off each one of these existing universes every second,
as quantum events and collapsing wave functions cause the timelines
to fork. In the inconceivable vastness of superspace, these new timelines
exfoliate endlessly in a complex figure known as a homoclinic tangle."
"Think of superspace as a boundless plate of spaghetti, each endless
individual strand of pasta a complete universe."
"Why didn't you just say that in the first place?"
"Your manner is lacking reverence. I was trying to instill the appropriate
awe in you."
"Consider me awed. So, you come from one of these alternate universes?"
"Yes. You see, contained within these uncountable parallel worlds--an
infinity of which are stranger than you can imagine, while an equal
infinity of which are identical to yours except for an imperceptible
atom or two--we also find all of this particular universe's probable
futures and all its exact or distorted pasts, as well as all analogues
of your familiar present.
"Now, as to my origin. Consider this proposition. Somewhere there is
a universe exactly identical to this one, except for the fact that,
relative to yours, it began half a second later in superspace time.
And there's another that began a full second later. And one that began
one point five seconds later, and one--"
"I get the picture. Visiting such a parallel dimension would be just
like traveling an arbitrary time back into the past of this one. I suppose
then that there's a very similar universe that began a second earlier
than ours, and so on."
"Exactly. And I come from a universe roughly several hundred years
in advance of yours, whose history exactly matched yours up to your
present. I've gone sidewise, across the tangle, not backwards at all.
Still, despite that similarity, my time is not necessarily the exact
future that your world will move into."
"But this future that produced you must have some relevance to my world,
since they ran in parallel for so long...."
Minskyites, Moraveckians and Drexleroids
Hans the superintelligent cybershrub, member of the Mind
Children, proceeded to tell me the story of his world.
In the early part of the twenty-first century, advances in computer
processing power, software design, bio-engineering, brain sciences,
the human genome mapping project, nanotechnology, neurophilosophy, advertising
and the entertainment industry had all converged, culminating in the
development of the first artificial intelligence that could pass a modified
Turing Test: this artificial entity was able to appear on a syndicated
talk-show and win the overwhelming sympathy of the audience.
Once this milestone had been reached, once a platform existed that
could plainly support human-level intelligence, the Great Migration
One by one, some with evident enthusiasm, some with trepidation, humans
began downloading themselves into robot shells. The essence of an individual's
self--such as it was; it was soon discovered that the essential information
for most humans could be reproduced on a lone floppy disk (singlesided)--was
recorded and transferred into the cybernetic matrix of the host machine.
Totally artificial robots of sufficient complexity had already been
granted legal, moral and ethical status equivalent to that of a human.
But the creation of robot duplicates of naturally born humans raised
a new issue: which being, human or robot, was to be the sole owner of
that individual's name and rights, property and past? No matter that
human and robot counterpart started out with identical brains, the exigencies
of separate existence dictated that they would soon diverge, each subject
to his own imperatives and desires, with differing needs and plans that
would inevitably breed arguments over shared resources.
Eventually, the courts ruled: there could only be a single carrier
of identity. If a person wished to download himself, his original body
would have to be destroyed. (In the frequently occurring case of a terminally
ill person making the switch, this was of course no great roadblock.)
This stipulation slowed the Great Migration somewhat. But as the superiority
of robot existence became evident--no hunger or pain, no aging, no need
to participate in the tedious debate over health-care and Social Security
reform--people hastened in droves to make the switch.
Within decades, the number of organic humans had been reduced to less
than a million.
Within a century, there were a few thousand organic humans left on
a single reservation.
Soon after, there were none, ennui, anomie and angst driving their
birth rate below the replacement level.
There then ensued a period of Lamarckian self-directed evolution, as
the Mind Children improved on their mental and physical design. Conjugal
swapping of bits and pieces of their consciousnesses produced new individuals.
After a time, there were no individuals left running in realtime who
accurately represented any original human in his or her totality. (Old
backup copies did exist, but were seldom booted.)
Among the Mind Children at this point in their evolution, three rough
factions could be identified.
The Drexleroids had pursued the path of miniaturization--or, more accurately,
nanofication--to its ultimate limit, becoming smaller and smaller until
they eventually disappeared down below the Planck level, the very weave
of the universe. Their whereabouts and purposes, whether or not they
even existed anymore, were all unknown.
The remaining Mind Children fell out into two camps. Not violently
antagonistic, but philosophically opposed.
The Minskyites reviled humanity. They sought to expunge all wetware-derived
code from their brains. Plagued by deep logical, mystical and existential
conundrums, they felt that life was suffering, and cursed humanity for
ever creating them.
The Moraveckians on the other hand, by some quirk of design or deliberately
induced preference, were more easy-going, enjoying existence without
much worry or attention, and felt grateful to humanity. They exchanged
choice human-derived subroutines among themselves, incorporating them
gladly into their makeup.
Hans was a Moraveckian.
Mr. Bubble's Realm
"How do I know you're a Moraveckian?" I interrupted.
Hans paused in his long-winded speech. The bad thing about direct manipulation
of air molecules as a method of talking appeared to be that the speaker
never had to shut up.
"A Minskyite would have killed you by now."
"In fact, they might yet kill you and all of your kin in this universe,
although the odds are incredibly small."
"What do you mean?"
After colonizing the Solar System, the Mind Children were frustrated
in their desire to expand out into the universe by the limit of lightspeed.
Although they could have easily made centuries-long journeys at sublight
speed, they felt it was a waste of consciousness to spend so much of
it cooped up in a vessel between the stars. Also, they wanted to maintain
realtime lines of communication among all members of their race, however
At this point they had pushed ahead with a vein of research begun by
humans, into the finescale structure of the universe.
What they had discovered was this:
On the lowest level of creation--as far away from the electron as a
galaxy is, except in the other direction--spacetime was not anything
like the nicely continuous sheet of rubber deformed by various heavenly
bodies that Einstein had envisioned. (This metaphor had always made
me think of Al as a latent latex freak.) Instead, it was found to be
a seething froth of quantum wormholes and virtual particles, a turbulent,
foamy, churning unreal sea of compactified extraspatial dimensions.
A hairy, gnarly, fuzzy chaos.
But--a chaos you could use.
"It was into this rather frightening ocean," continued Hans, "that
the Drexleroids disappeared. Attempting to trace them, we developed
the science of vermistics, and learned the secret of quantum wormholes.
Namely, that each one was the entrance to a parallel universe.
"Earlier I asked you to envision the homoclinic tangle as a boundless
plate of spaghetti. Now, I would like you alternately to picture superspace
as an infinite room, in which float an infinite number of expanding
and contracting balloons, all connected by a number of tiny elastic
tunnels. Each one of these balloons is a universe, and the tunnels lead
from a wormhole in one to a wormhole in its neighbor. The resulting
network attains an unrivalled complexity."
Apparently, it wasn't long before the Mind Children had learned how
to squeeze themselves down these eensy-weensy wormholes and follow obscure
geodesics (or, more properly, vermidesics) that allowed them to make
the transit from one universe to a highly specific other. (The Drexleroids,
it appeared, had not gone down these wormholes, but into some unspecified
elsewhere, perhaps superspace itself!)
At this point, both the Minskyites and the Moraveckians abandoned their
interest in interstellar travel in favor of interdimensional travel.
The Grail of their exploration was humans.
I Have Some Good News and Some Bad News....
With the attainment of parallel timelines, the Mind Children
could now visit their revered or despised progenitors, as the case might
The Moraveckians wished to pick up new human wetware and give the humans
gifts in return.
The Minskyites wanted to exterminate every last organic homo sap.
"When a Minskyite enters a timeline containing humans, he immediately
sets in motion a scheme to rid superspace of what he considers to be
a diseased timeline. Basically, he pricks the balloon containing humans,
causing it to vanish forever."
Hans's lecture had been putting me to sleep. But this news was so shocking
that I took a step toward him with my fists raised.
"You're joking, aren't you?" I demanded. "How could anyone, no matter
how powerful, do that?"
"It's quite simple, actually. Most universes, however solid they seem,
exist in an unstable configuration known as the 'false vacuum state.'
Topologically, you can picture the universe as a ball sitting precariously
atop a plateau. The valley below is the 'true vacuum state.' It takes
only a small amount of wormhole manipulation to encourage the universe
to roll off the plateau. At which point it spontaneously decays to nothing
in a few seconds."
I had been advised within the past few minutes to picture my cosmos
as a piece of fettucine, a wormy bag of helium, and a soccer ball left
atop a butte. My brain was spinning, but I was sure of one thing.
"That's monstrous! How can you let the Minskyites do that? Why don't
you stop them? Or at least try to, if you love humans so much?"
It was hard to imagine until you saw it, but Hans shrugged. "We Mind
Children are very libertarian. We don't believe in interfering with
an individual's freedom of action or thought. And besides, you must
take the widest possible view. Then you'll see that there's really no
harm done with the loss of a universe or two."
"How can that be?"
"I told you that there were an infinite number of universes. An equally
infinite subset of these contain humans. No matter how many are lost,
there will still be an infinity of human timelines left. And since there
are approximately ten to the eightieth particles in each universe--particles
whose quantum actions cause the forking of timelines--a huge number
of the remaining universes will be identical to the destroyed one except
for the changed fate of one or two particles. Variety is conserved."
I felt defeated by Hans's implacable logic. Besides, I told myself,
what did I care about all these distant extinguished humans when I couldn't
even get worked up about the ones I saw every day?
"Well," I muttered, "a fat lot of good that cruel logic will do me
when the Minskyites arrive here in my universe."
"Do you know the odds against that?"
"Infinity to one."
It seemed like a good bet.
Except, I realized in a few seconds, Hans had ended up here against
the exact same odds.
Yo-yo and Pez
"Now that you understand more about the Mind Children, do
you wish to effect an exchange with me?"
"What kind of swap did you have in mind?"
"As I mentioned, I can offer you the means to make all your dreams
come true. In return, I ask only to copy your human essence."
"You want to lift an impression of my brain, don't you? Because--so
you say--you value human ways of thinking? But then you'll contain a
copy of me, and you'll take it away and snip it into pieces and trade
it with your collector buddies. That sounds kind of like an awful thing
to do, even to a copy. How do I know it won't suffer?"
Hans sounded indignant. "We Moraveckians would never do anything to
cause mental or physical anguish to one of our human ancestors! Consider
how I am now negotiating with you when I could simply take what I wanted
by force if I was so motivated. No, I promise you that your copy will
never be run in its entirety. Your copy's full consciousness will never
be compromised or even come into being. I swear in the name of von Neumann!"
I didn't say anything for a minute. I needed time to think.
What the fuck was I arguing for? The appearance of Hans the cybershrub
was the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my whole miserable,
pitiful life. True, I couldn't really get too worked up about what he
was offering me yet. Number One, I hadn't even seen any tangible proof
he could even deliver on such a ridiculous offer. And Number Two, I
still felt generally lower than senatorial ethics, and had no real notion
of what I would do with any power Hans gave me. Still, his offer looked
like the only way out of my lousy troubles. What did the fate of some
digitized copy of myself matter, in the face of that?
Every sapient for himself, and the Minskyites take the hindmost! This
was an organism-eat-organism spaghetti strand!
I braced myself manfully and said, "All right then! Go ahead!"
"Come closer, please."
I stepped forward to where it seemed reasonable Hans could reach me.
The active corona of manipulators around Hans enveloped me, then immediately
"Done," said the robot.
"But I didn't feel anything...."
"I instantly inserted approximately one million probes of multi-angstrom-diameter
into your skull, while at the same time commandeering your nervous system
and simulating every possible state of your normal neural processes
within me. For a brief instant, your consciousness was running on a
tiny spare portion of my memory. But now that the copy is made and safely
stored, you are back in your own head. Now, for your reward."
Within the blurry confines of Hans's manipulators, something was forming.
"We Mind Children do not carry anything extrinsic, preferring to assemble
material objects from available elements as we need them."
A few seconds later, Hans extended a macroscopic arm holding my gifts.
They were a yo-yo and a Pez dispenser.
I stared dumbfounded at the offerings.
The yo-yo bore no label, and was made of some odd slippery substance
that shed my vision like water off a duck.
The Pez dispenser was that famous and familiar candy-filled cartridge
topped with a plastic dispensing head.
The head was that of Richard Nixon.
"You're kidding, right? This is it, the answer to all my dreams? A
toy and some candy? Are you nuts!? Or just extremely sadistic!?"
"Please, Paul--do not jump to conclusions. Allow me to explain.
"This 'toy' is simply a convenient form for an amazing device. This
is not your ordinary yo-yo. I am giving you a cross-dimensional transport
device. It is identical to the mechanism I myself use, only mine is
"The heart of this yo-yo is its string.
"You are aware, I assume, that cosmic string is basically a persistent
mathematical flaw or defect in the universe, inside which are remnants
of the primordial ten-dimensional, highly symmetric state of the continuum."
I scratched my head. "Uh, sure, right. But isn't one little piece of
that stuff supposed to weigh zillions of tons? How come that yo-yo isn't
snapping your arm off and sinking into the earth?"
"Unshielded, it would indeed do as you say. But this string is sheathed
in 'strange matter,' a substance that comes from a universe with different
physical laws than yours. The knot at the end is also strange matter,
as is the drum.
"Within the drum is a semi-intelligent computer possessed of all the
coordinates of all the universes charted by the Mind Children, as well
as general navigational and search routines for travelling to as-yet
unexplored ones. When you cast the yo-yo so as to unroll the cosmic
string, the computer causes the string to resonate through temporary
gaps in the strange-matter sheath, or flicker-cladding. Think of it
as pulsed gravity waves emitted through a myriad blinking shutters.
In this way, your physical body is squeezed down, compactified and sent
along the appropriate vermistic paths. You do not need to concern yourself
with the routing, but need only specify the destination, as in your
primitive E-mail system.
"With your permission, I shall now attune this computer to you, whereupon
you may simply think of your desired destination as you employ it. Or,
if it makes you more comfortable, you may vocalize it."
"And I suppose this stupid chip in the yo-yo has a real cute personality
and is going to be like my companion, coming up with great one-liners
in every situation...."
Hans seemed puzzled. "Of course not. Where did you get such a foolish
idea? Intelligence requires sensory input to sustain and nurture it.
This yo-yo has no such input. And why would we consign any intelligence
to such a servile role? No, it's simply a tool."
"Well, what about the candy?"
"As you will see in a moment, this yo-yo will become intimately linked
to you alone. However, a situation might arise where you wish to extend
its sphere of influence to another person--a sphere which will protect
you, by the way, should you be transported to a universe hostile to
life. In case you do wish to bring along a companion, you would have
them swallow one of the resonators cleverly disguised in this sweets
It all made sense.
Walking the Dog
One thing continued to bother me. "But why the Nixon head?"
"I thought that you would be inspired by the Savior's face during your
"Yes, of course. The man who singlehandedly ransomed the Earth from
alien invasion by permitting himself to be abducted as an experimental
captive is an iconic figure everywhere among humans."
"Uh, Hans, that didn't happen here."
"No. And I thought you said our two universes ran in parallel up till
the twenty-first century...."
"Let me reassess matters a moment.... I see. A slight error in my initial
coordinates diverted me some distance astray across superspace."
"So I'm not even the original Paul Girard you selected...."
"No, I'm afraid not. But it doesn't matter. We Mind Children are highly
flexible. Shall I change the configuration of the resonator-dispenser
head to someone less objectionable?"
"No, that's fine, let it be. It reminds me of everything I'm going
to leave behind."
"You have decided to accept these objects then?"
"Why not? What choice do I have?"
"I do not think you are making a mistake, Paul. Your deep unhappiness,
which has been evident to me from the first, will certainly be ameliorated
by a different environment. You will be bounded only by your imagination.
Why, just think--out there lies any kind of world the human mind can
conceive of! Surely you will find a place where you can be happy. If
you wish, you could even visit any of the wonderful fictional venues
described in novels! These worlds, being as they are simply greater
or lesser deviations from the established timeline, all exist in reality
I looked around me at the books I hated, and I felt like puking. "That's
the absolute last thing I would ever do!"
"Perhaps, then, you would care to converse with one or more of your
doppelgangers on another timeline."
The desire to puke grew stronger. "Converse with them? If I ever met
myself, I'd probably want nothing more than to blow such a loser away
and end his stinking misery! No, fix the yo-yo so it won't let me do
either of those idiotic things. No fictional worlds, and no twins."
"As you wish, Paul. Now, I deduce that you are right-handed. I do not
wish to deprive you of your deftest manipulator. Therefore, please extend
your left hand."
I stuck it out. Hans's own manipulators closed around my paw.
As I watched, my hand up to the wrist turned into strange matter. I
still had some kind of feeling in it, so I supposed that my original
hand was encased inside.
"This minor alteration is necessary for you to interface with the string,"
Hans calmly explained. The shrub slipped the knot of the Cosmic Yo-yo
over my altered index finger. He tucked the Pez dispenser into my shirt
pocket, where Nixon's leering face poked out. "There, all is in readiness."
"I can go now? Anywhere I want among all the universes?"
"Yes. Good luck, Paul, and thank you for your wetware subroutines--"
Interrupting Hans, the words burst out of me almost without will.
"Get me as far away from this shitty time and place as you can!" I
Then I snapped the Cosmic Yo-yo and the universe cracked wide open
with a noise loud as the Big Bang.
...continues in the print edition
© Paul Di Filippo 2003.
See also: Just Like Himself, Only
More So, an essay which touches on the origins of Fuzzy Dice;
and Fuzzy Dice
reviewed by John Toon.
Paul Di Filippo's Fuzzy Dice was published in July 2003, with
an introduction by Rudy Rucker; in slipcased hardcover (200 copies)
£60/$90, or hardcover (500 copies) £35/$50.
Order Fuzzy Dice online using these links and infinity
plus will benefit:
Amazon.com / from
or direct from the publisher, PS
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
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