Method 7: "Get in Trouble"
That is to say, be there. Get in the line of fire. Jump in front of the camera. Have an affair with someone famous. Commit a crime. Even better, be the victim of a crime. Just make something happen. The one resource you have and will always have is the story of your life, which you own, the way you might own a movie script. If an industrial laser burns off your arm, for instance, you own the pain, the arm, the burning, the laser beam, and all the surrounding circumstances. Your life is information. Make it into something marketable. You have value only if you entertain: entertain or be entertained. Remember: everyone is a holovision personality. Do something interesting and someone will buy your show.
— Claudia Vanderbilt, 101 Ways to Make the Big Bucks, 2822.
Claire had the holomovie so large that she hardly appeared to be lying in bed at all. Paul opened the bedroom door and thought he saw a dead body on the deck of a cruise ship, a woman sprawled at the feet of vivacious well-to-do passengers who had perhaps killed her with cocktail-party chatter. She had indeed waited up, though he had warned her that the mission might take longer than expected.
The computer had announced his arrival, but when the telepod doors popped open he had made his own customary announcement: "woo-hoo!" He said it again, in a conversational tone, when he saw his wife: "woo-hoo."
His wife yawned. "Hey," she said, propping herself up on one elbow. With bent fingers she freed strands of hair that had stuck to her lips.
He let the weight of his body fall onto the warm gel mattress. No sand, no dust, no snakes. He would sleep well tonight.
"I take it you lived through the mission. You look beat."
"We lost a cadet—that's it. No big deal. He'll probably think it's great—a silver cross to pin to his desk. The rest of us got sent home with sunburns. I thought the whole point of this job was to get us the hell out of the desert."
"Ouch." Claire sat up and reached over his shoulder to put her palm to his forehead. "You should've had the computer delete it."
"I forgot." Paul pulled off his shoes, tossing them against the wall. He didn't have the energy to put them in the demiurge. He would delete them tomorrow. The sunburn, too. He could sleep through anything.
His wife ordered the computer to turn off the movie. She sat up against the headboard. "Clay went on-line, so we have the weekend to ourselves."
"He went with a girl named Katherine, supposedly a friend from school."
"Good for him." Paul was glad to hear it, and a little surprised. Clay had a slow, secret way with girls, never wanting to admit that they entered his mind at all, at least not to Paul and Claire; maybe this one would crack his shell a little bit. "Do we know Katherine?"
"Dr. Brown mentioned her."
"They talk about girls?"
"Of course. Dr. Brown's his therapist. What do you think we're paying him for?"
Paul lifted his aching legs onto the mattress and pulled the covers over himself. Yes, he should have had the computer give him a fresh body. "Isn't he supposed to make some kind of diagnosis? How's long's that going to take?"
"He made the diagnosis. You were there—you went to that session. Didn't you pay attention?"
Paul shrugged. He had been to a few of the parental sessions, but he didn't remember Dr. Brown ever saying anything definitive, except that more counseling was needed. "Oh," said Paul.
"Let's talk about something else," said Claire.
"Yes," he mumbled, rolling over to face her, feeling heavy, like gravity was double tonight. "In the morning . . ."
"Clay won't be back until Sunday," continued Claire. "This is our chance to take that trip you were talking about. I was thinking of Habitable Mars VII."
He kept his head deep in the pillow. "They have another Mars?" he said.
"I hear it's spectacular," said Claire. "It's supposed to be even more beautiful than the first ones. Remember when we went to HMIII?"
Paul remembered. It had been shortly after their first anniversary. They had climbed a mountain almost four miles high just to camp out under the Martian sky.
He put an arm around his wife, who was stretching out beside him. She smelled like almond oil. She was wearing the same 25-year-old body she had worn when they were dating—straight blonde hair, startling blue eyes, evenly tanned round breasts—a nice body, not the novelty it had been 35 years ago, but nice. It was good to be home. "Honey, I know what you're thinking. We had a lovely time on Mars, but that was a long time ago. I was thinking more of a trip to the Alps, or maybe to an island somewhere near the Equator. Somewhere quiet, off-line."
"God, you act like you're three or four hundred years old. Live a little." She shook him by the shoulder. "Or just sit at the bar the whole time—I don’t care. Wouldn’t you rather do that on scan-time? We could stay a week before Monday rolls around."
"All right, fine, but not Mars. I've seen enough desert to last me a year."
Claire propped herself up on one elbow. "Cynthia and Mark are already there. They've been there a week."
"Mmmm . . . Those chatterboxes? They'll probably be there until they turn green and grow antennas. Let's beam in tomorrow morning."
His wife's warm body moved away. He opened his eyes and saw her throw off the covers and stand up. She walked over to the demiurge, wearing a white nightgown he thought he remembered. In a sharp voice, she told the computer to give her a martini.
While the demiurge hummed away, constructing the drink one atom at a time, he thought about opulent loud furniture, high ceilings, subtle advertisements woven into the texture of carpet, into wall designs, into shadows and reflections, onto his own skin. Not an on-line hotel room, he thought, not tonight.
The gray panel of the demiurge slid open and his wife, as was her custom, removed first the olive, which she ate, and then the drink. When she continued speaking, her voice retained the sharpness with which she had addressed the computer. "I told them to expect us at ten."
He lay very still, letting the mattress form a seal around his body, a suspension-cocoon like the embalming fluid of a mummy, but he could not relax. "I wish you'd warn me . . ."
"You don't want to go?" She sat down on a corner of the bed, crossed her legs, and set the martini on her knee.
He would have explained about the mission, the hike through the desert, his brush with death, the murders, but no matter what he said Claire always had the impression that when he beamed to work he was being scanned into some cops and robbers game, a synthetic drama, easily forgotten when the adventure was over. To Claire, even the Eye Award and his continuing planet-wide fame for solving the Walls case was like winning a game.
He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked at the ceiling. "Maybe it's just me, maybe it was this investigation—we had to delete some children this time—but, no, I don't feel like going to some idiot’s mock-up of another planet. The real Mars is a dead rock millions of miles away where maybe a half dozen people have ever set foot—" He looked at her. "A freezing-cold wasteland where you could survive maybe thirty seconds before suffocating or being torn to bits by a sandstorm."
"They melted the—"
"No one's going to melt the fucking ice caps. It's too big of a pain in the ass." He was yelling. He tried to breath more slowly. He wasn't mad. Not really . . .
Claire was only trying to plan something nice. He understood that much. If she had a nesting instinct, it operated on organizing their time, and he knew this; he was used to it, yet something made him want to scream at the top of his lungs. She made their nest from scraps of billboard, magazine ads, travel guides . . . How did they get buried under such rubbish? It was all they ever talked about; it was their whole world. "I don’t want to beam to Mars," he concluded. "Not tonight."
She stared at him. "Fine. I just thought it would be fun, that's all."
When she got back in bed, she faced away from him, pulling the covers tight around her shoulders. She told the computer to shut off the light. He hadn’t even kissed her hello. What am I doing? he asked himself. Bickering over trifles . . . letting even the smallest aggravations blow up in my face.
He couldn’t put his finger on what made him so mad. He had no reason—no good reason at all—to act this way . . .
He sat up, picked up the clothes he had piled beside the bed, and tried to think of things to bring to Mars.
Paul did not see his wife again until over two months later. They had a lovely time in Habitable Mars VII, taking rides into the canyons and up the mountains on spry camel-like animals called spider elephants (an enhancement since the days HM III), but the following Monday Police Chief Sorenson had an undercover assignment for him, a case of illegal instantiation in which a woman had apparently broadcast several copies of herself across the Net. It was up to Paul to find all the copies and to discover who had provided the copying software.
He stepped into a telepod outside his office at 10:35 am, bound for the Tokyo Hilton, where he was supposed to apprehend one of the copies. Having been killed or maimed thirteen times, and having no memories of ever having been chewed up by the "gray goo" of a goo gun, he was not surprised when the doors of the telepod opened to reveal, not the Tokyo Hilton, but a low, pastel-blue hallway at department headquarters. Time had passed. A copy of himself had been lost.
He faced a very sober-looking committee of high-ranking officials: Michael Sorenson, who was the police chief of the Arizona County Precinct, David Banks, who was Paul's partner, and two people whom Paul did not recognize, dressed as civilians but wearing the official mark of the Beijing World Government: a gold lapel-pin computer shaped like the Kanji ideogram for rebirth. The man looked like a reporter, having lank shoulder-length blond hair and non-prescription glasses—definitely not like a government employee—while the woman could have been only someone of great rank and importance; she was tall and dark with strong Indian features, and every detail of her appearance, from the stiff-looking blue blazer to the considered, sober way she was eyeing him, gave off an easy, practiced air of long-held authority. Paul tried to act nonchalant. "Dead again, huh?" He stepped out of the machine, trying to smile. "Have I won an award? I must have broken the precinct record."
No one smiled in return. Detective Banks came forward, moving his square frame stiffly. Amid the block-like features of his face were two large, startled eyes. "Paul, we have a difficult situation here. You—or, rather, your original—did not die, as far as we know. We don't know where he is, but we think he may be alive. That means—"
Chief of Police Sorenson, a boyish looking man, came forward. "That means a lot of things," he said, his voice surprisingly orotund for the slender early-twenties body he inhabited. "Why don't we discuss this in the conference room."
"That means I'm not legal. Am I—"
"Let's go to the conference room," said Sorenson.
He was an illegal copy. What did that mean? Since only the highest-ranking government officials could duplicate a person, something very serious must have just happened. But where had his original gone?
He would have to wait for an answer. The officials turned their backs to him, mutely obeying the chief's suggestion.
In the conference room, Paul found himself at the narrow end of the egg-shaped table, facing the other four, the focus of a grave tribunal. Sorenson had the computer dim the lights.
"Detective Cramer," began the chief, pacing in the shadows near the wall, "a difficult nine weeks have passed since you first beamed to your assignment. During that time . . ."
Paul interrupted. "My original's been off-line for nine weeks?"
"Let me finish. He went on-line. This has been observed and verified. However, the Bureau of Life Insurance has not received time-stamped copies of his data. The woman’s got some sort of cloaking ability. Her data gets moved around by an elaborate system of computer worms and viruses. When we finally decided on reincarnation—" Sorenson turned on his heels—"the most recent time-stamped copy of you at the Office of Life Insurance was, well, you. Your more recent scannings have been hidden by a process we do not yet understand. You see, the case has grown much more complex."
"You mean she's still copying herself?"
The chief nodded, turning on his heels again and looking at the floor. The woman in the blue blazer took this opportunity to introduce herself. She was Chief Batacharia of the World Police, Beijing, and her presence indicated that the case had indeed acquired global implications. "Since my team first began to coordinate this case, about three weeks ago, we've had over fifteen thousand verified instantiations of this woman worldwide, plus several thousand illegal instantiations of other humanoids, some male, some female, some morphed. Interrogation has proved inconclusive, but we think all of these appearances are being managed by the same network of worms."
Paul took some comfort in the boardroom levelness of her voice, but he could not stop his heart from racing. They were dealing with another Walls case, the case of an individual being broadcast to the whole planet—the case that had made him famous, two decades earlier, when he had guessed—only he could know how much of a guess it was—that an employee of Yoshimi Telepods had helped Walls write the worm into which Walls had packaged himself, armed with a repeating laser cannon. Millions had died. The government officials called it a "case" only because they were afraid to use the word "war." How could they be so calm now, weeks into a scan-crime with no progress against the underlying technology? Too alarmed to keep quiet, Paul started thinking aloud, "Does the public know? Do we have any code fragments? What are we going to do?"
The lower officials looked somewhat embarrassed, but Batacharia continued in an even tone. "The public does not yet know. We do not want to alert the responsible parties, because they could pull the plug at any minute, erase the viral code, and give us no trail to follow, which would leave the Network operating with unknown security holes."
We should shut it down, he thought automatically, instinctively afraid. But it was impossible. Shutting down the Net would alert the criminal, scare the public, upset the economy: the greatest failure possible for the World Police would be the shut-down of the Net. Without demiurges and telepods no one would be able to eat, drink, instantiate clean clothes, or go anywhere. To the public it would seem like the end of the world, like an utter breakdown of society. "This is terrible," he said. "Don't we have any leads?"
"We have no code fragments, no incriminating log files, nothing. The only agent to get anywhere in this investigation was your original, who, as we have said, disappeared."
"How've you kept this hidden from the public? This is the worst security breach—"
"The number of copies appearing is relatively small, only a few hundred per day. Whoever built this system is trying to keep it a secret, meaning that the immediate danger to the public is probably minimal. What we have to worry about are the long-range dangers."
"How do you know only a handful of copies are being made?"
"You can be sure that if this system were being used to full capacity, the world would already be overrun."
She had a point. It was hard to accept the fact that everyone in this room, besides himself, had had over two months to digest the situation. The world had gone forward two months; in a way, he had traveled in time. What about Claire? he wondered suddenly. What had she been doing all this time? Did she know what had happened to the original? He wished the officials would just get to the point. Hs life had just been thrown entirely out of whack. "What can I do? I never even got to Tokyo. Everyone in this room knows more about the case than I do."
Agent Batacharia straightened the gold-plated computer pinned to her blazer. "I'm not sure I can answer that question." She looked to the long-haired man.
The man introduced himself as Spalding Morris, Special Adviser to the Director of the World Bureau of Investigation. "I don’t usually become directly involved with criminal investigations. Most of the time, I’m across the street in the intelligence community." He and Batacharia exchanged smiles, sharing some in-joke about the bureaucracy. "I gave final permission for the reincarnation," he said, grinning uncomfortably. He lacked the poise of his companion, though he clearly out-ranked her. "To be honest, my motive was to support the precinct here in Phoenix. Though I'm impressed with your detective work, particularly on the Walls case, the Arizona Precinct drew up the plan." He lifted his shoulders like a student wondering if he has said enough yet.
Sorenson spoke to Paul. "You know that you're one of the finest detectives in North America. The decision to bring you back was made by our staff; we were given the responsibility of tracking down your original copy. As Chief Batacharia mentioned, you were the only investigator to get close to one of the illegal copies. We suspect you got her to take you to her point of origin."
"We don't know. We weren't able to trace the transmission, and your original never reported back. At first we thought you—he, I mean—was staying undercover, but when a month passed with no word from him, we decided he had either jumped ship or been killed."
"Why would I—you mean I just ran away? What about my family?"
"We think you left them. You see—I wish there were a better way to say this—we know of at least two occasions when you spent the night with the woman, and we have eye-witnesses who claim that you two were—or at least appeared to be—having an affair. Bellboys, a sentry robot, a video of you carrying her through a hotel lobby, that sort of thing."
"But I was pretending, right? To get her to open up."
"That's what we thought at first, but now we're not so sure. We think you were lured by a professional con artist into a trap of some kind." Sorenson went on. Paul was not the only person who had vanished with a copy of this woman. Several average citizens, all three male and two of them married—were reported to have beamed away with this same "red-haired lady in a videoplastic skinsuit." Also, several women had run away with a male counterpart, whose data was being managed by the same worm network. "Now," said the chief, "we can understand why an average, unsuspecting citizen might be taken in, but for you, an officer of the law, to give up your whole career, leave your family, and beam away with a scan-criminal—that has us puzzled. We were hoping you would have an explanation. We're looking for marital problems, a family crisis, anything that would predispose you to run off like this."
The four officials looked at him, interested.
"You don't have to answer now," continued Sorenson. "We want you to think about what happened, visit your family, examine the records of the case, and see what you can figure out."
He was overwhelmed. Just forty-five minutes ago, on his personal discontinuous timeline, he had kissed his wife goodbye and beamed to work, relatively secure in his marriage, rejuvenated both physically and emotionally after the trip to Mars—and now he was being told that a copy of himself had not only cheated on Claire but had run off with the other woman! "Does Claire know? Did I—did he—leave a note or anything? How could this happen?"
Sorenson replied. "We told her that you were missing. Though we could have said more, we waited, probably too long, and then the idea of bringing you back came up. We decided to let you explain the situation to her yourself."
"What am I supposed to say? I get to go home, right? Is that what you said?"
"You can go home," said Sorenson. "We want you back on the case full-time, and we think that talking to Claire would be the proper way to begin. She might know more about the disappearance than she has revealed to us. Afterward, you can meet a copy of the other woman."
"You want me to interrogate my wife."
Sorenson smoothed his regulation tie against his chest. "We know this will be hard on you, Paul, but we’re shooting blanks. We need your input, and in this case you know—or, rather, you are—the one who is missing. You can use your intuition."
"Let me get this straight." He took a deep breath. "You want me to find my original, perhaps get him indicted, and then—what? Step back into a telepod and let myself be erased? I'm an illegal copy. Why should I help you?"
Agent Batacharia answered him easily, an arm on the table, her shoulders canted as though for a press photo. "Certainly. Two copies of a person can not be allowed to live the same life. Frankly, I was against it. I’m still concerned, but Detective Banks came up with a solution that makes some sense—and is in any case what we have to live with."
David Banks acknowledged the others, a ceremonial gravity on his face, then he looked at Paul, lifting one corner of his mouth—an apology? "Well, it's not much really, just a thought I had." He cleared his throat. "I've known you and Claire a long time. I watched our kids grow up, playing on the floor when they were babies. Remember that? Like last week, almost. I think, from watching our families grow up that way, that I really know the two of you, better than I've known anyone, and, hell, I know you and Claire had some troubles—we all do—but they weren't that serious. You two . . . Whatever happened out there with that scan-criminal, it can't be all that serious. Your original must have lost his mind. I can't believe you'd just up and run out on Claire."
This solemn tone of voice—in David Banks—where was it coming from? Paul’s mind raced to catch up. Yes, it must be true: his family had really broken up. He, or his original, had run out on Claire and Clay. "You said you had a plan?" he said weakly.
"That's right," Banks continued with a sheepish smile, "That's what I was going to explain. Well, I got to thinking about you and Claire and the boy, and I started wishing you had a second chance. You know, some time to work things out, time to think a bit. And then it hit me: why not bring you back to work on the case—God knows we need the help—and then, afterward, let Claire pick which copy, you or the original, should stay. Maybe you can work everything out."
Paul could not believe his ears. Banks was sincere, but at the same time Paul could not imagine that they would let Claire, an average citizen, grant life or death to another person. "Is this legal?"
Batacharia replied. "Technically. You disappeared during an investigation. The police can always rule that your original was abducted. If we decide that he was harmed by the encounter . . ."
"I think this is where Mr. Banks is on to something," said Spalding Morris, visibly excited by the creative interpretation of department policy. "We can decide, for his own good, to reset his timeline, in lieu of a criminal hearing."
"The original will accept," said Batacharia. "He’ll be guilty of so many crimes that he’ll be forced to plea-bargain. Next to fifty years in prison, resetting his timeline will be very attractive."
Paul understood. They were going to do to the original what the courts did to every criminal. He was surprised how sinister it seemed, now that it was happening in his own life. They were going to offer the original a reduced sentence to get him to replace himself with an earlier copy, with Paul himself, a copy from before the crime. They wanted an innocent copy of Paul Cramer, a copy punished for something he had not done, afraid of criminal impulses, not just deeds. They wanted a Paul Cramer who could control these impulses, not the dramatic disappointment the original must have been in their eyes.
They had already made him into who they wanted. They knew he would want to live, that he would want to preserve his marriage, and that he would want to find the original. He could hardly wait to get started, in fact. He had the urge to throw a wrench into their scheme, just to show that he was alive, but even if he did something crazy like commit suicide, they would just instantiate a new Paul Cramer, maybe change the parameters of his existence a little. He was their man, he realized. He would do what they told him.
"Your wife—maybe she would tell you something," added Banks.
"I can't believe this is happening. You're telling me to make up to my wife or be erased."
"Don't look at it that way," said Banks, his large blue eyes startled again. "Think of it as a second chance. You shouldn't even be alive right now, but here you are. You're back. You can put your life back together. This investigation . . . it will be the most important thing you ever do. You won't just be working on this crime; you might actually be able to start over, put things back together for yourself and your family."