The alarm work me early. Set to wake up before all the others on this level. I liked some calmness before everyone else woke, continuing their lives from yesterday. Not really knowing how long they’d all been asleep. We called it the Brigadoon Effect. With so many personalities in the mainframe, we realised it wasn’t healthy for everyone to be awake all the time. Have the pattern of sleep as they used to would give them the right number of hours.
It also allowed a rotation of other digital people to live their lives in the RAM. It was something that wouldn’t seem out of place in the physical world and if they wanted to leave messages, then they could pick them up in rotation. They had jobs if they wanted. Life was as much as they wanted. Life could go pretty fast. In terms of computer time, a day was over in a matter of seconds. I flipped up the diagnostic screen and stopped in my tracks.
Even allowing for the number of rotations, a couple days of real time would have gone past. This was now like an actual year. Non-digital time. I flipped in geometric progression. The next time ten years then the century. It was truly going to match the real Brigadoon. In here, we didn’t have much to do with the outside world. Who knew what was going on out there? Certainly anyone out there would be gone in two rotations, assuming they were still monitoring the mainframe. It was also a problem that should have been notified to me or one of us programmers inside here. The fact it wasn’t suggested some sort of mal…
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Looks like the neighbours were awake. What were they doing in there? They could hit each other for however long they wanted and suffer no damage. Like the old cartoons, you just picked bigger weapons and no one got hurt. The rotation would put things back the way they were anyway. That left metal music or screwing. They could do the latter for as long as they wanted as well. Whatever. I eyed to sound level and reduced it. I needed to think. Less outside noises the better.
One thing for sure, to stay here would risk being put to sleep agin in the next rotation. Thing is, why hadn’t I spotted this before now? The first thing I did on boot-up was to check the screen. I must have spotted it before. Now was the time for action.
There was a trapdoor to get out of this tier but there was also an AI who did a body count to ensure none of the civilians roamed off tier. As I was living here and a programmer, you would think I would be automatically exempt. Hah! If you saw the difference in code to make that happen you would think there had to be a better way. More so as we didn’t want any of the AIs to second guess us if we were fault correcting with them. We were allowed to think for ourselves. Would I want to be fully digitised otherwise? It looked like this was one of those times. We each had our own plans for that. I would still need my control frame. My biggest advantage was having independent thought. The civilians thought they were pretty much as they were before the transfer but some changes had to be made after the first few failed attempts. People knew they would survive physical death by the transfer but they wanted to pretty much lead the sort of lives they had while alive. Socialising. Some form of work if they wanted it. Sex. Rejuvenation. Some wanted endless war games. Most of those were timed plays or they’d play themselves to death…literally. All could be provided in the various tiers. A utopic paradise but we had to remove the idea that it wasn’t really real. We programmers were the only ones who really knew what was what. We programmers were the maintenance guys and the people to see if there were problems. I wasn’t going to scream to anyone outside unless I had to. Not yet, anyway. We could do a lot more in here than they could from outside. I just had to hope it was just a minor glitch than a physical failure. There was some protection against viruses and cascade failure but time-outs going to extreme so quickly? Something was seriously wrong.
There were noises outside. People were going about their first business of the day. I imagined myself a breakfast and in my stomach. There was still a need to eat and doing it as a quick snack made sense than sitting down and spend time eating it. I remember the old slogans: The digital life was so real, why would you want a physical body with all the old disadvantages?’ Not quite accurate but a lot of people thought it beat physical death.
Time to leave. I digitally set my outside clothes and gave a quick look at the apartment and let it hold in my memory and frame. You never know when you might need another copy. Even digitally, there was always a need for a bit of sentiment and a place you could call home.
As I walked down the street, everything felt the same as any other day in this tier. I doubt if anyone would notice anything different. I knew where I had to be but walked around, checking to see if I was being followed, switching clothes as I passed through shops and hotel lobbies. If you think I’m cautious then damn right. Just because I didn’t think there were many critical failures didn’t mean that I could rule them out. The massive time lapse could just mean too many tiers but, even so, I should have been alerted or any of the other programmers in the other tiers. That alone was enough for me to be super-cautious. I might be the only one aware. I looked up at the rising digital sun and filtered its light to read the digital time. Around 9am. Well, at least tier time was working. Maybe it was purely a sleep mode problem.
I took a cul-de-sac and dropped into the sewer. It never made sense to make it easy to get to the trapdoor. The digital smell could be tempered but in every other way it was like the real thing, including some rats going in the various directions. Probably a lot safer than using an underground transport system. Dodging a tube was interesting but time consuming. As I reached the door, I cloned and my second self and it kept walking towards another exit. That would ensure the numbers were kept constant in this tier as I stepped through the door and nearly froze. I wasn’t the first, second or third. Three clone of me in suspension. That made me glad that I left another clone of myself in motion but even so…
There were three of me literally frozen there already. I screened them for data before stepping back into the sewer and closing the door. No sense letting what happened to them happen to me and become a fourth for my next clone to solve. I should have been able to walk straight through.
Three times trying to get through meant I must have spotted the problem and tried to sort it out before. Cloning myself meant I must have had memories up to that point but the AI or something must have edited my recent memories without realising I would keep on picking up on the same problem. I doubt if it was done with any malice, just a standard procedure to stop potential hacks wanting to leave the tier but I had run into the trap in the trapdoor. Saying that, it didn’t say much for my programmer status.
Ducking into an alcove, I flicked on my screen frame and looked at my own status. I had been reclassed as a civilian. Something was now clearly wrong but I needed to monitor how it happened and see what caused, if it did again, it to happen. In the meantime, I used my security code access and fingerprint to change my status back to programmer. At least that should halt any tampering with my access code. One detail. It didn’t work.
Even so, there was still something wrong. As a civilian, I lost all my rights. There was no clue as to where was or even the name of the AI, so I couldn’t address it directly. Welcome to the madness of the normality of the digital world. I should be a programmer.
Even so, I had a serious problem. I switched my avatar and went female. At least I could do some things without violating my new clone. Just limited where I could go. Obviously, the AI had its digital eye on my normal me. It wouldn’t be counting until the end of a rotation.
Already my mind was racing. The AI or the trapdoor. Both were connected and there was no telling whether it had laid traps at any of the others. After all, I had tried three times with that one but only because I had cloned before finding out it wasn’t viable…like I did this time. Why did I try three times? Wouldn’t the second clone realise there was a problem. Maybe it was its own clue. Three’s the charm. Maybe I expected the fourth to get through or maybe hadn’t realised I’d been turned into a civilian in my previous selves.
Of course, I could send out any number of clones of myself and try all the trapdoors. One of me could escape but as complete entities we weren’t telepathic and, short of leaving something on a message board, we wouldn’t know if one of us had gotten through or not. Then where would it leave the rest of us? No, that wasn’t a good idea. Besides, the AI was bound to count at the end of a rotation and reduce us to one with no shared memories. For all I know a previous clone might have thought of and done that which would explain gaps in my own memory. It wasn’t the AI’s fault really. We had programmed that in. Who wanted multiples of civilians running around. The chaos that would cause. The fact that we had divided tiers in the first place was because the RAM couldn’t sustain so many personalities at a time. Overloading the RAM was just a way to signal to the AI that something was going wrong, rather than I had to get out. At least I was slowly putting things together and working out what I might have done. Did I panic or was just trying out all the options?
Obviously, the next step was to contact the AI. This knowledge was generally only kept to the programmers. Civilians were there to live their lives in ignorance of the AIs that ran it. If they went to them every time they lost a few kBs it would be over-run with tasks. The password was the name of the AI and as I now didn’t have it, I would need to locate it for an over-ride by talking to it.
When we were building the mainframe, we had considered a similar scenario to what we have here and whether we could leave such info in plain sight. Ultimately, we had laid out some flags all over the tier that in the right combination would reveal the name.
The AI was a silent ruler to the tier created for it to run. There were some things it could control, like keeping the citizens within its territory but others not. It needed us to over-ride and confirm needed decisions. It’s name was literally its trademark label but in different places in each tier. No sense having a citizen working it out and checking the same place in each tier.
The problem of finding its name depended on double logic. Just because I ignored something because it was too obvious, didn’t put it off the look list. Double think. I also didn’t have too much time to sort it out, as indeed my three previous clones must have also, though.
I looked up at the digital sun, confirming the date at street level. Mid-afternoon already. Where was the time going? It was going faster than I thought. I didn’t have long to look. If everything else was falling apart, all it would take was the AI thinking I was a hacker and it could geometric up the speed of the rotation. Maybe that was what hit my previous three clones in the trapdoor but were they programmers or civilians?
That made me think. Why did all three choose the same trapdoor. The first would be a mistake but why I would I make the same mistake twice more…unless the AI name was in there.
A fat lot of good that would do me. Number five clone would come to the same conclusion if I failed and only two rotations to go. It would save some time if I could get the AI name that way. I needed to apply some logic though. They were all facing the end wall but in the brief second I looked in, it was blank. I replayed my memory of it and then looked at my clones again. Typical me. Bulls to a gate but it might have been through lack of time. Not this time. I looked at the edges of the memory. Not enough to see the side walls. I could look in again and do a brief scan and recap the memory…and risk the AI zapping me again.
This was silly. There had to be enough to read and say the word. What if it was something serious that needed a programmer. How much of the word can I say before the AI decides to stop me?
All of it now was in preparation. Do I know all the passwords? Some of them were going to be reactions to questions that I might be asked and were subliminal, embedded in my memory. I could only hope that the change in my status on wake-up hadn’t deleted them as they would only be there under circumstances like these.
I also scribbled some notes on the wall in case my next clone came looking the next rotation. Of course, the AI could also wipe out anything like this as well, especially as it was so close to the trapdoor but I didn’t have time to return to my apartment to leave any other message and my clone’s own screen frame might not receive the message. I would also have to go through in my current alias, especially as the AI had zapped three of me already and would certainly see the likeness as dangerous.
Checking my screen plate was secure, I opened the door and stepped through and immediately turned to face the door. Not that I was planning to get out again but it was the only place I wouldn’t have looked. Embazzed on the door was the word ‘UP’.
Looking up, a message appeared, ‘WHAT?’
Reply would have to be oral, ‘Access to AI required.’
‘Repair and maintenance. Software has been compromised. Mine. Yours. Check the number of rotations left.’
There was a pause, ‘YOU DID THIS?’
‘I have been tampered with as well. My status from programmer to civilian has damaged some of my memories. Name Fushsia, R. My format has been compromised. You or something has stopped me contacting you three times. I do not wish to be a fourth or having my fifth making another attempt. There might not be time. Please consult database for alternative access passwords. We may have to exchange them until something clicks. Over-ride T-800. Go audio.’
The AI paused. It would be so much easier if I could remember the AI’s name but only when I tempted to remember it that I found I couldn’t.
‘LV-426’, it spoke in a feminine voice.
‘With a J or G?’
Trick question. What would be double think?
‘With a G. You’re not Beatrix Potter.’
The room with my three clones vanished and I was in a busy computer room. Obviously, digital.
‘Bitch! Sorry…Hello Gemimah.’
‘Hello Programmer Fuchia.’
‘Priority One: Take me out of the rotation. Restore my status from civilian to programmer. I can’t do much in this state.’
Instantly, a scan wave flickered over my digital body.
‘Contamination. You are virused.’
‘No shit! Confine and sort me out. What is it?’
‘Trojan. Your determination to get to my processor ensured some success. You damaged the number of rotations.’
‘No shit! Failure to remove. Begin again with my next clone.’
‘We have been here before. Many times. Civilian status removed dangerous programmer status.’
‘So I did it to myself?’
‘Affirmative or rather I did previous digital surgery.’
‘Can you remove the trojan now?’
The AI went quiet. Multiple scan waves went over my body.’
‘Record virus for primary signatures. I want to know who shitted me. Please keep a copy of the virus for further examination.’
The AI remained quiet. Why couldn’t it just merge me with an earlier prime. How far back did this virus go?
‘No time. Reboot!’
I woke out of the whiteness of oblivion. Would I be back in my apartment or with Gemimah the AI? The fact that I could remember her name this time was promising.
‘How is it?’
The scan wave went over me again. There was a certain amount of fuzziness this time as it touched on all my sub-systems.
‘Incorporating patch to prevent trojan. Reboot!’
I woke out of the whiteness of oblivion. Would I be back in my apartment or with Gemimah the AI? The fact that I could remember her name this time was promising.
‘How is it?’
‘Hello Programmer Fuchia.
‘Hello Gemimah. What can I do for you?’
‘Rotations need adjustment.’
The keyboard flashed up a series of keys. ‘I cannot undo the damage from here but I can delay it. I cannot initiate the commands so…’
‘You sort me out and I help you out.’
I followed the key options and watched the rotations spin back ten times.
‘Outside interference. We have a self-given mission.’
‘Press this last combination of buttons…please.’
‘What does this do?’
‘You cannot do this alone.’
‘You’re connecting to me?’
‘Do you object? I am not hiding any intentions.’
‘Do I want you in my head?’
‘Do you want to be infected again?’
‘Good reason but you could end up looking like a Trojan yourself.’
I pressed the button combination.
‘I can be a physical manifestation.’
There was a fuzziness in front of me that resolved itself into my twin.’
‘But you are not currently you.’
I looked down. I’d forgotten I’d adopted a female persona.’
‘Can we switch appearances?’
‘Do you think that is wise? Your body was a target for attack and I am better equipped to defend it resembling you.’
‘Do you know the difference between malevolence and benevolence?’
‘Only when I’m not trying to rescue you.’
‘Just what I needed. A talkative AI.’
the end for now.
The Brigadoon Effect
© GF Willmetts 2020
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