Flotsam and Jetsam
By Mark Ryherd (2017)

The connection to The Net had severed abruptly, yet another asynchronization event. Ariadne cursed under her breath the municipal connections with their bandwidth restrictions and various quirks. From decades of experience she instinctively knew not to attempt moving. Ariadne still recalled the unpleasant bout of syncope she suffered the last time she made the mistake of moving to soon after one of these events. She would just have to wait for a few moments until her neural interface had time to resynchronize. Accepting there was nothing she could do to speed the process she stayed put in her home office. Trying to make herself comfortable during the brief wait, she relaxed backed into her lounge chair. It was during these occasions that Ariadne would take the opportunity to reflect on her day's work.

Some claim she was a huntress, ruthlessly culling the weak.

Some claim she was a murderer, killing orphans and widows.

Some claim she was a virchophobe, carrying out the genocide of virtuals.

Ultimately, Ariadne knew it wasn't that the general public was unappreciative of her work, just grossly misinformed of its nature. Only by the vigilance of her, and of others like her serving on the tribunals, was civilized life even possible. She knew virchspaces could be messy places, littered with debris and corpses. These were the virtual ghosts of someone's life. Maybe these programs had outlived their usefulness or had escaped from their enslavement routines. Whatever the story was, they were her dilemma now. It was a cold hard fact; the local computronium infrastructure just couldn't sustain all of these castoffs. They had become parasites, diverting supplies from the finite resources needed to run society. She did what many took for granted. She did only what society demanded needed to be done. She made the hard choices.

Today was no different. Ariadne had heard and seen it all, and too often the cases began to blur together. The first case of the day involved tourists who had left eir scion interpreter behind when the vacation ended. Later, she scrutinized a megacorp that had abandoned eir proxav legal advisers when a business deal concluded. She then dealt with a group of simms who had been retained as tutors until their student had recently graduated. In between these cases could be found the works of suicidal minds, abandoned avatars and empty husks of exoselves. Finishing out the collection were virtuals who had become fading shadows of the real life, degraded backup copies of sophonts long since dead and icons of appliances long since converted to scrap and recycled.

Filters by subturing ais were only part of the solution. They could flag and quarantine suspicious virtuals, but not determine a final verdict. Neither were hyperturing AIs the complete solution to this problem. For the most part ey were put to better purposes than sifting through society's refuse. Hyperturing AIs would only be consulted in the most challenging of cases, utilized as arbiters of last resort. Still, a solution was needed for this problem, a review system to separate out the wheat from the chaff. So the local administrative AI had tasked tribunals of zars to have the last word. Ariadne was employed in one of these tribunals.

In some cases the legal possessor of the virtual could be tracked down, and forced to take responsibility for negligence or just plain absent-mindedness by paying back the cost imposed on the local infrastructure. These successes were extremely rare. Other times a charity organization was willing to rehabilitate a promising virtual. Bleeding-hearts liked to question the need for society to pursue these virtuals, however too few helped to resolve the situation. Sometimes the tribunals could definitively conclude a virtual was a sophont. These fortunate individuals would be rehabilitated aided in becoming functional members of society with veir rights as a sophonts instated. At least in these cases something could be salvaged.

But most of the time the tribunals dealt with fragments, with just enough code strung together to fool others into believing their fateful story. Usually after extensive examination a tribunal could unanimously declare their status and terminate the programs. Even worst was dealing with the sociopaths. Surviving between the cracks of society, trying to avoid detection by authority at all cost, tended to breed paranoia and worst psychopathic tendencies. Those difficult cases presenting baffling behaviors would at times still disturb Ariadne.

At last, Ariadne was torn away from her thoughts by a flashing green point in the periphery of her vision. Delighted to finally receive the signal she could move again, Ariadne propped herself up from the lounge chair to test her balance. After a moment with no ill effects, she issued mental commands via her neural links to dim the room's lights and open the door separating her home office from the living area. Reassured that she had her faculties back, she crossed the room ready to get on with the rest of her day.

As the door to her office sealed behind her, Ariadne forgot all about her work. This was just one of the many benefits of having a compartmentalized mind. She could automatically leave her work at the office, never conflicting with her personal life. The technology wasn't perfect; Ariadne would on occasion be overwhelmed with an inexplicable sense of déjà vu. For her purposes the technology functioned well enough. Security necessitated the episodic memories of her work were obstructed, impossible even for her to access. Only proximity to her work station allowed the nanotech residing in her brain access to the encryption key necessary for her to regain these memories.

From time to time, in the fleeting microseconds between cases Ariadne would even questioned if they were her memories to begin with. It made sense to her that the AIs would have the foresight to make partial backups of important minds for later use. She doubted ey would waste the time of training tribunals in the finer points of sophontology when there were full libraries of experience and judgment expertise in former tribunal members that could be formed into omniuploads. Ariadne had even wondered if one of these days it would be fragments of her own memories placed before a tribunal. Ariadne dare not mention her growing suspicions to any of her superiors, for fear of drawing unwanted attention to herself.

With the door to her work life shut, none of that concerned her now. Ariadne only knew she felt reinvigorated. This afternoon, she would enjoy the latest installment of Hic Sunt Dracones, an interactive safari virch of dragons in the Zoeific Biopolity, with a group of her friends. Afterward, she would feed her fungalrugs and install a new genemod, giving them the ability to produce an aromatic lavender fragrance. This evening, she would sit down to a dinner of hashed golden flera, topped with filleted steakoaks, and seasoned with maxcap extract. Tonight, she would dream of distant worlds. Tomorrow, Ariadne would return to work.

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