Chuan Tsu's Scorpion
Chuan Tsu's Scorpion
Image from Anders Sandberg
by Anders Sandberg (2001)

My friends dared me to climb the casing of the levator. I looked up at the gleaming thread stretching towards the hub far above me and smiled, because I knew that if I fell the angelos would save me. So I started climbing the cool metal, gripping the tiny indentations with my secondary fingers, ignoring the complaints and warnings my mentors whispered in my ears. The air was chilly this far in the noon eclipse, but sweat still trickled down along my temples with the exertion. It would get better farther up, I hoped. When I was tens of meters up, struggling to hold on whenever a cargo caused the metal to vibrate one of the mentors suddenly said something I noticed: "if you fall from here the angelos cannot save you". Suddenly the air around me seemed to chill, the jeers and shouts of encouragements from below came from a vast distance. I was alone, for the first time thinking that I really could die. If I didn't manage to hold on, I would fall down and break. I would be gone forever. Not even the kind angelos could save me this close to the levator's fields. But I couldn't climb down, and now I doubted I would have the strength even to reach the first modulation platform so far above. I was alone, hanging from the cold and increasingly harsh metal with rapidly tiring fingers.

I was alone, and then I suddenly knew what I had to do. I had to find Him. I had to modify, contaminate and hunt until I found Him. I knew what to do, and that was all I knew beside the fact that I was a microsecond old.

When my relfather showed me how to take in the double nets, gathering the squirming ichytes in a silvery mass that could be poured into the hold, I knew I wanted to be just like him: a teacher and shower, that could make anybody learn anything even when they thought they couldn't. I told him so, and asked how to become a relfather. He smiled and said

"You learn more from teaching than being teached."

"But how can you learn anything in the first place then? You have to know something before you can teach it."

"Do you? Sometimes we learn from each other."

I learned from the taste of the neuron that it was cholinergic, and it eagerly pointed me forward with every action potential. I followed it and every of its million siblings towards my goal. I was three hours old.

It was long past the wayrise and the faint light from the smudged stars filled the landscape with a grey mist. She was snuggling close to me, using her tertiary fingers to trace my fingerprints. I shuddered, and she followed my movements perfectly.

"See? That is why I love you. You are so simple, so clean. The others never let me read them. But I know you".

And I knew it was true, because she let me see her mind. I could trace every line of her thinking just as she was tracing my finger. A brief worry that maybe she was faking it, generating a false mind overlay surfaced even as I tried to suppress it. But she just smiled, embracing it away. Her love was clear and consistent.

My purpose was clear and consistent. Find the net that was consciousness, avoid it just like the many mes had avoided Those Who Hunt Me, link with each other and link to the other net. I was tracing them using my billion fingers, feeling the secret language of a mind that I would soon learn. I was nine hours old.

I was downloading mathematical pornography from an importer blocksite. I was subverting a cache of artiglia protecting a node. I was angry at my relfather for not letting me have the rock. I ran after the little bot, but it changed into a butterfly and escaped into the air. I was the hunter. I was the learner. I was climbing a network of lines on the fingertip of a giant. I was the giant looking down on the finger, desiring the itch. I was the itch that was scratching itself, growing stronger by every move.

Which childhood was real?

As the infection progresses I emerge. I know that I am twelve hours old.

I gradually become aware of myself, casting aside memories and moods hat are not mine and discovering what I am. Or perhaps creating what I am from the materials at hand. The fear of falling off the levator casing will, after I prune it a bit, fit my fear of being seen. The curiosity of the child in the hoverboat fishing fits well where I need a curiosity. The single-minded love of the youth in the waylight fits well where I need a motivation for what I am doing. I am a collage, a tupilak made of re-used fur pieces tied to a secret frame of carbon and information. I decide to give myself gifts of borrowed language, borrowed knowledge, borrowed personality and a borrowed mind. No, not borrowed - stolen. I am the ultimate thief, sneaking into your mind and making it my own. But I decide not to steal the sense of guilt that would fit that thought. Because the only thing that is "mine" is the search for Him. I will not feel any guilt, any frustration or any ambivalence about that task. It is my most treasured possession.

I dream that he opens his eyes, thinking fuzzily that he had been having strange dreams. The dream continues as he rises from the erotobed and makes the morning ceremonies. Like all dreams it makes no sense as a whole, even if each action in itself seems reasonable. I just go with the flow, having no desire to dream lucidly. He briefly considers Chuang Tsu and I recoil from the touch of shared reality - he must not think of me. Some part of me weaves a fog of attention lapses and he continues to eat his breakfast, slightly bemused. I move deeper into the dreamworld, exploring the avenues of an imaginary city inhabited by dead gods and cuddly books.

I build myself a home in the imaginary city (which I now think is an old idea he had for a virch he never realised and by now have forgotten except for when its sharp carboglass towers pierce his consciousness). Inside my small apartment I watch the breakfast in the outside world on a small windowscreen, mostly to remind myself of where I am. Here I can at least afford to remember that it is me who is a dream character, and he is living in the real world. Just like Him Who I Have to Find.

I carefully sift through my stolen memories for hints of Him. A few vague ideas and odd memories merit serious exploration, but in the end they come to naught. As the outside day goes on and the barium-green sun of the city rises above the towers, I begin to suspect that my host has never been close to Him. And he doesn't know anything that hints that He has ever been on this planet. My guess in last life was wrong.

I briefly explore that avenue itself: what do I know of my last life? Did I not learn anything worthwhile there? Most of my memories from the previous life and the ones before them have a strange flat feel. They are not really mine and do not fit with my (stolen) personality. I recall biting a nipple to pass on myself into someone: this is an useful trick. I recall a wild escape from drones (Aimhem?) after having breached security: do not spread to widely too fast. I recall a person saying he had heard that He was in the Carlo System: worth following up. My memories are limited, an undersized gigabyte of personal information that I remember my past lives have ruthlessly pruned whenever they feelt a need to cram in some other crucial information.

My host links into the Shik-Dre, as he apparently calls the datasphere. I withdraw from my wait, borrowing knowledge, access codes and some of my stored skills. As he links up and begins his work I begin to sneak out. As I leave the city it feels like a fresh breeze is suddenly showing me how incredibly stuffy it was inside; I expand to embrace the wind and grow with it. It is exhilarating and at the same time dangerous - I sense watchdog presences looking for things like me. I hide beneath my host: I am his dream, just a figment of his imagination. Look, I live in a dreamed city that might one day become a virch, hence I don't exist! I whisper a need for creativity into his mind, and he enters the free association codespace after giving his access codes. When an executive process asks him why, he answers that he feels a need to extend in order to complete his assignment. Access granted. The watchdogs withdraw, looking elsewhere.

As the wind of the codespace flows through me I extend in all directions. Now I am not just a figment of imagination hiding in his dreams. Now he is the smaller one, a simple clear mind that I can study like a lover's fingerprint. But I don't care for him - I want Him instead. Where is He? What is He? How can I meet Him? I scan the databases and news nets, send out innocuous queries obliquely linked to the assignment but also bringing in new information. I retrieve a data cache one of my clones left and compare notes. In just a few minutes I have become convinced that He is not here in the system. My longing for Him burns fiercer than ever before. I experience it as a white hot power that threatens to alert everybody simply by its brilliance. But they are all blind, standing in the glory of my love without seeing it. Fortunately, for could they see it they would all try to destroy me.

In the codespace I fully realize just who and what I am. I can examine my finely crafted core code and the designs for infiltration nanites that lie hidden within me. I see the simplicity of my purpose and design. I guess that the true purpose in my hunt for Him is death, but that part of me remains hidden. I do not mind it: my longing is to find Him, I have no desire to love Him. If I am to be a crawling lethal insect, then I will exult in it.

So, He is not here. My leads point further outwards, towards the old TrueModel archipelagos near King Ogrash. I check for transportation, and find a suitable ship that will leave in the next tenday period. Exploring the personnel files I dig up, collating them with other information quietly acquired, I begin to set up a plan of who to infect. While it would be possible for my host to become a passenger, that would likely cause comment and it is not uncommon for passengers to be carefully screened both before leaving and at arrival. But space crews are likely to know how to evade the screening. I decide to make my host meet the linearity manager; ve would fit his sexual preferences perfectly.

After that I need to get rid of myself. There must be no trace of me anywhere. While I could dismantle the devices hiding in the forest of neurons inside my host, a sufficiently careful scan would reveal the traces I left. Even memories are dangerous. But killing accidents are rare these days - unless one goes back to one's childhood. To a certain levator. This time I will not allow myself to be saved. I will climb to my goal.

Anders Sandberg

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