Perdu Dans le Transfert
“Hans? Can you hear me?”
He shifted in place, turning towards where it seemed the sound had come from.
“He reacted, Lisette, he turned.” The voice was hushed, but excited. Hans didn’t know what the voice could possibly be excited about when he couldn’t see. Around him, machines bleeped.
“Can’t see.” he croaked. His voice was weak and dry, as though he’d been there for weeks. There was a pause, he heard movement close to him.
“Well, that’s because you forgot to open your eyes.”
“This is going to take some time. I know that,” Janne insisted, “We have...things to do, but your recovery is my priority here.”
Hans sat on the side of a table, blinking in the artificial lights. His feet didn’t feel like his any more, and walking around was harder than he’d expected. It seemed so natural in his head, but his feet didn’t want to respond to his commands. His head ached as well. He’d felt the scars, the result of some surgery Janne and Lisette hadn’t bothered to explain to him yet.
“I know this takes time, but it’s frustrating.” Hans admitted.
“You’re relearning how to control yourself, you’ve been here a long time under our care. I expected this.” the scientist’s tone was calm. It always was, he never raised his voice and more often than not whispers were his wont.
Hans pushed himself off the table again, leaning on a drip stand festooned with multicoloured packets, and walked to the window. It was dark again, snow floating down in lazy flakes. It always did, Hans remembered that something was wrong about that, but he couldn’t place why.
Janne joined him there. “Why am I like this?” Hans asked slowly, “I feel like I’ve been turned inside out.”
“You were injured, months ago now. We have enemies that… We’re at war. You were injured. I rebuilt you.”
“Why though?” Hans pressed, “What about me means I’m so important?”
Janne never looked away from the window, his gaze fixed on the silhouetted figures of men drilling in the falling snow.
“I know I said I expected things to take time, but that’s not unlimited. You should spend more time working on recovering.” Janne turned and stalked away before Hans could turn and call after him.
“You shouldn’t press him so” Lisette said softly as she changed a dressing on his arm. The IVs were bruising badly, and Janne wanted to prevent infection before it started. Hans felt sick from all the antibiotics.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Hans demanded, perhaps a little too loudly, “I haven’t left this room since I woke up, and the window is always dark. I want to know why I’m here.”
“You’re here because…” she looked over at the door. A flicker crossed her face, Hans couldn’t place the emotion. “Maybe I can ask him to let you out of this room? You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“I suppose.” Hans said, not mollified.
Lisette patted him on the hand, a strange sensation to Hans, and left him to rest again. He could barely walk a few meters before he started to tire. The door closed behind the thin woman, leaving the name of the station for Hans to stare blankly at.
Ouallene Cybernétique. Something was wrong with that.
The promised release was another week in coming, he was simply too unwell to walk around. It was as though his feet were unused to the commands he gave them. When he finally did get out of the room, it seemed a victory unlike any he’d experienced before, but Janne seemed more concerned than pleased for him.
The interior of Ouallene Cybernétique was disappointingly drab, and populated by harried-looking people in lab coats. The occasional soldier broke the monotony though. They were tall and uniformly albino. Hans peered at one as they walked by. The soldier ignored him as though he wasn’t even there, intent on some unknown objective.
“What are they?” Hans asked Janne as they walked far enough away that he thought he’d be out of earshot.
“Soldiers.” Janne replied curtly. He didn’t seem to offer any other explanation, so as they walked through a gallery lit only by the strip lights and the reflection from the snow outside, Hans began trying to guess.
“They’re soldiers, but not normal ones.” He ventured. Janne didn’t reply. “They’re all albino, which is… genetic manipulation? Why would that be though… Oh, of course, the cloning process doesn’t work like we thought it would. Albinism is a side effect.”
They turned a corner, and proceeded through a lab that didn’t look like it’d been used for months. One of the research journals was left open on a desk, with the header Renhancement industrielle de l'homme.
“But that’s not all, is it?” Janne suddenly prompted.
“No, it’s not.” Hans admitted, “I saw it as that one walked past. What’ve you done with their brains?”
“Selective lobotomy, and replacement of the prefrontal cortex with cognitive processing hardware,” Janne supplied, “It’s better all round really. No post traumatic stress, no traumatic stress at all. They don’t fear like we do.” He paused, staring at his patient for longer than was comfortable. “We’ve tried to give them minds, but we’ve never been successful. Until…” He tailed off, awkwardly.
“Never mind that,” Janne flicked a wrist, dismissive, and turned to make for the door.
“Hey, don’t leave it like that.” Hans implored, but as he made to grab Janne’s arm he tripped and fell. The impact left him stunned, and the world swam around him. Something burst in his side, and a lance of pain swept through him. The world grew darker as his eyelid slipped shut, out of his control. He couldn't feel his right arm or leg, his awareness of them becoming ephemeral and indistinct. He couldn’t breathe, or see, or hear...
What happened to him?
We’re not sure, some kind of large scale processing error.
Is the personality stable yet?
It seems to be, we need to examine whether he really does have what we need.
The situation isn’t getting any better, we need that information asap.
I...I know, but we can’t be sure if it’s even information he has right now, we need to see if there’s even a resemblance. Some vestige, and…
You worry he might have been the reason it happened?
I knew him for seventeen years, he wouldn’t have.
“Which one would you choose?”
“The blue one” Hans replied curtly. For days they’d been doing this. He could barely raise his right arm, and they were busy having him choose teacups from a gallery, draw self portraits from memory, and participate in mind numbing multiple choice logic tests. He was sick of them.
“What about now?” Janne persisted.
“Still the blue one Janne. What’re we doing this for?” He’d asked that question more than once, but he always got the same reply.
“We’re testing to see if you’re okay after your fall Hans.” Janne didn’t look up from the teacups. They were childish things made of brightly coloured plastic. Hans didn’t have a clue what it was they were testing for. He’d settled on just choosing the blue one every time. He took the obvious lie in his stride now, he’d realised protesting wasn’t getting him anywhere, so he played along.
“What about now?”
“Still the blue one, Janne.”
“As you say Hans. What about now?” The cups hadn’t even moved from their positions when he’d asked again.
“I don’t know, the blue one, the red one, I don’t have a clue what you’re asking of me here!” Hans felt his temper rising despite himself, “How about you go away and come back with something worth my damn time or don’t come back all.” he snapped.
Instead of looking hurt, his companion looked elated.
“I’m sorry,” Hans began
“No, no. It’s quite alright. It’s to be expected that you’d be frustrated by the recovery process, especially after a setback like this.”
“But it’s not an excuse, I just...felt like there was something I should be doing.”
“What do you think that is?”
“If I knew that, I could tell you. It’s important though.”
Janne didn’t say anything for several minutes, playing with the red cup idly between his fingers. Then he walked to a side table and gently poured some water from the canteen into the red cup.
“The red cup is now full of water,” he stated without ceremony, “we know what it is by studying it in its natural environment, the red cup.” He turned and carefully poured the water from the red cup into the blue cup. Despite his efforts, several drops remained in the red cup, and a few sprinkled onto the white surgical cloth of the table they’d coopted for the purpose.
“What is in the blue cup?” Janne asked.
“Water.” Hans supplied.
“But is it the same water Hans?” Janne implored, “How can we be sure? What about the dregs and drips? How can we make certain what we have in the blue cup is the same water we had in the red?”
Hans contemplated this for a moment. It seemed a simple question, with a simple answer. He’d observed the water being transferred from one space to another, but was that sufficient? By Janne’s own admission, something was lost in the transfer, so that would suggest that we could only ever transfer a majority from one cup to the next. He said as much.
“Of course, focus on the pertinent information. Facts you need, lose the ones you don’t.”
“What on Earth are you talking about Janne?”
“Oh. Nothing.” Janne looked as guarded as he’d ever been. He hurried from the room without so much as a goodbye, a courtesy he’d always been meticulous about before. Hans was confused, he felt like he’d said something right at least, but he didn’t know what it could be. His head hurt again though, and a small trickle of blood ran from the corner of his right eye. He could taste a metallic tang as it dripped on to his lip. Strangely, it had a chemical aftertaste.
The treatment room began to feel more and more like a prison. The cool grey walls became oppressive, and he took to staring out of the window for long hours between visits from Lisette to check on his vitals. It was then he saw it.
The dark sky never cleared, and the ever-present snowfall was gradually burying them, despite the efforts of the workers outside striving vainly to keep the yard clear. But the dark window also acted a mirror, and he found himself staring not out, but at himself. He paused for a second, then walked calmly to the drawer where Janne has stowed his self-portraits.
He looked at the image he’d drawn, from memory, of himself. He had drawn a lean, sharp faced man with wild hair and an intense expression. He looked at his reflection again. He saw a square jawed face, entirely hairless. He was pale, albino. He grasped the picture tighter, crushing the paper in his fist as his hand began to shake.
He didn’t know who he was.
When Lisette next visited him, she wore a look of concern. Hans wasn’t surprised, any facility like this would have cameras, and it wasn’t easy to conceal something like this.
“I suppose you know then.” He stated flatly.
“Know what Hans?” She replied, acting smoothly and professionally despite her concern. He thrust the drawing towards her, roughly.
“Look at me. Look at this, do you think we look the same?” Hans demanded.
“I...I...Yes. I know.” She admitted. “We didn’t know how long it’d take you to adjust to the change, and we couldn’t risk stressing your system any more than it already was.”
“What change Lisette? Who was I? What am I? A clone of someone else I suppose, but who, who could be this important that you’d make such an effort to copy him?”
“I can’t say.” She carried on with her work, checking his vital signs. Hans said nothing else, grimly allowing her to carry out her work. She looked over at him again.
“I can’t Hans.” she said again, as though she read the question in his stare. “I shouldn’t even have said what I did. Everything is secret, I’m working on you and I don’t know who you are.”
“Tell me what I am then.” Hans asked.
“You’re a clone, obviously, of this man. I never saw him, or met him. I don’t know who he is, but he must be important. I’ve never seen someone cloned before in this way. They need you for some purpose, something only he could have done. But…” She tailed off, hesitant.
“Please. Lisette. Help me. I need to get out of here.” Hans implored. He reached out to her, placing his hand lightly on her shoulder. She reacted as if she’d been struck, grabbing his hand and twisting it away from her and back towards him, pain exploded in his wrist, a sharp stabbing pain.
“I’m sorry. I can’t help you. No. Don’t ask me again.” She backed out of the room clumsily, knocking over a tray of instruments in her haste.
She never visited him thereafter. A burly military medic with the bedside manner of an automaton took her place. Two armed guards ushered visitors into and out of the room, orderlies and technicians maintaining the equipment. None of them knew about the data spike Lisette had slapped into his wrist when she struck him, and it’d dissolved by the time Janne had returned to interrogate him once more.
Hans. Hans it’s me, Lisette.
I’m sorry I hit you, it was necessary. I’m not entirely who I appear to be. I can’t tell you who, because that information is locked in my head until I achieve my objective.
My objective is you.
I don’t know all the details yet, if I did I wouldn’t be here. But I do know more than I could say in person, this data spike allows you to access one partition of my mind, and the information therein. I believe you are a clone with the mind of Doctor Markov Raisenovich, a scientist from the Ouallene Cybernetique cloning division. They used a stock clone to deflect suspicion from who you really are.
What they’re not telling you, is that you were a double agent. You defected from us to them, and occupied the highest position in their military science, in order to keep them from the discovery we made: true artificial intelligence.
We couldn’t extract Raisenovich, but we need to get you out.
He awoke with a start, hands gripping the cold table that served as his bed. He sat up and buried his face in his hands. What the hell was that?
It took several days of asking before Janne returned. When he did, he looked like he’d not slept the entire time, dark circles ringed his eyes.
“Janne, where the hell have you been?” Hans demanded.
“Busy, Hans.” Was his curt reply. “You’ve realised the truth then. You’re not who you think you are?”
“If you mean I realised I’m a fucking clone, then yeah. I got that message already.”
Janne laughed. Hans could have killed him for that. “Good, you’re remembering who you are. You always had that tone with me, and that look too.”
“I’m glad I’m fulfilling your expectations.”
Janne stopped, and looked at him for a second. “No, you really aren’t. Not yet. We need your help Hans, we need to finish what he started before he… Well let’s not dwell on that. You know who you are, more or less, nothing to gain by recounting.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Like I said Hans. Experiment.” Janne said cryptically. He walked to the window, staring out at the snowfall. “The world is dead, you know. It’s not getting better. We need a way to preserve what it means to be human, before it’s lost to us and we turn back into animals. We’re the last ones trying to keep humanity around on this planet.”
“But who are you? Janne, I need to know who I’m stuck here with.”
“We were a consortium of scientists, investors and researchers. The Project for Human Advancement,” he gestured at the steadily falling snow, “Everyone blamed us for...this, they decided technology was to blame. They want to destroy it all. Chellites, they call themselves.”
“They’re trying to kill us.” Hans stated. It seemed like no question at all.
“Not exactly, but they want to take away everything we’ve worked to build, in the name of some ‘return to nature’. I don’t want that.”
“Me either, Janne.” Hans admitted.
His days were filled with the reports and papers prepared by his precursor. He seemed to be the only one able to understand the filing system Raisenovich had used, which Janne took to be a very positive sign. He’d been an obsessive, it seemed, handwriting journal after journal of minute spider-scrawl that seemed intended to be illegible to anyone but the author.
By night, Lisette visited his dreams to beg him to stop, to leave.
Hans, please. This isn’t where you’re supposed to be!
I don’t have any idea where I’m supposed to be, Lisette. I don’t know who I am.
You think you’ll find out in there with them? They want to make you what he was: a monster. You’ve seen the reports, the “units” he expended to make his discovery that he could take away everything that makes a person human to make a better soldier. Is that who you want to be?
I don’t know. The world is broken, and I don’t know how to fix it. Janne keeps telling me I can fix it, but I don’t know how any more. I don’t know if I ever knew.
Fix fix fix, you’re always trying to fix things. The world is broken, but we can’t make it like it was any more. The damage is done, we can’t make people come back from the dead. All we can do is not harm it any more, we can’t make the world better by forgetting what it means to be a human.
I don’t think I know what it is to be human now.
Ever smell the smell of grass?
You know when you woke up, and your eyes hurt, and it was so bright that you couldn’t bear to see? That’s being human. It’s being in the world you’re in, not fleeing to some other place, some idealised place where everything will be perfected. The moment you make something perfect it’ll stop being perfect because we’ll be there.
I read the reports, how many people died in the incidents? Four, five billion? How many since? We’re a dying breed as it is. How can I pass up the opportunity to create something that goes beyond humanity?
Because it’s wrong, Hans. It’s not human. You need to get out of there.
Humanity is an ideal, and one we must preserve. but what way must we preserve it? Is it a substance we can hold in our hands? Of course not. It exists as theory, as the ideal, and the preservation of that ideal exists independent of physical form, structure and design. Everything we create is quintessentially human, the product of our idiosyncratic natures, down to the individual level. What then must we do to maintain this in a world that is dying?
Hans looked up from the scrawled text, eyes bleary.
“Janne,” he said to the man typing furiously into a tablet opposite him, “what’s experiment 8240?”
Janne looked up slowly, without responding. Hans continued; “I’ve seen more and more references to it as the date of these notes get closer to now, but I haven’t seen it detailed anywhere.”
“No, it’s… well it’s not classified but it’s definitely secret. It was one crucial attempt to complete our work here: the development of a truly autonomous AI.”
“Did Raisenovich ever manage to carry it out? He seems to have placed a lot of stock in it.” Hans continued, something about how this particular experiment was omitted from the records had fired his flagging curiosity. “I checked the preceding records, and they’re all working up to one thing: artificial processing of human psychology.”
Janne tensed slightly, as though expecting something.
“That’s who I am, isn’t it? I’m experiment 8240.”
“Tell me.” Hans demanded, suddenly enraged.
“You’re not just a clone, your brain is artificial. We need to preserve what it means to be human, but we’re not suited to this world now. We need to evolve. This is the future.”
“So what happened to Raisenovich? Don’t lie to me this time Janne, I think I know you well enough to know by now.” Hans stared through his counterpart.
“There wasn’t any other way to transfer a psyche, we can’t generate one from nothing. He said it’d work properly, that it’d be complete. But there’s leakage, things missing. You’re not him. You don’t know how upsetting that was to see.”
“Oh I’m sure I feel your pain Janne, my sympathies.” Hans threw the journal aside and turned away from him. “What the hell am I? A bad copy.”
“You’re the closest to success we’ve ever come. We managed to stabilise your psyche enough to make you functional.”
“Oh yes, I definitely function. I’m the model of a perfect artificial life form, performing my function. Except I can’t even do that, can I? I’m not him, I don’t think I ever will be. You lost too much. You failed Janne.” He sneered at the young man, lending his tone all the venom of the man he was a poor imitation of.
He fled the room. No protests, or arguments.
I can help you. Let me help. Lisette’s tone was warmer but somehow distant.
Tonight then, he thought.
Tonight, she agreed.
The guard barely made the whisper of a sound as he fell. She entered the room as silent as the gust of air when the hermetically sealed door opened, it was the first time that door had opened to admit her, or anyone except Janne or an automaton for days.
She immediately set about the drip packs, pouring them liberally about the lab without a word. Hans didn’t know what to say, she was so different in demeanour to her former role that she seemed unrecognisable.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“I smuggled these in months ago, flammable packs, to destroy the evidence. Makes it all look like an accident.”
“Makes what look…” Hans stopped in his tracks as she pulled out a small, low calibre pistol and fired directly into his forehead. Arcs of electricity forked across his brow as the damaged unit expelled charge outward. The spilled fluid caught almost immediately, setting the room to a deep red glow, the blanched grey replaced by ruddy darkness. Alarms began to sound as automated systems reacted to the hazard.
She strode towards him, and leaned down so her mouth was by his ear.
“I’m sorry. Really I am. It’s better this way.”
Hans couldn’t think of a way it could be worse.
“You’re not him. You’re not human, and you knew it before the end. This is kinder.”
He couldn’t feel anything anymore, his sense of touch disappeared. He turned leaden and waxy, deactivated. She watched, still leaning over, as the light left his eyes.
At least now he’ll know peace, she thought, before she began to burn.
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