Foundation's Fear

Page 19

Voltaire stamped his foot. "Merde alors! We disagree! Never mind me, but I insist you delete the Maid's memory of her final hours so that her reasoning will not be compromised-as mine so often was-by fear of reprisals."

"Not possible. Boker wanted Faith, he gets all of it."

"Nonsense! Also, I demand you let me visit her and that odd mais charmant curiosity Garçon in the café-at will. I've never known beings like either of them before, and they are the only so­ ciety that I now have."

What about me? Marq thought. Beneath the need to keep this sim in line, he admired the skinny fellow. This was a powerful, impressive intellect, but more, the personality came through bristling with power. Voltaire had lived in a rising age. Marq envied that, wanted to be Voltaire's friend. What about me?

But what he said was, "I don't suppose it's occurred to you that the loser of the debate will be consigned forever to oblivion."

Voltaire blinked, his face giving nothing away.

"You can't fool me," Marq said. "I know you want more than just intellectual immortality."

"I do?"

"That, you already have. You've been re-created."

"I assure you, my definition of living is more than becoming a pattern of numbers."

That bothered Marq, but he passed it over for the moment. "Remember, I can read your mem-space. I happen to recall that once, when you were well advanced in years, unforced by your father and of your own free will, you actually received Easter com­ munion."

"Ah, but I refused it at the end! All I wanted was to be left to die in peace!"

"Allow me to quote from your famous poem, 'The Lisbon Earthquake.' Part of the ancillary memory-space:

'Sad is the present if no future state,

No blissful retribution mortals wait,

If fate's decrees the thinking being doom

To lose existence in the silent tomb.' "

Voltaire wavered. "True, I said that-and with what eloquence! But everyone who enjoys life longs to extend it."

"Your only chance at a 'future state' is to win the debate. It's against your own best interest-and we all know how fond you've always been of that!-to delete the Maid's memory of being burned alive."

Voltaire scowled. Marq could see running indices on his side screen: Basis State fluctuations well bounded-but the envelope was growing, an orange cylinder fattening in 3-space, billowing out under pressure from the quick, skittering tangles inside; Emotion Agents interchanging packets at high speed, indicating a cusp point approaching.

Marq stroked a pad. It was tempting to make the sim believe what Marq wanted…but that would be tricky. He would have to integrate the idea-cluster into the whole personality. Self-synthesis worked much better. But it could only be nudged, not forced.

Voltaire's mood darkened, Marq saw, but the face-stepped down into slowmo-showed only a pensive stare. It had taken Marq years to learn that people and sims alike could mask their emotions quite well.

Try a little humor, maybe. He thumbed back to pace and said, "If you give me a hard time, fella, I'm going to give her that scurril­ ous poem you wrote about her."

" 'La Pucelle'? You wouldn't!"

"Wouldn't I! You'll be lucky if she ever speaks to you again."

A canny smirk. "Monsieur forgets the Maid does not know how to read."

"I'll see to it she learns. Or better yet, read it to her myself. Illiterate, sure, but she damn sure isn't deaf!"

Voltaire glared, muttering, "Between Scylla and Charybdis…"

What was that mind plotting, sharp as a scalpel? He-or it-was integrating into this digital world faster than any sim Marq had ever known. Once the debate was over, Marq vowed to strip that mind down and study its cutting edges again, put its processor layouts under the 'scope. And there was that odd memory from eight thousand years ago, too. Seldon had been a bit odd about that….

"I promise to produce la lettre if you will just let me see her once more. In return, you'll vow never to so much as mention 'La Pucelle' to the Maid."

"No funny business," Marq warned. "I'll watch your every move."

"As you wish."

Marq returned Voltaire to the café, where Joan and Garçon 213­ ADM were waiting, running their own introspections. He'd barely called them up when he was momentarily distracted by a knock on his door-Nim.


"Sure." Marq glanced back at the café sim. Let them visit a while. The more Voltaire knew, the sharper he'd be later. "Got any of that senso-powder? Been a tough day."


"Your orders," said Garçon 213-ADM with a flourish.

He was having difficulty following the arguments between the Maid and the Monsieur on whether beings like himself possessed a soul. Monsieur seemed to believe that no one at all had a soul-which outraged the Maid. They argued with such heat they did not notice the disappearance of the odd ghost presence who usually watched them, a "programmer" of this space.

Now was Garçon's chance to implore Monsieur to intervene on his behalf and ask his human masters to give him a name. 213­ ADM was just a mechfolk code: 2 identified his function, mech­ waiter; 13 placed him in this Sector, and ADM stood for Aux Deux Magots. He was sure he'd have a better chance of attracting the honey-haired short-order cook's attention if he had a human name.

"Monsieur, Madame. Your orders, please."

"What good is ordering?" Monsieur snapped. Patience, Garçon observed, was not improved by learning. "We cannot taste a thing!"

Garçon gestured sympathetically with two of his four hands. He had no experience of human senses except sight, sound, and rudi­ mentary touch, those necessary to perform his job. He would have given anything to taste, to feel; humans seemed to derive such pleasure from it .

The Maid perused the menu and, changing the subject, said, "I'll have my usual. A crust of bread-I'll try a sourdough baguette crust for a change-"

"A sourdough baguette!" Monsieur echoed.

"-and, to dip it in, a bit of champagne."

Monsieur shook his hand as if to cool it off. "I commend you, Garçon, for doing such a fine job of teaching the Maid to read the menu."

"Madame La Scientiste permitted it," Garçon said; he did not want trouble with his human masters, who could pull the plug on him at any time.

Monsieur waved a dismissive hand. "She's much too detail-ob-sessed. She'd never survive on her own in Paris, much less at any royal court. Marq, however, will go far. Lack of scruples is fortune's favorite grease. I certainly did not proceed from penury to being one of the wealthiest citizens in France by confusing ideals with scruples."

"Has Monsieur decided on his order?" Garçon asked.

"Yes. You're to instruct the Maid in more advanced texts so that she can read my poem, 'On the Newtonian Philosophy,' along with all my Lettres Philosophiques. Her reasoning is to become as equal as possible with my own. Not that anyone's reason is likely to become so," he added with his cocky smile.

"Your modesty is equaled only by your wit," said the Maid, drawing from Monsieur a smirky laugh.

Garçon sadly shook his head. "I'm afraid that won't be possible. I am unable to instruct anyone except in simple phrases. My literacy permits comprehension of nothing beyond menus. I'm honored by Monsieur's desire to advance my station. But even when opportunity knocks, I and my kind, consigned forever to the lowest levels of society, cannot answer the door."

"The lower classes ought to keep their place," Voltaire assured him. "But I'll make an exception in your case. You seem ambitious. Are you?"

Garçon glanced at the honey-haired cook. "Ambition is unsuited to one of my rank."

"What would you be, then? If you could be anything you like?"

Garçon happened to know that the cook spent her three days a week off-Garçon himself worked seven days a week-in the cor­ ridors of the Louvre. "A mechguide at the Louvre," he said. "One smart enough, and with sufficient leisure, to court a woman who barely knows I exist."

Monsieur said grandly, "I'll find a way to-how do they say it?"

"Download him," the Maid volunteered.

"Mon dieu!" Monsieur exclaimed. "Already she can read as well as you. But I will not have her wit exceed mine! That would be going too damned far, in-deed!"


Marq puffed the packet into his nose and waited for the rush.

"That bad?" Nim signaled the Splashes & Sniffs mechmaid for another.

"Voltaire," Marq grumbled. He reached the top of the stim lift, his mind getting sharper and somehow at the same time lazier. He had never quite worked out how that could be. "He's supposed to be my creature, but half the time it's like I'm his."

"He's a bunch of numbers."

"Sure, but…Once I eavesdropped on his subconscious sentence-forming Agent, and he was framing a bunch of stuff about 'will is soul'-self-image maintenance stuff, I think."

"Philosophy, could be."

"Will he's got, for sure. So I've created a being with a soul?"

"Category error," Nim said. "You're abstracting 'soul' out of Agents. That's like trying to go from atoms to cows in one jump."

"That's the kind of leap this sim makes."

"You want to understand a cow, you don't look for cow-atoms."

"Right, you go for the 'emergent property.' Standard theory."

"This sim is predictable, buddy. Remember that. You tailor him until he's got no nonlinear elements you can't contain."

Marq nodded. "He's…different. So powerful."

"He got simmed for a reason, way back in the Dark Ages some­ where. Did you expect a doormat? One who wouldn't give you a hard time? You represent authority-which he battled all his life."

Marq ran fingers through his wavy hair. "Sure, if I find a nonlin­ ear constellation I can't abstract out-"

"-call it a will or a soul and delete it." Nim slapped the table hard, making a woman nearby give them a startled glance.

Marq gave him a mocking, skeptical look. "The system isn't completely predictable."

"So you launch a pattern-sniffer. Back-trace on it. Stitch in sub-Agents, handcuff any personas you can't fix. Hey, you invented those cognitive constraint algorithms. You're the best."

Marq nodded. And what if it's like cutting into a brain in search of consciousness? He took a deep breath and exhaled toward the domed ceiling, where a mindless entertainment played, presumably for those conked off on stiff. "Anyway, it's not just him." Marq met Nim's eyes. "I rigged Sybyl's office. I eavesdrop on her meetings with Boker."

Nim slapped him on the shoulder. "Good for you!"

Marq laughed. A buddy sticks with you, even if you're having a stupid-storm. "That isn't all."

Nim leaned forward, boyishly curious.

"I think I went too far," Marq said.

"You got caught!"

"No, no. You know how Sybyl is. She doesn't suspect intrigue

from enemies, much less friends."

"Maneuvering isn't her strong suit."

"I'm not sure it's mine, either," Marq said.

"Ummm." Nim gave him a shrewd look, eyes half-closed. "So…what else did you do?"

Marq sighed. "I updated Voltaire. Gave him cross-learning pro­ grams to flesh out his deep conflicts, help him reconcile them."

Nim's eyes widened. "Risky."

"I wanted to see what a mind like that could do. When will I get another chance?"

"How do you feel about it, though?"

Marq chuffed Nim on the shoulder to hide his embarrassment.

"Kinda rotten. Sybyl and I both agreed not to do it."

"Faith doesn't need to be too smart."

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