“Good morning, sir,” your house assistant says. “I’m afraid it’s time for you to get up.”
“Hey, pal. How’s the weekends? See you at work today!” your friend’s voice screeches off your answerphone.
You lie in the darkness that is smeared all over the walls with the first light of dawn, a time when getting up still feels like a torture. The smell of fresh roasted beans beckons you, but the urge to stay in bed is much stronger.
The machine beeps again.
“I know,” you mumble, tossing around.
“You don’t want to be late for work,” the house assistant says.
Deep inside, you do not really care. They do not want you to be late. The boss, the managers, the colleagues—all of those who got up inside the homes of their own, now gulping on the black hot drink.
You peek through the half-opened eaves. The curtains barely contain the blackness of the night anymore. Another beep follows, and you hear the liquid pouring into the cup.
“Can I stay?” you ask through the slumber.
“Are you ill, sir?” the assistant asks. “Sensors show no signs of bodily dysfunction. Do you want me to call a doctor for a closer examination?”
You savor the last minutes of your sleep, gathering the strength to lift off your body. It’s the beginning of the week. Another day amidst the days, another week amidst the months. It is the time to exist, haunting the halls of the office. The realization does not help.
The fourth beep seems more intense. Is it louder? It is probably because you are almost awake, you think.
“Sir, the time is running out,” the assistant says. “You’ve wasted about ten minutes already. You need to account for traffic jams. Here is some coffee, sir. It will help.”
You mutter something unintelligible, probably an insult to the machine. The coffee table rolls to you, and you are about to reach out and grab the cup.
It has been a while since you have been late. In fact, when was the last time it happened? You start wondering if it ever did. Perhaps, at school, once, but you are not certain.
The obligation not to be late slowly vanishes. You are suddenly… okay. Your hand relaxes, falling back into bed’s embrace.
A fifth beep pierces your ears. The wall opposite to your bed clicks and slides off to the side.
Now you are awake, rousing among the blankets. You stare into the recess, the surprise lighting inside your sleepy eyes.
“What’s that?” you ask.
“I don’t know, sir. I have no data on hidden passages inside the house. In fact, the simplest and most ergonomic architecture of the building strives to eliminate the need for such medieval means of—”
In your pajamas, you rise and slip your feet into sneakers. You are as frightened as you are intrigued, and only need moments to decide that you are going in.
“Sir, I’d advise against such a trip. It might be dangerous. I would instead suggest you go take a shower and get off to work, and I will figure this out while you are absent. The police will surely want to investigate.”
But work is every day. The secret passages in your house walls might only be now. You grab a flashlight. It clicks, sending the beam further into the tunnel. The walls and the floor are paved with white tiles, against which you stride.
“Be careful, sir,” you hear behind you. “It is not too late to turn back.”
Lights flicker on, blinding you for an instant. There is no need for the flashlight anymore, so you turn it off. You go deeper into the tunnel, while the luminescent squares on the ceiling buzz.
You reach a cubicle at the end. It is all white, made with the same ceramic tiles and cold panels of light. A bench waits, and for some unknown reason, you know it is here for you. You sit down. You wait.
A slot in the opposite wall opens with a panel reaching out for your attention. On it, your name lights with thousands of green pixels. This is your cue.
You notice there is a knob sticking out, and reach out to turn it. The wall slides open. Behind it, a woman sits at a table, her suit black, strict. She makes an inviting gesture, pointing at the stool. You are hesitant to step in, even though you have just made a whole journey into the obscure.
“Come in,” she says in a voice so friendly you automatically make that step.“Sit down, please.”
“I know you’re confused.” The woman stares at the file on which your name is stamped. “Let me cut straight to business. You’re a clone, and you exist in a simulated environment.”
You process the information. It takes you a while to fly through your past, check the corners of your mind, open the closet of your childhood. You are dumbfounded; you want her to take those words back. You want proof.
“Don’t bother,” the woman says, as if she can read your mind—a possibility you can’t yet dismiss. “We both know how this conversation is going to end.”
Surprisingly, the feeling ceases. You are okay with that information. There is nothing that would contradict her statement, not that you have anything to oppose her argument.
You just ask, “Why?”
“That is a better question,” she replies. “Nothing less than we’d expect from a clone like you. The answer is simple. We’re raising the perfect artificial intelligence.”
She clicks the switch on her table. The wall beside her slides down. You glare into the never-ending rows of blocks on blocks of identical houses, office buildings, parks, squares. You have been there; you know them all too well.
“How do you fit a whole life inside a single block of space?” you ask.
“Ever been to prison?”
She smiles, and goes back to skimming through your file You do not get the joke.
“The bounds of the simulation alter as the target moves inside the premises. All of the interactions are based purely on AIs. Our complex is underground, if you are wondering. And if you’re still bothered, here’s the full description of how the complex works.”
She pushes a thick tome towards you, too occupied with your file to spare you a glance. You have never read such a humongous book in your whole life.
“Anyway,” she finally pulls her eyes off the file, sipping from a coffee cup, “as I said, you’re a clone. A clone of the first subject that we made a mind snapshot from.”
“You mean that you based the artificial intelligence on a real person?”
The pieces slowly tie inside your head.
“Of course,” she says, “The alpha model was based on a living man. However, it was not approved for safety, since human behavior is unpredictable. You’re all copied from one DNA.”
“You said everything is based on AI… are you telling me that all of those people I met are all, well, me? They didn’t look so alike.”
“In a way,” she says. “We can alter the contents of a certain mind, but the pathways of human thought are—as some would say—working in mysterious ways. They cannot be artificially created, only copied. Yet, there’s one certain way to accomplish what we strive for.
“Imagine two lines. One is bent, the other is bent, yet both are different. Neither are ideal, but the difference between them is. We call this ‘The Perfect Line’—of thought, it might make sense to add.”
You don’t get it.
She sighs. “Over the years, we looked for any deviations, any misdeed in the clone’s behavior. Then, we correlated the initial snapshot with its faulty derivative, made the necessary adjustments; the ‘fixed’ snapshot would then take the place of the initial one, and voilà—the problem was a step closer to being solved. One at a time, but the process was going pretty fast at first. We almost minimized the fault factor to a mere fraction of a percent by now.”
The woman seems happy. “Actually, you’re one of the last specimens.”
You are faulty, then, you think. You have not gotten up for work, and that meant you are faulty. Were you never lazy before? But then, did you succumb to it if you were? Your mind holds nothing to help.
“What happens to me?” you ask. Then you add, “Am I going to die?”
She punches a button on her table; a recess opens on each side of the room, a door behind each.
“We have two options,” she replies, a smile still strapped to her face. “The first one is that you live.” She points to the door on the right, muttering, “Darn humanists with their human rights.
“We erase your memory, fix the problem, and you go on living the life you always lived. Who knows, maybe you would get faulty again? We do hold record of such cases.”
You look to the left. “And the other?”
“You die.” She stands up from the table. “As simple as that. We still, however, take a snapshot of your mind, correlate it, and put it into the most current model of the AI. From the genetic material we receive after you die, another clone is then created.”
She stands on a platform behind the table. It is an elevator that immediately starts to descend.
“But do you not need me at all?” you yell. Even to yourself, you sound like an Indian soap opera.
“We are not limited in resources,” she replies. “Our limitations are of ethical nature. That is, those we didn’t yet overcome.”
“What happens to my mind as an artificial intelligence?” you throw your last question at her.
She is almost beneath the floor now, but there is a grin on her face you can still see. “We’d ask,” she says, “but since we wipe the memory, it wouldn’t know.”
You sit in silence, trying to choose. You have all the time in the world, and yet, it seems so little. You did not grab that coffee cup, did not shower, did not eat breakfast. That means you are living life as it really is. Above the bounds of everyday hassle are the white walls and two doors that will either end it, or restart again.
You stand up. You are ready to make a choice. Slowly, you approach the chosen door. You take the biggest of breaths and grab the knob.
The coffee machine beeps. This is your cue.
“Good morning, sir,” you say. “I’m afraid it’s time for you to get up.”
“Hey, pal. How’s the weekends? See you at work today!” your voice screeches off your answerphone.
Stanley Kov writes: “I was born and currently reside in Russia, work as a web developer at a rather small company, am looking to emigrate, and speaking about myself in third person makes me want to puke into my mouth a little bit.
“I have one other publication in Corner Bar Magazine (V.1 #7, August, 2016). You can check it out here.” (http://cornerbarmagazine.com/pdfs/corner-bar-volume-01-issue-07.pdf)