ToledotPost-Self book II

Yared Zerezghi — 2124

When one is uploaded, the only thing that is left behind is the body, and that in pieces. It is an uncomfortable, perhaps gruesome fact of the process, but unavoidable. The intellect, the emotions, and all that makes a person an individual are sent to that building (or compound, we don’t know what it looks like) in the Sino-Russian Bloc and then they become a part of the System. We do not see what they see, and cannot, but we do talk to them. They are quite the talkative bunch, and they describe all sorts of wonders. The System is much like our sims but far, far more real. Realer than we could ever imagine. It is, I’m told, quite literally a dream world.

All of this — the chatter from the System, the continuity of lives from here to there, the vibrancy of the place — points to a collection of real, actual people. They may not have the bodies, but they are no less real, living, feeling, laughing, crying, joyful beings, and they deserve the recognition of their reality, their individuality.

I hear many arguments against their individual rights:

“Because we cannot interbreed with them, they are a different species, and thus are not guaranteed the same rights."

This is a crass and ridiculous idea. Of course we cannot interbreed, The chances of us interbreeding with a moth are more likely, as at least a moth has a body! However, if we see that their lives in the System are continuous progressions from the lives they lived here and they had inalienable rights here, then there must also be continuity of rights. Whether or not we can interbreed is nothing but a distraction.

“They should have to pay for the power requirements for running their system."

This argument carries weight when it is viewed from a strictly logical point of view. Running the System does cost money, and even if they have little need for money in there as they go about their day-to-day lives, perhaps they can to find a way to help subsidize that ability. I can think of a dozen ways off the top of my head even while writing this.

However, for the argument to be used as a reason that they must not have individual rights — those of freedom, happiness, and access to necessities — borders on the incomprehensible. When an individual is out of a job outside of the System, we do not simply strip away their rights on the spot! We must have the correct conversation, here, and this is just muddying the waters.

“If they are essentially expert systems running on a computer, they should be treated as such and used to run expert systems out here."

This is it, here. This is the worst of almost all of the myriad arguments that I’ve heard. This is the pillar of cynicism that everyone’s inner sociopath leans against. This is the bit of us that says: if I cannot see it, it isn’t worth the scantest thought. This is the bit that says: every individual must serve a tangible use in the world in order to exist. This is the bit that says: they deserve this because I am also a cog in this horrendous machine.

Humanity is, as ever, a race of cynics-at-heart, yet this approaches such a low as to turn the stomach. You would afford dogs and cats greater rights than those who we know for a fact can think and talk and feel and know. We know this because they are us.

Without compromising their identity, I can say that I have received a letter from two representatives of the Council of Eight, the leadership within the System, and on this we agree. They are alive, and because they are alive, they deserve the rights guaranteed those who are alive. They are individual, and so those rights must be individual. They can feel happiness, they know what it means to be free, and they are completely dependent on this one necessity, and so those rights afforded us must be granted them.

One of these representatives with whom I have been speaking is one of the lost. I know that the collective conscious moves quickly, and it’s a lot to ask it to keep in mind a single incident from nigh on twelve years ago, but they are important. They were among the lost, those unlucky few trapped within their own minds and exocortices by the whims of tyranny, and when they were returned to our shared existence from their solipsistic one, they were among the voices campaigning for change from the very political systems who failed them and many others. As one of the lost, their experiences were integral to the creation of the System, and have been a part of it from the inside for almost a decade.

Their memories are real.

Their life is real.

Vote for the granting of rights. Vote yes on referendum 10b30188.

Yared Zerezghi (NEAC)

Yared submitted the post to the DDR forums and swiped his way out of the whole damn trash fire, feeling for that cool air on the back of his neck, backing out of his rig fast enough that he teetered on his chair.

Every time he had to write something about this, every time he had to force himself to reiterate the arguments of others, it made him angry. Irrationally so.

He slung his bag over his shoulder, donned his cap, and stomped out of his apartment. He needed away from computers after something like that.

Sunlight assailed him on the street. The view was as bright as ever, the weather as oppressively hot as always. He swayed for a moment as he struggled to acclimate, and once he was able, continued to stomp his way down the street to the coffee shop on the corner.

He could let his anger cool, but it felt too good to nurse it just a little while longer.

His usual low stool was free, so he claimed that and sat to watch as the coffee was roasted, ground, boiled, strained, poured. Despite the urge to stoke that fury further, the meditative aspect of watching the coffee being prepared, the smell of it and the small cakes of himbasha, calmed him quickly.

He was partway through his second cup and nibbling on his second slice of the sweet cardamom bread when another man sat down next to him. This would not normally be cause for concern, except for the fact that the man was wearing a suit. A black suit. This was not just incongruous, it was alarming in a place where the sun shone so hot.

Yared looked around, then spotted the black car parked down the cross street. Obviously that must have a cushy, air-conditioned interior, which would at least make the choice of clothing tolerable.

He nodded to the man, who nodded back, ordered three coffees, and waited.

Yared finished his coffee and reached out his hand to grip the contacts to pay for his coffee, but the man gently pressed his arm down.

“Please, allow me to purchase your coffee and food. Do you like the himbasha here?”

Frowning, he nodded. “It’s quite good. May I ask why you’re paying for me?”

“My passenger would like to meet with you,” the man said, nodding over toward the car. “The coffees are for the three of us.”

“With me?”

“Yes, Mr. Zerezghi.”

Yared reached once more for the contacts to pay, hoping he could simply walk away from the situation, which was quickly moving from alarming to frightening, but his arm was once more gently pushed away. Instead, the man reached forward and let his implants connect with the contacts, the touch completing the payment.

“I think I should leave, sir.”

“Please, stay. It is cool in the car, and we only wish to talk.”

“About what?”

The coffee was poured into paper cups and the himbasha was slid into a paper packet.

“Please, Mr. Zerezghi, this way.”

Yared remained seated. “You haven’t answered my question, sir. About what?”

By way of answer, the man smiled, not unkindly, and said, “My passenger has read your post from this morning and was most impressed. Please, you may stand outside the car if that would make you feel better.”

Still frowning, Yared stood, nodded to the woman who had prepared the coffee and let the man in black lead him to the car.

The man set the tray of coffees on the roof of the car, removed one and set a slice of himbasha on it, before opening the back door and handing the tray and other slices to the person inside.

So incongruous was the context that Yared did not recognize him at first. The man was dressed much as he was, in loose white pants and a white shirt, but the clothing was much finer, with an elaborately embroidered neckline on the shirt, and spotless pants where his own were dusty and overdue for a wash.

Still, the face was unmistakable. “Councilor Demma?” he asked, voice small.

“Mr. Zerezghi! The very one. Please! Come in and sit with me, and we can drink our coffees. They smell delightful.”

Yared stood at the door a moment longer, feeling the cool air against his face. His mind had gone blank. Any thought of the coffee, of the message earlier, was gone, and all he could think was, What in the world does Yosef Demma want with me?

A gentle hand on his shoulder from the driver urged Yared into the back of the car where he took a seat opposite Councilor Demma, who handed him his coffee and offered him the bag of himbasha, which he declined.

“I suppose you’ve already eaten plenty, hmm? It does smell delicious. I rather like it when they put orange in it as well as the spices.” He broke off a corner of the bread and set the rest aside. “I will get straight to business, Mr. Zerezghi, as I know that this is rather unexpected for you. We have been keeping tabs of your posts on the topic of individual rights on the DDR forums. Your voice is one of the loudest, most consistent, and most eloquent out of the whole system, and would like to work with you on those.”

Yared coughed on a swallow of coffee. “You have been…watching me?”

Councilor Demma laughed and waved his hand, chewing on his sweet bread. After swallowing, he said, “Do not worry, Yared. The NEAC Council is a political body, the DDR is a political entity, so of course we monitor the forums. We are monitoring everybody, not monitoring you specifically. Except, of course, in as much as you are a part of that everybody.”

“But you came for me, sir.”

“That we did. Your posts have attracted our attention. They are quite well written, very well researched, and the information you have by virtue of your relationship with your two companions is invaluable. We — that is, the interests in the council that I represent on this topic — feel that you would be a useful aid in reaching our goals.”

“And what goals are those?”

Councilor Demma smiled in a way that did not exactly instill confidence. “Individual rights and autonomy of the System.”

Yared blinked, frowned, and took the few seconds offered by a sip of his coffee to work up the courage to ask, “Autonomy?”

“We are like you, Yared. We desire that the uploaded individuals maintain individual rights. Our dreams are perhaps a little bigger, is all. You fight for their rights, but we fight for their independence.”

“How can they be independent. Aren’t they a part of the S-R Bloc? Those who upload have to get a visa, even if only for a few hours, before they join the System.”

“Yes, but it is dual citizenship!” the councilor said, stabbing his finger toward Yared. “They remain citizens of the Western Fed or of the Northeast African Coalition or wherever they are from. They essentially only have a visa for the S-R Bloc. If they are our citizens, they must still have the rights we grant them. That is your argument, yes?”

Yared nodded numbly.

“We, like you, wish to protect those rights, but we want to grant them even more. We want to grant them their independence.”

The import of Councilor Demma’s request struck him like a blow to the stomach. “You…you want to help them secede?”

The man across from him smiled and finished his coffee, setting it aside before taking another bite of the himbasha. “This is quite good, Mr. Zerezghi. I will have to remember this place.”

Yared frowned at the non sequitur.

“This is not something that they have in the System. They do not have delicious coffee and delicious desserts. Neither do they have hamburgers or Sichuan noodles. They have none of the same stuff as us, as crude or as plain or as beautiful as it may be. They don’t have the same stuff that makes our societies what they are. They have their own society-stuff. They have their own world and their own customs.

“Have you heard about the way that they can make copies of themselves and become two individuals? It is fascinating to me. They call those collections of individuals clades, because they can form a branching tree of personalities. Wonderful! Can you imagine the culture that must spring up around that? Are clades families? Do they fight like siblings? Culture has sprung up around our coffee, our himbasha, our stuff, and it certainly does not involve these clades of theirs.”

The councilor was intensely charismatic. The argument made sense, too, and a part of him was ready to dive in head-first if it would accomplish his goals. The rest of him prevailed, though, and he asked, “But where do I come into this?”

“Excellent question.” That disconcerting smile again. “All we would like you to do is continue on your campaign for individual rights now. However, we would like to suggest some small changes to your arguments, just little nudges here and there. They will not start right away, but soon, we would like you to shift the language you use. We have confidence that individual rights will be granted, but we want the way primed for what comes after.”

“Confidence?”

The councilor tapped his temple. “We keep an eye on the forums, remember? We keep our finger on the pulse of the DDR. I also have the interests that I represent, and I have confidence in them.”

“You just want me to campaign as I usually do, but subtly suggest that the System should secede?”

“Ideas grow organically, Mr. Zerezghi, but they all start from a seed. You are ideally placed to be that seed, both for the DDR and for the Council of Eight.”

Yared sat up straighter. “Oh, so not just the DDR, but also the System?”

Councilor Demma nodded, still smiling. “There is nothing you need to do yet, but let us meet up for coffee again, yes? Perhaps here, again, in two days time? I would love to make these chats over coffee a regular part of our schedules.”

“Can I take those two days to think on it?”

That smile faltered only briefly but was quickly replaced. “Of course, Yared, I understand that this is a large request to make of you. All the same, I do hope that you will agree to join us. Much is resting on this venture.”

At some unseen signal, the car door was opened from the outside. The meeting, it seemed, was at an end, and he was back on the street, back in the brightness and heat, watching the car disappear around a corner.