Get INSTALLED, the first novel in the Installed Intelligence series.
This story is just one part of a collection of Installed Intelligence prequels. You can get the whole three-part collection PRELOADED by signing up for my mailing list!
DUPLICATE is also available free on Amazon, or you can download a free .epub, .mobi, or .pdf file.
“We want to be the first to offer you our condolences,” the blonde woman in the video said. “If you’re visiting us today, that means someone close to you has died. We understand that you are in a tremendous amount of pain, but don’t fret. Thanks to Installed Global, you can be reunited with your loved one and leave the grief behind.”
Gloria took in a deep breath as she nervously felt the arms of the only chair in the room. She couldn’t help but feel a little claustrophobic in the tiny personal waiting room. The fact that the television took up the entire surface of one of the walls didn’t help.
How can someone so exhausted be this anxious? she wondered. It must have been days since I’ve slept.
“Thanks to the miracle of installation technology, your friend or family member isn’t lost forever,” the immaculate actress continued. “We at Installed Global are here to explain a little more about the process.”
The screen transitioned to a stark white background, upon which the image of a casket appeared.
“When death occurs, the brain can remain active for a short time after all other systems have shut down,” the woman said. A surgeon looking over what Gloria guessed was the corpse of one of his patients appeared on screen. “If doctors are fast enough, they can use what we call a neuroscopic transcriber to ‘install’ their patient’s consciousness onto a harddrive.”
The surgeon was hooking up some sort of cathode cap over the dead patient’s head.
“This creates an installed intelligence of the deceased, which is stored in funeral facilities like the one you’re in right now,” the actress explained. The scene cut back to her. “The installed intelligence — or I.I. — can then be activated by the begrieved upon request. And just like that, you can be reunited with those you’ve lost.”
The blonde woman and her perfect teeth faded away to reveal the Installed Global logo. Though the actress had vanished, her voice did not.
“Thank you for choosing Installed Global,” she said. “A technician will be with you shortly. In the meantime, please feel free to learn about our long line of I.I. displays available for purchase.”
Dozens of different kinds of monitors and devices appeared on the screen. Gloria frowned. With a quick mental command to her cerebral computer, she selected one of the more alien machines. An image of it was blown up, spinning to give Gloria a full view.
“The new Installed Global LifeLyke Holographic Projector utilizes millions of small laser beams to generate a 3D recreation of an installed intelligence,” another announcer — this one less human sounding, somehow — explained. “You’ve never felt as close to your loved one until you see them come to life before your very eyes. No more screens, no more monitors. The LifeLyke Holographic Projector is still in its testing stages, but soon, you’ll be able to interact with an I.I. as if they were really in the room with you.”
There was a knock on the door just as the ad started to wind down, and the screen went off automatically. Without waiting for a reply, the mortician turned the handle and came into the small room.
“Miss Santson?” he asked with a gravelly voice.
Gloria looked up at him from her sterile armchair. Dr. Stephen Hummregh was a thin man who appeared to have sharp corners at his joints. Atop his bald head was the worst attempt at a comb-over Gloria had ever seen. A pair of glasses with translucent frames sat on the edge of his nose as if he got his style tips from Franklin D. Roosevelt. His cheeks were sallow and etched with wrinkles that became more dramatic as he spoke.
Working with the dead all the time must make one look like a corpse themselves, she thought as she looked at him.
She offered a curt smile. “Doctor,” she greeted him. “Fine day.”
“Under the circumstances, I suppose,” Dr. Hummregh replied. “I’d like to start this off by offering my condolences. It’s never easy losing a loved one.”
“Especially when it’s a son,” Gloria replied. Her face was devoid of emotion, cold as stone.
“I have two myself,” the mortician commented. “I can’t even imagine.” He cleared his throat and looked down at the clipboard he had carried in. “Tell me, do you have any experience with an installed intelligence or the installation process?”
Gloria thought for a moment. “Once — as a young woman — I saw a demonstration featuring the I.I. of President Juarez,” she said. “Aside from that, not really. I never even had the chance to speak with him.”
“Ah, yes, Juarez’s I.I.,” Dr. Hummregh said. “I was fortunate enough to study under the specialist who installed him. Well, you’ll find that things have changed. Back then, the software would only work on special computers that required some advanced programming knowledge just to run. It was archaic, but at the time, it was one of most amazing things I’d ever seen.”
“Quite,” Gloria said. She wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter.
The scientist looked back down at his forms before continuing. “The process requires little on your part,” he said. “Really, it’s just a series of customization choices. You’ll be able to select a voice from our extensive library that closely resembles your son’s. We can even create an accurate computerized model of Chris that can make complex facial expressions and poses. However you would feel most natural speaking with your son’s I.I., we can arrange.”
“Can you bring him back, flesh-and-blood?” she asked.
An uncomfortable expression crossed the mortician’s face. He gave a short, dry chuckle, then cleared his throat and tried to ignore her comment.
“In order to do our best job, Miss Santson, we’ll need to ask you extensive questions about your son,” he said, avoiding Gloria’s eyes. “Are you comfortable discussing his passing?”
Gloria pursed her lips so tight that they started to lose their color. She could tell that the mortician was intimidated by her, so she tried to relax. With a deep breath, she nodded her head.
“Chris was the adventurous sort,” she began. “He put himself into everything he did, whether it was his art projects or kayaking. Recently, he had been going on long hikes in order to convene with nature. It was something he decided to do on his thirtieth birthday as a sort of early mid-life crisis.”
Dr. Hummregh nodded as he listened.
“His accident happened during one of his treks into the Andes. He didn’t come back home when we expected him to, so naturally, we called for a search-and-rescue party. They found him on death’s door, but still alive.”
“Oh my,” the mortician said.
“It seems that he slipped into a sort of ravine and hit his head on one of the rocks,” Gloria continued. “They airlifted him out of the mountains and took him the best head trauma doctor within reach.”
“Goodness,” Dr. Hummregh said. “And that’s when he went into the coma?”
Gloria nodded. “He was like that for a couple days. The doctor said we could wait a little longer and pray for a miracle, but brain damage would be certain. I know my son. I know what kind of life he wanted to live. Once he lost the ability to think for himself, I’m sure he would have wanted an easy end.” She was crying without realizing it. A thin trail of tears ran down her wrinkled chin.
“You did the merciful thing,” the mortician assured her. “Who knows what kind of discomfort he was already in?”
“Exactly,” Gloria replied. She dabbed the corner of her eyes with the hem of her sleeve. “It’s terrible — and it’s hard — but I know deep down that I did the right thing.”
“Anyway, when I told the doctor my decision, he told me that our platinum level health accommodation would cover part of an installation,” she explained. “The copay was enormous, but we are quite well off.”
Dr. Hummregh smirked. “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t,” he joked.
She ignored him. “They hooked Chris up to this brain monitor thing for about four hours, then we pulled the plug,” she continued. “That was the last time I saw my son. Connected to that — that web of wires.”
“That was the neuroscopic transcriber,” Dr. Hummregh said. “Only the best hospitals have them available. Skilled doctors are trained in their use. There are some emerging regulations — nothing solid — but if the physician is certain that the patient cannot be revived, she can use it to create an I.I.”
“Interesting,” Gloria replied with fatigued eyes. It was clear she was not too fascinated.
“You don’t care for the details of the installation process, do you, ma’am?” Dr. Hummregh asked.
“No,” the mother replied. “I only care about seeing my son again.”
“Well,” the mortician said, “it’s a rather simple process. My team just needs to reassemble the electrical data that made up Chris’s personality into a series of programs that can be interacted with. This used to take a while, but we’ve learned to develop faster algorithms to make the process as painless as possible. You should be speaking with your son sometime tomorrow morning. Are there any questions you have for me? Your son’s I.I. will include all the documentation you’ll need to keep your son alive, theoretically, forever.”
“Only one question,” Gloria answered. “How much do I owe you?”
“Mom?” the voice emanated from the speakers. “Is that you?”
Tears welled up in Gloria’s aged eyes as she looked at the computer monitor. She had braced herself for this moment, but no amount of preparation could hold back her emotions.
“It’s me, sweetie,” she said. “It’s your mama, sweet boy.”
“Where am I?” Chris’s I.I. asked. His digital avatar had a confused expression. His eyes looked to and fro in a vain attempt to understand his surroundings.
“You had an accident, Chris,” his mother explained. “You got hurt real bad, but you’re back home now. You’re healing, my baby boy.”
“I slipped,” Chris said, deep in thought. “I remember falling over the ridge. That’s the last thing that comes to me. Did I hit my head?”
“You did, but nothing the doctor couldn’t fix up,” Gloria replied. After a moment of brief silence in which she stared into the electronic display, and the avatar of her son stared back out at her through his sensors, she lost her composure. “It’s so good to see you, Chris. I was so worried I would never get to see your face again.”
“I’m okay, Mom,” the digital voice said. Then he chuckled a little. “I don’t think I’ll be going on any hikes for a while, though. Or at least I’ll get myself a helmet.”
Gloria beamed, the tears in her eyes blurring her vision. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said.
“Welcome back,” a soothing, yet gruff voice reached through to Chris. “Can you hear me?”
“Can you see me?”
The voice came from a short, round physician with tufts of black hair encircling his pale scalp. His eyes were magnified by the thickness of his glasses, which he must have chosen to wear at some point in his life rather than get the standard corrective procedure. There was a warmth about him that reminded Chris of an inspirational teacher or a kindly uncle. The doctor wore a white coat, on which the name “Dr. Harris” was embroidered above the pocket.
“How do you feel?” the doctor asked.
“Like I’ve been hit by a train,” Chris replied. A low groan creeped out of him as he tried to sit upright. The doctor gestured at him to remain lying, and he obeyed. “What happened to me?”
“You received a tremendous amount of blunt trauma to the back of your skull,” Dr. Harris answered. “This resulted in substantial damage to your cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord. You were unable to breathe on your own when you arrived — just before you slipped into your coma. We even had to use electronic equipment to keep your heart beating, but even that was to no avail. By all medical and legal definitions — my friend — you died.”
“Then how am I here?” Chris asked.
“How indeed?” the doctor replied. “If only I could give you a definitive answer. There’s something in the medical field that we call the Lazarus syndrome. We still have no idea what causes it, but after we thought you were dead, your heart started beating again. We detected some high amounts of potassium in your blood, so it could have been the result of hyperkalemia, but we can’t be certain.”
“I don’t understand,” Chris said.
“Of course, of course,” the doctor said, almost as a nervous tic. “To put it simply: you were declared dead and sent down to the morgue. Then, just as we started to disconnect the last of the monitors from you, voila! Your heart started beating, and even more miraculously, your brain seemed to start rapidly healing. Once we realized what was happening, we did what we could to help the process. With a little bit of surgery and a delicate balance of hormones, we were able to bring you back from the dead. You’re a zombie, Chris.”
The doctor chuckled at his little joke, but the patient remained silent. Chris brought his hands up to his face and buried his eyes under them. He took in a deep breath and exhaled for what seemed like minutes straight. For a moment, he was convinced he was in a dream, or at the very least, so drugged up that he couldn’t understand what really happened to him.
“I shouldn’t be here,” he said, more to himself than to Dr. Harris.
“I’ll give you a moment,” the physician said. “Your mother has been alerted to your recovery and is already on her way. She should be here shortly.”
Chris said nothing as the doctor saw his way out of the hospital room.
Gloria couldn’t believe her eyes when she walked into the hospital room. Her son was alive and gazed at her with excited eyes from under a head bandage. For what seemed like the thousandth time that week, her eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, Chris,” she said. She couldn’t hold back her emotions and rushed to the bed to hug her son. Chris gave a sore chuckle as he embraced his mother. “I can’t believe you’re alright.”
“I’m fine,” Chris said.
“I love you so much, sweetie,” Gloria sobbed.
“I love you too, Mom,” Chris replied. He couldn’t help getting a little teary himself.
After they hugged for a moment, they separated and Gloria’s face fell into severity.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said. “About when we thought we had lost you…”
Chris had been deep in thought ever since his mother left. There were so many questions billowing within him and he couldn’t seem to find an outlet to vent them. When Dr. Harris came into the room to check on him, he felt prepared for some answers.
“Doctor,” Chris started. The physician turned his magnified eyes to the patient. “Do you know much about installed intelligences?”
“A bit,” Dr. Harris replied. “The practice of installation is part medicine, so physicians like myself are encouraged to get trained in the use of a neuroscopic transcriber.” He set down his charts and took a seat beside Chris’s bed. “What did you want to know?”
“Everything,” Chris said. “I want to know what that thing my mother has been calling ‘Chris’ is.”
Dr. Harris cleared his throat. “Well, installed intelligences were invented around the end of the Third World War,” he began. “Before then, the closest anyone got was a complicated artificial intelligence that closely resembled a human mind. Researchers were pretty curious in those days and regulations were lax. Companies were allowed to make these detailed A.I.s and claim they were the deceased immortalized. The A.I.s could emulate a dead person’s personality, but they were mere imitations and often riddled with inaccuracies. Sometimes a person would exaggerate qualities about themselves — even internally — and other times they were just not self-aware. A.I.s became known as unreliable depictions of a human mind. They were inferior.
“When programmers were actually able to capture a person’s intelligence and turn it into a piece of software, the concept of the I.I. was born. Their first use was to help clean up the planet after World War III. After that, scientists created a sort of living library out of the I.I.s of prominent figures. Presidents, C.E.O.s, social activists, and scientists were stored in a massive government database in order to preserve infallible firsthand accounts. Thanks to that effort, we are able to hear from the U.N.’s Hazzyit Ahman himself about how Security Council talks unfolded just before World War III broke out. Dr. Stephen McCormick can personally explain his Law of Subliminal Perception Education. With I.I.s, we have a true source of incorruptible information. History is no longer conjecture.
“Then the idea of opening the installation process to the public came up about a decade ago. It was presented as an evolution of human spirituality — rather than bury the dead or cremate them, one’s ‘soul’ could remain with their loved ones. They could even help guide their families to everlasting enlightenment, if the hucksters were to be believed. This presented opposition to tradition, however, which is the principal pillar of many religions. I’m sure you remember the protests?”
“You mean riots?” Chris commented. “I saw them on the news.”
“Still, it could have been much worse,” Dr. Harris continued. “In the end, it was a non-issue. The number of customers who can afford the expensive installation process is so small that most people are still mourned in the old, traditional ways. But as technology continues to advance, the process becomes cheaper and therefore more widely available. We shall see what issues will be the result.”
Chris was listening, but he looked out of the window of his hospital room at one of the Flight For Life helicopters setting down on a nearby landing pad.
“I guess what I really want to know,” Chris started, his eyes still pointed out the window, “is if the I.I. is really me. You know what I mean?”
“Well, by all scientific and legal definitions, it is,” Dr. Harris explained. “Everything that makes up who you are — every memory, every impulse, every tendency — is in your I.I.”
“It can remember everything I do?” Chris asked. “Even things I never told anyone?”
Dr. Harris nodded.
“Then,” Chris started, unsure of how to word is question, “does that mean there are two of me?”
Dr. Harris took a long moment to think. He wanted to be sure he didn’t mislead his patient, but he also couldn’t lie to him. “In a manner of speaking, yes,” he said.
Chris shook his stunned face. “What does that mean for me?” he asked the doctor.
“I’m not sure,” Dr. Harris replied. “This is the first time it’s ever happened.”
Chris jolted a little when the nurse knocked and then entered his room without waiting for a reply. She could see he was startled and offered an apologetic countenance.
“How are you feeling?” she asked him.
“Sore, but much better. Fine, really,” he answered, feeling his face with his fingers as if to assess his own reply. “When can I get outta here?”
“Soon,” the nurse replied. “Not long at all. But, first, there’s a man from Installed Global here to speak with you. Are you feeling up to having a visitor?”
Chris’s face was confused, but intrigued. He nodded. “Sure,” he replied. “Thank you.”
“Is there anything else I can get you?” she asked. “Water? Some food?”
“Water sounds great, actually.”
The nurse gave a little pleased bow before stepping out of the hospital room and telling whoever was waiting outside that they could go in. A young, tall man wearing an unbuttoned suit jacket over a pair of designer jeans entered the room. He carried a small leather briefcase with him. He took a seat in the chair beside the bed before saying anything as the patient watched him get acclimated. Then he looked up and acknowledged Chris.
“Mr. Santson, my name is Kyle Chandra,” he introduced himself. “I represent Installed Global, and as you may know, we were the ones who performed your installation and programmed your I.I. I want to be the first to apologize for the erroneous duplication of your personality without being certain that you…wouldn’t be using it anymore. It should have never happened.”
“Thank you,” Chris said. “I’m just happy to be alive.”
Mr. Chandra smiled, then opened the briefcase on his lap. He retrieved a couple of documents, which Chris could see were written on legal paper.
“We are all happy that you are alive,” he said, fishing a pen from his pocket. “Now, this is just a formality, but we’d be very thankful if you’d consider signing these release-of-responsibility forms. No harm, no foul, right?”
Chris cast the businessman a dubious glance as he took the documents and looked over them. They were written in such complex legalese that it may as well have been German.
“Shouldn’t I have a lawyer look over these?” Chris said, not making any progress with the document’s affidavit.
A nervous look crossed the businessman’s face. “You’re welcome to do whatever you please,” he said. “If you want to prolong the process and waste money, that’s your choice.”
With a cocked eyebrow, Chris returned the document to Mr. Chandra. “I’m not signing anything without an expert review first,” he said. “And you can cut the guilt trip tactic. I couldn’t give two shits how much time and money your company loses, Mr. Chandra.”
A flush of red stole the business man’s cheeks and he lowered his gaze in embarrassment. He sat for a moment, and Chris was about to ask him to leave before he lifted his head, a new spark in his eye.
“I apologize for being so forward, Mr. Santson,” he said. “I won’t lie to you because you’re not an idiot. I’m here to cover my company’s ass and they are relying pretty heavily on me to do so. But you’re smart — I won’t be able to get you to sign away our liability today. However, I have another proposition.”
Chris didn’t say anything, but didn’t tell Mr. Chandra to get the hell out of his hospital room. The Installed Global representative took that as a cue to continue.
“What would you say to meeting with your installed intelligence?” he asked the patient.
Chris furrowed his brow. “Why?” he asked.
“Money, first off,” Mr. Chandra said. “We’d pay you for the meeting — if you’d let us televise it.”
The man in the hospital bed waited for the businessman to get to the point.
“I’ll be frank — we’re probably looking at a P.R. hit when your story leaks to the public,” the Installed Global rep said. “But we might be able to spin some positivity out of the situation, for both our gain. You speak with your I.I. on live television, people around the world get their little minds blown and decide that they want to get installed as well.”
“I don’t want your money,” Chris said, a bit of disdain in his tone. “Why would I want to help you?”
Mr. Chandra pulled out a small booklet and scribbled in it instead of answering the patient. Chris couldn’t help but feel a little indignant at the lack of attention. Then the businessman ripped out a piece of paper from the booklet and handed it to Chris. It was a check.
“How’s that for a reason?” Mr. Chandra asked.
Gloria watched her son get out of the back seat of a compact black vehicle. There was no chauffeur or anything to let him out of the company car; it appeared to be one of the fancy self-driving models.
Chris didn’t have the bandage around his head anymore and instead wore the same hat he wore for most of the last twelve years. It was yellow with a large blue “H.R.H.S.” on the front, the acronym for his high school.
Gloria had expected her son to move stiffly, maybe even shuffle around like a zombie. She realized how silly that notion was when she saw him walk up to her as if nothing had happened to him at all.
“Hey, Mom,” he said once he was on the porch steps. He turned back and watched the second Installed Global car pull up. Two women came out of the vehicle, carrying video equipment with them.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Gloria asked her son.
“I guess so,” Chris said. “I’m as curious as everyone else is. Not to mention the cash their sending my way for it.”
“Well, just remember that I’m here for you,” his mother said. “If you don’t want to talk with him, you don’t have to.”
“It’s okay, Mom,” Chris said. “But thanks.”
“Mrs. Santson, such a lovely home you have,” one of the women carrying equipment said. “Thank you for letting us shoot here.”
Gloria turned to her son. “You gonna just watch them carry that stuff?” she scolded him.
“Alright, we are rolling,” one of the women said from behind her camera. “Go ahead and start it up.”
Gloria, blushing a little with camera fright, stepped up and booted up the computer Chris’s I.I. called home. The monitor glowed with life, and in just a few seconds, the avatar of Chris’s I.I. could be seen standing in front of the dark, featureless background that came default from Installed Global. Chris was focusing a lot on his posture, overly aware of the millions of eyes on him from all over the globe.
“Mom?” Chris’s I.I. asked, looking around with his digital eyes. He spotted her and smiled. He regarded the others as strangers. “Who are these guys?”
“They’re friends, Chris,” Gloria replied, casting an awkward glance at her flesh-and-blood son. She put a hand on his shoulder. “In fact, this one is family.”
“Family?” the I.I. echoed.
The organic Chris cleared his throat. “Hi, Chris,” he said. “My name is also Chris.”
The I.I.’s digital face seemed frozen with confusion. His eyes bounced back and forth, representing the scanning process taking place at the front of the computer.
“You look just like me,” the I.I. said to his real-world counterpart. “I don’t understand — what’s going on?”
Chris — the one with a body — turned to his mother. Trying to whisper quiet enough that the microphone couldn’t pick him up, he asked, “Does he not know yet?”
Gloria, a bit of shame in her eyes, shook her head. “I hadn’t found the nerve to tell him yet.”
Chris’s face flushed red with frustration, his lips pursed, and he turned back to the computer monitor. He couldn’t help but feel empathy for the installed intelligence, not knowing the truth about what he was. He was also angry at his mother for being too timid to tell the I.I. what he deserves to know — what he’d want to know if the roles were reversed.
“Chris, you’re an installed intelligence,” the flesh-and-blood man said. “You are a copy of my mind. We — we are the same person, Chris.”
He wondered how much truth there was to what he said. Were they the same person? Could they be if at any point they were feeling different emotions?
The I.I.’s face fell, and he looked down at his digital shoes. “I knew it,” he said. “Everything has been so — strange — since the accident. I just wasn’t certain.”
One of the camerawomen moved closer as the drama of the conversation played out. Gloria wanted to bark at them to back up and give her son — her sons — some room, but she was too ashamed to say anything.
Slowly, the I.I.’s avatar fell to his knees, then buried his face in his hands. “So I’m just some kind of imitation,” he said, the simulation muffling his voice through his hands. “Everything I remember — everything I feel — it’s not real.”
“That’s not true,” Chris said. “You’re not an imitation. You are alive, Chris.”
“But you’re the real Chris,” the I.I. argued, looking up at his counterpart. “You being here refutes everything I know about myself. Who am I if I’m not you? We can’t both be Chris at the same time.”
The organic Chris and his mother shared a glance, and the I.I.’s face screwed up more with tortured emotion.
“I can’t do this,” the I.I. said. Then the computer turned itself off. Gloria, Chris, and the camera crew stared at the blank monitor.
“Um — cut,” one of the women said.
“Well, that was a disaster,” Mr. Chandra said, not taking time to greet the Santsons or his own crew. “Next time we try something like that, we’re gonna film it in advance. That wasn’t something we should have streamed live. It was foolish.”
“So, what does this mean for my son?” Gloria asked.
“Which one?” Mr. Chandra asked, chuckling a little. “I’m joking. Look, it just means that something must have gone wrong when we installed Chris’s personality. His brain could have been too damaged for a good transcription — we won’t know until we take a look at the I.I.”
“What are you talking about?” Chris asked. “He’s not defective or anything, he’s just a little freaked out. And who could blame him?”
“Well, regardless of his ‘feelings’, this is bad publicity for Installed Global,” Mr. Chandra said. “We feel it would be best for all parties involved — the I.I. included — if we reclaim the product.”
“The ‘product’?” Gloria asked. “He’s a man, not a commodity!”
“Well, to our company, he is supposed to be an asset,” Mr. Chandra explained. “Instead he is a liability. We will need to do some tests on him to make sure future generations of I.I.s are better suited for the world around them.”
“He’s suited just fine,” Chris argued. “Just give him some time. He’ll adjust.”
“He shouldn’t exist in the first place, Mr. Santson,” the Installed Global representative countered. “His sole purpose is to carry on your life for you in the event of your death. Since you are not dead — sir — he serves no purpose.”
“He’s a person, Mr. Chandra,” Chris said. “People aren’t made with purposes. They make their own.”
The Installed Global rep sighed, exhausted by the debate. “Look, Mr. Santson, we appreciate your concerns, but we need to reclaim the I.I.,” he said. “We will reimburse you for over thirty times the cost you spent on the installation and your own medical expenses. That includes whatever your insurance paid. I’m sure you can do the math. It’s more money than even your wealthy family would see in a lifetime.”
Chris and Gloria looked at each other, their eyes filled with sick conflict. No one in their family would ever have to work again. Hell, they could so much for the community around them with that money. But the notion of taking it disgusted them both.
“I don’t understand the point, Mr. Chandra,” Chris said, avoiding an answer. “The incident was already seen by millions of people. It’s not like you can cover up his existence.”
“Sure we can,” Mr. Chandra said. “With your help, we can convince everyone that what they saw was just a dramatized commercial. A publicity stunt. They’ll call us shady for ‘tricking’ them into thinking the ad was a real interview, but that will be miles above them thinking that our I.I.s are defective.”
“So your plan is to lie to them?” Gloria asked.
Mr. Chandra shook his head like the Santsons were just too dumb to understand what he was saying. He didn’t care for their moral objections.
“Whatever you want to call it,” he said. He appeared to give up on trying to sell them the idea. “Either way, it comes with a big pile of money.”
“No, Mr. Chandra,” Chris said. “For all legal purposes, the I.I. is my family’s ‘property’. We will not allow you to have him.”
The Installed Global rep hung his head in frustrated disappointment. A sigh that almost sounded like a low growl came from his throat.
“Very well, Mr. Santson,” he said, looking back up with unfriendly eyes. “Then expect to hear from our lawyers. Not only will we seize the installed intelligence — but you’ll have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime proposal.”
For the first few days since he had been discharged from the hospital — and since the now viral broadcast had taken the Internet by storm — Chris stayed with his mother. It had been Dr. Harris’s suggestion. Chris was to remain with someone who can make sure his mild brain damage didn’t cause any further complications. He didn’t mind the extra pampering, and his mother enjoyed having her son around. In fact, she liked having both of them at home.
Chris’s I.I. had withdrawn into himself, but he was still willing to speak to Gloria. He didn’t want an audience; he certainly didn’t want to be reminded of his in-the-flesh counterpart. For the most part, Gloria just spoke with him about old stories — stories both Chrises knew by heart.
Chris and his I.I. had become something of overnight celebrities since the Installed Global-hosted broadcast. Chris found going online, which he used to do for some leisure, to be an entirely different experience. He was bombarded with a number of communications from fans and dissenters alike. A majority of people were declaring their support for him, hoping that he would really stick it the Installed Global for their abuse of his I.I. However, there was a handful of people who thought he was faking the incident — that it was a publicity stunt after all.
Some people seemed to take the broadcast as evidence that I.I.s were a hoax. That they were nothing but complicated artificial intelligences designed to appear sentient. These people demanded that Chris “spill the beans” and admit to the hoax. He just chuckled and deleted those messages.
One message caught his attention. It was labeled as an urgent correspondence from the local Swedish embassy. A researcher there named Dr. Amdahl wanted Chris to bring his I.I. to the embassy and allow him to study the two of them. At first, Chris was inclined to ignore the message and continue about his day, but the scientist had left a pair of sentences at the bottom that stuck with him well after the message had vanished from his screen.
“I would urge you get to the embassy as soon as possible,” Dr. Amdahl had written. “It may be a matter of life and death for your installed intelligence.”
Gloria had a bad feeling as she saw the embassy come into view. Chris insisted on taking the trip to visit this Dr. Amdahl, even against her objections for him to stay home and wait until he’d fully healed. She didn’t like the researcher’s use of “life” and “death” in his message; she felt like he was trying to manipulate her son.
The building resembled a small castle, and around the property was a sturdy white brick way that separated the embassy from its host country. A gate of black bars marked the entrance to the compound. Gloria instructed the autocar to park out on the street, just outside the gate. The scientist, when Chris said he was coming, told him that he would meet them there in person.
The sun caught Chris’s eyes as he stepped out of the vehicle. He scanned the nearby pedestrians for anyone who could be the Swedish researcher. He wasn’t sure exactly who he was looking for, but he was sure he’d know him when he saw him.
At that moment, a sleek new van pulled up behind Gloria’s autocar — the Installed Global logo glittering a little in the late morning sun. It drew the Santson’s attention as the door was thrown open and a number of men piled out. Most of them were soldier types; they wore Kevlar vests and had tactical harnesses over their shoulders. There were military-grade rifles on their backs and Chris noticed sidearms on their hips. None of them had any kind of insignia or anything to indicate rank — just patches displaying the Installed Global logo.
Mercenaries, Chris thought.
After the hired goons came a familiar man in a suit, who smirked at Chris and his mother after stepping out of the van. It was Mr. Chandra, the Installed Global rep. There was something sinister about the joy in his face.
“Good morning, Mr. Santson,” Mr. Chandra said. He turned to address the woman. “Mrs. Santson. How are you today?”
Chris scowled at the businessman. “What do you want?” he asked. “Who are these guys?”
“Consider them our repo-men,” Mr. Chandra replied. “We’re here to take back what is rightfully ours.”
He reached into his suit jacket and retrieved a small stack of papers, which he offered to Chris. Neither he or his mother reached for it, regarding it with suspicious eyes.
“It won’t bite you,” the Installed Global rep said. “It just says that the local courts deemed your I.I. as Installed Global property. We’d appreciate it if you returned it immediately.”
Chris reached into his pants pocket and felt the little storage unit that held his digital counterpart. He didn’t move to retrieve it.
“I’m not giving him to you,” he said.
“Then you are breaking the law, Mr. Santson,” the businessman said. He looked back at his mercenaries. “I don’t want to have to seize the storage unit, but I will if you force me to.”
“And just what is going on out here?” a voice called from the other side of the embassy gate.
Everyone turned to see a thin old man with bushy eyebrows peering out at the scene through the metal bars of the gate. He wore a simple sweater over a button-down shirt, the collar not quite tucked in or out of it.
“This doesn’t concern you, sir,” Mr. Chandra told him.
“I beg to differ,” the old man replied, opening up the gate that separated them. “The Santsons are my guests and this is property of the Swedish government. It is entirely my concern, sir.”
“Actually, this is the street,” the businessman replied, annoyed. “Now mind your own business.”
“Chris, Gloria, come over here,” the old man said. Without thinking, the mother and son obeyed and joined the old man behind the gate. Before Mr. Chandra or his hired goons could react, he closed the metal doorway and activated its electric locks.
“What the hell?” the Installed Global representative shouted.
The old man pulled out a sheet of paper of his own, which he had kept rolled up in the waistline of his pants. He offered it for Mr. Chandra to read.
“The Swedish government is officially granting the Santsons asylum,” he explained. “You must leave our property or face harsh legal repercussions. Do you understand?”
Mr. Chandra looked indignant. “Sir, I am an executive for the — ”
“That is not what I asked you,” the old man interrupted. “I asked if you understood my orders to leave the embassy. If you do not, I would be happy to call the police and have them explain it to you.”
“But — ”
“Thank you, sir,” the old man cut in again, putting his hand on Chris’s shoulder to lead him away from the gate. “Good day!”
Mr. Chandra was red in the face, his mouth open in offense. He realized the futility of further argument and gestured for his mercenaries to load back up in the van.
“We’re not going anywhere!” he shouted as the woman and two men walked towards the main embassy building. “We’ll be back with a court order, just you watch!”
“I apologize for such a poor reception,” the old man said to his guests once the businessman was out of earshot. “I had hoped for something smoother, but that’s why I requested you come as soon as you did. I am Dr. Amdahl. Please, join me inside.”
“I just feel like an impostor,” the installed intelligence said. “Like I’ve been tricked into thinking I was an active participant of my own life. I feel deceived by my own memories.”
“Hmm,” Dr. Amdahl hummed as he listened. It was the fourth such session the researcher had had with Chris’s I.I., and he felt like he was making great strides. The I.I., however, felt more lost than ever.
“I mean, what do I do when my whole life has already been lived for me?” he asked. “I can’t go on as Chris Santson even though that’s who I feel I am, because that identity is already taken.”
“I think you should try to look at this as a unique opportunity,” Dr. Amdahl said. “The chance to mold whatever life you want without having to fumble through adolescence again. You can be anyone you want.”
“No I can’t,” the I.I. said. “I can’t be Chris.”
“And why not?” Dr. Amdahl said.
The I.I.’s avatar cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Let me tell you a story, Chris,” the researcher started. “It’s about a woman a lot like you. She was miserable and didn’t know what to do with her life, and this was without having to share an identity with someone else. Unfortunately, the pressure got to be so much for her that she decided to take her own life.”
“Jeez,” the I.I. replied. “This is supposed to cheer me up?”
“Just listen,” Dr. Amdahl said. “She was installed before her brain shut off entirely, and she found herself even more miserable. She felt alienated from her friends and her family because of the way she had left them. But she didn’t let it defeat her. She decided to start learning about her community and the other I.I.s in it. In time, she was able to create a groundbreaking foundation that finds work for active I.I.s who have no family or friends to claim them. She provides training, and most under her care end up contributing a lot to society.”
Chris’s I.I. was deep in thought as the researcher finished his story. Dr. Amdahl raised a bushy eyebrow, waiting for the I.I. to react.
“Interesting,” Chris’s I.I. said. “So she changed her whole life and used that chance to help other installed intelligences?”
“That’s right,” the researcher replied.
“People really don’t treat I.I.s very well,” the digital man observed. “If she can help them — maybe I can, too?”
Dr. Amdahl smiled. “Of course you can.”
There were only a couple days of peace at the embassy before they got word that Mr. Chandra and his mercenaries had returned. Reluctantly, the Santsons and Dr. Amdahl went out into the courtyard to meet them.
The mercenaries seemed on edge because of a protest that had gathered behind them. Out on the street, a number of people who had heard about the Santson story came to show their support for the I.I. and Dr. Amdahl’s protection of it. Dozens of banners flew, announcing things like “Human also!” and “I.I.s are not property!”
“I thought I was clear last time,” the Swedish researcher said as he approached the gate.
“You were,” Mr. Chandra replied. “So I had to go and get a court order. You forced my hand.”
“A court order?” Gloria asked.
The Installed Global representative nodded. He had a smug smile on his face, like he had just locked them in checkmate. “It says here that Installed Global has every right to seize its company property. We are requesting that you extradite the Santsons in order to comply.”
“And why would I do that?” Dr. Amdahl asked. He looked at the protesters, who all cheered when they saw him and the Santsons.
“Because the courts may not help you out in other local matters if you don’t surrender the I.I.,” Mr. Chandra said. “I don’t think you would want to be on the state’s bad side.”
“Why don’t you just give this up?” Chris asked Mr. Chandra, his brow furrowed in distaste. “Your company’s reputation is ruined already. Everyone knows that the broadcast wasn’t faked and what you’re trying to do here. How do you imagine you’ll undo this damage by insisting on kidnapping a person?”
“It’s not a person, Chris,” the businessman sneered. “It’s a defective program.”
“That would be convenient for you if it were true,” Dr. Amdahl said, “but you might have to come to terms with the fact that your business isn’t as profitable as you thought it would be. Playing with people’s lives seldom is.”
Before the debate could continue more, Chris heard the protesters cheer and boo loudly all of a sudden. Three black police vehicles pulled up just outside the gate. A number of police officers emerged, some peeling off to make sure the protesters didn’t get rowdy. A woman in a fine blue suit also emerged, and Chris recognized her as a federal judge.
“Hold it,” she said, joined by an entourage of officers. “Who’s in charge here?” She was addressing the mercenaries, who pointed to Mr. Chandra.
“That would be me, your honor,” he said. He must have recognized her as well. “How can I help you?”
“You can withdraw your men immediately and stop harassing these people,” she replied, a fire seeming to burn in her eyes. She pulled out an electronic tablet and offered it for the businessman to see. “This is a higher court order, superseding any rulings granted in your favor. The installed intelligence of Chris Santson is granted temporary citizenship. Any action you take against the I.I. will be prosecuted with the same severity as a crime against a human citizen. This includes kidnapping charges if you were to ‘seize’ him, and murder charges if you altered his coding. Understand?”
Mr. Chandra’s mouth hung open with shock. His eyes darted around from the Santsons, the researcher, and the judge, trying to think of some loophole. When none came to him, he blushed with frustration and rounded his men up once more.
“You’ll be hearing from our lawyers, then,” Mr. Chandra said, stepping back to his vehicle. “This ruling cannot stand.”
“Good luck with that,” the judge replied, turning to offer the Santsons a smile.
Chris struggled to get the flaps on the cardboard box closed. He didn’t bring much with him for his stay at the embassy, but it was still too much to carry in an armload.
A knock came at the door.
“Come in,” Chris said.
Dr. Amdahl entered the room, a fond look on his face. “Is it a good time?” he asked.
“You know, you don’t have to pack up right away,” the researcher told him. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“Thank you, Dr. Amdahl, but it’s time to leave,” Chris replied. “With the judge’s order, Chris should be safe from Installed Global. That wouldn’t have happened without you, so, thank you.”
Dr. Amdahl beamed, a sheepish look in his eyes. “It was the will of the people that protected your I.I., Chris,” he said. “If it wasn’t for your millions of supporters, we would still be wrestling with Installed Global and the vile Mr. Chandra.”
“I guess the Installed Global broadcast was the best thing that could have happened,” Chris observed.
“You know,” Dr. Amdahl started, “my research yielded much more than I ever could have imagined. I’ve not reached a conclusion, but my studies hint that an installed intelligence is not the person they are copied from after all.”
Chris raised an eyebrow in confusion. “What do you mean? I thought you said they were people,” he asked.
“They are — but not the people we think they are,” the researcher explained. “I believe that when an I.I. is created, a new person is born. Sure, you and your I.I. share all the same memories and psychological make-up to the point of his installation. After that point, Chris became his own person. It’s like twins: they share the same D.N.A. and often begin as the same organism. But when they are born, they are separate people with separate wills, regardless of the similarities.”
“Interesting,” Chris said. He had stopped packing to listen to the doctor speak.
“It’s because of this that I’m advising the courts grant Chris full citizenship,” Dr. Amdahl continued. “After all, he’s as much a person as you or I. Perhaps they will take the recommendation of a foreign psychologist.” He chuckled.
“It feels weird calling him Chris,” the flesh-and-blood Chris commented. “I dunno if I’ll get used to it.”
“Well, be prepared for him to keep the name,” Dr. Amdahl said. “They offered him the chance to change it when they finalized his temporary citizenship, but he’s attached to Chris Santson. He sees it as much a part of him as it is you. He came up with a clever idea to avoid confusion, though. He’s changing the acronym of ‘I.I.’ to the Roman numeral for two. You can refer to him as Chris II if you like.”
“Huh, I like it,” Chris said.
Dr. Amdahl offered a warm smile. “You know, if the courts take my recommendations, Chris II will be the first citizen of any nation to have never been born.”
The idea hit Chris like a shockwave. “Wow,” he said.
The Swedish researcher nodded, then turned as if to take his leave. Before he reached the door, however, he stopped.
“You know, not everything I found was good, though,” he said. He turned to face Chris again. “It may just be a special case, but I detected a bit of anti-human sentiment in my interviews with Chris II.”
“Anti-human?” Chris asked.
“He blames human nature — human flaws for causing his predicament,” Dr. Amdahl said. “I hope this isn’t a common disposition in I.I.s. I would hate to see what would happen if they decided enough was enough and wanted to start a war.”
“Me too,” Chris said, unable to wrap his head around the concept. “I guess we’ll just have to treat them right. Make them our friends.”
“I agree,” the researcher said, opening the door. “Only time will tell.”
He left Chris alone in the room.
I wish I could say the future was bright and peaceful, but it wasn’t. Get INSTALLED, the first novel in the Installed Intelligence series and see how bad things can get between humans and I.I.s.