“Oh, you can’t go to Chase. No, no, no, nonono,” Jayden muttered. He was huddled under Lonnie Norton’s desk, examining and picking at his bare feet. Lonnie was one of very few artificials in the Transhuman Congress. It was a Norton, a genderless model built tall and thin like a pole with round heads.
Anima looked askance at Jayden, then at Lonnie. “What’s wrong with this man?” she asked Lonnie in her girlish voice. It was unlikely to be a genetic flaw, but maybe he had suffered some trauma.
Lonnie shrugged its narrow shoulders. “He’s been this way as long as I’ve known him. Why can’t we go to Chase, Jayden?”
Jayden shook his head quickly and said in his gravelly voice, “It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just pick one to stab the others. You have to watch them all. Be outside.”
Anima squatted down to be on a level with him. “I know, but I don’t have good contact with all the Congress members. Chase is my most influential contact, and even he’s barely a contact these days.” Since we’d botched the Visser & Pol sabotage mission, Harold had been chilly with us, but was still willing to exploit us if we allowed it.
Jayden looked up at us, and we were struck by the bright green of his eyes and smooth lines of his face. He was much younger than his voice let on.
“Not on this,” Jayden insisted. “Chase knows shit about AI, shit shit shit. He’s led by the nose and led in hypotrochoid circles. You have to watch those who lead him.”
We weren’t sure it mattered how much Harold knew about artificials, but we let the judgment slide. Jayden was barely a footnote in the Congress’s database of people, we found, listed only as a software developer, age 13. Very young. “Who are you, Jayden?” we asked.
He giggled, then stopped suddenly and said in a hoarse whisper, “I’m not who I should be. Instead of being born the wrong person, I was born not anyone. Just like an artie.”
We weren’t sure what to say to that. Anima sat down cross-legged on the floor. “What do you do?”
He glanced up at Lonnie, then back down at us. “I do what I must, what I have to, what I shouldn’t. It’s supposed to be strange for a computer-maker to say they can’t describe something in discrete things like words. Ryan Budden is a genius to produce the seed of you. Absolutely…” he trailed off into quiet mutters and a little hum.
Anima looked up at Lonnie to catch its reaction. Lonnie just shrugged again and said, “I put his genius to use and let him sleep on the couch. That seems to be all he needs.”
“Jayden — ” we/Anima started, but we were cut off by an incoming call. It was Harold Chase.
“Anima,” he said immediately, “what are you doing?” We felt a strange tickle — Jayden was rapidly attempting to weave his way onto our line with Harold. His hum hadn’t faltered.
Our Anima-avatar was confused and polite as she asked Harold, “What do you mean? I’m out with friends.” Jayden was making smart moves to hack the line. He wasn’t fast enough, but he was definitely stealthy. A non-technical organic might not have even detected him. We didn’t actively repel him, but we left up our passive defenses.
“I don’t find this very amusing,” Harold said coldly. “I’m hearing rumors that you’re checking up on people. On my people.”
We kept up the facade on both ends as Jayden tackled the next to last layer of our passive defenses. “I’m certainly curious as to how this upcoming vote is going to go, but I’m not doing anything out of bounds,” Anima said.
“Anima. Quit it.” Harold ended the call.
Anima looked at Jayden again, who had stopped the humming. “You’re nosy,” she commented.
Jayden smiled mischievously and tucked his stringy hair behind his ears, then tangled his fingers together. “Not fast enough,” he said quietly. “I’m not who I should be. I should be…” He held out his arms, looking at them with helpless frustration. “Something else,” he finished. His arms looked human-normal to us.
“Get another body,” Anima suggested casually.
He looked at us with wide eyes, wrapping the puzzling arms around himself. “I can’t program myself into a new body. The simultaneity involved would cause ever-increasing differences that would result in two people occupying two bodies, yes. No. I want just me. Just one me.”
Anima grinned down at her hands in her lap as she said, “You can get used to the multiplicity thing.”
Jayden just hummed a long, warbling note. Anima blinked. Did people find us as odd as we found him?
“Jayden,” we/Anima said, coming to a decision, “I want to hire you. I have work to be done that you’ll likely find challenging.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine here. Safe here, working here, left alone here. I don’t work for money.”
In the corner of her eye, Anima saw Lonnie’s feet shuffle a bit.
“As part of your payment,” we continued, “we would figure out a way to get you a body that matches… you.”
“You want to watch them all,” he said, surprising us.
“Yes, but carefully,” Anima said with a glance up at Lonnie. “You’re good, but you would have to be faster, quieter.”
Jayden thought for a moment. “What you want to do isn’t possible. You can’t usefully monitor the day-to-day of that many people or make people of non-people or meet your ends of the bargain or…” He again descended into mumbles, fingers erratically tapping his knees.
“Jayden,” we said softly, firmly. “We — you and us and the others — can do these things.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Lonnie said calmly. “I’m not sure this is a good idea. He’s just a child, Anima. You don’t know much about kids, do you? He forgets to eat sometimes.”
“Apparently,” Anima said, not looking away from Jayden, “we can just use his genius and let him sleep on a couch.” She looked up at Lonnie. “I think we can handle that. I’ll set a timer to remind him to eat.”
Lonnie’s slim jaw tightened at the artie joke. Perfect ability to keep time was still touted by some as an advantage of being an artie. “His parents think he’s with me,” it said.
“I don’t want to see my parents,” Jayden interjected. “We don’t get along and we’re nothing alike, not at all, no way. Still… They must be geniuses to produce the beginning of me, like Dr. Budden, right?” he asked Anima.
Our maker’s “death” by drug overdose could still send us into disarray when we lingered on it, and Anima’s voice was soft as she said, “Yeah. They must be, just like Ryan.” We united ourselves. “I’ll talk to your parents, Jayden,” Anima said. “I’ll make them understand how important this work is.”
She stood and held out a hand to Jayden. He looked at it for a moment before taking it and standing. He was short and stocky, still awaiting his final growth spurts into adulthood. He slid away from both Anima and Lonnie, moving to stand with his back to a wall.
“What others?” he asked suspiciously. “Your other bodies aren’t other people for the purposes of this conversation, hm? No, can’t be. It’d be confusing and deceptive to gain followers that way. Not allowed.”
Anima chuckled. “No, I have another. She’s like you. Different. Very good at her specialty.” Xinxin didn’t have body issues quite like Jayden, but she had her own quirks that kept us busy.
“I’ve never met anyone else very good at their job,” Jayden mused. Lonnie frowned slightly, knowing Jayden was being won over, but just watched us like a looming tree.
“Is she an artie?” Jayden asked. “I don’t know if I hope she’s an artie or not. Maybe she’s like me if she’s an organic. Confused.”
Anima suppressed a small sigh of impatience. We would have to deal with far more recalcitrant people than this to get what we wanted.
“She’s also organic… at the moment,” Anima said. “You’ll have to come work with me to meet her, though.”
Lonnie had stuffed its hands in its pockets and watched silently as Jayden absently started to pack his few belongings in the office into a bag. Sirpa eased out of total absence and began designing potential bodies for our new ally.
“What’s my incentive to keep quiet about this?” Lonnie asked Anima.
Anima smiled up at it, barely reaching its chest while standing. “Because I’m going to fix what’s wrong,” she said, and Hourig’s influence grew. As we matured, we became more seamless, able to interact internally with more fluidity. Our shards were still pieces of a whole, and each had their personalities, but we had fine-tuned control over our bodies and only rarely needed to resist commingling.
“Our system is close to breaking,” Lonnie protested. “You could easily finish the process.” We had considered it a major success to gain Lonnie’s respect. It was mostly honest and ethical, but could calmly argue almost anyone into submission. It was kept regretfully low in Congress ranking because it was artificial.
“We are surrounding ourselves with people primed to do great work,” we/Anima said to Lonnie with a look at Jayden. He wore ratty jeans and a dirty, smudged collared shirt, both twisted. The socks he’d put on had holes in them. “Who better to direct these few than someone who’s been doing so since birth?”
Lonnie grunted and said, “Jayden can be a sledgehammer. If you can’t control him…” Jayden was watching us both now.
“So can Xinxin,” we said. “So can Hourig, one of us. We can control them. I just need time to hone them.”
Lonnie sighed, and Anima relaxed as he said, “Then I’ll run interference with Harold until you’re ready. Work fast.”
Anima nodded, grinning briefly. She gathered up Jayden and led him to the door. “You know,” she said to him conspiratorily, “we’re going to have to come up with a new model name for you ‘converted’ people, once we figure it out…”
Jayden rattled off ideas all the way back to our lab.