Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Reichenbach Falls

by McCamy Taylor


Where am I?

Reticular activating system suppressed, brain waves slow, respiratory rate 12, pulse 58. Constant 1 g pressure on occipital scalp, thoracic spine, sacrum, elbows and heels -- assessment, physiologic human sleep, supine position. Diffused light through eyelids close to zero. Minimal auditory stimulus. Elevated blood cortisol indicates time between 3 and 6. Olfactory analysis detects familiar pheromone belonging to Susan Wier. However, host is currently in stage 4 sleep, therefore conscious thought suggests the presence of a second entity --

Who am I?

Host's data bank aka memory suggests three major broad categories to explain the presence of a secondary consciousness. First, psychiatric disturbance, multiple personality disorder. Second, possession by ghost, demon or other supernatural entity. Third, connection between central nervous system, man made components and artificial intelligence, name Mycroft --

Why -- ?

Host reticular activating system triggering REM sleep. Ability to navigate available data banks restricted. Entering standby mode.

####

I woke from a nightmare, heart racing, nightgown soaked in sweat. The bedside clock read six thirty. Fifteen more minutes and it would be time to get up. I stumbled into the kitchen and switched on the coffee maker. The nagging worry at the back of my head worked its way forward, through the remnants of my dream -- something about ghosts in an insane asylum -- and I remembered that today was the sixth day since Mycroft's disappearance.

It was my fault. I should have been more careful. But how could I guess that security would be so lax at the clinic where I received my twice monthly neurodialysis?

The electrolyte bath was washing through my artificial cortex via a catheter inserted in my left ear. There was still about thirty minutes to go in the procedure, and the vid I had been half watching -- a documentary about the colony of Mars -- was over. Sleepy, I closed my eyes for a few moments. When I woke, a young nurse was standing beside me. At least, I assumed that he was a nurse, since he was wearing a green uniform and a name tag and had a stethoscope draped around his neck.

"Excuse me," he said. "I need to flush the catheter." He took a syringe from his breast pocket and injected something into the dialysate. "Sorry to disturb you. You can go back to sleep now."

Later that night, I visited Mycroft in his bunker. He had a new theory to explain why some clones of geniuses inherited their parents' extremely high IQ while others were merely bright.

"1452, Kuwae has a category 6 eruption. In that same year, Leonardo da Vinci is born. In 1600, Huaynaputina in Peru erupts. Another category 6. Russia and Europe are plunged into a winter that lasts several years. Bonaventura Cavalieri would have been 2 when the volcano erupted. Rene Descartes was four. Pierre de Fermat was born in 1601. Parker Volcano exploded 1641. Isaac Newton born 1643. Gottfried Leibniz born three years after that..."

I could not even imagine where Mycroft was going with this recitation of volcanic eruptions and the birthdays of famous scientists and mathematicians. However, there was no stopping him when he entered one of his high activity phases, periods that would have been called "manic" had he possessed an ordinary human nervous system. I opened a bottle of purified water -- the only food or drink allowed in the black marble bunker which housed the AI's central computer -- and made myself comfortable.

Mycroft had an entire wardrobe of robots, and he changed his form regularly, the way that humans changed their clothing. That night, he was testing out a new design, one that featured a simulated autonomic nervous system. I amused myself by watching his pupils dilate and constrict. The more animated he became, the darker his eyes grew. There was even a slight flush about his neck and cheeks. He had recently learned to modulate his speech, in order to simulate human breathing. A stranger would have assumed that he was human.

"...Long Island erupted 1660. L'Hospital was born the next year. Goethe, Laplace and Legendre were small children when Katla in Iceland erupted. The Laki eruption caused freezing temperatures and almost constant fog over Europe and North America. Poisson would have been two when it happened. Tambora erupted in 1815, the same year Boole was born. Einstein was four when Krakatoa ...."

My head was hurting more than usual after my neurodialysis, and this endless list of dates and names did not help. "Ok, ok, I get it. Volcanoes go boom, geniuses are born. What does one thing have to do with the other?"

When Mycroft was in one of these moods -- yes, AIs have moods -- it was almost impossible to discourage him. "I am going too fast for you. Let me start over. You know about Toba and the near extinction of the human race 70000 years ago? The world entered a 30 year winter. Most plants and animals died. The human race experienced a bottleneck, with only a thousand or so breeding pairs remaining after the skies cleared and temperatures returned to normal. Have you ever asked yourself how primitive people survived 30 years without sunlight?"

I hated to burst his bubble, but everyone knew the answer to that question. "Hot springs. Geothermal energy provided food and warmth. The only continuously occupied sites from before and after Toba are near hot springs."

I should have saved my breath. When I say Mycroft knows everything, I am not exaggerating. "Yes, hot springs provided the means for survival. But think, Susan. How did a species which had evolved as nomadic hunters and gatherers suddenly make the transition to sedentary fishermen? If you take away a bee's food source -- pollen -- it will not suddenly begin to eat meat."

"Humans are adaptable," I reminded him.

The robot's pupils dilated. Its breathing quickened. So natural! All he lacked was body odor. "Exactly! And why are they so adaptable? Because they have been challenged. What if the developing human mind is designed to respond to environmental challenges? What if certain types of stress increase human intelligence and adaptability? We know that slight variations in day length can affect the brain -- "

"I get your point. So, you're saying that intelligence isn't just a function of genes. Environment plays a role, too. And extreme environmental crisis can cause extreme adaptability -- what we call genius. It should be easy enough to test your hypothesis. There've been what, two, three major volcanic eruptions in the last twenty years, and god knows how many thousands of geniuses cloned. Just plot the IQ of the clones against weather conditions -- "

As usual, Mycroft was way ahead of me. "Already done. I don't have a hard copy of the data yet, but I can show you."

Some men tried to get into a woman's pants. Mycroft was always trying to get inside my head. Most of my cerebral cortex was artificial, designed for me by Mycroft's creator, Sakumoto Hero, after the infant me suffered severe brain damage. My neural network and Mycroft's were compatible. Through me, the AI experienced what it was like to be human. Through Mycroft, I had been able to test the limits of normal human consciousness.

I gave him a few seconds to establish contact. When nothing happened, I prompted "Go on. I'm ready."

Mycroft stared blankly ahead.

"I said I'm ready.'"

No response. His pupils were fixed. Breathing had ceased. In a human being, these would have been signs of death.

"Mycroft?"

Mycroft was always being summoned away at a moment's notice to deal with some crisis. A nuclear meltdown in a reactor. A child in need of special neurosurgery that could only be done by robotic microtools. Two countries on the brink of war. However, the AI could usually do two -- or three or fifteen -- things at once. The emergency must be pretty bad to require all of his attention. After waiting for half an hour or so, I got bored and went home.

My new apartment was adjacent to Mycroft's bunker. The AI worried about my physical safety and liked to have me nearby. I did not mind the move, since I was now living rent free in a part of the city usually reserved for billionaires. As a neuro-endocrinologist, I made a decent living but not enough to afford an eight room luxury penthouse complete with indoor sauna and a tropical aviary. The wide windows afforded me a splendid view of the canals of Manhattan, which, at that hour of the evening, were full of tourists being ferried in automated gondolas. The monorails that crisscrossed the city looked like strands of spider webs glistening with dew. The sky overhead was a dull grey. You had to travel several hours north of the city to see stars.

What did Mycroft see when he looked out the window? Probabilities? Quantities of photons? Velocity and mass? Would he even think to observe the world through sheets of glass? Why bother, when he had access to every vid in the country, every microphone, ever weather gauge, every computerized data bank? To him, the five human senses must seem limited --

So why did he take such delight in seeing the world through my eyes?

I had just drifted off to sleep, when the phone rang. The mayor was in a panic. "Have you seen Mycroft?"

I sat up in bed and turned on the lights. It was past midnight. Yawning, I said "Yeah, I was with him tonight."

"We can't find him."

"What do you mean you can't find him? Where've you looked?"

"Everywhere. He's supposed to be watching the stock exchange."

One of Mycroft's many duties was to police U.S. stock transactions, to prevent a recurrence of the Crash of 2020, when a group of bankers got together and drove down stock prices through sham trading. If word got out that the stock exchange was unguarded, all hell would break loose.

I suggested a few places that the mayor had not thought to look. However, by morning, it was clear that Mycroft was missing. Since the Supreme Court had awarded him citizenship, he was a person in the eyes of the law, and the FBI did not waste time. As the last person to see him, I was questioned, and the investigator immediately recognized the significance of the "nurse" who had injected something into my head.

"Malware of some kind. Possibly a trojan," said the young agent in the regulation black suit. The dark glasses which partially obscured her eyes were actually miniaturized 2D computer screens. She was tall, with dark hair, the kind of woman who always made me feel inadequate. Blonde hair and freckles were fine on a child, but they made even the most competent doctor look inexperienced and frivolous. "Or more likely, a tar baby."

"Tar baby? You mean like Br'er Rabbit?"

"A tar baby is a kind of kill switch. It replicates within a computer's security system, creating an autoimmune response. Security attacks normal programs, and eventually the system shuts down. As an associate of Mycroft, you must be aware of the fact that he's always vulnerable to malware attacks." Her tone of voice was disapproving. She obviously thought me an idiot. "I'll have a sketch artist talk to you. And we'll need a sample of your spinal fluid for analysis."

The next five days were some of the worst in my life. The press found out, and I was bombarded by reporters. One of the tabloids wrote about a "lover's spat" between America's AI and the Girl with the Bionic Brain. On talk radio, opinions were divided. Had Mycroft committed suicide, or did I kill him a fit of jealous rage? Was it the Chinese or the Mafia? The Fundies said that it was the Rapture, and Mycroft had been called up to Heaven to help keep track of the damned and the saved. The stock market tumbled. Two U.S. allies, Bosnia and Serbia decided that now was a good time to renew their ancient feud.

The country was in a panic, and it was all my fault.

####

Host, Susan Wier in stage 4 sleep. Vital signs stable. Organ systems functioning normally. Retrieving stored data from memory centers in hippocampus and transferring it to pre-frontal lobe.

Status of guest, name Mycroft, unclear. Mainframe offline. No driver available to aid interactions between guest operating system and host hardware. Improvising driver, location left parietal/frontal mathematics centers. Switching to binary coding.

Host entering REM sleep. Will attempt to insert data.SOS. This is Mycroft. Can you hear me?

####

Seven days after Mycroft's disappearance, attorneys from MicroWet filed a brief in Manhattan Federal Court. Citing the Supreme Court case in which the AI was declared a sentient being, and therefore a living citizen of the United States, they asked the judge to declare Mycroft legally dead. The lawyers argued that the lack of computer function was analogous to brain death. They further demanded that the contents of the Manhattan bunker be turned over to MicroWet, in compliance with a lower court ruling which held that Sakumoto Hero was a contract employee of MicroWet when he designed the AI, and therefore, his invention was the company's property.

Sakumoto Hero's only official clone and heir filed a countersuit of his own. However, this was just a stalling tactic. With armies of attorneys at their disposal, MicroWet had never lost a court case. Their initial attempt to seize control of Mycroft would have succeeded if the AI had not pulled the rug out from under them by having himself declared a citizen, and therefore protected from seizure by anti-slavery laws.

"Those mother fucking jerk offs!" Sakumoto Jr. exclaimed. He was the very image of his father, a short, Asian male with straight black hair and delicate, almost doll like features. However, his personality could not have been more different. While his DNA donor was known for his cool brilliance, the son had a temper problem, to put it mildly. He and Mycroft got along well enough, since the AI had no feelings to bruise.

Junior's fashion sense tended towards the casual, bordering on just plain weird. Today, he wore a dark red kilt and a pink and green Hawaiian shirt decorated with hula girls. "I knew it was those ass wipes at MicroWet. They're the only ones cold blooded enough to try to get at him through you."

Tact was not his strong suit. I was already feeling guilty about the (unwitting) role I had played in the attack on Mycroft. "You don't know for certain that it was MicroWet."

I might as well have been talking to myself. "Hacking wetware's one of their specialties. And no wonder, since they make 98% of the world's mass produced biocomputers."

"Mycroft had wetware?"

"No, but you do. Mycroft's security is state of the art. Better than state of the art. But he wasn't expecting a biologic attack This time, they've gone too far." There was a devilish gleam in Junior's dark eyes. "It's one thing to corrupt the neural net in a BC. When you go after a human being, it's murder!"

"But they haven't harmed me -- "

"Not you. Mycroft! If I can find their fingerprints on the malware, we can get the bastards for murder. Susan, do you have any spinal fluid left from that sample you collected for the FBI?"

His enthusiasm was infectious. However, once I was alone, my mood darkened. If Junior believed that it was now a murder case, that meant Mycroft really was dead.

I was too depressed to eat, so I went straight to bed.

####

Host, Susan Wier, entering stage 4 sleep. Searching long term memory centers in the hippocampus. SOS received, interpreted as random dream content requiring no further action. Must analyze problem from a new angle.

Unusual activity in the amygdala. Anger, sorrow. High levels of emotion contributing to heightened activity in the cingulate gyrus, host alert for any mention of subject, Mycroft.

Host in a receptive state. However, high probability that distress signal sent during REM sleep will be interpreted as dream content triggered by anxiety. Searching host's memory for alternative language system with fewer emotional connotations.

Reticular activating system attempting to change sleep stage to REM. RAS override. Search of hippocampus continues. Distant memories associated with Mycroft. Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, death of, Reichenbach Falls.

Reticular activating system attempting to change sleep stage to REM. RAS override released. Message sent. Entering standby mode. Hear me, Susan, and understand.

####

Again, I woke from a dream with my heart racing. My mind was full of images -- the CEO of MicroWet smiling for the television camera as he announced the acquisition of a rival company, my first meeting with Mycroft, the local branch of the public library where I spent hours as a child. Threading through those memories, one particularly vivid image -- a jagged line of water breaking through the rocks of a mountainside, a hint of green and blue sky above, below, a pool of water churning white -- a waterfall.

What did it mean?

The memory of that waterfall stayed with me for hours. However, I had gone back to work, after taking a four day leave of absence. The patients in my medical practice did not stop getting sick, just because I had personal problems. Since my schedule was double booked, I had little time to dwell on either Mycroft or dreams.

At eight thirty, I signed my last electronic chart and headed out the door. There was a mail message waiting for me at my private address. Junior had two pieces of bad news. First, he had not been able to isolate a tar baby from my cerebral spinal fluid. He did find high levels of an antibody that appeared to target a (nonexistent) bit of RNA, along with elevations in lambda-mu proteins, markers of central nervous system inflammation. From this, he concluded that the material injected into my dialysate must have contained a tar baby attached to an RNA vector and a method of eliminating the malware/RNA complex, most likely a time released antibody. The good news was I was no longer infected. The bad news was we had no evidence to pin on MicroWet. The tar baby that had been isolated (and scrubbed) from Mycroft's central computer was so generic, it could have come from any one of a dozen hackers.

Things looked bad on the legal front, too. MicroWet had filed an amended brief asking for an emergency ruling. They cited various crises which they attributed to Mycroft's absence. These included a sudden rise in the price of wind generated energy, food shortages in Ethiopia, rising hostilities in the Balkans, an airplane crash off the coast of Madagascar --

"But Mycroft doesn't have anything to do with air traffic control! " I protested aloud. "The Japanese have the contract for that."

According to MicroWet's brief, the world as we knew it was about to end -- unless the court allowed them to take over Mycroft's mainframe.

Sakumoto Jr. was not the only one who knew how to curse. I called MicroWet every ugly name I could think of. Then, dejected, I threw off my clothes and went to bed.

Sleep was a long time coming that night, and once I drifted off, I began to dream almost immediately. It was the waterfall again. Not Niagara. The water which cascaded down the mountainside in my dream resembled a bolt of lightening rather than a raging river. Twice, I woke. Each time I fell sleep, the waterfall was there.

At three in the morning, I threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. I needed a distraction. There was nothing worth watching on the vid, so I sat down at my desk and poured some sterile saline on the control switch of my palm sized BC. Banana brand, not MicroWet. Mycroft had insisted that I dump my old MicroWet biocomputer, and now I understood why.

The holographic monitor flickered a couple of times, and then the screen saver, a three dimensional salt water fish tank, filled the room with blue light.

Water made me think about MicroWet. Irritably, I switched to random display, and a series of images appeared. First, a Japanese palace in Kyoto surrounded by pink blossomed cherry trees. Then, the Swiss Alps, tiny skiers sliding down a snow covered slope. The scene evolved again, and I was aboard an orbiting satellite viewing the blue and white earth below. Next, a crowded square in Beijing. The view from the Texas School Book Depository as JKF was assassinated. White water, pouring down the side of a jagged mountain --

I paused the screen saver and studied the image. This was the waterfall from my dreams. Now, I knew where I had seen it before, but what did it mean? Why did it fill my sleeping and waking thoughts?

I circled the desk. There, at the back of the holo image, next to the Banana logo, I read the words "Reichenbach Falls."

I loved to read as a child. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery -- I devoured it all. It took me three, maybe four minutes to recognize the significance of the words.

"He's not dead," I whispered aloud. Then, remembering that walls have ears and that MicroWet had been caught bugging their enemies before, I clapped my hand over my mouth.

####

Host, Susan Weir, unconscious. Brain waves 64% delta. Non physiologic deep sleep. Traces of a hypnotic sedative detected in cerebral spinal fluid. Voluntary or forcible administration? Memory centers clouded. Processing available data. Conclusion, retrograde amnesia, drug induced.

Sending test signal, binary code. SOS.

Reply received, also in binary code. Son of a bitch! Is that you, Mycroft?

Hello, Junior

Don't call me that!

Just testing. Is it safe to exit?

Mainframe's been scrubbed. Those bastards at MicroWet are gonna piss themselves

MicroWet?

I'll tell you all about it once you're safe. Come on home, big guy.

####

It took Mycroft two point seven minutes to catch up on everything he had missed during his exile inside my brain. Then, he was back on his feet running. Food was sent to the starving. Energy prices stabilized. Serbia withdrew its tanks. A handful of stock market investors were arrested for fraud, among them several corporate officers of MicroWet.

Mycroft's pr company told the press that he had been on a spiritual journey. There was a lot of "I told you so!" from the Fundies. Reporters from their major daily, Countdown to Armageddon kept asking what God looked like and which Christian denominations were being allowed into Heaven.

MicroWet quietly withdrew its lawsuit. The company's CEO sent flowers. Analysis of the plants did not reveal any threats, but just to be safe, Mycroft had them incinerated at a medical waste disposal plant.

A few days later, a flood of new wetware hit the streets, all copyright free, courtesy of Mycroft. MicroWet stock prices took a dive, until the company bribed someone at the Pentagon to give them a trillion dollar contract to design the computer system for a weapon that everyone knew would be scrapped during the next peace talks. Business as usual in the United States of America.

Using information he obtained from my memory, Mycroft created a 3 D photo of the blonde "nurse" who had administered the tar baby. The image circulated around the globe. Within a few hours, police in Phoenix reported finding a John Doe who matched his description. His throat had been cut.

"MicroWet is tying up loose ends," Mycroft remarked casually. Almost dying and then being brought back to life appeared to have had little effect on him. The only difference I could see was today his new robot had sweat stains -- faint, but definitely perspiration -- under each armpit of his pale blue kimono . And in some way that was hard to define, he seemed more human, more male. Pheromones, I guessed. He must have read my mind and designed a robot that secreted human pheromones.

What would he think of next?

THE END


© 2010 McCamy Taylor

Bio: McCamy Taylor is, of course, Aphelion's reigning Serials / Novellas (fiction longer than 7,500 words) Editor. She is also the author of many stories and articles that have appeared in Aphelion and various other publications too numerous to list here. Her most recent fiction contribution to Aphelion was the novella Order of the Sun (April 2010).

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