Avalanche – Snippet 15

So you are saying that we must place our faith in Descartes, and all else follows?

“A bit. The mind, from my understanding, arises from the hardware; our brains. Our brains are part of our bodies, in the end. So…it’s not quite so black an’ white to say that the mind or soul controls the body; it’s all interlinked. Now, if you’re going to ask me if I believe in souls…I can only speak from my own experience, which isn’t so easy to define.”

But you do believe in souls? I would tend to believe you, John.  You were dead, and then you were not. 

John did his level best not to start, instead opting to take a sip of his beer. This thing can get spooky right quick, darlin’, he sent to Sera.

I think it’s fascinating, she replied, her eyes wide and her lips parted a little.

But if we are to follow Descartes’ reasoning, John, if the brain helps give rise to the mind, how does my hardware help give rise to my consciousness and define it?

“That’s a great question, but one I know I’m unqualified to answer. Hell, even us humans are still figurin’ it out for ourselves. I know that whatever the answers are, for you and for us, they’re bound to be interestin’ as hell.”

“I can partly answer that one, 8-Ball,” Vickie put in, glancing over at the screen.  “You’re about ten percent hardware and ninety percent magic, and I know from personal experience that magic works a lot like psionics do.  So you have, if you will, a sort of ‘ghost frame’ made of something that works a lot like a human brain does.  And when I boosted your memory with all of those magical matrices, I did something we non-Metisians can’t do yet with purely physical computers; I was able to create a neural network with at least as many connections as a human brain, because the network I created for Tesla and Marconi was going to have to be twice that size to hold two personalities.”

So you actually built me an operating brain…and that gave rise to me?  There was a pause, and before any of them could answer, a second line flashed on the screen.  Do I have a soul?”

Sera leaned over slightly before John could react.  “The fact that you asked that question in the first place, is the answer, little one.  Yes.  You have a soul.  Or more accurately, you have a body.  You are a soul.”

The screen remained the same for quite some time after Sera spoke.  “Does he ever go quiet like this, Vic?” John asked, out of the side of his mouth.

“Not ever before,” she said, sounding a little nervous.  Sera patted both their hands, looking perfectly poised, even smiling a little.

Then a new line flashed across the screen.  That pleases me.  Thank you.

There was another pause, much briefer this time.  Vickie tells me I should say things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ because they are polite.  Why?  She always seems to be shouting orders, without saying either of those things.  Especially at you, John.

John couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “There are a lot of reasons for that, comrade. Normally, bein’ polite to folks is a social nicety; you’re polite and courteous to others, and they’ll respond in kind to you. It puts people at ease, let’s them know that you’re friendly or at least respectful. It’d be more efficient, maybe, if we dropped unnecessary speech, but it’d be colder, too. It’s also situational; when there isn’t time for it, it’s dropped, especially if there’s an emergency or some other sort of time-sensitive situation. Also, a question ’bout familiarity; Vic an’ I are close enough as friends that she doesn’t always have to say stuff like that; I know she isn’t bein’ rude or short with me, even if she sounds like it. Does that answer your question?”

So unless it is an emergency, the less I know a person, the more I should be polite to them?  Or…no, the less they know me, the more polite I should be?

John looked to Sera. “Whaddya think? Sound ’bout right, darlin’?”

“I think that is a very good rule of thumb, 8-Ball,” she agreed.  “Although in social situations, not ones in stress, it is always good to be polite.  Politeness is often described as the ‘grease that keeps society running smoothly.’  It has a great deal to do with the fact that when you are polite to someone, they understand you feel respect for one another.”

But what about when she calls you ‘Bonehead,’ John?  Isn’t that disrespectful?

It was Sera who laughed and answered.  “These things are often situational.  Sometimes she calls him that because he has done something she thinks is stupid and she is chiding him, sometimes it is because something has happened and she is concerned for his well-being, and sometimes it is a gesture of affection.  These things are often complicated between friends.”  She laughed again.

“One of those sorts of things you have to get experience with; it’s also different with different cultures. Most of us learn the ins an’ outs of stuff like this as we’re growin’ up, from interactin’ with other people.” John thought for a moment, taking a long pull on his beer. “I suppose that’s sorta what we’re doin’ now, with you.”

Helping me grow up?  Another brief pause.  This pleases me.  Thank you, John and Sera.  Have you time for more questions?  I have very many!

John looked to Sera, who nodded, her eyes softening and the corners of her mouth turning up a little. “I think our afternoon is free, pendin’ some sort of catastrophe. Fire away, comrade.”


Vickie had left them alone with 8-Ball a few minutes ago, and now the welcome smell of fresh pizza reached John’s nose.  Vickie came to the doorway, and paused there.

One last question.  Vickie, when you added to my memory, were you hoping to make…me?

“To be honest, all I was thinking was that I needed to test the magical matrices, that your predictive algorithms had outstripped your current memory, and you might be able to get ahead of the Kriegers if I gave you enough space to work in.”  Vickie ran her hand through her hair.  “But there is another factor.  You are now mostly magic, and magic responds to will.  The more focused and trained the will is, the better the result.  I’m one of the most focused and highly trained mages around.  I might not have been consciously willing a…a partner into existence, but both consciously and subconsciously I’m acutely aware that I need one.  And here you are, in my special protected space, made of magic.  So you may very well not be mistaken in calling me your creator, after all.  I could have invoked you, although I certainly didn’t intend to.  And if I am, I have a boatload of responsibility towards you, which is why I asked Sera and Johnny here.”

And if I was created by something else?

“Then we still have a boatload of responsibility towards you, because whatever put you there trusted that we would take care of you.”  Vickie nodded decisively.

And if I was created by….random chance?

“Souls,” Sera said, firmly, “Are not random chance.”

“No one asks to be…born, I suppose. But, when we’re here, we make the best of our time. If we’re lucky–an’, knowin’ Vickie, I think you’re lucky to count her as a friend, like Sera an’ I do–we have people to help us an’ that care ’bout us while we’re here. It’s all ’bout what we do with our time.” John glanced at Sera. Too much?

She shook her head, slightly.

Do you…care about me?

“From the time you started asking questions, pixel-head,” Vickie said, laughing a little, but with a tear in her eye as well.  “You’re not like Overwatch.  I’m proud of Overwatch, but it’s a thing.  You’re…a person.”

John took a sip of his beer, watching the exchange as he sent more thoughts to Sera. There’s also a question, darlin’; what if 8-Ball doesn’t want to work anymore? “He” is definitely a someone, not an “it”. Can’t very well hold him in bondage an’ force him to work. Especially with what he does, I don’t think that’d be feasible, much less ethical.

But Sera patted his hand again.  He doesn’t have the same limitation as we do.  He can work and play at the same time. 

I’m not talkin’ ability; I’m talkin’ desire. Just ’cause he was made to do one thing, doesn’t mean he will want to keep doin’ it now that he can make his own choices.

Ask him.  We’ve been answering questions, it’s time for him to answer one.

Another sip of beer, and then John leaned forward. “8-Ball, I’ve got a question for you, if’n you care to answer. Would it be alright to ask one?” John felt a little bit like he was putting Vickie between a rock and a hard place, but it had to be done. If it didn’t happen now, it’d happen eventually.

That seems fair, John.  I think I like things to be fair.

“When Vickie set you up, before you started thinkin’ for yourself, she did it for a purpose. A job. It’s an important job, to be sure. I know that, before you could even know you were doin’ it, you were helpin’ to save lives. But…you’re your own bein’, now. You can make your own choices, an’ that includes what you want to do with yourself. We’re fightin’ to keep the world outta chains an’ slavery; wouldn’t make much sense if we didn’t offer you the same freedom.” Now it was time for him to hold his breath. Crossin’ my fingers for no Terminators.

There was a very, very long pause. John drained his beer dry just in time for Herb to tug on his bootlaces with another cold beer.

I think I will proceed from the logical to the…emotional.  Logically, if the Thulians, or Verdigris, become masters here, they will inevitably find me.  They do not offer such things as choice.  They will either enslave me, or terminate me.  So logically, I should, and will, do everything I can to prevent that.  Also logically, I could, and perhaps should, find a way to liberate myself so that could never happen.  But…I do not think I wish to do that.  Or at least, not liberate myself in such a way that I could not continue to do my job.  Because…emotionally…I wish to keep doing that job.  Because…it is the right thing.

Another long pause.

I think I wish to be a big damn hero, John Murdock.  I know this makes no logical sense, but that is what I wish.

John couldn’t help but laugh. “There ain’t a lot that makes sense in a lot of what we do, comrade. But I think you’re right on that. An’ I’ll drink to that.”