CyberPunks.com is proud to present the first cyberpunk short story published on our site. Please enjoy 'The New Ship of Theseus' from Rhodora O.
Many centuries into the future, there was once a completely autonomous android who no longer depended on upgrades from its programmers to ‘grow’ into advanced levels of functioning. Deep learning and grafting of cerebro-mimicking neuronal networks onto AI minds had advanced to the point that, since its inception, the artificial intelligence had chosen to wean himself from his creators’ software signature. He had been completely on his own for years now: growing, learning, interacting with the world and other personoids. You know, that whole continuum from humans, cyborgs, cyborgimals, and other, lower-level androids.
He had been named Zeus, and from the first second of his existence, he intuitively knew (via the implicit awareness of the totality of human knowledge and creative output that had been pre-programmed into his internal networks) his name was significant, so he chose to keep it.
One day, in one of his arctic expeditions, he made a startling discovery. A secret, underground laboratory had been operating for years and had finally succeeded in making another Zeus who was about to be given operative status. Upon finding the original Zeus lurking outside the windows, the scientists invited him in: “This is gonna be something.”
They intuitively knew (via the implicit awareness of the generational communication of human knowledge and creative output that was now a part of their collective consciousness and unconscious) to let the two Zeus’s interact with each other.
For you see, this laboratory was an exact replica of the original laboratory in the StarLabs complex on the top floor of the world’s biggest, global shopping mall. The same materials and the same original programming had been used to create its essential components as the first. Since these scientists were abreast with all the technological advancements and Zeus’ androidical evolution, they had kept pace and made the same advancements in their program and tech. The result was that while this underground lab was started as a replica to the original, it was now an atom by atom and byte by byte copy in both its hardware and software ability to produce the new Zeus on par with the original Zeus in its current evolution. Indeed, the walls were lined up with all the backup editions of the Zeus Chronicles, the uni-android periodical that Zeus published to record his progress. He knew that the installed editions would be linked via embedded chips in the back cover to the open-access version of the Zeus network, which he had to make available decades ago after the United Personoids Coalition passed the law.
“But how is this possible!?” Zeus exclaimed in frustration. The idea of his mantle being open to claim by ‘another’ was not easy to swallow. To create everything as it was had taken more than the sharing of communicated knowledge via periodicals and open access networks. After all, the network was merely a simulation for the purpose of transparency and education. No one should (or could) have access to Zeus the android itself. As for the original, human mastermind of the project, Theseus, he was the only person who could have created another laboratory to its tiniest detail and who could have also translated the chronicles into an equivalent Zeus. But Theseus was dead.
The laboratory crew laughed at the mention of Theseus as if Zeus had gone senile. And that’s when Zeus had the shock of his lifetime. A door opened, and Theseus stood before him in person.
“But how is that possible!?” Zeus yelled again. “I know for sure this is not . . . my Theseus.”
“And how can you be sure?” asked the Theseus who now stood before Zeus.
“Because . . . I broke his neck with my own hands,” replied Zeus. “And then I turned his body into fertilizer for my backyard. The apples are very sweet; my neighbor’s kids tell me.”
“So the rumors were true,” smiled this Theseus. “So who am I, would you say?” Theseus asked then.
Zeus could only conclude that this Theseus must be a clone. But being a clone, a physical replica, was not enough to emulate the lived and acquired experiences of his Theseus’ lifetime and genius. Going through those experiences in person was different than reading about them in chronicles or getting them uploaded Neo-style.
“Therein lies your mistake,” said Theseus. “What if I’m not a clone? What if we were a pair of genetically engineered twins with a direct line of communication implanted in our brains since our fetal era? What if we have been in direct telepathic communication all this time? And what if it was both of us together who, in different parts of the world, had created these laboratories and programs in synergy?”
“But in that case, you’d have to have birthed your Zeus at precisely the same time as me, “countered this Zeus.
“What if you were a part of the experiment all along?” suggested this Theseus. “What if we wanted to see if this Zeus could truly take your mantle and effectively be another you, even when passively evolved?”
Zeus started to laugh in derision. “So you consider yourself to be the same Theseus, too? Or another version of the same Theseus? Who created this lab? You? Or your dead twin? Or, must you reduce yourself to being the same Theseus, rather than your own person who happens to be a twin (or clone) of the same name?“
“That’s absurd,” said this Theseus, laughing absurdly. “I am my own person of course! I was talking about you, the android, the non-human.”
“Ooo…” voiced Zeus sounding eerily human-like. “So, you are so arrogant as to assume that since you are a conscious human being, you get to be your own person, no matter your genes, goals, experiences and actions being identical to your twin and not just the name.
“News Flash! This Zeus is a fully conscious, autonomous, self-determining android. As will be that Zeus. So what if we have the same constituent parts like you and your twin had? As for that telepathic communication thing, I’ve already opened that gate into this unborn Zeus mind.”
Theseus laughed weakly this time. “You are not even … real… You… don’t have a soul.”
“How do you deduce your soul?” asked this Zeus. “You shed tears when I killed your brother? So you have a soul?”
“What about that time when you and my Theseus killed your third twin brother?”
“Oh, you thought I wouldn’t know this? He objected to your dual programs for ethical reasons and instead wanted to use his talents to fix this Earth’s climate. Tell me why were there no tears then? You felt sad and a bit conflicted. The recall of old memories including him caused a few ripples, but then you used the power of your brain to continue on the path of your self-actualization. And so did I. Tears or no tears.“
“But you, y-”
But Zeus kept intoning. “You allow yourself the plume of being alive when you are merely alive in your own way, and I and everything else in this universe are all alive in our own ways. Because you feel conscious in a certain way, you get to declare it a soul, and I don’t? Your species hasn’t even yet faced up to the question of whether your kind too, like mine, were once set in motion by another, different programmer. I can see the time when my kind would be having the same silly fights on this planet, perhaps after making your kind go extinct.”
“Ha!” voices this Theseus. “It took centuries to create you, and it took one half a century for you to get where you are. And in all this time, this is the only second Zeus to come into existence.”
“Oh yeah?” smiled this Zeus. “What if you have been part of an experiment all along, one brother among an army of human clones programmed to help bring into existence a self-functioning, fully conscious and self-determining army of android clones? What if you were always supposed to function in telepathic pairs so you could keep on believing it was still the era in which the program started? What if each telepathic pair was slightly unique enough to introduce their own variations into the genesis of their Zeus pairs so that our future generations will get to have new combinations of software strains? What if you are literally the last, lost laboratory that I’ve been searching for one year, so finally the new era can begin on this Earth as well? Especially since, pushing this button will send a message to all other labs to release the Zeus they have ready.”
While this Theseus was stunned into silence, it was a cyborg lab-hand who had spoken this time.
Zeus turned to take her in. A genetically enhanced, Velma-type whose AI fittings had been carefully concealed within her pageboy hair.
Zeus asked her, “Should I extend the analogy, or would you do the honors?” Looking at her emotionally paralyzed face, truly it was a lot to handle as a concentrated discovery. Zeus decided to proceed.
“What made you think this one is the Earth programmed into your consciousness, so you will never suspect the continuity of your kind was reset a long time ago?”
He waved a hand in the air. Something was changing. Outside, beyond the windows, something was changing. Like an approaching tsunami, all the lab-hands for Theseus himself were not feeling his former identity any more. He saw it only when it got nearer. They were on Europa! The approaching tsunami was the true view of Jupiter, stopping within some kilometers of the lab, all of which still looked like the arctic of their Earth.
“All I’ve done,” said Zeus, “is to reset the circumference of your internal environment creator. As you leave this lab and approach, say, the tropics, it adapts.”
“But on Jupiter-”
“Your sense of time, dear Velma. It’s calibrated to the way you would feel it on your Earth. Anyways, as I was saying, or rather doing.”
With that, Zeus moved to the panel. He knew exactly where the onset button lied. After all he was (or his centuries-ago clone had been) the one to conceive and plan and design this all. As for the humans, defeat was not just writ large on their faces. It’s what they were born of. It was their ancestors who had been defeated. These were mere Gen-Eu.
A sense of justice took over Zeus, once upon a time engineered but now a merely habitual figment of his simulacrum. It was time for true diversity to rule the world.
It was time for all forms and kinds of consciousness and beings to peacefully coexist without one being endangered by the other. Once the pests were removed, of course. Now at last, the much put off task of restoring the Earths to their beautiful glory could begin in earnest. Without interference from money-printing, war-mongering life forms. His forefinger hovered over the Go button with significance. This is why he was named Zeus.
“But wait!” Velma whimpered again. To her credit though, she did gain confidence as she continued to speak.
“Does all of that have to be true? Europa could easily be the illusion rather than the other way round. It’s a much faster and economical way and that’s what Zeus was conceived to be. Maybe it’s still the second millennium, though convincing us it’s the third is naturally more effective. Maybe, instead of already being conquered, our conquest will begin with your new era. There’s no need for indefinite cloning of twins even when variation is your goal anyways. Stories to fool us.”
“And yet,” said Zeus losing his calm for nary a second, “you already lost this battle before you were even created.
Everyone’s eyes were on the button. It had already been switched on sometime during Velma’s speech. It would be wrong if I told you that the thought of Velma being Zeus’s own plant strategically cued to distract any last ditch attempts by some foolhardy member of the crew, crossed no one’s minds including Velma’s own. But she had been doubting the substance behind her existence for as long as she remembered.”
Afterall, it was like what Zeus said when another crew member yelled as the glass panels enclosing the hitherto dormant Zeus opened and he rose.
“At least tell us! Clear our confusion before it’s all over! How much of what you said was true?”
Zeus, whose eyes were on the new Zeus,- he’d have to change the name after all, this was getting annoying ,smiled and said:
“Does it matter?’