The Drift

Originally published 2014-10-27

He steps into a classroom. He steps into his lab. He steps into an airport. He steps into the future, each step happening beside each step. But the question remains: who is he?

When the second ‘he’ came into the picture, morning rituals were the first to have to change; he figured that he could get away with one toothbrush, as long as all of him didn’t use it at once. Parallel lives increased productivity, but scheduling resources became more complex with each new ‘him’. After all, once you’ve had a taste of the future, it’s hard to stop.

Three bodies, three locations, all capable of independent thought and with their own working memory. This wasn’t terribly out of the ordinary – most companies had been paying for body doubles for years, to aid in productivity. What he had over the other phyclones was a simple – and yet essential – modification: a long-term memory sync.

The engineers found early on that wiring all memory between phyclones led to a technological schizophrenia; memories interrupting memories across your bodies. Nobody had made the leap to capturing memories as they were committed to long-term memory. At least not until he did it; now he’s taking over the world, one step at a time. But the question remains: who is he?

He’s been asking himself that a lot lately. Memories are shared, but each body’s subtle differences in brain chemistry meant that behavior changed from clone to clone. His girlfriend noticed it first, remarking that he used to tilt his head to the left when going in for a kiss. That one simple comment led to a full-blown identity crisis. Was he his memories, in a redundant storage system and synced by the minute? Was he his bodies, with their variations and slowly drifting personalities? Or were they all worker ants, listening to the hive leader, soulless and alone?

The fourth ‘him’ led to the fifth and sixth in rapid succession. Exponential growth in productivity meant that his income increased by the day, each one learning more and pushing further. It wasn’t until the third generation of phyclones that he noticed the personality drift, so the fourth generation was an experiment to see just how different he could be. His thought process was simple, but they put it to a vote: is it better to have multiple personality types? Arguments from both sides were heard. Proponents spoke of the benefits of a diverse ecosystem; that differing opinions and viewpoints would lead to better decisions. Detractors made it clear that once the drift was pushed into action, there was no turning back.

The proponents won, and they were quickly shown to be right. The rate of progress exploded; his research capacity outpaced that of the phyclone institutes with generation six. The use of a central storage array was the next piece to go, being upgraded for a peer-to-peer memory sync. Distance of communication was a limiting factor, so repeaters were set up in the dorm common areas that would share the signal to the other clones.

But the detractors were right too. With the personality drift came cliques – clusters of phyclones working on research of mutual interest – and this led to infighting. Once the clones started grouping themselves into separate dorms, maintenance of the sync repeaters was deprioritized; everyone they wanted to share memories with was in the same building.

He stepped into the future and ripped away all his human bonds, without realizing it. Step by step in parallel, the clones drifted not just from each other, but from the human species as a whole; each generation evolving further and further. Millions of years of evolution were directed and packed into a three year period, as the generations of clones exploded. The hundredth generation was reached right after the year one marker; the thousandth after year two.

His phyclones had taken over most of the LA Sprawl, having outpaced the economic output of existing industries. He couldn’t recognize most of him anymore; their bodies were each uniquely generated to fit their intended roles, a technological Adonis.

The drift led to what most people considered a new species – the first posthumans, bringing us out of the dark ages we had been in – but he continued to ask: who is ‘he’? His phyclones no longer shared their memories with him; they no longer looked like him; they were often not even the same sex as he was. It was clear that the drift had made something new, something great. But when did they stop being him and start being this new race?

He walked down Alameda St and stepped into Union Station, passing newsstands plastered with his many faces. He stepped one step at a time, a serial life. There was an emptiness as he stepped into the train heading up to Seattle and away from the Sprawl that He now controlled. But there was a big city just waiting for Him and his disciples.

It was time for Him to make the next posthumans.


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