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The Long Game – RPPR Know Evil Fan Creation Contest Entry

This short story is my entry in Role Playing Public Radio‘s Know Evil Fan Creation Contest for their Know Evil campaign of the Eclipse Phase tabletop roleplaying game. It’s meant to stand alone, but you will certainly understand more of the story if you listen to the Know Evil campaign, and if you’re familiar with the post-apocalyptic transhuman future setting of Eclipse Phase.

By Alex Wickersham.

THE LONG GAME

After a friendly conversation with my new employer, I find myself standing in front of a comfortable-looking couch on a nondescript white floor that stretches out to the horizon on all sides, with nothing around, no sky, no vegetation or buildings, just a white light with no source, not too bright, perfectly illuminating the nothing there is to see. Damn, it looks like I drew the short straw. I’m the fork.

Somewhere another version of me is in meatspace with a virtual fistful of credits to spend. Meanwhile I’m stuck here in what I’m guessing is an air-gapped server, about to design an artificial world in simulspace convincing enough to finance the sweet life for Me 1.0. Not that I remember too much about that guy… my brain’s been heavily edited. No old memories to distract me from the task at hand. But I remember the meeting, I remember my motivation, I remember why I’m here, and since at this point I don’t have a choice, I’ll do my best to do that other me I don’t remember almost anything about proud.

One thing I do remember about my former life: I’m a pretty damn good psychosurgeon. That’s why I’m here. They might have even hired me to cut my own memories out for this job. Would I do something like that? I don’t know, but the fact that I don’t know means somebody did. Maybe that’s just the kind of guy I am. Anyone who works for Nine Lives probably wouldn’t have a problem cutting into his own head.

I’ve got a message in my inbox. A little text window shows up in my field of vision to let me know. Normally the message wouldn’t just pop up in my entoptics, my muse, my lifelong virtual AI companion, would talk to me and let me know. But I can’t think of my muse’s name at the moment. They must’ve cut it out of my head. Disconcerting… but I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

Let’s have a look at this message. “Hello, Dr. Sokurov. I just wanted to leave you with a little XP in case you forgot our conversation. Thanks again for agreeing to help us out… and I’m sure the original Dr. Sokurov would like to thank you as well! ;)”

I sit down on the couch and access the Experience Playback vid they’d implanted in my brain and press Play. Suddenly I’m back in the meeting room — the one with the bare walls and no windows that contains no evidence of where that meeting took place, which I don’t remember — and I’m talking with a man in a synthmorph. His robotic plastic face is even more nondescript and expressionless than synthmorphs usually are. I’m sure he normally walks around in a biomorph — he can definitely afford one — but he wanted to protect his identity.

“Dr. Sokurov, nice to meet you. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

“The pleasure’s all mine.” I feel the words coming out of my mouth, but I have no control over them. There’s nothing stranger than watching an XP recording of yourself.

“Let’s get right down to it, shall we? I need a good psychosurgeon.”

“Who do you want to forget?” I couldn’t tell if he didn’t like my joke or if he didn’t have a laugh synthesizer installed.

“Actually, I have someone that I need you to help remember something.” He tossed me a small device, a stack, the implant in the base of the spinal cord that stores all your memories and all your personality, in case something… bad… happens to you. “We’ve already asked him nicely, but he wouldn’t cooperate.”

“You mean to tell me Nine Lives doesn’t have anyone who can pull the information out of his stack? You people steal, edit, copy, and sell people’s minds to slavery for a living.” If these people get ahold of your brain, they’ll break you, and then they’ll make a thousand digital copies of you and sell them all into slavery, mining for rare minerals to feed the nanofabricators that manufacture all transhuman products, or working customer service in virtual call centers for hypercorporations… not that the hypercorps would ever admit to using Nine Lives as a staffing service for their Human Resources departments. They’re the most hated group of people in the system, and yet they’re still running free, selling cyberslaves with impunity. Money talks, and so does cheap labor.

“Yes, we do offer psychological treatments to our clients to optimize them for the business world as part of our career counseling services, and we take pride in our work. But this is a special case. This man’s a psychosurgeon too, and it seems he’s buried a secret somewhere in his mind, and then cut out the memory of where he buried it. Not even he knows where the information is, so our usual methods have proven useless.”

“And so you’d like me to take a crack at it?”

“Yes. It’s going to take some creativity.”

I knew what he meant. This guy took a digital copy of his own mind and started messing with the programming. If he tied himself in so many knots that Nine Lives couldn’t unravel him, that meant he did the kind of damage to himself that you can only fix by restoring yourself from backup, just erasing the current you and replacing it with an earlier backed up version. Of course restoring from backup without a proper explanation, like having your stack melted by a Barsoomian suicide bomber in a Martian nightclub, is the kind of thing that makes your backup insurance rates skyrocket. But that’s the price you pay when you start messing with the programming in your own brain.

But restoring this guy from backup is clearly not an option — if he wanted to hide this secret of his so badly that he was willing to cut into his own head, he probably overwrote his backup immediately afterward — so now I’ve got to find a way to access something in his brain he managed to hide from not just himself, but also the wickedest brain butchers in the known universe other than the self-improving TITAN AIs who took over the Earth and destroyed most of humanity.

This means a combination of careful psychosurgery, psychoanalysis, and psychotorture. And it could take years, decades. It could even take centuries. That means doing the job in an extremely time-accelerated simulspace environment, which has been proven to have extremely negative effects on transhuman mental health and cognitive function. This isn’t a pretty job, and it will inevitably destroy my own mind.

I reflect on my fate as I kind of listen to myself start to talk shop with my anonymous benefactor. He was filling me in on who the subject is and what information they need from him. We discussed ideas on how to get the job done, sort of a brainstorming session and a business proposal rolled into one. I find myself becoming interested in the ideas the former me and the mystery man were throwing back and forth, and wanting to jump in with ideas of my own, which of course I can’t, because I’m just watching a pre-recorded Experience Playback of this conversation. But after letting me go off on a technical tangent for a while, the man brought the conversation back to the terms of the agreement.

“Of course I understand the difficulty of a job like this, which is why you won’t be doing it. A beta fork of you will do the actual job, and meanwhile the real you will be, well, wherever you want to be, enjoying the fruits of your copy’s hard work. And I assure you, you’ll be enjoying it very much. You’ll be quite well-off financially, and you won’t even remember this conversation.”

“For my sake and for yours.” Nine Lives wouldn’t want me telling their secrets, and I wouldn’t want to remember I worked with the bastards. “And once the job is done, I hope my poor mutilated fork will be properly disposed of.”

“Of course. Let’s have a drink in his honor.”

“To the future-departed Beta Me. You will not be remembered.” And we proceeded to toast with a champagne so fine that I wonder if it might not have actually been organically grown and fermented at great expense instead of just assembled from its component elements in a nanofabricator.

DAY ONE

After viewing the XP, I take a moment to think about the virtual world I’m going to create for the subject to spawn into. First impressions are commonly thought to be extremely important, but I have a thousand years to work with this subject if I need them, and the sooner I get started the better. First impressions are fleeting. I’ll just create a simple nondescript corporate skyscraper in the downtown area of a large city, like the kind you’d see in the big cities on Mars or the Moon, or Earth cities before they were nuked in the Fall. That will be inherently mildly alienating but not overtly threatening. Theatrics are a distraction. We have work to do.

It doesn’t take long to materialize a corporate office that looks good, or at least good enough. Now it’s time to meet the subject.

When I spawn the subject into the virtual reality environment, as soon as he appears he puts his palm in front of his face, ducks, and shouts, “No!” Then a look of panic and confusion crosses his face, his eyes dart around the room, and he starts hyperventilating.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. That bullet you’re looking for already went through your head. It’s too late to try to dodge it now.”

Dr. Herrnstein is gasping digital air. If he actually needed oxygen, he would probably pass out. “Where am I? This isn’t a resleeving facility. Are you one of them? Did you take my stack, you son of a bitch?” He grabs a wire mesh wastebasket next to one of the desks. His eyes flash over to the elevator door behind me. He comes at me and strikes me in the face with the blunt object. Having anticipated an outburst, I don’t flinch.

“Stop.” When I say it, he does it. He stands motionless, except for the superfluous breathing, and stares at me. “You’re in simulspace, and I have admin privileges. So that kind of behavior isn’t going to get you very far. And yes, I do have your stack, and you’re going to give me some information.”

“I can’t imagine what information you might want, unless it’s my bank account number. You’re not getting it. I’m backed up. You can take my stack and shove it up your ass if you want. I don’t give a shit.”

A confrontational response, trying to take a dominant position in the interaction and demoralize me. But he’s mistaken me for a common thief. He’s a very good scientist, but there’s no way his bank account has anywhere near the amount of credits the real me is getting paid for this job. Actually, it probably doesn’t have anything. Nine Lives will have cleaned it out by now.

“I’m going to turn off your ability to speak for a moment, Dr. Herrnstein, so I can explain the situation to you without interruption, if you don’t mind. I’m not a thief. I didn’t kill you and steal your stack to try to get your bank account information. I’ve been asked by Nine Lives to retrieve some information you’ve psychosurgically removed from your memory.

“While you were working for the Cognite corporation on the secret space station habitat known as Thought in orbit around Venus, you told someone about the station and its location, and you told them about a valuable research project they were working on. I know you were working on a narcoalgorithm called Awe, but I don’t know if it was that project or something else either Cognite was working on or Nine Lives was holding there that they showed up to steal, but you’re the one who tipped them off, and thanks to you, that habitat was destroyed in the attack.

“The station is gone, along with everything on it. And all because of you. Cognite shared that station with Nine Lives, and Nine Lives is not happy with you. They took a massive loss in both credits and lives. I know you may think Nine Lives is bad, but a lot of the egos they had under their control suffered a fate worse than being forknapped for the slave trade. They died, Dr. Herrnstein; they died permanently, with no backups, thanks to you. Along with any of your coworkers who weren’t backed up off-station; many of them had their backups on the Cognite servers. Permanent death, Dr. Herrnstein, destroyed in a senseless attack by the people you cut into your own brain to protect. Why would you do something like that?”

I’m even starting to convince myself. Guilt is a powerful tool, not just to cause anxiety and suffering, but to open up a prisoner to confess, or to put a subject into the right frame of mind for psychosurgery. But it’s time to wrap up the chat. I already know he doesn’t remember the information. I have to ask him anyway, of course.

“So what I need to know, Dr. Herrnstein, is who did you tell about the station, and what were they after? Of course, any other details you might remember would be helpful as well, like where they might be found, why there was a subsequent attack on Cloud Nine, yet another secret habitat on Venus owned by Nine Lives, that sort of thing, hmm? I suppose it’s possible they just tortured the information out of someone they captured on Thought and went to Cloud Nine to see if they could find anything of value there as well. My God, what kind of people do you associate with?”

I give him a look that communicates that I expect him to respond.

“Look, I don’t remember any of this. You’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just space my stack, smash it with a hammer, do whatever you want. I don’t care, I’m backed up. Just kill me, man, come on.”

“You think you still have backups?”

I haven’t turn off his speech privileges, yet he remains silent.

“Getting your backup code was easy. Your backup’s been erased. Listen, this is serious. You buried this information somewhere in your head, and the only way the misery I’m about to inflict on you is going to end is to get it out. So I expect you to actively participate in this process, because it could take a very long time, and I think we both want it to be over as soon as possible.

“But remember, I’m getting paid to do this. I’m a fork. The original me is out there somewhere living his life. But you, on the other hand, this is your life. This is it. You get just long enough to come up with this information, and then you’re done. And it’s my job to make sure the time you spend until then is shitty enough to incentivize you to want to get it over with as soon as possible. Death is your reward for your cooperation. That may not seem like a great deal now, but it’ll start looking better, I promise. Come with me.”

He follows me — he doesn’t have a choice — through a door to another room I’ve prepared. Its main feature is a large hydraulic press, which he lies down on.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk shop with. You’re a psychosurgeon, you know how this stuff works. When you have to torture someone in simulspace, do you like to use all these medieval torture chambers with blood on the walls and AIs wailing in simulated pain all over the place? I can’t stand that Halloween bullshit. I don’t want to pretend like I’m some grand inquisitor and you’re just one more of my victims. This isn’t about me, it’s about you. I want you to understand, this whole little universe I’ve created, it’s just for you. It’s just one colossal monument to your enormous fuckup.

“It also bothers me when people start out small and work their way up, like they’ll just administer small amounts of pain at first and then build up to higher amounts. We’re not playing around, we have a goal to accomplish here. When you’re trying to break down a door, you don’t kick it soft at first and then harder and harder, you kick it as hard as you can the first time, and then you keep kicking it over and over again until the wood snaps apart.

“Now for a little innovation. You’ll like this, I bet you never thought of it. You know how usually when you want to increase the level of pain someone feels in simulspace, you just crank up the pain sensitivity level, right? I don’t like to do it that way. It feels fake. Instead I’m going to change your physiology slightly. I’m going to split your nerve endings like a bush robot. You’re going to have billions of fully-functional, microscopic nanonerves. Hold on one second. OK, you have them now. I’ll show you.”

I spawn a feather in my hand and run the edge of it across the subject’s arm. His scream suggests the desired result has been achieved.

“That should feel more or less the same as having a razor cut down to the bone. I like the results a lot better than just turning up the pain level. It’s simultaneously more surreal and more visceral, because it’s impossible and yet it’s a physiological reaction. That’s what I love about using simulspace: you don’t have to follow the laws of physics. That’s why when I turn this machine on to slowly crush you, instead of dying, you’ll just keep feeling it, long after you’ve lost all structural integrity.

“You have to understand, this procedure has no real therapeutic value. I just need you to understand just how important it is that you give me this information. Let’s get started.”

I turn on the machine and leave the room. But I continue to listen to the subject, in case something of psychological significance comes up in his screams and pleas for mercy.

YEAR ONE

The interrogations are the part I hate the most. Sort of a combination of questioning, investigation, and psychoanalysis, the interrogations are when I work most closely with my torturer to help try to reconstruct the information that’s been removed from my brain so we can put this process to an end. I hate working with the mercenary son of a bitch even more than when he tortures me. But I don’t tell him so. No, he would use that information against me.

Of course, I’ve probably let that information slip during the torture sessions. I’ve told him all my secrets by now, along with invented sins and insecurities, and I don’t even remember half of it. Maybe that’s why we’re working together now. Maybe there’s nothing to be gained by it but just to make me suffer even more with his presence. Is he interrogating me more now than he used to? I don’t know. There’s no way to keep track of the passage of time in this simulspace, with the sun rising and setting on a schedule maintained and modified by my captor (when I see it at all) and with all these extended sessions of physical torture or psychological torture by isolation and sensory deprivation.

I don’t know if it’s working in the sense that the information is being drawn out of the depths of my damaged brain, but his torture is working in the sense that it’s making me really want to cooperate, because I desperately want this life to end. And I hate myself for wanting to please him, wanting to give him the information he wants so the original version of him can make a few credits off of my pain. If I cooperate with him, I’m betraying myself, because he is my enemy, but if I don’t cooperate with him, I’m prolonging my suffering. There is no solution to this paradox: the only way to end it is to end myself. So I am working together with him to try to access this information, in exchange for the comparative bliss of nonexistence.

“I bet you’ll be glad to take a break from the psychotorture sessions.”

“Of course. Anything’s better than that,” I lie.

“What project were you working on before you left Cognite?”

“A narcoalgorithm called Awe.”

“What kind of narcoalgorithm was this?”

“It creates a sense of religious euphoria in synthmorphs, AIs, and anyone with a cyberbrain.”

“Do you remember this project?”

“No.”

“How do you know you worked on this project?”

“Because you told me so.”

“Is it normal for you not to remember a project?”

“A confidential project, yes, after leaving the corporation.”

“Where did you go when you left Cognite?”

“Mars.”

“What did you do there?”

“I started a private clinic specializing in psychological treatment and psychosurgery.”

“You decided to go into business for yourself?”

“I did.”

“Had enough of the hypercorp lifestyle? Working for the Man get you down?”

“I guess.” My memories of why I left Cognite are hazy, but I know I would often have ethical issues with hypercorps in general.

“Or maybe you left because you had just betrayed your employers at Cognite by giving away the location of the secret space station they shared with Nine Lives to drug dealers interested in that narcoalgorithm.”

“I certainly don’t remember that, but that would explain what we’re doing here.”

“When did you tell the drug dealers about Awe?”

“Right before I left Cognite.”

His eyes widen. He seems to think I made a breakthrough.

“I mean, if what you say is true and I did that, I must’ve left Cognite right away. I couldn’t just stick around. Look, don’t get the wrong idea, it’s just a logical inference.”

“It could be a logical inference, or it could be a manifestation of a buried memory. Think, do you remember anything about when you left Thought? Do you remember anything about when you betrayed Cognite? Do you remember anything about when you fucked over Nine Lives and got us both into this mess?”

He is visibly agitated. This process is affecting him as well.  I stammer, not sure how to react. “I, I, I — I don’t know, I don’t remember anything. I’m sorry.”

“Then think, dammit! Think harder!”

“I can’t remember, I’m really trying, I can’t!”

“THINK!” A look of hatred and frustration comes over his face, and suddenly my lungs stop taking in oxygen. I feel the incomparable pain of asphyxiation as he stands over me demanding I remember the information that’s been erased from my head.

YEAR 10

God, how I hate the self-righteous bastard. He’s still holding onto his little secret, keeping me in this goddamn simulspace hellhole, forcing me to torture him over and over again, and he still blames me for all this. I’m not the one who betrayed the trust of his friends, I’m just here doing a job. What, does he think this is easy for me? Does he think it’s easy to spend countless hours every day trying to fix the mess he made of his brain? And after all I’ve done for him, he still cringes whenever he sees me, he still calls me a torturer, he still looks at me like I’m the badguy. Smug son of a bitch.

I’ll have to step up my techniques, try and come up with something new, break some ground, and really break his will. A few months or years of isolation and sensory and sleep deprivation will help to start with. It’s easy to induce sleep deprivation in simulspace: I can just configure it so he needs to sleep, but switch off his ability to do so. But what he never seems to understand is that when I have to put him through extended periods of solitary confinement, I go through solitary confinement as well, because we’re the only two people in this simulated universe. He never thinks of anyone but himself.

He’s given me every detail of his meager life. I know far more about his life than I remember about my own. In hundreds of torture sessions he’s screamed out the code to his backup insurance, the deepest, darkest secret any transhuman holds, the access code to the saved version of his brain, allowing you to do anything you want to him, including delete him permanently. But he still hasn’t told me the name of that goddamned drug dealer that crashed Thought into Venus.

I may spend some extra time on the harsher methods, beyond their clinical value in the psychosurgical process. I think he deserves some punishment.

YEAR 100

Still alive. Still here. It will never end. Why won’t it end? Because that bastard will never leave me alone. Because I’m in Hell. Because I can’t put the thought back in my head that I removed. He won’t leave me alone until I give him the information. I want to give it to him. I want to die. I have to give it to him. I want him to have it, I want to give him everything he wants, even though I hate him. But I can’t. I don’t have anything to give.

I know most of the methods he’s been using, advanced psychological torture techniques of all kinds, driving me insane, treating me back to sanity, and driving me insane again a thousand times over. He cut all my memories out of my head and reintroduced them, one at a time, out of order, trying to find the missing puzzle piece somewhere in the nooks and crannies of my brain. I relived every painful moment of my life, every shame, every guilt, every secret, in the vivid present and completely out of context.

He’s been using the technology available in simulspace to the fullest. I’ve spent years of immortal starvation. I’ve been forced to fight against forks of myself in mortal combat. I’ve been given impossible diseases. He used the technique of pain reversal: nerves normally transmit pain when something damages them, but he set them to feel pain unless something damages them, and put me in a room full of implements of torture, forcing me to tear into myself with them to stop the pain. The only way to relieve the pain completely is to be completely engulfed in flames, and he provided fuel and a lighter for the purpose. Of course, the relief was short: he switched my nervous system back to normal after just a few seconds.

Why doesn’t he just stop? Why can’t we just be friends, spawn some AI ladies and some virtual martinis and a pool table and relax for the next thousand years? I know why. He’s afraid they’re watching. His original self is out there somewhere in the real world, and he’s afraid they’ll check in on the simulspace to make sure he’s doing his job, or they’ll go after the real him. He’s given up everything for that other version of himself. He worships him like a god. He would never do anything to betray him. And I’m the sole victim of his fanaticism.

My interrogator is an excellent psychotherapist, even though he so obviously hates me. I’ve suffered the most horrible torture during this process, but although I have a growing number of psychological symptoms, I remain lucid for the most part. Only paranoia — not unreasonable, given that someone is definitely after me — massive anxiety, occasional hallucinations, and a general detachment from reality continue to plague me.

But I am definitely a broken man. My personality has changed completely. When we go through the facts, looking for any clues, discussing my time on Thought working for Cognite, I don’t recognize that as the same person I am now. I don’t care about anything anymore. I just want it all to end. I want Dr. Sokurov to have the information. He deserves it, he’s worked hard for it. God, I hate him. And me. And everything. God, I just wish this was over.

YEAR ???

Another interrogation session. Going over the facts one more time. Dr. Sokurov is getting upset again.

“Why did you leave Cognite?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Why did you leave Cognite? Think!”

“I don’t remember.”

“Why did you leave Cognite? Come up with a reason!”

“I wanted to start my own practice?”

“Why? Cognite gave you resources to work on the most advanced projects, and they paid you well. That doesn’t make any sense. Think! Why did you leave Cognite?” He’s starting to raise his voice.

“I don’t know. I had a conflict with a coworker?”

“Who?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember having a bad relationship with anyone.”

“Why did you leave Cognite? Think!”

“I don’t know.”

“Why did you leave Cognite? Lie!”

“Because… the work was boring.”

“Bullshit. Why did you lie to me?”

“You told me to!”

He slaps me hard. “Don’t raise your voice to me, you ungrateful maggot! Why did you leave Cognite?”

“I don’t know!”

“Why did you leave Cognite?”

“I don’t know!”

“Why did you leave Cognite?”

“Because I hated those Nine Lives assholes and I couldn’t stand being on the same station as them!”

He stares at me in shock. The memory is coming back to me. Now I know. I know why I left Cognite: because I couldn’t work for a company that would have any dealings with anyone as evil as those sons of bitches at Nine Lives.

“I remember now. I’ll tell you.”

“Tell me! Hurry, the memory could fade. Just talk, don’t stop.”

The memory isn’t going to fade. It’s reincorporated completely into my being. I remember every detail.

“It was Nine Lives. I couldn’t be on the same station with them. I had to leave. But I didn’t have anywhere to go. I wanted to start my own business, but I didn’t have the credit or the rep to set up shop. So I started looking for a way to finance my new life. I asked around on the criminal networks and I found someone who was interested in the narcoalgorithm we were working on. She was a Scum drug dealer living in a nomadic swarm of ships. She told me if I gave her the location of the station, she’d take care of the rest. I didn’t know what she was going to do, but I didn’t care. Those Nine Lives bastards had it coming, and I decided anyone with any self-respect from Cognite would’ve left the station by then anyway. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but it was my ticket off the station.

I started my own business on Mars with the money she gave me, and I left and I guess I psychosurgically removed the memory from my brain, either to reduce my chances of getting caught or so I wouldn’t feel guilty if something bad happened, which I guess it did. I tried to hide, I changed my name, but Nine Lives caught up with me. They found me. They came to my office and shot me in the face. They killed my receptionist. They fired at my clients in the waiting room. They took my stack here to you so you could dissect it.”

“What was her name? The Scum drug dealer, tell me her name.”

“It was Katami. Katami Toyota.”

We share a sigh of relief, but our celebration is short. Less than two seconds after I utter the name, a nondescript synthmorph spawns in the middle of the room next to us.

“Congratulations, boys! You’ve solved the riddle. Good work, a very impressive psychosurgery session. I must say I’m impressed, Dr. Sokurov.”

“Thank you, Sir. I’m just glad it’s over. Please, have you heard from my alpha fork? How am I doing in the real world? Have I been paid? What am I doing? Am I happy?”

“First let me ask our friend Dr. Herrnstein something. Doctor, you said you changed your identity. Do you remember your real name?”

I blink. Do I? Did I remove that from my brain as well? And then heart sinks to my virtual stomach. Yes, I remember my real name now.

“Yes.” I look into the eyes of my torturer. “It’s Andrei Sokurov.”

A look of horror returns my gaze.

“That’s correct. Dr. Sokurov, I’m afraid this is the real you. Both of you. To be quite honest, we couldn’t think of a better psychosurgeon for the job than yourself. But of course, we already knew about Katami. We got that information out of you within 20 minutes of wiping the blood off your stack. We just thought we’d give you a little time to think about what you did, and we thought this activity might be a good thought exercise for you.”

My God, it was me. The Grand Inquisitor is me. I’m the butcher and the lamb, the torturer and the martyr. Nine Lives took their revenge on me by making me torture myself. And I did it. They convinced me to do it. For money. I tortured myself for the promise of riches for a version of me that doesn’t exist. I hate myself, both versions, now more than ever.

The synthmorph turns to look at me. “I know you got the short end of the stick, but don’t worry, you’ll have your revenge. I’m going to recombine your brains and put your memories together, so you’ll both get the chance to play the prisoner and the interrogator. OK, thanks again for all your hard work. Now let’s get you two reintegrated.”