Lieder’s second bus ride was much more pleasant than the first. It was still difficult to believe that a vehicle could move at such speeds without the passengers feeling any turbulence, but he was beginning to enjoy the benefits. He’d always suffered from motion sickness when trying to read while traveling, but on this particular trip, he’d been able to research his destination without feeling even a hint of nausea.
He slipped his retracted expander into his jeans pocket as he stepped off the bus, casually admiring his surroundings. While the buildings still felt foreign to him, this section of the city Reverence was unmistakably suburban. The houses were all between two and five stories tall, and built on lots that were large enough for individual lawns and gardens.
While he might usually find such a scene to be unremarkable by definition, these suburbs were built on an enormous square platform, suspended between the top ends of four adjacent superstructures. Its presence at such a height made the neighborhoods’ normalcy into a marvel.
This community was one of many like it, evidenced by the multiple suburban platforms built at various levels directly below this one. Their only support came from the platforms’ corners being integrated into the surrounding skyscrapers’ structure, a sign that the architects were assuming that they would never have to endure an earthquake or military strike.
There could be contingencies in place for such events, but Lieder suspected that they just didn’t care; an overwhelming majority of the population on these platforms were Sapients.
The bus lifted off and glided away, leaving Lieder at the center square on the grid of roadway that ran through the platform. The largest homes were here, and the reason for their size was what had attracted him.
One of the structures supporting this platform housed a resort known as the Convent. Periodically through the year, certain Peers with an interest in some special kind of craftsmanship or artistry would gather here to plan projects or demonstrate a completed work. This gathering was known as the Artisanry.
The documents that described this Artisanry were full of jargon; Lieder couldn’t discern any nature or theme for the kind of work these people did.
There were homes in every suburb that sold temporary shelter to Sapients, a service in high demand due to the number of servants that traveled with their masters or as their proxies. Lieder was likely to find success in most neighborhoods, but because this particular suburb was so close to the Convent and, because there were a number of months before the next scheduled Artisanry, it was guaranteed to have plenty of vacancies.
Lieder’s opinion of the event didn’t factor in his decision to be here. It simply seemed to be the likeliest candidate for a quiet, semi-permanent home. He imagined that settling in during the Artisanry’s off-season negated any potential burden imposed on the owners’ business.
He hated the idea of having to freeload at all, but if his benefactors wouldn’t suffer any real damage, he’d tolerate that reality for a while.
Any of these buildings would have been a suitable candidate, but his prime target was the three-story, wider-than-tall house the bus had stopped in front of. It, in particular, was popular among the Sapients of Peers that attended the Artisanry. Lieder had submitted a request through his new expander and received immediate approval, long before he’d even determined which bus would bring him here.
The arrangement had implied a very short residency, but after researching the Artisanry, Lieder suspected he might want to stay longer. He hoped the estate’s manager would be honest about any obstacles that Lieder’s quartering might put before them; he’d be very irritated if he found out they’d understated how troublesome his presence would be.
Lieder walked along the concrete approach, eager to confirm his immediate future. The sun was beginning to cast the orange tint of evening, and even though Lieder had ‘slept’ for some incredible amount of time, he was becoming very tired.
Upon reaching the stoop, he began to look around for some kind of bell or knocker. Before he could ascertain how a resident might know that a guest was visiting, the door slid open.
A woman stood panting in the doorway, leaning on the door frame as she fought to catch her breath. Crimped, golden-brown hair fell over her face, disturbed from the styling efforts she’d clearly made. Her mouth was framed by gentle smile-lines, and the weathered look in her eyes suggested that she was in her lower-to-mid-thirties.
Lieder couldn’t help but chuckle at the unexpected sight.
“Welcome, Lord Lieder,” she tried to bow, but the gesture was lost in her exhausted heaving. “I’m honored that you’ve allowed me to serve you.”
“Yeah, um, you don’t have to belittle yourself like that.” Lieder had expected he’d be greeted with this kind of treatment. “Please, if at all possible, pretend I’m just another Sapient. You can interact with me like you would another Sapient, threaten to evict me if I don’t pay whatever a Sapient is supposed to pay, fight with me if my room is making the whole house smell like garlic…”
“I’m afraid that’s not something I can do,” the woman replied humbly. “Well, at least not all of it. If you request it, I can talk with you in any style you want, but when it comes to your tenancy, I’m afraid you’re stuck with all the luxury we can muster. Even if I tried to fulfill your request, they’d salvage me alive when I didn’t shower you in our finest amenities.”
Lieder frowned, both from her denying his request and from a strange implication he’d detected in her statement.
“You have no say in that matter at all? I mean, could that change if your employer knew that I have absolutely no asset with which to compensate them?”
“Policy states we’d decline any offer you might make. If it were Artisanry-time, you’d have to offer a bid with your reservation, and the highest bidders would obviously be guaranteed priority. When it comes to the off-season, though, we have absolutely no demand. I bet they wouldn’t even care to ask you to vacate when the offers did start coming, if you did stay that long.”
“How can that possibly work?” Lieder was truly baffled. “How can an economy work that way?”
“It can,” she seemed perplexed by his question. “I can’t explain how it works, I’m a little surprised you don’t understand it better than I do; I just know that it does work. I mean, sure, it would be irksome for the Padrone family if you were to live here forever, but I can’t imagine a situation where a Peer could be satisfied with our accommodations for that long anyway. Ah, apologies, I meant no disrespect by that comment, I simply…”
“Hey, you did really well for a minute there,” Lieder scolded, smiling over how quickly she’d adhered to his request. “I asked you to interact with me like you would a Sapient, and up until that apology, you were doing wonderfully.”
“Ah, sorry,” the woman grinned, this apology half-hearted. “You understand if I shy from an unknown limit.”
I like to err on the side of caution, Lieder silently interpreted. He got the feeling that he’d discover more familiar sayings that had been reborn with different wording. It was another sign that, somewhere between his digitization and awakening, the world’s cultures had collapsed and civilization had been forced to ‘start over.’
To his relief, it seemed that wisdom would always survive; or at least be rediscovered should it be lost.
“You seem a little reserved by nature, but try not to be around me,” Lieder asserted. “I will never invoke any Peerage privilege against you, so please. Yell if you get angry, cry if you’re sad, and you’d damn well better laugh if you see me do something stupid.”
“Fine. Just try not to regret having said that later on.” She spoke with a boldness Lieder hadn’t expected, and an expression of relief washed over her face.
“What’s your name, if you don’t mind me asking?” Lieder had intended to stay as far out of his proprietors’ way as possible, but if she was obligated to serve him, he’d at least make sure their relationship was as friendly as possible.
“I’m Beri, but call me what you please, Lord Lieder.”
“Ah, I don’t want you to call me that. My name is actually Carl Flappycheeks.” Lieder corrected.
“Flappycheeks? That’s a name?”
“Yep, that’s what all my comrades used to call me.” Lieder was lying. “We all had nicknames for each other, and Flappycheeks was mine. I want you to be my comrade, and comrades call me Flappycheeks.”
“Call me Flappycheeks! Do it, right now!”
“Fine, fine. Nice to meet you, Lord Flappycheeks!” Beri couldn’t help chuckling as she said the name aloud.
“Carl Flappycheeks,” Lieder corrected patiently. He preferred Carl, but he privately acknowledged that ‘Lord’ wasn’t too bad when used with ‘Flappycheeks.’
“Right, Carl Flappycheeks.” Beri managed through her giggling.
“Yes. Yes, they tend to flap. Particularly after Mexican.”
Beri seemed unable to decide whether she was confused or revolted. “Mexican? What’s that?”
“A lesson for later. Can I see the room?”
“Certainly, come on in.” Beri stepped aside, and as Lieder passed he noticed that his matron still seemed to be struggling for breath.
“What, did I catch you exercising?”
“Sort of. Your room wasn’t exactly in its optimal state when you made the reservation, so I was trying to get it closer to that.”
“Sub-optimal is my defining feature, you should have left it as it was.”
“Oh please. Even if that were true, how was I supposed to know that?”
“I guess you weren’t. Don’t worry, I’ll bring it down to my standard in no time.”
“I wasn’t worried, but now I kind of am.”
As they walked through it, Lieder noted that the inside of the house was surprisingly similar to those of his time. There were differences in many conventions, some subtle and some obvious, but as far as the tiled floors, ceramic countertops, and furniture were concerned, nothing would seem out of place to Lieder’s contemporaries.
The coloring and atmosphere were bright for his taste; the walls were somewhere between grey and white, and the floors and countertops were either a faded blue or grey depending on the angle of perspective. Gentle artificial lighting was strategically placed on ceiling, wall, and floor in a way that effectively minimized all shadows.
They came to the close of a hallway, a single doorway carved in its end. Without the example of an open door in the adjacent wall, which led to a tiny and cluttered closet, .Lieder doubted he would have noticed that the closed one was there.
“Ah, I knew I had forgotten something.” Beri placed her fingertip against the left border of the open door and swept it downward. A panel slid down to obscure the curious, oversized plastic suit and various cleaning supplies contained within.
“What’s the HAZMAT suit for?” Lieder asked.
“Heh, if only I had access to a Hazardous Material suit. I think it would be counter-effective for what the sterile suit’s for, though. I’d make more a mess of the Peerage quarter than any Peer possibly could with those monsters.”
“Wait, you’re saying you had to wear that while cleaning my room?”
“Usually you Peers are the ones who tell me that.” Beri laughed. “Forgive my scrutiny, but how is it that you seem so unfamiliar with everything? Were you born yesterday?”
Lieder smiled, somehow unsurprised that the phrase ‘born yesterday’ was still being used exactly as it had in his day.
“Nope, I was re-born today, though.” Lieder emphasized the subtle corrections that would make Beri’s teasing accurate.
“Another lesson for later.” Lieder felt a little guilty for keeping his new friend in the dark, but he was eager for some solitude. “This one leads to my room?”
“Yes, and rest assured, it’s the only way in. As you’ll quickly discover, nobody else can enter unless you let them. Be sure to ask the attendant about the emergency exit, I’m not authorized to know where that is.”
Lieder frowned for a moment, wondering why an attendant might know the location of something the matron didn’t.
“Please don’t hesitate to enjoy the amenities provided, and we’d be happy to procure any that are absent or depleted.”
“That sounded rehearsed, so I understand if there’s a script,” Lieder said as he pressed his left index finger against the tiny panel next to the closed door. “But c’mon, be creative about it. Throw some naughty words in, or somethin’; this exaltation is killing me!”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Beri chuckled. “Speaking freely, I’m starting to hope your stay isn’t a brief one.”
“That must be sarcasm, and I approve,” Lieder joked; as far as he could tell, Beri’s statement had been genuine. “Unfortunately for you, I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
“Unfortunate?” Beri repeated. “When a Lord comes for the Artisanry and brings his entire stable of Sapients, I’m usually stuck sleeping on a portable mattress out on the dock. I feel unfortunate then. Do you really think you can compete with that? All you’ve threatened me with is garlic, you’re going to have to do a lot better than that before you can start pitying me.”
Lieder laughed and swept his finger upward. This was the first door he’d seen operated this way, but as he’d expected, reversing the motion that Beri had used to close the closet door had opened this one.
The perimeter of the cylindrical room beyond was far too small to be his lodgings. Stepping in and looking up, Lieder could see that the amply-lit walls extended through all three stories to the building’s roof. This was clearly an elevator; did this mean that his quarters occupied the entire third floor?
“If the contest is over who can treat you worse, I think I’ll just admit defeat now.” Lieder turned back to face Beri. “I’m fond of company that is able to tolerate me.”
“Well I’ll only be around when you want me to be. Whenever that may be, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I won’t. Have a good night, Beri.”
“Good night, Carl.”
The wall of the elevator was semi-translucent, with a square display near the right lip of the doorway. As had been the case with many of these new devices, he couldn’t tell whether this portion of the wall was an independent screen or if it was being projected from somewhere.
Expected Occupant: Lord Carl Orionne Lieder
Upon indication, you will be brought to your quarters.
Uncertain over whether or not it would work, Lieder tapped his finger against the word ‘Ready?’. The display reacted instantly by exchanging the question mark with an exclamation point. The door slid shut and Lieder could feel the floor begin to rise.
He cupped his chin in one hand and that elbow in the other as he pondered. Everywhere he’d been, an automated greeting system had greeted him by name, and now the elevator had acknowledged him. Beri hadn’t ever consulted an expander or otherwise informed any database of his arrival, so it must be independently capable of knowing that Carl Orionne Lieder was in the elevator.
Beyond the seeming omnipresence of sensors that were capable of identifying people everywhere, this also suggested that Lieder’s DNA was stored in some connected database. If that database logged the different places he traveled, and if that information was accessible to people, it meant that someone could easily find him at any given time.
That could prove to be a major inconvenience.
In what seemed like seconds after it started moving, the elevator slowed to a stop. He hadn’t noticed it accelerate to a speed that would elevate him this quickly, but this age’s engineers had already demonstrated a remarkable knack for subtlety.
The door slid open, allowing the soft orange light of evening to filter in. The sun had begun to dip below the tallest buildings of Reverence’s skyline, painting the clouds with fluorescence as it did.
“Welcome home, Lord Lieder,” an electronic male voice greeted.
Lieder was hesitant as he stepped out of the elevator, confused by the idea that this was his destination.
The floor was carpeted with spongy, white threading. The furniture was all of a matching hue, and though they defied the four-legged conventions he was used to, the couches, chairs, tables, and appliances were all easily identifiable.
The room did occupy the entire floor, with only one of the subsections being walled off from the others. The floor was terraced; he stood on the lowest level, with a small set of stairs at the edge on either side of him leading up to the next, and at their opposite edge these partitions had an identical set leading into the next. There were eight in all, ascending along either side in a circle to the apex, which was dominated by an enormous bed.
The entire room seemed to be built to accommodate the gigantic sphere in the center. Its circumference was defined by glass or clear plastic, causing it to resemble a huge crystal ball. Each tier shared its inner edge with the globe’s shell, putting roughly half of it below the average floor height.
The strangest feature was the fact that the sunset sky was fully visible above all of it. Lieder could look in any direction to study the skyline or watch vehicles glide along their magnetic tracks. Looking up, his view wasn’t obscured by the roof that he had been certain was still above him, and looking back, he could only see the door panel for the elevator that brought him here.
He did notice that the silence, comfortable temperature, and the fact that the door panel appeared to be floating in the air all disqualified the idea that he was really outside. Perhaps this was similar to the technology used at the Cool N’ Airy Diner.
Lieder recalled Beri mentioning an attendant that would know the location of the emergency exit. Perhaps he had jumped to conclusions by assuming that this attendant was a human.
“Attendant,” Lieder called.
“Yes, Lord,” the voice that responded was the same as the one that had greeted him.
“Can you tell me the details of this illusion?”
“Currently projecting the cityscape as would be seen without walls. Effective transparency at one-hundred percent.”
His subconscious had been buffeting him with warnings. There were plenty of buildings that offered line of sight on him, and nothing save the walled-off terrace would block that from all possible directions. He knew that the illusion was most likely one-way, but still, his conditioning would deny him comfort while this projection was turned on.
“Can we turn all transparency to zero percent? Er, I mean, just turn the projections off?”
The scenery disappeared abruptly, revealing the dome that covered the room. It glowed a pale blue, the surface to resembling the blank screen of a movie theatre.
Lieder felt relieved. He could appreciate a beautiful view as much as anyone, but the purpose of shelter was to protect oneself from enemies and the elements. It seemed natural to obscure the environment he sought to escape.
He breathed in, slow and deep. With the ensuing exhale, he released as much of the tension from his body as he could. “Welcome home,” the attendant had said; this wasn’t home, but in order to sort things out, he’d have to pretend it was. This really was the safest place he’d been since awakening, so he felt like he could convince himself to lower his guard.
The magnitude of information he’d acquired over the day was overwhelming.
An unknown party had awoken him from what he had impudently labeled as certain death.
The only person he knew that could have provided any clarification had left without doing so, leaving him to discover the bizarre way that society had evolved on his own.
Despite the importance of these realities, Lieder was focused on another problem. Now that he was safe from all danger and distraction, the only question he desired an answer to seemed far more basic than any that had developed over the day. The topic his mind immediately shot to was barely connected at all.
Who was he?
There was a database somewhere that tied his genetic code to Carl Orionne Lieder. Everyone he’d met had referred to him by that name, and all of his memories matched that implication. But Carl wasn’t bold enough to claim that he knew what defined a person for sure; as far as he knew, the body a person was born with is as much a defining feature as the memories they accrue, the values they cling to, what they love, what they hate, who they associate with, and everything else that makes a person unique.
It was possible that mind, memory, and maybe even a soul were what determined who a person was. His situation lent credence to the idea that the body plays no part in defining who someone is, but it wasn’t proof. Lieder felt obligated to consider the alternative. The alternative was depressing.
This body was not the one grown from the Lieder born on October 21st, 1985.
If this body had been allowed to develop naturally, it would have over a decade and a half worth of experience and memory. It would have had parental figures that nurtured and influenced it, mistakes to learn from and successes to cherish.
There was no way that it would have developed in an identical way to the ‘original’ Lieder, and there was as good a chance as any that these two people with identical genetic code would disagree on any given topic, approach the same problem in opposite ways, or even hate each other for their differences.
Identical twins were proof of this possibility. Though hard to distinguish aesthetically, twins are rarely mistaken for each other by those who have known them for long periods of time. They are two different individuals, despite their identical DNA. By inhabiting this clone, Lieder felt like he’d consumed his twin to double his own lifespan.
The presence of Lieder’s memories was the direct cause for this person being denied the opportunity to live its own life. This boy probably didn’t have a natural birth, and certainly created in order to put Lieder inside of it. Still, he was convinced that any person born into this world should have the right to develop in their own unique way.
This body was a teen of healthy mind and matter, yet he mistakenly believed he’d lived one-hundred and thirty long years. He remembered the pain of wounds he’d never suffered, the embarrassment of humiliations he’d never endured, the joy of miracles he’d never witnessed, and the satisfaction of successes he’d never achieved.
Some people might look at the situation and perceive advantage for the nameless young boy, but Lieder felt like that was a frivolous consolation for the crime that had been committed. He hadn’t been given the chance to start from scratch, to carve his own philosophy and chase his own concept of success. There were harsher means of doing so, but this child had still been robbed of all his freedom.
Independent of the question over this boy’s identity, all he was doing at the moment was feeling sorry for himself. Whether or not he was Carl Orionne Lieder, and even if a crime had been committed against him, he’d been given the gift of life and, at least from this point on, the gift of liberty. An overwhelming number of people had been dealt much harsher cards than he had. The only moral thing to do was accept his blessings and put them to the best use possible.
He may not be able to prove whether or not he was the original, but there were two conclusions that were safe to make: feeling sorry for oneself never fixed anything, and there was nothing that any Carl Orionne Lieder that ever existed could do now to change what had been done.
He chuckled to himself. He supposed he could go back to the hospital and see if they would wipe his memories and allow the body to develop naturally, but for all he knew, that might turn him into a teenage infant. That hardly seemed more merciful a fate than living life as a teenage geezer. Even if it wasn’t ever a topic of conversation, it would be hard coping with the idea that he was potty-trained at sixteen and spent his early twenties in some kind of elementary school
Lieder turned towards the stairs on his left and began walking, inspecting the entry level as he did. Aside from a small sofa, two matching chairs, and a coffee table, it was barren. With the projection of the surrounding city gone, he could make out a closet door on the wall next to the entryway.
. While he’d decided not to mope about the injustice of his identity, Lieder still felt compelled to decide who he was. This wasn’t a welcome subject of obsession, largely because he doubted he could reach a satisfying conclusion anytime soon. If he fretted over this, more important opportunities would pass him by. He’d need to find a comfortable way to suspend his judgment on this particular issue.
What drove the compulsion? What made him feel like he needed to solve this dilemma before moving on to other matters? Perhaps he felt like the original Lieder and the clone should approach this problem differently; maybe he could prove to himself that there was a path these two Carl Orionne Lieders would both agree upon. If he considered what he knew about each of them, the answer might become obvious.
Instinctively, there was no question that he was Carl Orionne Lieder, born on October 21st, 1985 and put to sleep roughly one-hundred and thirty years later. There were few things about this person that he didn’t know extremely well, though he found himself amused by the realization that he neglected to pay attention to the date that he was put to sleep.
Assuming his instincts were wrong, he was a teenager that was either blessed or cursed with an old man’s wisdom. This person lacked personal experience entirely, his mental development comparable to an infant’s.
It felt proper to say that a child should grow up and learn the same way any other child does, but trying to apply that to his situation seemed irresponsible. After all, it’s expected that children have parents to guide their children while they still lack experience. This child had no parents, so why not give it access to Lieder’s wealth of experience, instead?
Jumping off a tall bridge knowing that you’ll break your legs was a foolish thing to do; no sane person would argue that. It doesn’t necessarily matter how a person came about that knowledge. Doing something that you know will harm you was foolishness.
So even with the impression that this boy should grow up on his own course of trial and error, even a teenage boy with unnatural wisdom would be foolish to ignore that wisdom.
Thinking of it this way, Lieder felt like he could plot a course without deciding on who he truly was. The lessons of his past life should be used to their full advantages. Pretending he didn’t know the things he did would be foolish.
He ascended the first meager staircase and quickly categorized this level as a dining area. It was dominated by a large table, a single support in the very center bearing all the weight of the rectangular tabletop.
The accompanying chairs, one on either side of its length, were strikingly odd in design. Their armrests were much larger than he was used to, grooved in a way that would support the occupant’s arm even in postures that Lieder imagined he’d never want support in. There was one thick leg that supported the seat, and a leg rest extended at a similar angle to the ones he’d seen on the chairs at barber shops.
Their supports were obviously adjustable, but at default height, the seat was almost level with the tabletop, and both were affixed to the floor at a curious distance from the table. He doubted that most people would find it easy to seat themselves, nor could they reach their food from that position. It was hard to grasp what the chair’s inventors intended just by looking at them.
A waist-high barrier guarded a rectangular gap between the edge of the terrace and the massive globe. He didn’t bother to confirm, but Lieder was certain that it was an elevator. Its presence in the dining room implied that a small kitchen occupied the space below him.
He turned his thoughts back to the conundrum of his rebirth. While he no longer felt any anxiety over the paradox of his identity, it was time to treat another of its symptoms.
His memories were of an old man that was weary of life’s load, too accustomed to surviving in an unfair world to fear the consequences of enacting his justice on the young man of status that attacked the servant girl. His body was of a timid young man, intimidated by the vast, unfathomable world he’d been abandoned in during his first trek outside the hospital walls.
The problem of whether or not Lieder’s memories should be tolerated was solved by assuming that both of these people were within him, and that they should act on their common ground. The next issue couldn’t be solved in such a way. The old man had lain down to die, but been revived against his will. The young boy had been born with an alien consciousness inside his body, one that he hadn’t invited in.
The old man was done struggling and the young boy had barely begun his own. There was no middle ground, no compromise to be found in Hamlet’s question: “To be, or not to be?” The old man wanted one option and the young man the other, and only one could be chosen.
Lieder would not compromise on this subject, not now. If presented the choice that both he and a child live or both he and a child die, he’d choose to live with the child. There would be no hesitation.
The choice was simple, but the execution would not be. The old man would have to find a way to feed the flame he had thought extinguished.
He climbed the next stairs and opened the door to the only enclosed level; as he should have guessed, it was a restroom. The toilet, mirror, and most of the décor were recognizable, while several devices and what he assumed to be the shower had undergone some peculiar evolutions since his digitization.
Without giving it much thought, Lieder began to undress and move towards the shower. He hadn’t realized before seeing it, but there were few ideas that could be more appealing to him than that of a hot shower.
The moment he had realized that he was supposed to be dead and wasn’t, that part of him had urged him to redo what was undone. Curiosity over who had awoken him aside, he couldn’t come up with a good excuse for cheating death any longer.
Lieder suspected that his drive to seek death was unnatural, but that suspicion did nothing to make the urge less potent. It wasn’t particularly uncommon to find an elderly person that was ready to die, but it was also understood that the human body undergoes changes that explain this phenomenon. Hormones deplete, organs atrophy, the metabolism slows; it would be hard to deny the idea that the body prepares for death more than the mind does.
Now that Lieder’s body was young, it seemed like some of that drive to survive should return; it hadn’t.
In the events leading up to his digitization, he had come to believe that he wasn’t choosing death so much as he was embracing the inevitable. Now that death had been postponed, this belief was proven wrong. Lieder hadn’t been accepting death; he’d been seeking it.
Upon closing the door, the shower began to display how it had evolved since Lieder’s time. Tiny jets of hot water sprayed from all directions, even tickling the tender undersides of his feet. There was no individual faucet; the walls themselves ejected the water through numerous pores.
Lieder sighed. He’d reasoned that continuing with life was the most moral thing to do, and that reasoning was sound. He had to free the child from the old man’s death agenda, but he found it difficult to even believe that task was possible.
He knew what the cure was; it was the unifying conundrum that every person must find their own answer to. The very progress of humanity had always hinged on this exact phenomenon. Still, knowing the identity of the cure didn’t mean that he knew how to acquire it.
Humanity seemed addicted to purpose, so survival depended on possessing one. Some people found their purpose through other people; they lived for their gods, their family, their country, or to serve the unfortunate. Some found their purpose in themselves; they lived to complete a goal that only they could achieve, to enjoy the gift of life as much as they could, or even because their survival was so difficult that they never stopped to wonder whether survival was worth the effort.
The two options differed little; whether chosen or invented, all purposes were something that their adopters obsessed about. A purpose required some intrigue that was strong enough to inspire pursuit. Anything that evoked sufficient passion from a person could be called ‘purpose.’
The only reason he pondered the difference between inventing a purpose and choosing an existing one is because he no longer understood the motivation to pursue either. Many things had once seemed worth chasing, but he’d either caught them or exhausted his will to try.
He leaned back against the wall of the shower, startling himself when he felt the surface give way. He shifted his balance to prevent a fall, but quickly realized there was no way that such an incident would harm him.
He had expected the typical hard plastic composite, like what the door and outer shell had been made of; instead, it was as elastic as fabric, yielding some but still supporting his weight. Perhaps the most incredible part was the fact that he could still feel the water forcing its way out of the pores that were blocked by his skin.
Intrigued, Lieder stood upright and stepped away from the wall. Couldn’t this pose a suffocation hazard if he were to fall face-first into it? Curious, Lieder thrust his palm at the substance, doing his best to emulate the force he would use if he was trying to catch himself after a slip.
His hand slammed into the substance, finding it rigid and flat. This fascinated him. This substance was capable of altering its elasticity based on the force being applied to it. Such a material had so many applications that it undoubtedly revolutionized society when it was invented.
Lieder sat down, and as he suspected, the floor began to give a little. Lying back, it almost felt like he was in a hammock.
If such detail were applied to all the features of these living quarters, this apartment was a true marvel. This level of luxury was both boggling and sickening, but for now, he’d indulge in this thought-conducive comfort.
Lieder owed a full life to this young boy, so he needed to find a purpose that would ignite his will to live. That fire had been extinguished over the many years he’d been preparing to face death. The problem and its solution were cyclical: he had to find motivation to find a purpose that could motivate him. It seemed impossible, but all the same, it had to be done.
So what cause would be worthy of his fight in this age? The world was bound to still have an abundance of problems.
This had been easier the first time around. He’d never realized how lucky he was to be born when he was. The world was plagued by one obvious problem, obsessed with an issue that affected everyone and compelled the population to pick one side or the other. It was an ugly and traumatic conflict, but there had been no question that it was necessary. In many ways, that was much easier than confronting the vast array of choices that lay before him now.
With his meager understanding of the Peerage-Sapient paradigm, it seemed irresponsible to pretend he could prioritize what had to be done. He needed a purpose to drive him, but to adopt a purpose he’d need to learn about the world, and to learn about the world, he’d need the drive to educate himself
He was still stuck in a cyclical paradox. Perhaps the old man couldn’t find the answer because this problem belonged to the young boy.
How did normal young men choose their paths? Weren’t they usually inspired to adopt certain philosophies? He could remember several that he’d admired.
Perhaps he should try asceticism? It was noble enough, and certain to expand his horizons, but he had no idea how plausible it would be in a society this advanced. Hedonism? Appealing, but he doubted he could suspend his discipline enough to really enjoy life to its fullest. Humanitarianism? Plausible, but with technology as it was, he wouldn’t be surprised if starvation and disease were no longer issues that needed to be addressed. Scholasticism? He knew it was a philosophy he could be passionate about, but as he learned in his past life, an expertise in the sciences can easily come about while championing some other cause.
Lieder climbed to his feet, impressed by how intuitively the floor hardened itself to accommodate him. As he pressed against the door, the flow of water stopped, and an influx of warm air came rushing through a vent in the shower ceiling.
Walking to the counter, one object among the amenities stood out more than any other. It looked like an athlete’s mouthguard, but considering the lack of any toothbrush, Lieder guessed that this was its evolution. He unwrapped it and fit it over his teeth.
Lieder bit down. With a soft whirring, strands of plastic began moving over every portion of enamel, through the tiny gaps between his teeth, into his gums, and back out again. A pleasant, minty taste was left behind, both from the residue left by the flossing and a spritz of mouthwash towards his throat.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be wise to cut the old man completely out of the equation for finding a new purpose. Every time he considered the enigma of his rebirth, his jaw clenched and his gut tightened. The old man burned to know who was behind this travesty and why they’d resorted to it. Investigating that would likely yield educational fruit, as well. He didn’t expect it to take him all that long to solve that mystery, but it could lead him to a bigger purpose.
He climbed back into his clothes and exited the door opposite the one he entered. Another set of steps separated him from the next level of the terrace, which appeared to be a lounge. A sofa with two matching loveseats, one on either side, was positioned in the very center.
The rest of the room seemed oddly blank, though there were horizontal, metallic-black cylinders hanging from the ceiling in strategic positions.
Lieder sighed heavily. If he were to guess at the reason that some random person would choose to resurrect him over any of the other Winkles, it would be because they coveted his penchant for destruction. He had no idea how they might have learned about it; he’d gone to great lengths to prevent people from knowing about that particular portfolio. Still, to have someone facilitate his revival – especially into such a high position of power – lead him to believe that this unknown person somehow knew of his exploits. They revived him because they wanted to harness that capability.
He didn’t know what their target was. He hadn’t been given a mission or a reason to go along with it. The target could be anything; a person, an object, even something as enormous as an ideology. Ever since he’d awoken, he’d been inclined to think that the Peerage needed to be brought down. If the person behind his revival was of like mind, it would explain why Lieder had been given so much power.
Still, if that was his benefactors’ goal, it would be in their best interest to reveal themselves soon; it would take years for Lieder to decide whether he’d tackle such an issue. He’d grown tired of looking at problems and mistaking the ‘most destructive’ solution for the ‘best.’ It was much more galvanizing to see a problem and wonder how he might create something to solve it.
He’d reached the final level of the terrace. The bed occupied about three-quarters of its floor space. The inner border was curved to match the shape of the gigantic orb, perhaps even built into it in order to allow an occupant to sleep against it. Its spread was white, with black lines swirling all across in a marble pattern. There was an abundance of pillows that matched the enormous comforter, more than Lieder could ever hope to make use of on his own.
The only other notable feature was the presence of the largest closet door Lieder had yet seen in the building.
There were three sections that he had yet to pass through, which would lead him to complete his counter-clockwise tour of the circular lodgings. Being so close to the bed, though, he felt content to survey the remainder from where he was.
The closest had an enormous, blocky piece of furniture. It vaguely resembled a desk, but he couldn’t see a chair to go with it.
The second room seemed blank, void of any furniture or décor, and its floor was entirely bare.
The last room lacked carpeting, a condition that only the adjacent level and restroom shared. A kiosk of some kind stood against the wall, its screen a huge circle with a radius as long as he was tall.
Lieder audited the minutes he’d spent here. He felt much better after his contemplation. The anxiety that had been consuming him now felt more like a driving force. There were still many unknowns: he didn’t know who revived him, his only guess for the reason they revived him was born of blind intuition, and he wasn’t even certain of his own identity. Despite all this, he’d been able to determine a way to move forward.
Intending to slide under the covers without bothering to undress, he soon discovered that he couldn’t find a loose end of the bedspread. The blanket was attached to the edge of the bed nearest him, and there were no gaps to be seen anywhere in the center.
He didn’t boggle over the situation long before remembering the dynamic rigidity of the shower walls and the button- and zipper-less uniforms of the Sapients he’d seen. Tepidly, he dug his fingertips into an arbitrary section of the comforter; the fabric unraveled beneath the menial force, allowing the digits to grab at the new edge.
A few seconds after withdrawing his hand, the fabric rejoined into a solid piece. It was like watching a hole being torn in reverse.
He crawled onto the mattress and towards the nearest pillow. He gently pulled up enough comforter to allow himself to slide inside.
He had suspected it since seeing the animation of his hospital gown, but now Lieder was certain that even the most mundane of objects had computers and some kind of nano-machinery incorporated into them. The concept had been put into practice long before he’d ‘died,’ but it had never spread far beyond military or medical usage. It should have revolutionized things, but the reason for that delay was easy to understand: the first applications of nano machinery had the same flavor as the first application of the Manhattan Project.
As his head sunk into the pillow, he considered how is reaction must have differed from his fellow Winkles. Most would have been elderly when they were digitized; they’d be so accustomed to being cared for that he doubted they’d have coped well with the abandonment he’d experienced. Seniors were often known to panic when faced with situations that weren’t in their normal routine.
That wouldn’t be an issue for Lieder. The instability of his young adulthood had taught him how to cope with the unfamiliar, and forever caused him to shy from depending on anyone else. While this gave him a tremendous advantage, he wondered if it might be irresponsible to continue operating off his usual logic.
There was a part of him that had been conditioned to recognize the times that he should pull the trigger without hesitating. It wasn’t a metaphor; even thinking about the tendency, his right hand was curling as though to grip a pistol. It had been necessary to train himself that way, he had no doubt of that. Still, in this new era, he had no reason to believe he’d ever need to make that sort of decision.
It would have been far better if he’d been revived as a Sapient, expected to serve some random Peerage family to whatever ridiculous capacity they thought he’d fill. Of course he’d have refused, and they’d probably have put him right back to sleep, but that’s exactly why he thought that situation would be better: he could have gone to his grave knowing that he hadn’t left all responsibility behind.
Instead, he’d been brought back as a free man. It was comparable to taking a man from a militantly-patriarchal society and thrusting him into a society lead by women. It wouldn’t be long before people started to die at his hands.
It was naïve to expect a man that devoted his life to an ideology to give it up, even if you give him a second life. Though Lieder had lived in a far more place than the misogynist, there were beliefs that defined Carl Orionne Lieder as much as his DNA did. Supposing enough time had passed, he could be just as incompatible with this era as the patriarch was with his matriarch.
Any man who has taken life would admit that their second kill was easier than the first. Lieder had not been careful enough, after his awakening. If things continued in this manner, it wouldn’t be long before he’d dirtied this nameless boy’s hands with the blood of his contemporaries. The Peerage stood in flagrant violation of his ideals, and if he didn’t prepare for it properly, Lieder would feel forced to take the life of whoever challenged him over those differences.
It was easy to say he was ready to die for his beliefs, but the crueler reality was that there were situations in which he was prepared to kill for them. As the obscene comfort of his bed sapped his lucidity, he lamented the inevitability of a crime he could not prove that he’d commit.
He sighed and resolved to focus on some other train of thought, preferably something frivolous. He smiled, remembering that he had promised to teach two lessons to Beri: one involving his status as a Winkle, the other on Mexican cuisine.