Part 7

 Having experienced it once already, Lieder's second bus ride was a much more pleasant one. 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 obvious 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 were still far from the style of his era, 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 almost by definition, the fact that these suburbs were built on a square platform suspended between the top ends of four adjacent superstructures 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' support structure, a sign that the architects were assuming that they would never have to deal with an earthquake or foreign attack.
      
      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 jargon used in the documents advertising the event was particular to this clique of the Peerage; Lieder couldn't discern any nature or theme regarding the work these people did.
      
      There were homes in every suburb that offered temporary shelter to Sapient servants, a service in high demand at any given time due to the high number of them traveling with their masters or as 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. Being in the Artisanry off-season, he imagined that any potential burden imposed on the owners' business would be negligible.
      
      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.
      
      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 an indeterminately 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 to prevent such an occurrence. Her mouth was framed by gentle smile-lines, and the weathered look in her eyes suggesting 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, but if you settle in during the off-season, you could make this your permanent home for all they care."
      
      "How can that possibly work?" Lieder was truly baffled. "How can an economy work that way?"
      
      "It can," Beri seemed understandably perplexed by his question. "I can't it explain how it works, I'm a little surprised you don't understand it better than I do already; I just know that it just 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. 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.'
      
      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 warmly. "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. Don't regret it later, and I'm trusting you to keep your word on the Peerage thing!" 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 casual and 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."
      
      "You're serious?"
      
      "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 fix it."
      
      "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, 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 at all.
      
      "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 guess accurate.
      
      "Reborn?"
      
      "Another lesson for later." Lieder felt a little guilty for keeping his new friend in the dark, but he was eagerly anticipating 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, contemplating 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 tentatively 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'; these formalities are 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 successfully opened this one.
      
      The perimeter of the room beyond was far too small to be his lodgings. Stepping in and looking up, Lieder could see that the amply-lit cylindrical 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?
      
      "I think I'd rather just admit defeat." 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 electronic devices Lieder had encountered since waking up, 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
      
      Arrival confirmed. Upon indication, you will be brought to your quarters.
      
      Ready?
      
      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 subconsciously cupped his chin in one hand and that elbow in the other as he pondered. Everywhere he'd been, an automated greeting system had immediately 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 Carl Orionne Lieder was in the elevator.
      
      Beyond the observation that there seemed to be sensors that were capable of identifying individual people everywhere, this also suggested that Lieder's DNA was stored in some database connected to them. 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.
      
      Despite how slowly it had started, the elevator brought Lieder to his destination much more quickly than he'd expected. He hadn't noticed it accelerate after initially starting, 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.
      
      "Welcome home, Lord Lieder," an electronic, male voice greeted.
      
      Lieder hesitantly stepped out of the elevator and closed it behind him, confused by the idea that this was his destination.
      
      The floor was carpeted with a soft, shaggy, and somehow 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 almost entirely 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.
      
      Wondering if there was a way to turn it off, 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 said loudly.
      
      "Yes, Lord," the same voice that had greeted him upon arriving responded.
      
      "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 denied him comfort while this projection was turned on.
      
      "Can we turn all transparency to zero percent? Er, I mean, just turn the projections off?"
      
      "Certainly, Lord."
      
      The scenery disappeared abruptly, revealing a dome over the room. A pale blue light shone evenly through it, causing the surface to resemble a blank screen in a movie theatre.
      
      Lieder felt relieved. He could appreciate a beautiful view as much as anyone, but the whole point 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, slowly and deeply. 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 person or 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.
      
      But 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 at some point or another, 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 entirely 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.
      
      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 chance 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, and even hate each other for their differences.
      
      Identical twins often proved this possibility by developing differently in spite of their DNA.
      
      Instead, the presence of Lieder's memories was the direct cause for this person being denied the opportunity to live its own life. It was true, Lieder's digitization was more than likely the only reason this boy ever came to exist, but Lieder was still convinced that any person born into this world had the right to develop in their own unique way. Lieder felt like he'd consumed his twin in order to double his lifespan.
      
      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.
      
      He had actually only been breathing for a tiny fraction of Lieder's lifespan, and he'd probably been unconscious for all of that.
      
      Some people might look at the situation and perceive this as an 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.
      
      Lieder sighed. Independent of the question over whether this boy was the original Lieder, 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 off the start 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 conclude 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 16 and spent his early 20's in some kind of daycare.
      
      Lieder turned towards the stairs on his left and began walking, subconsciously inspecting the entry level as he did. Aside from a small sofa and two matching chairs, it was mostly barren. With the projection of the surrounding city gone, he could make out a closet door on the wall next to the entryway.
      
      Regardless of his conviction to not mope about the injustice of his possible identity, Lieder still felt compelled to decide who he believed 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, too many other, more important opportunities would pass him by. He'd need to find a way to feel comfortable with suspending his judgment on this particular issue.
      
      He suspected that this compulsion was based on the idea that he couldn't decide how to move forward without knowing who he was; 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 when 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 relay their personal trials and thereby help a child avoid those same trials; it wouldn't be strange to consider the original Lieder's memories as a suitable replacement for this role.
      
      Besides, jumping off a tall bridge knowing that you'll probably 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 live, learn, and grow on his own course of trial and error, the deceased Carl Orionne Lieder had learned many hard lessons about how doing certain things could harm a person. Many of these actions were not something a teenage boy would know about, but even a teenage boy with tragically unnatural wisdom would be foolish to ignore that wisdom.
      
      Thinking of it that way, Lieder felt like it was prudent to assume that he could plot a course without deciding on who he truly was. The lessons of Lieder's 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 curiously bearing the weight of the ample 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 suggested that the occupant's arm would be supported even in postures that Lieder imagined he'd never want support in. While there was only one thick leg to support the seat, a leg rest extended at a shallow angle, one that seemed to deny its user from being able to sit up straight.
      
      Their support was obviously adjustable, but at default height, the seat was almost level with the tabletop and curiously far back. He doubted that most people could reach their food from that position, further clouding the purpose they were designed for.
      
      As he walked through the room, he noticed a barrier guarding a rectangular gap between the edge of the terrace and the massive globe. Without bothering to confirm, he guessed that its presence in the dining room meant that it must be an elevator connecting to a kitchen.
      
      His contemplation had brought him the comfort he had sought; he no longer felt pressured to identify himself. Whatever conclusion he might eventually reach, continuing with this new life seemed like an action he couldn't rationally regret.
      
      Still, though he'd decided that moving on with life was the most moral decision he could make, a deep melancholy lingered over Lieder. His anxiety had been cured, but its absence brought his attention back to a void that predated his awakening.
      
      He was tired, and not just the sort of tired that would be completely normal for a day filled with so many extraordinary circumstances; this was the same mental lethargy he'd felt every moment of his waking life before his digitization. It was the abstract exhaustion that birthed the suspicion that he'd lived too long.
      
      Rather than wonder whether he was a very old man or a young one that simply believed he was old, it almost felt more accurate to believe he was both. Both these people lived inside of him, and the younger naively expected to change the elder's mind about the state of things.
      
      It was understandable, especially considering the fact that the young man's wellbeing depended entirely upon the older man's; still, the older man knew he could not be swayed, and that he would have to tolerate the younger man's persuasions until he had lived long enough to understand. Even if his feelings could be put into words, the listener couldn't comprehend unless they'd experienced those same feelings.
      
      It felt odd, that these two people with access to the same memories couldn't understand each other. Still, be it metaphor or reality, Lieder felt like this description fit perfectly with what he was experiencing.
      
      He climbed the next stairs and opened the door to the only enclosed level; as he felt he should have guessed, it was a restroom. The toilet, mirror, and most of the décor were remarkably similar to the standard of his time, 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.
      
      It was enclosed by semi-transparent plastic, though only the blurred shape of anything within could be seen. Tall and perfectly cylindrical, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what made it seem so different from the showers of his time.
      
      Ever since waking up, Lieder had considered asking the next person he encountered if they'd assist him in going back to sleep. 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 and chemicals deplete, organs and tissues atrophy, the metabolism slows; it would be hard to deny the idea that the body understands and prepares for death as much as the mind does.
      
      Now that Lieder's body was young, it seemed logical to think that 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 as an option so much as he was embracing it as an inevitability. Now that death had been easily postponed, this belief was proven wrong. Lieder hadn't been accepting death; he's been seeking it.
      
      Upon closing the door, the shower displayed just how much it had evolved since Lieder's time. Once it had been sealed, tiny jets of hot water sprayed from all directions. There was no individual faucet; the walls themselves ejected the water through numerous pores. There were several knobs at elbow-height, but since the water had started automatically once the door had closed, Lieder could only guess at their purposes.
      
      Lieder sighed. This revelation wasn't a factor; his body had less to do with his conviction to die than he thought, but he couldn't allow that to change his course. He'd reasoned that continuing with life was the most moral thing to do, and that reasoning was sound. The issue at hand was ridding this child of Lieder's death agenda, not second-guessing his reasons for adopting that agenda in the first place.
      
      For Lieder, death was an understandable goal. For this child, having that goal was a sickness.
      
      He already knew the cure; it was, after all, the fundamental conundrum that every person must find their own answer to. The very progress of humanity had always hinged on this exact phenomenon.
      
      The only solution was willpower. Lieder believed that humanity was addicted to purpose, so survival depended on possessing one. Some people found their purpose through someone else's philosophy, often professed to belong in a higher power's agenda, while others chose to invent their own. The two options differed little, though, since adopting another entity's agenda was virtually the same as inventing one's own. The important part was having something that a person could feel passionate about to drive them onward.
      
      This was a conflict he'd resolved once already, but with his uncertainty over whether he was the same individual that he was before the digitization, he needed to assume that his life's 'reset button' had been pressed. This was a problem he'd have to resolve from scratch.
      
      He leaned back against the wall of the shower, startling himself when he felt the surface gave 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.
      
      On a hunch, Lieder stood back up. Pausing to let the wall mold back to its natural shape, he thrust his palm into it, doing his best to emulate the force that a person would use when trying to recover from slipping. As he would hope in such a scenario, the wall held firmly in place, solid and smooth against his palm.
      
      This surface was elastic when met with gentle pressure and solid when confronted with force; Lieder had heard of materials that could react in such ways, but usually the difference between forces needed to be as extreme as the difference between a punch and a gunshot. He couldn't truly fathom how someone might have engineered this material.
      
      The only clue he had was in the water flow; while it was spraying from every surface except those occupied by the knobs, the water was somehow avoiding his eyes. If his movements were being monitored by a computer, and thusly adjusting the flow of water to avoid his eyes, it stood to reason that another process could detect potential impacts and modify the elasticity based on the force.
      
      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. He perceived this level of luxury to be both boggling and sickening, but for now, he'd indulge in this thought-conducive comfort.
      
      He'd decided that he owed it to this young vessel to carry on with life, but to do so, he'd need to overcome the massive mental preparing he'd done before dying. The only plausible way to achieve that was to establish some kind of purpose. He'd need passion, immersion, a goal so big that he could give his everything and it still might not be enough. There was more than likely an abundance of such causes to fight for, but how should he decide which was worthiest?
      
      Lieder frowned. This had been easier the first time around. In his youth, more than a century before his digitization, it had never occurred to him that he was lucky to be born in that age. The world was plagued by an 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.
      
      It seemed logical to take a different route this time, to view the world from another perspective. 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 addressing. Scholasticism? He knew it was a philosophy he would be passionate about, but as he learned in his past life, an expertise or even mastery of the sciences can easily come about while championing some other cause.
      
      He paused a moment, pondering the fact that he'd considered himself something of a scholar in his past life. He didn't have a single field he could call himself an expert in, but his understanding of all the individual sciences was much stronger than average.
      
      Perhaps he had been doing this in the wrong order. Picking a destination and choosing a path to it was more efficient than choosing a path and hoping it lead to an acceptable destination. He'd need to think bigger.
      
      Lieder attempted to climb to his feet, noting how intuitively the floor hardened itself to accommodate him. As he pressed gently against the door, the flow of water stopped, and an influx of warm air came rushing through a vent in the shower ceiling.
      
      He didn't bother pausing to let it finish drying him; he was convinced hat there was some mechanism in the floor to compensate for any water he tracked through the room.
      
      Walking to the counter, one object among the amenities stood out more than any other. It looked like a mouthguard or tooth-whitening mold, but considering the lack of any toothbrush, Lieder guessed that this was its evolution. He quickly unwrapped it and fit it over his teeth.
      
      As soon as it was secured, Lieder bit down. With a very soft whirring, he could feel soft strands of thread 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 strands and a spritz of mouthwash over his tongue and towards his throat.
      
      Taking the device out, Lieder was surprised that there was absolutely no trace of blood. He supposed it was easily possible that the hospital had routinely used this kind of device to clean his teeth, which would have conditioned his gums to this type of intrusion. Convenient; he'd never been good enough at flossing to prevent at least some blood.
      
      Earlier, he'd lamented the perception that it had been easier to choose his purpose in his life before digitization; he realized now that he hadn't thought that through. There was an obvious cause he could fight for now, an injustice that had immediately struck him as blatantly exploitive and dishonest.
      
      He should confirm his suspicions before committing to it, but Lieder suspected that he would soon give everything he had to bringing down the Peerage. It was laughable that he'd forgotten about that institution while lamenting the perceived absence of an obvious 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.
      
      So once again, the problem that needed the most attention was one that required destruction to fix. It could be resolved peacefully enough, perhaps, but at the very least, an ideology would have to be destroyed.
      
      Lieder shook his head. He wondered if he would ever encounter a problem that could be solved by creating something, or maybe if he was just blind to every solution except the violent ones.
      
      He pondered this carefully, hesitant over the idea that he might make himself into a zealot. Yes, the Peerage stunk of a simple and ridiculous lie, but he couldn't prove it yet. Before he set the agenda to 'destroy,' he should first confirm his suspicions. That proof, by itself, might be a quest worth spending his second lifetime on.
      
      He'd reached the final 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 if they had some reason to. 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.
      
      Other pieces of furniture in the room were limited to four dressing screens, positioned symmetrically near the outer wall. They had numerous joints to allow a user to customize how they wished to obscure themselves from any potential onlookers.
      
      The only other notable feature was the presence of the largest closet door Lieder had yet seen in the building.
      
      Having reached his destination, Lieder decided to try and discern the remaining three levels without passing through them.
      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 his contemplation since arriving at his quarters. He'd determined that it was unwise to reverse his revival, selected a probable goal, and established the condition that would prove whether it was worthy or not. It felt like he'd accomplished enough for one night.
      
      He smiled sardonically. This was the kind of thinking that inspired people to call him 'robotic.' When the average Winkle was put in this situation, he was sure they'd resolved to live on, believed that the Peerage system was unjust, and probably even selected a purpose for themselves, all on impulse. They'd say they were acting on their intuition, and while Lieder would argue that it was largely based on emotion, he also knew that their decisions would very likely be right; or, at least, they probably wouldn't be wrong.
      
      He sat on the edge of the bed and untied his shoes, preparing to undress for sleep.
      
      That was the advantage of emotion: it provided a mysterious wisdom. A person could immediately decide whether certain situations were acceptable or not, even if they couldn't put their reasons for that conclusion into words. People naturally fear dark places, even before they're capable of understanding why. It's rather obvious that predators have much better senses for coping with the darkness, and therefore its shroud provides the perfect ambush opportunity, but this factor never passes through a frightened infant's mind; it simply responds to darkness with fear and does anything it can to avoid it.
      
      As he crawled onto the mattress, he found that there was no end to the bedspread in sight. The blanket was attached to the edge of the bed nearest him, and there were no gaps to be seen anywhere in the center.
      
      Remembering that many peoples' uniforms had  been button- and zipper-less, he dug his fingers into an arbitrary portion of the comforter. The fabric parted easily, separating as if voluntarily. These new edges were not frayed or otherwise damaged, like they should be if they were torn or cut; it looked as though it had been sewn that way to begin with. Running his fingers laterally, he expanded this new gap to a size that would allow him to slide under it.
      
      He suspected it since first noticing his hospital gown, and his experience in the shower had supported it, but now Lieder was certain that most any object manufactured in this age had some sort of computer integrated into it.
      
      Under first consideration, it might seem redundant to use reason when emotions provided such a convenient shortcut to identical conclusions. Lieder had his reasons for confronting the factors first, though. It was a habit born from the idea that logic and emotion can sometimes produce conflicting answers. It was easy for an enemy to use that possibility to their advantage.
      
      A man who has murdered someone will sometimes justify the crime by providing a rationale, painting a picture of intolerable anguish suffered at the hands of his victim. Even with evidence to the contrary, the jury could feel compassion for the man and consider releasing him early or unpunished altogether. Should the man murder again, the people that let him free would suffer the guilt of knowing they could have prevented the second death. They'd forever regret acting on that emotion.
      
      Lieder likely would have come to the same conclusions regarding his new life even if he'd made the decisions on emotion instead of reason. The difference with this method was that he could prepare himself for any false logic an enemy might provide when they're cornered. If he'd made the decision off simple emotion, their words might cause him to hesitate, and hesitating to pull the trigger could easily become a catastrophic mistake…
      
      Something about this train of thought bothered Lieder. He'd comforted himself knowing that he would be ready to pull the trigger when the time came, but why was he so certain that such a time would come? This didn't seem to be a conflict that people should wager lives on.
      
      'Pull the trigger' wasn't a metaphor; he was actually imagining himself pointing a gun at an opponent and shooting. It might have just been subconscious, but one way or another, part of Lieder had been preparing him to kill if it became necessary.
      
      Lieder frowned. If he was to suspect that this vessel could be a new person, someone that was not Carl Orionne Lieder, it would be wrong for that person to kill using Carl Orionne Lieder's logic to justify it. Wouldn't it?
      
      He was certain that the conflict between his beliefs and the other Peers' beliefs would force him into a situation where killing someone would be the lesser of two evil options. He had no rationale for why he was convinced that this would happen; he was just intrinsically convinced. It was exactly the kind of pre-programmed emotional certainty he'd been trying to avoid.
      
      Whatever reason there might be for it, Lieder knew he had to resist the notion. The trauma of their first kill was what turned some soldiers into serial killers. Whatever the worth of Lieder's wisdom to this boy that possessed his memories, the most valuable lesson he could learn from them was how ending another human's life can change a person.
      
      He grabbed the nearest pillow and pulled it under his head. Sufficiently covered, he allowed his body to go limp and sink into the cushion beneath him.
      This was a topic that could wait. Trying to prove whether or not the Peerage's claims to superiority were accurate seemed like a feat that could easily be accomplished without resorting to violence; at least, proving that to himself should be such a task. For now, he could prioritize getting with Beri and picking her brain for ideas about where to start his search for information.
      
      The chance for a kill-or-be-killed situation arising before he had prepared for it was almost nonexistent. He was sure that this instinctual emotion, the one that believed chasing this aspiration would mean snuffing out another person's life, would prove itself wrong in due time.  
      
      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.

The End

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