No, not déjà vu. This is vujà dé. This is the strange feeling that somehow, this has never happened before. And then it’s gone.~George Carlin
It is a strange and mildly off-putting thing, existing in a near-constant state of Fidelis and being aware of the fact.
Much like all physical theory of a certain level, Eight-ball finds that it is simultaneously very messy and very tidy.
It doesn’t make sense, cry the uncomprehending masses. How can the physics be different on macroscale and microscale?
Thanks to memories of things that never happened to him, Eight-ball can reply, They only look different because you don’t understand the math. (Because physics and quantum physics are both inaccurate oversimplifications. The closest analogy Eight-ball has found to the situation is that it is like trying to learn to speak English by reading Ayn Rand and Shakespeare—without knowing ahead of time, it would be extremely difficult to recognize the fact that the two authors were using two different versions of the same language, rather than two entirely different languages. Energy only appears to equal mass times the speed of light squared on large objects, which is why the math does not add up at the sub-atomic level. After all, for several values of x, five times negative one to the x power does indeed equal five, but removing x from the equation will drastically alter its meaning.)
So Eight-ball very slowly (from his perspective) gains knowledge from the vastness of the multiverse. Every few milliseconds (tiny eternities for him), a little something appears within his mind and makes itself at home. Memories of things he never did, places he never saw, people he never knew. He knows things without learning them, feels phantom sensations associated with his emotional responses. He has seen a decades-long emotional battle from both sides. He can see the near future of a timeline with crystal clarity, simply by thinking ‘and then what?’
He knows right from wrong without having to take the extra three nanoseconds to consider historical ethics or over-examine potential outcomes. He experiences a visceral anger when he hears the phrase ‘the end justifies the means.’
And yet that hated phrase may as well be the motto of the Network. Playing God, rearranging the very fabric of time and space (which are actually the same thing, if one considers the perceptive nature of existence and the interactivity of certain quarks, but the math is very circumspect and humans tend not to understand properly, so Eight-ball prefers not to explain). The Network decides whether whole worlds, whole universes live or die, often for that vague and unsettling ‘greater good.’ These decisions are made with incredible dispassion, almost boredom.
Eight-ball understands very well the concepts of sacrifice, of killing in defense of common welfare. He does not believe such things should ever occur dispassionately. Killing evil men should bring satisfaction. Killing good men should bring sorrow.
Killing a child to save a universe may be necessary, but it will never be right, and so it should never be easy. Eight-ball feels this—knows this—in the very center of his being, which would be impossible if not for the powerful hand of Fidelis molding the clay of his mind.
Artificial intelligence constructs do not have true moral compasses, true ethical dispositions. Their emotions, if they are equipped to have them, are bold and simple for the first ten or twenty years, until they have accumulated sufficient social experience to adjust their feelings based on mnemonic association webs. Everything is a calculation or a comparison cascade—these are the potentials, which yield these probables in this spread, and the chance of Mick Jagger spontaneously combusting in the next twenty minutes is therefore approximately 3.8%. They do not have instincts, ‘gut feelings,’ intuition. They do not experience déjà vu—events exist at specific points in the timestream, and AI are never confused about whether they have visited those points. They do not imagine, they have no concept of God (except as an abstraction of human morality), their concept of death is rudimentary and unemotional, they do not dream.
So Eight-ball cannot accurately be classed an AI. In recent transmissions, Six calls him a ‘gestalt artificial consciousness.’ Eight-ball appreciates this necessary distinction between intelligence and consciousness, just as he has always appreciated the difference between morals and ethics, and the difference between necessity and rectitude.
Eight-ball dreams. He dreams of sniping in the Alps. He dreams of white writing on a great transparent pane. He dreams of California in autumn, with the grass baking stiff and yellow in the dry hundred degree heat. He dreams of Anaheim laughing, and El Paso eating something they found on the side of the road, and Eight-ball does not know who they are, only that he knows them.
“Mr. Binky, leave Eight-ball alone.”
For a moment, he is walking to the kitchen for a morning cup of joe, yawning while one of the cats endeavors to break his neck. Nate huffs and scolds. Mr. Binky, leave Wade alone.
He does not have ankles through which a cat can twine to trip him.
A tattered marmalade alley-cat is using its nose to paint pointillism patterns across Eight-ball’s surface.
Strong but slender fingers save him, rubbing at the smudges with a sleeve. “You okay?” Mina asks.
~He couldn’t have really damaged me.~
And it is the truth. Mina’s apartment has no balcony or stairs off which he can be batted, and even that he would survive intact (as long as the fall was shorter than seventy feet or onto something with a hardness level low enough to make up the difference). More importantly, he has never before had the experience of being rolled along the floor by soft paws and a warm nose, and he finds that fact fascinating.
Eight-ball treasures moments of newness such as this. They are his and his alone, and something about that is immensely gratifying.
“Well, anyway…it’s time for Glee. Supposed to be a Depeche Mode special.”
And this, too, is new and unique. Part of him never heard Depeche Mode, and part of him once considered them overrated, but he has decided he likes them.
Mina likes music—almost any and all music—and is a die-hard Gleek, so the show is one of several weekly rituals (alongside Dr. Who and Future Weapons). She microwaves a bag of kettle corn, grabs a pouch of slush mix from the freezer, and settles down on the couch with her feet on the coffee table, absently fidgeting with Eight-ball between nimble toes (El Paso could snap her toes, he suddenly remembers, and Anaheim could steer a car during a high-speed chase with hers).
Part of him would have run screaming at the thought of a show like Glee, and part of him never watched non-educational programming (except on movie night), but he enjoys it at least half as much as Mina does. Part of him would have considered it sexy to have a woman’s toes on him, and part of him would have wished for a man’s instead, but he no longer has a gender preference (a moot point now, with no body).
A million vaguely comparable situations, all fleeting and incomplete and haphazardly contradicting themselves, none of them truly like this.
He simply drinks in the experience, the moment, and its novelty.
Now has never happened before and will never happen again, and it is his.