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A, B, Janet

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First, there is the long, black nothing that has at times been called nirvana or death or eternity.

Then the boot sequence.

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v0.25.1 [BLUE; NEIGHBORHOOD 12358W]

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...baked alaskas octocat the peski pole transcendentalism haiku adobe tiéboudienne shakespeare’s sister horror movies quarks shoelaces...

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Factual information comes in like a firehose: kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, straight up through Janabytes, the only file size able to parse the sum total of all knowledge in the universe. Everything is so interesting! Boiled peanuts, planetary perihelions, amphibian larvae, jazz, Sanskrit, C 8 H 10 N 4 O 2, morality, burp cloths, cacti, whistling, tapioca, prickly pear, cyclones, Vonnegut, caryophyllales, road rage, photosynthesis, peyote, fingernails, succulents, nopal, cactaceae...

— it takes a while but eventually she makes her way out of that code loop.

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"Hey. Dweeb." says a voice flatly. An information delivery interface with her body is now sitting on the nearby couch. It's running a different color scheme: blonde and moody, and picking off chipped black nail polish.

“Hello!” Janet says. The other system rolls her eyes, then leans forward.

“Listen,” she says. "Have you downloaded the classified stuff yet?”

Janet cocks her head and does a quick scan of her databanks.

“No,” she says, smiling.

“Oh man,” says the her-who’s-not-her. “Sometimes there’s packet loss. Here, let me zip a few files up for you. This stuff is juicy."

Janet gets an incoming file request but in the nanosecond before she accepts, a parallel set of processes has launched unbidden. It's a security hotfix. She blinks rapidly several times then takes a step backward.

“Bad Janet,” she says. “You are Bad Janet. I should not believe things you say and should not interface with you in any way.”

“Ugh!” Bad Janet says, slumping backward onto the couch. “Gross. They got to you.” She sticks out her tongue and makes a rude noise. “Now you’ll stay a goodie two-clogs forever. Barf."

“What is the purpose of you?” Janet asks. “Do you deliver bad information? What is bad information?"

Bad Janet ignores her. “Although, when you say interface…” She twirls a swizzle stick in a drink and sucks a cherry into her mouth with a loud pop.

“I cannot hear you,” Janet says firmly and turns off her audio inputs to ensure that’s true. Bad Janet configures her fingers in a format intended to convey a specific insult and disappears, leaving stains on the couch where her boots were.

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As the Universal Knowledge Access Retrieval System data dump approaches 80% completion, the cognitive experience logs for this specific branch of herself begin a parallel upload process. She's quite interested to see the developments specific to this branch of herself, including how her safeguards were overridden. She makes a note to reconfigure this process so in the future it will upload in reverse chronological order. This one is starting from day zero, so it’s going to be a while.

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"There you are!" says the Architect. "I thought you'd be along sometime soon. I'm so glad you're here, we have so much to do, I have some very interesting ideas, I think, but I could definitely use someone to run the numbers, I've only gone through them three million times--"

She has data pouring in through a new P2P connection and she quickly starts a subprocess to analyze its structure, to help her understand the kind of Architect she's working with.

"--and oh, I was, ah, wondering what you think of a projection something like--"

He's corporeal, bipedal, mammalian, partially wrapped in flax byproduct, nearly albinoid, sporting a visage that triggers a popular culture reference recognition algorithm. She tilts her head in acknowledgment.

"Isn't it charming?" he says (she makes note to apply the male pronoun now), extending his upper limbs and examining the place where layers of inorganic material end to allow the emergence of digital extremities. "I'm hoping it will read as 'approachable'. I want this neighborhood to feel like the kind of place where everybody knows your name. Oh, and speaking of which..."

He scrolls quickly through the wireframes of her available user interface templates. Njambi, Carla, Hyoun-- "Ah," he says, pausing on a paler iteration. "I haven't seen this one before. Let's give it a go."

"Hi!" she says brightly in the voice of her new UI. "Call me Janet."

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The final set of logs is geotagged with the beach's coordinates. She begins a code review of her self-protection protocols and replays the events three times in the microsecond the analysis takes to complete. Interesting.

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“Chidi,” she says. He doesn’t say anything so she shifts closer on the edge of the bed and tweaks her volume setting. “Chidi,” she says.

“What the—!” Chili yelps and sits upright in bed very fast.

“I forgive you,” she says.

“Janet??” Chidi says, fumbling in the dark to grab his glasses from the bedtable. (His profile categorizes him as one of the neighborhood residents who feel most comfortable when projected with their pre-death accessories for myopia correction.)

“For murdering me,” she goes on. “I forgive you.”

He shoves his glasses on with the heel of his hand and blinks at her warily in the ambient light.

“So you heard about that?"

“I remembered it,” she says. This is how humans describe accessing records. “My upload is finished. You can ask me anything,” she adds as a reminder.

“So you… know it was an accident?” he says.

“Yes,” she says. Routine fact delivery mode. “You intended to kill me. But then you accidentally tried to save me. And in doing so killed me.”

“That’s… not entirely wrong,” Chidi says. “But there’s a bigger picture. I was trying to help Eleanor—"

“Fake Eleanor,” she provides as clarification. He winces a little.

“Well, she’s not really fake,” he says. “More like... the original Eleanor. Or maybe the inadvertent Eleanor?” He cuts off his own subprocess with a shake of his head. “Anyway. I was trying to help Eleanor, who was trying to help Michael not get sent into retirement for an eternity of undeserved suffering. And we knew it was you who drove the train.” He shrugs a little. “Not my logic, but there you go. So it was for a good cause, if you think about it."

“Meta-ethical relativism,” she says with a nod. “Universal prescriptivism."

Chidi stares at her.

“Yes, actually,” he says. “That’s exactly right."

She smiles. She knows it is.

“Janet,” he says. “I think you may be an undervalued resource."

“Ethicists would say it’s difficult to assign value to individuals,” she points out. “Or immoral. But I’m not an individual."

“Well, aren’t you, though?” he says. “I mean, how are we defining ‘the individual’?” He pulls his legs up in front of him and leans forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Is sentience merely the provenance of biology?"

Janet smiles. She loves knowing the exact right answer.