What am I?

John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Sun, 19 Jul 1998 21:10:06 -0700 (PDT)


As you might imagine this is not the first time the question of identity has come up on the Extropian list, a while back I told the list in three posts about an adventure I had in that regard. Despite all the trouble it caused me the first time I figure this might be a good time to tell my story again.

It all started when I posted a message on the Internet, I knew it wasn't a prudent thing to do but I needed some advice and it's not the sort of thing I could write to Ann Landers about. You see, About a year ago I started building a matter duplicating machine. It could find the position and velocity of every atom in a human being to the limit imposed by Heisenberg's law. It then used that information to construct a copy, and it does it all in a fraction of a second and without harming the original in any way. You may be surprised that I was able to build such a complicated machine, but you wouldn't be if you knew how good I am with my hands. The birdhouse I made is simply lovely and I have all the latest tools from Sears.

I was a little nervous but I decided to test the machine by duplicating myself. The day before yesterday I walked into the chamber, it filled with smoke (damn those radio shack transformers) there was a flash of light, and then 3 feet to my left was a man who looked exactly like me. It was at that instant that the full realization of the terrible thing I had done hit me. I yelled "This is monstrous, there can only be one of me", my double yelled exactly the same thing. I thought he was trying to mock me, so I reached for my 44 magnum that I always carry with me (I wonder why people think I'm strange) and pointed it at him. I noted with alarm that my double also had found a gun and he was pointed it at me. I shouted "you don't have the guts to pull the trigger, but I do". Again he mimicked my words and did so in perfect synchronization, this made me even more angry. I pulled the trigger, he did too, my gun went off, his gun jammed, I buried him in my back yard.

Now that my anger has cooled and I can think more clearly I've had some pangs of conscious about killing a living creature, but that's not what really torments me. How do I know I'm not the copy? I feel exactly the same as before, but would a copy feel different? Actually there is a way to be certain, I have a video tape of the entire experiment. My memory is that the copy first appeared 3 feet to my LEFT, if the tape shows the original walking into the chamber and the copy materializing 3 feet to his RIGHT, then I would know that I am the copy.

I'm afraid to look at the tape, should I be? If I found out I was the copy what should I do? I suppose I should morn the death of John K Clark, but how can I, I'm not dead. If I am the copy would that mean that I have no real past and my life is meaningless? Is it important, or should I just burn the tape and forget all about it?

The day after I posted my little adventure with my duplicating machine the shit really hit the fan. My Private Protection Agency (PPA) the Acme Protection Agency found out about it, and I'd love to know which one of you guys squealed to them. Anyway, they were hounding me constantly, following me around and asking all sorts of embarrassing questions. I tried to explain to them that nobody really died because no consciousness was stopped or even interrupted, but they weren't impressed with my arguments. All they were interested in was that there was a dead body and it had John K Clark's DNA and John K Clark was one of their clients. I picked Acme originally because they were a honest, tough no nonsense organization, but now I wished I had picked a PPA that had a more philosophical bent. The fact that Acme also had capital punishment didn't seem as appealing as it once did either. Acme was really starting to annoy me, but I don't suppose I'd be much better off back in the olden days when Nation states still existed and took care of police work.

I knew that if I was going to do something I had to do it quickly. My lawyer told me I should expect to be arrested in the next few days. He said that my best bet was to plead self defense, but he didn't seem very optimistic, and even if I eventually won it would take years and every dime I had in legal bills. I had a better idea, it would solve things in one day and it would only cost half my money, but I would have to do something I'd been dreading first. I looked at the video tape, my worst fears were confirmed, I am the copy, no doubt about it. This sort of threw me for a loop at first, but I gradually got used to the idea, and now realized that I feel just the same so it can't possibly make any difference.

I set up my video camera so it covered the entrance to the duplicating chamber but was careful to make sure that this time it couldn't see into the chamber itself. I turned on my duplicating machine and walked into the chamber, a few seconds later I walked out but there was somebody with me, somebody who looked just like me. I sent the tape to Acme and they dropped all charges against me. They had no choice, Acme may be tough but no PPA will prosecute someone if they know there is a 50% probability they are innocent. They have no way of knowing which one of us killed the original John K Clark even we don't know that.

Well, this solved one problem but it created another one, the double. I've tried to be broad minded about it, really I have, but the man is just obnoxious. Mr. Know-it-all is always droning on and on about the stupidest things, and he thinks he's SO smart, personally I think he's a moron. Just as I feared he says he deserves at least half of my money, but I'm the one who made it not him, I remember how I earned every dollar. I don't like the way he looks at my girlfriend either.

This entire experience has made me a wiser man. I now understand the value of subtlety, putting a bullet in the brain of the original John Clark was stupid. I also understand that the world is a dangerous place and that dreadful accidents happen every day. How very sad.

I'm looking at the jerk right now and he has an insufferable grin on his face. I don't know why he's looking so smug but that's OK, let him grin while he can, it won't last long. I know exactly how to deal with him, and to think, people used to say that I understood machines but not people. I'll soon prove them wrong.

It looks like he's also writing a post but I can't quite make out from here what he's saying, probably just a bunch of pretentious nonsense, I'll read it when I come back, right now I've got to drive into town to get some supplies. I'll be mighty happy when summer comes, I do so hate driving on these icy mountain roads.

I had decided that the only way to get Acme Protection Agency off my back was to make a duplicate of myself, that way they couldn't tell which one killed the original John K Clark so they couldn't prosecute either one of us. I walked into the chamber expecting to see my double materialize next to me, but nothing happened. Terrified that the machine was malfunctioning I ran to the control panel, one of these days I've got to figure out a way to build a matter duplicating machine without using 89 pounds of enriched plutonium. To my surprise I could not find anything wrong with the machine, then I noticed I wasn't alone. A large tough looking man was staring at me.

"What the hell! How did you get in here?" I yelled at him.

"Oh, sorry, sorry, didn't mean to offend, ah, are you John K Clark" He

For a tough looking guy he was sure acting like a wimp. I never could intimidate big gorillas like this guy, but I guess those assertiveness training tapes I bought on the home shopping network were paying off after all.

"Yea I'm Clark and who the hell are you" I said in the tough man voice the
tapes had taught me.

Then I noticed it was dark outside, 5 minutes before when I walked into the chamber it was about noon.

" What's going on?" I said, not sounding quite so tough.

" Oh I'm sorry, my name is Spade, Sam Spade, I'm a private investigator,
I work for Acme, but don't worry I'm not here to arrest you or anything. Ten and a half days have passed since you walked into that chamber, and there is nothing wrong with your machine, it's sort of hard to explain but the fact is, I used the machine's maintenance logs to reconstruct you 5 minutes ago, just as you were the last time you used the machine, 10 and a half days ago."

For some, finding out they were a copy of a copy would be big news, but for me it was getting to be old hat. What was amazing was that some gum shoe had done it, and from the maintenance log! The information on the state of the machine and thus on every object I had ever duplicated is in those computer logs, but the format of the logs would make it difficult to extract because that's not what they were made for. I never used them for anything except troubleshooting the machine.

"My congratulations Mr. Spade" I said " it's not every private eye that has a
good enough working knowledge of Schrodinger's Wave Equation, quantum coherence and non linear error correcting codes to read those logs correctly".

"Yeah well... I got an A in shop class when I was a kid" He said with a touch
of pride.

"Oh, well that explains it." I said " But what's been going on for the last
10 days?"

"The copy of John K Clark did duplicate himself," Spade said " but apparently
the two versions didn't get along".

"My third wife always said I was a hard man to live with" I said a little

"Both Clarks are dead, and they died at almost exactly the same time, it
could be accidental, but the deaths are a little suspicious, especially when you consider two almost identical posts made to the to the Internet by them that are somewhat incriminating. One Clark was found in his car at the bottom of a thousand foot cliff. The roads were icy, but the brake lines didn't look quite right to me. The other Clark was found crushed under a Coke machine. The consensus is that he put in his 50 cents and when it didn't give him his Coke he started beating on it until the machine tipped over on him and fractured his skull. Well maybe, but that machine was heavy, I tried, I could not tip it over and I'm bigger than he was. I think they killed each other, they were similar enough to want to kill each other but diverged enough in 10 days to chose different methods".

"Now you can't blame that on me" I said indignity, " I know nothing about it,
I didn't even exist then, well not exactly..."

"Nobody's blaming you" Spade said soothingly " and you are still one of our
clients, so when I mentioned the maintenance logs in my report my boss said we were legally bound to make a good faith effort to revive you, so he told me to give it a try and do my best."

He brought out a document from his coat " I am also authorized to offer you this deal, Acme agrees not to prosecute you in any manner for this incident and to seal the case file, there are those who might find it, ah, titillating. In return, you absolve Acme of any liability in this matter and agree to resign from The Acme Protection agency within 5 working days. The unused portion of your premium will of course be refunded.

Now you can't beat that deal with a stick, I signed the paper before they could change their mind.

"I want to thank you Mr. Spade for bringing me back." I said " Can I offer

you a drink?"                                      

He was already heading for his car at a trot "Thanks but no" He said " I've got this, this important thing I've got to do, It's ah, a thing of importance, I've got to, ah, wash the lawn, I mean mow the dog, I mean... good-bye".

I'm afraid our Mr.Spade is a bit of an oddball, I seem to run across more and more people like him lately.

As I stood there amid the smell of burning rubber a disturbing thought occurred to me, it was a pretty tricky job to get all the information about me just from the maintenance logs, was I really OK, had Spade gotten everything right? I've always been good at mental arithmetic so I gave myself a test, 5 and 8 is 13, 19 minus 6 is 12, 8 times 9 is 73. Right on the money! That was reassuring.

I must be John K Clark, I have all of his memories, I remembered the happy day in my childhood when I joined the Vladimer Lenin fan club and received an autographed 8 by 10 glossy of the master that has hung in a place of honor in my bedroom until it disappeared that very day. Spade must of stolen it. I remembered my triumphant election as the head of SHIT (Stop Heretical Independent Thoughts) and how I had always hated Science. The memory of the time I played Twister in The Kremlin with Marilyn Monroe, J Edgar Hoover and the Dalai Lama while the Pope serenaded us with a lovely rendition of Louie Louie, is as sharp in my mind as the day it happened.

Clearly there was nothing wrong with my mind, but what about my body? I looked at myself in a mirror and I don't want to brag or anything but I looked great! My skin was a nice healthy blue, the scales on my tail were strong and sharper than ever. I smiled, what women wouldn't fall for that infectious grin and the handsome green slime that oozed out between my fangs and fell artistically to the floor.

                               THE END

Version: 2.6.i

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