Escape Pod 398: Subversion


by Elisabeth R. Adams

I knew, by his crossed arms, the way he rolled his eyes at himself, and particularly by the pale translucence of all three of him, that I was looking at a classic case of version conflict.

“I said stay away from her,” said one I decided to call Art. Nicknames help. Thick square rims, a jaunty fedora, a crisp T-shirt for a concert by a band that broke up before he hit preschool. He was yelling at a paler self in a white collared shirt and slacks. They were trailed by a bored looking him in sunglasses.

“What seems to be the problem, sir?” I asked. Rule number one: stick to the singular.

“I can’t get him to commit,” said Slacks.

I scanned his chip. Eduardo Martin, 34, programmer. No spouse or kids, but adoption records from the county shelter for two cats. Sealed tax records, a social security number, mortgage history. Subversion Inc. member for five years, currently version 4.1. Definitely the primary.

“And your subversion?”

Art glared at Eduardo, but extended his arm. Eduardo Martin, 34, barista. Same social security number. A different home address. And, most intriguingly, he was listed as version 1.0.

“You see?” said Eduardo.

“Let me check.” I ran through Art’s commit log. “Says you branched off from 2.5, hmm, two years ago. That’s a bit long. Company policy recommends no more than six months between full reconciles. Probably caused some glitch in the occupation and version number.”

“It’s not a glitch,” said Art. “I want to apply for Emancipated Branch status.”

“No, no, no,” said Eduardo. He flailed his arms and paced. He looked even paler up close, but maybe that was the fluorescent shop lights. “You’re nothing without me, nothing!”

“Um, Eddie?” the third Eduardo spoke up. He gently caught his arms before he knocked over a tray of pamphlets. “Calm down, man.”

I had not paid him much attention, as he was clearly a very minor sub. A Watcher. The part of yourself you spin off to be your own lookout. I had one of my own parked in front of my boss’s door, waiting for his meeting to end. It was easy to forget about watchers, if you weren’t careful.

And Eduardo was not a careful man. I searched his record. No fewer than ten versions out, though none older than two weeks. Except for Art.

“Sir, we strongly recommend against having more than four subs at a time,” I said. “Having too many threads often leads to, ah, complicated reconciliations.”

“You see?” said Art. “Accept it, it’s over. Just let me branch.”

“Out of the question!” said Eduardo. His expression froze.

On my screen, I could see that one of his subs had just been checked in, reconciled, checked out again. This one was located at his office.

I smiled sympathetically. “Couldn’t get time off?”

“That’s why I signed up,” he said. “‘I’ just sat through a two hour meeting, and this is the first time anyone even mentioned my name. Best sub I ever made.” He glared at Art.

The version he’d just spawned contained a bare sliver of Eduardo, less than 1%. A bunch of his subs were really low-level. I smiled at the comments for 4.1.12: “laser pointer and cat handling motor functions.” Current location: his apartment.

Several versions were more substantial. “Over half of your left brain is checked out to a single sub at your office,” I said.

“How else am I going to get any work done while dealing with this mess?”

“And you have another fifteen percent, mostly childhood memories, sitting in an upscale restaurant downtown?”

He sighed. “My grandfather.” He saw my frown. “Hey, I’d be there in primary, but he’s got Alzheimer’s. My whole self just can’t take it. I always commit right after his cab ride home.”

I nodded. I remembered the ad. “If you die inside at Uncle Fred’s diatribes… next time leave the best of you at home!” It had a catchy jingle.

“And there’s another major version at the apartment of a Ms. Megan Smith.” The precise submodules checked out were under privacy controls. They seemed to involve a lot of fine motor controls and muscle memory.

“What?” said Art. He grabbed my terminal and stared at the screen. “You bastard!” He swung at Eduardo, but Watcher caught his arm and stepped between them.

“Please, sir, there is no call for violence,” I said. I spawned another runner to find my boss, now. “Reconciliation can be painful, but that is why you have wisely opted for the full warranty.”

Art didn’t really want a fight. “We had an agreement,” he said. Eduardo wouldn’t look at him.

“That’s why he made me, you know,” he told me. “Something was always coming up at work. Megan was threatening to leave.”

I tapped some more. Art had an impressive slice of Eduardo. His wine knowledge. His favorite night clubs. Politics, current events, his favorite novels and television shows. I was right about the art part, too. Eduardo had ceded his knowledge of pop music and his college poetry. Though when I peeked at the logs I saw that none of him had accessed the poetry in years.

Something was odd. “I don’t see the original for this salsa module.”

“That’s mine,” said Art. “I picked that up with Megan, on my own.”

I frowned. “Company policy…”

“… discourages subversions from learning entirely new skill pathways without authorization by the primary version,” Art read off the sign posted behind me.

‘Whatever it takes to keep her happy,’ said the comment field on Art’s creation two years, one month, three days, and nine hours ago.

I looked further back. Similar comments littered older versions. Some of the earliest included skills like beer pong and guitar, which were even more neglected than the poetry. Eventually, Eduardo hit upon a stable set of subroutines, and spun them out regularly, an evening here, a long weekend there. One was up for over two weeks. “The Loire Valley,” said Eduardo with a smile.

Art smiled too. A shared memory. Interesting.

“So can you do it?” asked Eduardo. “I need that side of me back. Megan’s my girlfriend.”

“Maybe,” I said. “This happens more often than you’d think. This is why we recommend regular checks on your subversions. We do offer a courtesy reminder system…”

“Yeah, yeah, I turned it off,” said Eduardo. “It was too annoying.”

Just then my boss walked in. Took him long enough. By his shimmer I could tell he’d sent only the minimum legal requirement, ten percent. It was a busy afternoon.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“I think we may need to revert,” I said. He grimaced.

“What?” said Eduardo. “Hey, nobody said anything about reversion. I thought you said you could reconcile.”

“‘Almost always’,” said Art, pointing to the fine print of the wall sign.

My boss used his key to pull up additional details. “So, after version 2.7.3 got back from France, you made a backup before reconciling it into 2.8. Is that correct?”

Eduardo got a distant expression. Probably calling in a memory from some other self. “Yes,” he said after a pause.

“But then, in contradiction of company policy, you did not delete 2.7.3 within twenty-four hours,” my boss continued. “Three days after that commit, in fact, you sent 2.7.3 out with Ms. Smith to, hmm, the opera?”

“Cyrano de Bergerac,” said Art. “The boss pulled him into a meeting on his way out the door. I still had the French, and he didn’t have time to create a new version.” He hummed a few bars.

Eduardo said nothing.

“And then, after the opera, you made no contact with that subversion for six months?” My boss raised his eyebrows. Running a long sub was not unheard of; but who doesn’t check in on themselves?

“We had a big launch approaching,” said Eduardo. “Megan was happy, and it was just easier…”

“Not for me,” said Art. “He didn’t give me keys to the apartment, or any employable skills. I had to find a job, get my own place.”

“You want to branch?” said Eduardo, exasperated. “Fine, branch, what do I care? I don’t need you. But you can’t have Megan.”

I was afraid of another fistfight, but then my boss jabbed at the screen.

“Mr. Martin,” he said, “I am afraid that in your case the only alternative to a major reversion is to branch. You have nullified the terms of contract by regularly allowing yourself to fall below the recommended majority share. In fact, if we don’t count the subs you currently have, let me see, updating your Facebook page and posting to reddit, you don’t even control a plurality now.”

“No, that can’t be right,” said Eduardo. He looked scared. He tried to count how much of himself was elsewhere, but he couldn’t make it add up.

He slumped. “How far back?”

“Since before the split,” I said softly. Two years.

He was thinking about it. I’d been working the support desk for six years. I’d seen self-destructive behavior before, husbands and wives wiping out the last day or week or month, only to return when things had built back up to the same point. I kept business cards for a few therapists on hand, for the really hopeless cases. Though in the end, it was always the account holder’s decision.

Art got a call. “Hey babe,” he said. “Yeah, we’re in the store now. He’s talking reversion, but I don’t think it’ll come to that.”

Meanwhile, Eduardo began calling in subs. Facebook and reddit checked in first, then Cat Toy. Watcher gave a shrug and dissolved. But he didn’t touch any of the major subs, the ones who were running his life.

“So what’s this I hear about your lunch break?” said Art. A pause, then he laughed. “Wait, you sent how much? He must have flipped! Listen, I’ll call you when I’m free and we can go celebrate. Uh huh. Love you too.”

Eduardo hadn’t heard a word of Art’s conversation, but he looked stricken.

“She broke up with me,” he said. I noticed a new commit for the sub in Megan’s apartment. A hefty chunk, too: he looked more solid. That’s how I could see he was shaking.

“She sent less than one percent of herself, to tell me we were done…” He started crying. I gave him a tissue.

I set him up with a reversion package. It went back a week, to just before he decided to take back his relationship with Megan. I helped him record the message to himself, explaining that it was all over with her, but leaving the cause vague. He picked a commit from right after he’d finished a big project at work, and left with a smile on his face.

His other subversions would trickle in later that evening, which meant I would pick up some overtime making sure they committed smoothly. I didn’t anticipate any problems.

My boss, meanwhile, was talking with our new customer. “Welcome to Subversion, Mr. Martin,” he said. “Or would you like a new name? No? Keeps things simple. If you will just authorize here, and here, we can complete your official registration. You should get your social security card in the mail in a few days. Now let’s talk support plans. For only $59.99 a month you can get the basic package, which includes twenty-four hour customer support. Or perhaps you might consider our deluxe option…”

Another happy customer.