The Human Genre Project


The Chrome Chromosome

‘You know how Candelaria robots are,’ says the first.
‘I don’t,’ he replies. ‘Tell me.’
‘Meticulous, is one thing. When they set out to replicate a homo sapiens, they do it thoroughly. From the baseline—up.’
He considers this. ‘Where am I?’ he asks.
‘Leonardo.’
But that means nothing. ‘What’s Candelaria?’ he tries. ‘They’re, what: different to regular robots?’
‘See, you know robots.’ says a second voice. ‘Though you don’t know Candelaria.’ One voice, two voices. It’s like he’s talking to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. ‘It’s all in there,’ Tweedledee says. ‘Need to rootle it out. You know your own name?’
He finds he does. ‘Thirteen.’
‘There you go! Keep thinking it through. The Candelaria? Best described, I suppose, as a religion. They self-identify as robots. Most MwO don’t use that vocabulary. But they like the word robots. It’s a homo sapiens word, see.’
‘Doesn’t it mean slave?’
‘You’re definitely starting to remember stuff.’ Tweedledum again. A grin, in the dark, like a crescent moon on its side. The scent of grape. And in his thoughts Thirteen was standing in a vineyard—in an actual, true-to-god vineyard—and it was chilly, and the light was changing. Hail was rattling through the leaves, and the sky was closing. An old world storm. Lightning flashed, but distantly and indistinctly, a shuddering glimmer through the unscattered clouds. Those hailstones were tiny and hard: grit-monsoon.
‘I’m getting,’ says Thirteen. ‘I’m getting memory flashes—.’
‘Is it a memory of sex?’ says Tweedledum. ‘You don’t need to be coy. This business sure makes me remember honest-goodness human sex.’
‘Behave,’ says Tweedledee.
‘I was in the countryside,’ says Thirteen. ‘I was in—’
Tweedledum breaks in: ‘don’t tell me! You’re going to name a place on Earth! Don’t!’ Then, a little sheepishly: ‘I’m superstitious about invoking old Earth. Leave it be, that’s my view. That world is waves, now.’
Thirteen realises he knows this: Earth is all gone, long gone. Countless fathoms deep. And all the rest of what he needs to know is right on the edge of his consciousness. One nudge and it will come. ‘What are MwOs?’
‘That’s the collective term,’ says Tweedledum. ‘They come in all sorts and shapes and sizes. Some as big as cities, steering through the vacuum. Some small as ticks or bugs or asterisks—or smaller.’
Tweedledee chips in. ‘And they manifest all manner of beliefs. Take the Candelaria: they revere homo sapiens. Fancy! I don’t really understand it myself, but that’s what they do. Something about servitude to an ideal of humanity. Building a man, that’s worship for them. But not made out of protein, of course. If they built it out of protein, then it would hardly be a robot, now, would it. They use chrome.’
‘Chrome?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t know. Not literal chrome, I guess.’
‘Literal chrome!’ scoffs Tweedledee.
‘But it has to do with the old sapient hombres, and what they thought a robot should look like. Shiny, shiny, mirror shiny. Durable, you know? It’s not that the Candelaria are committed to being everlasting, or anything. It’s about what they reckon men and women would expect robots to be. So they build, from the ground up. Here are the 46 chromosomes, and instead of protein molecules they use mirror-shiny dense little beads of computronium. Instead of these glued-togther filaments of tissue, its shiny regular nano-strands of computronium. All-metal chromosomes, strands neatly linked together and folded in Xs and Ys.’
‘Like zippers,’ says Tweedledee.
‘Teeny-tiny computronium zippers. And they encode all the stuff old sapient-hombre DNA encodes, the four bases, the ancient alphabet. But that’s a ridiculous underuse of the material, isn’t it? What, computronium? Like taking a bunch of old computer circuit boards and arranging them in the shape of roman numerals. They can do much more! So they scrupulously, reproduce all the As and Ds and whatnots of human DNA, but also they make full use of the computronium’s processing capacity. And even a miniscule strand of computronium has more computational potential than all the …’
Tweedledee interrupts. ‘You’re boring. You’re boring me. Ergo you’re boring him.’
Thirteen says: ‘Metal? A metal organism? Cells?’
‘Nano-smart membranes. Sort-of metal.’
‘Metal blood?’
‘Little metallic blood cells, shiny as silver, hurtling round in a lubricating medium, like little shiny coins. No need to transport any oxygen, of course; but they copy all the organs. And each one with a trillion-bit computational capacity! Plasmetal artery and vein walls—it’s as flexible as organic tissue, but much tougher. Cunningly designed Campbellonium bones. The whole thing.’
‘And the whole thing …’ Thirteen says.
‘You know everything we know,’ says Dum. ‘Come on! You’re being lazy now.’
‘Leonardo,’ says Thirteen.
‘He’s the man.’
‘He’s—a cathedral.’
‘You know,’ said Dee. ‘That’s not a bad way of thinking about it. Because although he is a man, he’s also an act of Candelaria devotion. Religious devotion. Constructing a version of the old sapient hombre, sure: life size, ready to walk and learn to talk and all that. But building him so that every cell in his body runs an accurate simulation of one or other lost human. One or other person drowned when the world died.’
Thirteen remembers the vineyard. That storm had been the beginning of something bad.
‘Cathedral nothing.’ Dee sounds genuinely angry ‘Leonardo’s a zoo. A prison. A freak show. Who are these robots to bring us back to consciousness? To lock us up here? Who gave them the right?’
As if triggered by this anger, Thirteen’s memory washes back through him. It’s all there. He knows that Leonardo contains the detailed computronium-run consciousnesses of millions of people; and that when Leonardo comes into the world, out of this comforting dark, every one of them will access his senses, his joys and all his experiences—access them all separately, and live again; but also access them collectively, as a single transcendent man to make mankind live again. And he knows that the robots made Leonardo as an homage; an act of piety to honour a vanished form of life. And he knows Tweedledum and Tweedledee. ‘You,’ he says, to Dum, ‘are Thirteen.’
‘I am.’
‘And you,’ to Dee. ‘You are Thirteen.’
‘Me too, yes. We’re you. We’re one another.’
‘Who am I?’
‘You’re Trisomy Thirteen, that’s who you are,’ says Tweedledum-Thirteen. ‘You’re a third iteration of us. Because we figured …’
‘…we figured, you know—fuck them.’
‘Robots! Ugh.’
‘We thought—who gave them permission to conjure us into this computronium mode of consciousness? Who gave them the right? They think they’re doing us a favour? They think this is an act of piety? It’s playing god. Fucking robots!’
‘It wasn’t easy,’ says Tweedledee-Thirteen. ‘Using their own technology against them. But we did it. We made you. Let’s see how that pans out in their precious Leonardo.’
‘After us,’ says Tweedledum-Thirteen, ‘the deluge.’

Trisomy 13 occurs when each cell in the body has three, instead of the usual two, copies of chromosome 13. Trisomy 13 can also result from an extra copy of chromosome 13 in only some of the body's cells (this is known as mosaic trisomy 13). Extra material from chromosome 13 disrupts the course of normal development, causing the characteristic signs and symptoms of trisomy 13. Researchers are not yet certain how this extra genetic material leads to the features of the disorder, which include severely abnormal cerebral functions, a small cranium, retardation, non functional eyes and heart defects.

Adam Roberts