Horizon: Rebuilt Ch. 4

After two and a half more hours the leukosynths had sufficiently patched up Horizon’s digestive system that her medical systems gave her the all clear to ingest something. It was well after most of the people at the Friendly Society had taken their meals, but that suited her. She usually preferred to eat alone anyways, too many people gave odd looks at the large plates she tended to pile up, especially if they were aware of her augmentations.

Jenny accompanied her to the canteen and started ordering several hot meat pies and cold teas from the vending machines, as well as a mineral shake that Horizon grudgingly accepted after mixing in a large dose of sugar and smokeweed powder. When they sat down Horizon immediately grabbed a pie before the squirrel tried to start a conversation, “so, has Sam said anything else?”

Horizon finished the pie in three large bites before answering her, “not really. I tasked her with analyzing my systems before I went to talk with the coordinators.” It was only a small lie, she told herself. That thing had been inside her long enough that she barely thought of it as anything but another FedTech implant.

“You spoke with the coordinators?” Jenny asked with surprise. “Not just coordinator Taranda? About what?”

The raccoon sighed, “they want me to work solo until further notice.”

Jenny blinked, trying to process her girlfriend’s statement. “What? But you’ve been great. Is this about the guy who got his legs fried?”

“It’s more about Bill getting impaled,” Horizon started to explain. “Apparently people tend to get hurt a lot more often when I’m on a mission.”

“Of course they do!” Jenny shouted. “You go on the riskiest missions because you’re able to survive better than anyone else in the Society.”

Horizon nodded. “Unfortunately, they seem to think that piece of debris that went straight into my cockpit seemed targeted. Like somebody is out to get me.”

The squirrel gasped, “wait. Like maybe the Company is trying to kill you off?”

“Or Princeps,” the raccoon countered. “I still have no idea if he survived or not.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Jenny conceded. “But wouldn’t he know that a little piece of rusty metal wouldn’t do more than inconvenience you for a few hours?”

Horizon shrugged, “if it hit the right spot, it might be a bit worse. My head for instance.”

Jenny paused and thought for a minute, “I don’t know, maybe?”

Tanya blinked, “what do you mean? Maybe?”

“Well…” Jenny trailed off as she tried to find the right words. “I saw some of the video of them pouring you out of the escape capsule and…”

“What?” Horizon inquired.

Jenny sighed, “your skull looked well, crushed.”

“Crushed!?” the raccoon stood up, shaking the table.

“Yeah…” the squirrel scratched her ears in clear discomfort. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Horizon’s eyes narrowed as she stared down at someone she’d considered a friend, lover even. “What, happened?” she demanded.

“It…” Jenny’s gaze fell, after a minute she started making gestures with her hands that Horizon recognized as actions to use her brain-computer interface, much more primitive than the FedTech in her own brain. “It would be simpler if I showed you.”

Horizon saw a data file pop up in her HUD and after a second’s consideration accepted it. It turned out to be a set of videos, she found the earliest dated one and opened it.

She saw from the perspective of a chest camera as the wearer finished sawing open a mangled airlock door. As the detached panel floated away, she saw a familiar, yet different sight. The cockpit of the Dustbin was strewn with debris and loose instruments, and the space seemed even more cramped than usual as the ceiling panel seemed to have partially caved in, but the flexible layers had kept the air seal.

And then there was the blood, garnet spheres floating everywhere, with the occasional chunk of tougher unidentifiable gore. “Wow, what a mess,” the camera’s wearer commented dryly. “Pretty sure nobody could survive this.”

The camera moved onto the remnants of the pilot’s chair and Horizon tensed. There was nothing in it but a patch of red slime in the vague shape of a parahuman body, some metallic bits poking out of the sludge. Some of the metal bits were shaped like bones, her breath caught as she spied a small sphere in the middle of where her torso would have been, but the rest were so pulverized as to be nigh-unidentifiable.

“Huh,” the hapless aid worker laid a finger on a bluish-silver femur, one of the few bones to completely maintain its shape through sheer mass. “I heard that spacers used to coat their bones in titanium, didn’t know anyone-” he stopped and yanked his finger back as blackish blood flowed up the length of the bone and a pseudopod of gore reached half-heartedly for him.

“Control, did you see that?!” He reared back and the camera saw several of the larger floating droplets extend spider-web like filaments in all directions. When the filaments encountered smaller droplets, they climbed the line up to unite with the larger ones. The filaments of two larger droplets intersected and both shot out thick tendrils of blood that pulled one another closer. “Holy scat!”

The camera turned towards the head of the smear-like corpse and Horizon saw a bowl of metallic bone assemble itself around a pool of gelatinous gore, then cover itself with a thick plate that began to sprout teeth. “Get me out of here!” the camera’s wearer begged. “Get me out!”

Horizon closed the video, shock showing in her eyes.

Jenny nodded, “like I said. Hard to describe.”

Horizon took in a series of long, but halting breaths. “What happened to him?” she asked.

Jenny looked confused for a few moments before catching on. “Oh, you mean the recovery guy? He’s fine, physically at least.”

“Define ‘fine’?” Horizon asked.

“Well, he had a spacesuit on,” Jenny waved with a finger as she reviewed the relevant files. “So, he was protected from whatever was in your blood. After peeling it off him they burned the suit with a fusion torch, shaved him, and put him through three decontamination showers just to be sure.” Her eye twitched and she gave a slight wince as she read, “ooh, acidic and basic showers? That couldn’t be pleasant.”

“What happened to my brain?!” Horizon exclaimed as the image of the pink gelatin-like mass in her reassembling skull came back unbidden.

Jenny just shrugged, “no idea. Maybe your leukosynths saved a copy of your brain structure somewhere and rebuilt it from backup? Maybe they moved it somewhere else? Maybe they transformed it into some high-tech nanogel?”

Tanya shook as she sat back down. “What did they do to me? Am I still the same raccoon you knew in school? Am I some kind of clone?”

A red panda appeared on the table, sitting with her legs crossed. “You are Tanya Loter of the raccoon clan, alias Horizon. Nobody is the same person they were a decade ago, or even the day before.”

“What do you mean, nobody is the same person they were the day before?” Horizon snapped at her AI.

“Well,” Sam scratched her chin in thought. “Have you heard of the Ship of Theseus paradox?”

“No,” Horizon retorted.

Jenny looked around the room as Horizon spoke, evidently not seeing the panda on the table. “Are you talking to Sam again? I thought you said she was busy?”

“My sensors indicated you were experiencing an identity crisis and I put the analysis on pause,” Sam replied. “By the way, she didn’t hear that, I thought you’d like some privacy.”

“She dropped everything to help, and we’d appreciate a bit of privacy,” Horizon relayed, then switched to subvocalization. What is a Ship of Theseus and how is it relevant here?

“Okay,” Sam held up a hand and a boat made of brown material with a large sail like some oligarch’s maritime pleasure craft appeared in her hand. “Back on Old Terra there was a hero named Theseus. He sailed to an island to slay a monster that threatened his city-state and when he came back his people put his ship in a museum.”

As Horizon watched, the view of the ship zoomed in on a deck plate of the ship, which began to warp and splinter before her eyes. “The ship’s plates were made out of, oh your language is so limited, trees, which would rot over time…”

Why would they waste trees on building ships? Horizon thought.

Sam sighed, “because it was a natural planet during the Bronze Age. Trees were in abundance and easier to work with than any metals they knew how to use. Anyways, as these plates rotted,” the plate was removed, and a fresh plate of tree material was put in its place. “The curators replaced them with fresh plates.”

And? Horizon was starting to wonder if she’d ever get to the point.

“After a couple hundred years the people of Theseus’ city-state became known for their philosophical tradition, and his ship became the subject of many discussions.” The view of the ship zoomed back out and the old, warped ship rippled and was new again. “Once every plate and nail were replaced with new ones, was it still the same ship that had carried their hero?”

I think, Horizon paused mid-sentence. She thought she’d known but as she started to think about it she wasn’t sure.

“Anyways, about two thousand years later human medical science advanced to the point where the paradox had a new subject.” The ship disappeared and was replaced by a human outline with transparent skin, “the human body.”

You mean augmentation? Horizon suggested.

“Possibly even before that,” the human outline zoomed in on a wall of cells, bisected by a streaming blood vessel. “After the cell was discovered, it was realized that individual cells died rather frequently.”

As Horizon watched a cell shriveled up and disintegrated, only for a neighboring cell to split off a new cell to replace it. The process repeated itself elsewhere in the view, over and over again. I had no idea, Horizon thought in astonishment.

“Given the state of the Tiere System I’m surprised you even have surgeons,” Sam quipped. “Anyways, multicellular organisms are apparently squishy Ships of Theseus’s. You would have thought that would settle the issue, but apparently it didn’t. It took the invention of mind cloning to settle that.”

Mind cloning is real then?

“Yes, but highly illegal.” The view of the human shape moved up to the brain, a chunk of which disappeared and was replaced by a metallic box with wires that snaked around the rest of the brain. “The first radical brain implants caused significant changes in behavior that led people to believe that the pre-implant person was dead and replaced with a new person. But that was fixed as brain scans were improved and implants were designed that could exactly replicate the function of the removed neurons. Cyborgs were conclusively the same person.”

A second human outline appeared next to the first one, “clones, on the other hand…”

I’m guessing they were not the same person as their original?

“No, they were not,” one of the outlines took on a reddish hue while the other turned bluish. “Clones would experience near-constant identity crises as they wondered if they were the same as their progenitor. When the progenitor was still alive and did something differently the clone was forced to accept that they were different. While post-mortem clones constantly second-guessed themselves, asking if what they wanted to do was what they would have done before the brain scan that created them.”

And what about me? Horizon inquired. Did you clone my brain to fill my rebuilt skull?

“No,” Sam asserted. “We repaired it.”

Repaired from what? the raccoon demanded. All I could see was soup in my open skull.

“More of a microbot-infused protoplasm,” Sam tried to explain. “Once the skull was closed your leukosynths took the materials that your brain had been composed of and reassembled them into a working brain.”

Horizon thought for a couple minutes, she chewed absently through another couple meat pies before coming up with something new to add. You said that brain implants could replicate the functions of the brain parts they replaced. How much of my brain is implants?

“Classified!” Sam’s tail shot towards Horizon’s face and shouted at her, causing the raccoon’s hairs to stand up on end.

“Sorry,” the panda started stroking the fur of her tail to try and coax it into calming down. “That information’s locked behind multiple clearance barriers, even I don’t know the answer.”

Horizon stared down the fanged mouth on the end of the AI’s tail, once she was over her initial shock, she had a question for it. Who has clearance for that information?

The tail replied in a deep and assertive voice, “mission commander Irvine Lupus is the only individual in this system who can unlock that information.”

Her first thought towards this reply was annoyance, she didn’t know whether Princeps was alive or dead and he was still giving her orders. That got her wondering though, what if the commander is permanently dead?

“Command and clearance devolve onto lieutenant commander Melene Corus.”

And if she is dead?

“Captain Tanya Loter is to take command.”

A grin crossed Horizon’s face.

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