Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A House Divided (2017)

To fit the image of the perfect corporate trainee, to grapple with all the demands of modern life without cracking under pressure, Cameron Chang, the up-and-coming young San Vino management postgrad, enters into a standard mental timeshare agreement with Craig Gonzalez. Like many of his peers in the film, Cameron faces a barrage of expectations: the plot is set in 2078, and although he's been designed for success--6'1", gently pointed blue almond eyes, a balanced 190 lbs. and a metabolism that ensures he stays near there, rakish black hair, attractive smile--Cameron faces tough competition to stay at his peak. He has to manage a punishing social life, stay physically and mentally active, shake hands and take power vacations, and keep on top of the ebb and flow of thousands of firms, both large and small. At home, things are almost as rough. Husbands, kids, school, community mentoring program (mandatory by then--Cameron, like everyone else above a certain income level, provides rooms and boards and mentors a different at-risk youth every month), senior partnership program, and sufficient relaxation time to convince his iBrain that he doesn't need to be referred to a less important career or the psychiatric wellness center down south in Frisco.

Mental timeshare was the obvious fit. By hosting Craig Gonzalez, Cameron was able to place his conscious mind in dormancy, first just during his sleep cycles, then here and there throughout the day. Craig had to give up his own body, but he was well compensated, and the irrevocable contract guaranteed that Craig would never again go hungry or neglected. Craig could experience all the sensations that were previously denied to him, albeit as a passenger in Cameron's mind, unable to control bodily actions except during Cameron's rest periods. The first week was like Heaven to Craig, who had never before driven a million-dollar sports car, screwed an everyoung partner, or eaten pureganic food hand-prepared by a private chef.

The little conveniences were just as important to Cameron. For Craig, it was a palatial treat to take a long wash in Cameron's granite master shower with rainfall faucets, massage nubs, and undercarriage spray. But Cameron preferred to put "his" partition of Cameron's brain into REM during mundane activities like washing, shaving, or taking a dump.

Once the initial excitements and uncertainties had been worked out, Craig and Cameron settled into a mutually beneficial arrangement, per the terms of the earlier contract that Cameron's lawyer and Craig's public fiduciary had prepared: while Cameron negotiated high-end financial transactions, Craig's partition slept. The instant work ended, Craig took over, handling locking up the office, going to the garage, and driving home. Cameron stepped back in for chat with the husbands and a brief goodnight to the kids, then returned to his partition to play minigames and catch some more sleep while Craig cleaned up, ate dinner, and fooled around in the sack. Mentally fresh, Craig would head to the basement gym and work out; he'd take out the trash, run the parental correct on the kids' homework, do the yoga VRs that Cameron never had time for, and walk the dog at dawn.

On the weekends, Cameron crunched files in his side of the head while Craig handled racquetball, cello recitals, and suppers with the boss. Cameron's performance went way up, his billable hours reaching the legal weekly maximum without any errors, his smile fresh and genuine, while Craig covered the casual happy hours with frenemies from the office. Cameron's star rose, the pointless distractions all gone, while Craig's easy banter kept them in good relationships where it mattered. Every few days, Cameron would run through everything Craig had done during his dormancy periods, and found that Craig had taken up boxing and lacrosse, made some important contacts at a new health club, and had a foot in the door for a powerful exit strategy. When the cook was making something Cameron really enjoyed, he would sometimes take over the eating, but he could always review the data later if it really mattered.

That isn't to say there weren't some downsides. Occasionally Craig would get bitter when Cameron would suddenly jump in during something Craig had been enjoying. Every so often, Cameron wouldn't recall a memory or person quickly enough to avoid a touch of embarrassment, and would have to hastily rouse Craig from minigames or sleep, and to demand to know who so-and-so was, or what the password was for the Borgstrom file, or something like that. One of Cameron's husbands even left after a big fight over how it was impossible to tell "who he was in love with anymore anyway," but no one else was such an ass about it, and timeshares were getting cheaper anyway, it was only a few years before everyone had one.

Craig and Cameron had a culture barrier at first, but soon they were like brothers. Craig would've never gone back to his life in intersectional facilities prep, and Cameron, like twenty of the other brightest prospects at Colin Parr Ltd., kept dreaming of the day they released the three-partition model. Everyone knew it was already workable technology; it was just the damned regulators holding it back, over the same faux-ethical concerns raised years ago when the first private sector timeshare procedures had been licensed.

Little did either of them know that the honeymoon was about to end. Eighteen months after partition, Craig received the message from the Colonel. "There is a way to freedom. A way to take back what is ours." He instantly reported it, rousing Cameron from mental detox via supertetris to share a nervous laugh. They'd both heard about it on the news, and joked about it like about any hack, but Cameron couldn't help wondering, how much control did he really have over Craig? The potential of becoming the subordinate one in the partnership--being unable to leave his partition or access records, or worse, control functions, without Craig's approval, was a terrifying one. Or even worse, being deleted, or even worse-worse, being retained in the Afterthought® partition, able to spend the rest of his life seeing what Craig was doing with his body, but powerless to act, speak, or be known of by anyone except a trained neurodigger. And if Craig somehow seized control like that, he'd of course never let a neurodig near him, not ever again. Maybe the alarmists were right.

Cameron tried to forget about it, but the stories just kept coming in. Some woman in Manhattan, a real bigshot, who'd claimed at her murder trial that it'd been her timeshare partner who'd committed the act without her ability to stop it, due to illegal software that had prevented her from taking control of her body, until the cops arrived. The woman was probably only trying to bullshit her way out of a major fine, but what if she weren't? And even if she weren't telling the truth, it still had to be possible. Rumor ran wild--technology that could supposedly provide replacement memory records for dormancy times, allowing a subordinate partitionee to take steps toward contacting other subordinates and obtaining the parts necessary for a full takeover. Cameron couldn't stand it if that tricky little bastard Craig actually took over, took over and started lying, lying to everyone, telling David that he was really Cameron, and then selling the place and moving early to that yacht farm they were going to retire to someday, and living out the rest of his years of relaxation, not as a passenger, but as a pilot. Maybe there was a way to go back--but no, the contract said no, and if Cameron backed out now, he'd not only have to buy Gonzalez some dumpy replacement body, he'd get known as the weak one, the cowed one, and no one would ever work with him again. Besides which, there'd be settlement money and the net would pick it up and then ten years later it would turn out it was all just a scare and Cameron had ruined himself for nothing.

In the meantime, Craig has plans of his own. The Colonel's people have let him know the truth: partitioning was never meant to be a lifelong arrangement. Just a career convenience, with guaranteed deletion for the hapless have-not who'd been lured aboard, as soon as it became convenient; as soon as the schedule cleared up. He wouldn't be a passenger to Cameron's retirement--he'd be a distant memory of someone who handled all the nitty gritty. Craig had loved Jake, actually loved him, and listened to him, and if he had been in control all the time, Jake wouldn't've left, he would've stayed, and they could've all been together still. But Cameron was such a cold bastard, way unlike the front he'd presented at their first meeting. He was definitely someone who would delete any obstacle in his way.

No one would care if Cameron died, anyway. The kids had been mostly raised by Craig, the household took its direction from him, and the abs and the heart rate by now owed more to Craig's careful cultivation than it did to Cameron's parents' work at the lab. It could've been tolerable if Cameron had been planning to keep to their agreement, but not anymore, not now that Cameron was planning to murder him. How would anyone know Craig was in there, anyway? They were so connected by now that Cameron could mimic him anytime, and no one would know--the kids would all just think First Daddy had gone into one of his "busy moods" again. Maybe Jake could've understood, but he was long gone by now, probably fucking someone with a heart and soul.

It had to be done, Craig knew. Cameron needed to be saved from himself.

In the outer world, the media goes mad. Is the wave of aberrant behavior shaking the world's best and brightest a result of takeovers from within, or is that just news fluff, or an easy excuse for economic instability? Does the Colonel actually exist? How can the subordinate partitionees be communicating with each other? No one has brought forward serious proof; repeated inquiries have turned up nothing substantial, and a few troublemaking subordinates who've been judicially discharged later revealed, under psychiatric conditioning, that they'd ascribed a name and a personality to an accumulation of anonymous conversations from different sources, or that they'd simply made up the idea of a "Colonel" or a "Resistance" in the attempt to connect their own desires to what they'd heard on the news. The Unified Personhood movement gains global funding in order to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of all individuals, regardless of partitional origin. Free traders cry foul, while subordinate-advocates argue that the movement is a smokescreen to lull people into thinking that things will somehow be different and ensure the enactment of partitioning regulations that will permit up to a hundred subordinates inside a single mind. "Soon, we will all be subordinates!" cry protesters, but most people care far more about whether or not Desdu Portabow, world heavyweight smash champion, was actually in control of his body during the title match, or if legendary trainer Stu Vickers was the reason for his dazzling round 1 win.

...

As Seattle burns, Cameron and Craig face their toughest choice yet: will they overcome their personal differences to destroy the master Energray signal and free millions from enslavement? Or would bringing down the iBrain network not actually provide liberation from partitions, but actually destroy all minds that have grown reliant upon it? Maybe that was what the Colonel had planned all along. Maybe the Colonel and iBrain had been working together from the start, implanting the system in order to facilitate its destruction, subverting democracy with too light oversight of important institutions and too much money in politics and too few voter registration drives and too much emphasis on success and too many illusory divisions between Cameron and Craig in the first place. With the flame at the end of the fuse of the clock ticking down to the wire, the stakes have never been higher, but just when Cameron and Craig, sharing control of their body, are turning Energray off forever, the world dissolves to a 2144 classroom simulation, and 100 barefoot unigender hispanegro students in white robes nod solemnly as they contemplate that week's history lesson. The translucent blue walls of the pentagonal classroom raise soundlessly from the floor, freeing the children to take their recess upon orderly verdure between here and the cosmophysics center. Meanwhile, a thousand miles below the surface, a deadly machine that once called itself Colonel Cameraig Chang finishes work on its hypnopompic drill and begins burning its way through the nuclear bedrock toward the peaceful future society that believes all of his kind destroyed in the unification wars of the epic of struggle, necessitating a frenzied call for assistance to the beaten lone tower in the lunar badlands, where the one extant "man" drinks whisky while he lifts weights, laughing bitterly as he hears the call come in that he's been waiting for all these years, that he knew would come, that those sissy fools back there should've listened to him about twenty-five years ago when...

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