by Rudy Rucker


Story Copyright (C) 2008, Rudy Rucker.
Images Copyright (C) 2008, Rudy Rucker.
4,000 Words.

Zack-5 Wigfall awoke with a sharp pain in his neck. He cursed, his mind running on a gerbil wheel of gloom. It was nearly dawn, time to start thinking about the day’s meetings and q-phone conferences.

He hated his life in Rochester, New York. The cold, wet spring; the scabby, gray city core; the low incidence of smiles—not that there was damn-all to smile about. Outside, in the dark, it was pouring rain. April showers.

Zack-5’s prototype, Zack-1, the original Zack Wigfall, inhabited a magnificent ocean-cliff mansion in San Francisco. And Zack-1’s three other qlones—Zack-2, Zack-3, and Zack-4—were stationed in, respectively, Paris, Tokyo, and New Zealand.

So why was Zack-5 stuck in stodgy, sodden Rochester? The upstate burg’s native megacorporation, Kodak, was spinning off a start-up called Qodoq. Qodoq would be marketing quantum-computing scraps of plastic as physical-world search engines; with a new Qodoq Scout, you’d never lose your car-keys again! Qodoq wanted a Zack qlone as their CEO, and they’d offered Zack-1 a substantial block of stock for making it happen.

Zack-1’s qlones were in demand for exec jobs because his personality was so well fitted to leading a high-tech company. He was a visionary scientist, a can-do engineer, a super-salesman entrepreneur. He’d designed a quantum-computational operating system and had ruthlessly built it into his own megacorporation, iQyoo. One of his biggest scores had been licensing the iQyoo operating system to the q-phone manufacturers, revolutionizing the cell-phone market.

Hiring a Zack qlone was like marrying royalty. And Zack-1 was still the only person being qloned at all. He’d invented the qloner in his garage lab, with a little help from his groundskeeper, Trevor Tang. The qloner had personalization circuits so that it wouldn’t qlone anything but a Zack.

Zack-5 had started life as a matter-wave copy of the original Zack’s quantum-mechanical state function, accurate to the full thirty decimal places that the uncertainty principle allowed. Being a nearly perfect qlone, he shared his progenitor’s memories and plans. But as the rainy weeks in Rochester wore by, his enthusiasm had sputtered and stalled.

Zack-5’s special task for Qodoq was to give their Scout product an interface by shoe-horning the iQyoo operating system onto it. He’d accomplished the port, nagged by a worry that he’d that he’d done it in a kludgy way. He harbored an irrational worry that his qloned body’s QRM or “quantum rights management” lock was interfering with his creativity. And then, to make things worse, he became obsessed with thoughts of Zack-1’s wife of many years, Woogie Wigfall.

Woogie was a woman of considerable wit and passion. In the nights, Zack-5 tormented himself with memories of her lovemaking; in the days, he longed for the proud beacon of her face. He ached with regret that he and Woogie might never meet.

He’d gone so far as to mention his problem to Zack-1 during one of their q-phone video talks. “Sure, Woogie can be great,” Zack-1 had responded. He shook his head, winced, shrugged. “But—just between you and me—we’re having some rough times. I think she’s cheating on me with Trevor.” Zack-5 suddenly recalled how selfish Woogie could be. “Look,” continued Zack-1. “You’ve got to find your own woman. The other qlones did. I envy you guys. You’re starting out as talented, well-connected geniuses. You don’t have to build it all from scratch like I did. You can do better than me. Get someone young and malleable. A gorgeous woman who worships you—or at least pretends to. Hell, you’ll have your pick.”

“The pick of Rochester?”

“And the second prize is two women from Rochester,” Zack-1 had said, smiling. “Seriously, when I’m feeling down, I make a gratitude list. And then I dive into my work. The Qodoq guys are counting on you, dog.”

“I want to be with Woogie,” Zack-5 had repeated, a little ashamed of how pitiful he sounded, but not all that ashamed, as it was only another Zack he was talking to. It was almost like the q-phone screen was a mirror.

“Very touching. I’ll tell her that. Now get over it, Z-5. After the Qodoq IPO, I’ll let you draw down a couple of mill. Quit the job then, if you like. Move wherever you want. Just don’t live near me. I’d hate to decohere you.”

The QRM lock made Zack-5 vulnerable to being converted back into a single energetic Higgs boson particle—just like the one he’d arisen from. If he were to encounter another of the qloner’s bosons, the QRM would kick into effect, with the net result being two Higgs bosons instead of two Zacks.

The point of QRM was to keep the qlones from qloning themselves, for Zack-1 didn’t want competition from derivative second-generation qlones. The qloner automatically embedded the QRM pattern within the wave functions of his qlones.

Zack-5 could mentally perceive his QRM lock—it resembled a warped polyhedron that hummed as if from a sustained bell-tone within. And there was no possible way to remove it.

And so he labored on alone in Rochester, constitutionally unable to relax, missing Woogie, hating his life, worrying that the QRM was making him just that one crucial notch less creative than he was meant to me.

Now and then he cheered himself up by talking to the other qlones. Zack-4 in Wellington, New Zealand, was particularly refreshing, as he actually envied Zack-5’s post. Wellington’s Antarctic-tinged weather was worse than Rochester’s, and iQyoo’s wares were a flop in the South Pacific.

Today Zack-5 had gotten up so early because he was expecting a call from Zack-2 in Paris, who was going to distribute the Qodoq Scout in Europe. Glancing outside Zack-5 saw that, for a wonder, the rain had let up. Rich pink and gold patterns were streaking the cauliflower clouds. Something for the gratitude list. Cloudy Rochester had wonderful sunrises and sunsets. Sitting on the side of his bed, idle till the call came in, he rubbed his neck, staring at the sky, healing the pain he’d woken with.

And now the q-phone rang. But, wait, the caller ID showed—Woogie Wigfall!

Everything grew sweet and slow. Languid with joy, Zack-5 pressed the answer button.


Woogie’s screen image glowed like coal in a hearth. “Is this Zack-5?” Her voice was warmer than he’d remembered, although filigreed with a tremolo of pain.

“Zack-5, indeed. It’s so nice to hear you, Woogie.”

“You sound familiar.” She reached towards the screen, touching it with the tips of her delicate fingers, tan on top, pale underneath. She played a lot of tennis. “I’m calling about—about my Zack.” Her hand dropped away. Now he noticed the grief on her face.

“What is it?”

Woogie answered in a sudden rush, like someone jumping across a crack in the ground. “He’s dead. A broken neck. He was out last night dragonflying off our cliff with Trevor, and—” Her voice tightened, grew husky, pinched off. Briefly she sobbed, bringing tears of sympathy to Zack-5’s eyes. “Can you come out here right away?” asked Woogie.

“Yes. Absolutely.” In his mind Zack-5 went over the day’s schedule, planning how to shift his face-to-face meets to q-phone. “But—Zack always said that if I came to your house—”

“He’d want this. Last week he even told me that if anything were to happen, you should be the one to step in.”

Step in. How broadly did Woogie mean this? “Great,” he croaked, his heart beating so hard that he could hardly talk.

“He told me that you’re crazy about me,” added Woogie, studying him. “I like that.” She had slightly full cheeks and a sharp chin. Before marrying Zack-1, she’d been a top socialite in San Francisco, thus the quirky nickname. Her given name was Wendy.

“I’ll be there this afternoon—darling,” essayed Zack-5.

Woogie flashed her brilliant, knowing smile. “I’ve already sent the jet. Tell the Qodoq guys you’ll come back soon. But maybe we just send them a fresh qlone.”

“Aren’t you forgetting about my QRM lock?”

“You and Trevor can work something out. He’s eager to help.”

On the flight to California, Zack-5 drank a highball of single-malt Scotch, as if throwing a wake for Zack-1. Poor guy. One minute he’d had been soaring off the cliff behind his house, the next he’d been lying dead on the rocks. It was no surprise that Zack-5’s own neck was aching, for there had been a lingering quantum entanglement between the prototype and the qlone.

Zack-5 thought back to his earliest independent memories—of the first few minutes after he’d been qloned from Zack-1 last fall. The initial entanglement had been so strong that he’d felt like one person in two bodies, the two of them sitting side by side on the qloner’s comfortable bench seat. Zack-1 had pointed out the QRM lock—forever hovering at the edge of Zack-5’s awareness.

The lock had the shape of a twelve-sided solid with some of its faces stretched out and glued together, forming a hypershape that resembled two pretzels sharing a common skin. Mathematicians called this convoluted form a Poincaré dodecahedron, and physicists regarded it as the best possible representation of a Higgs boson. Within the curved hyperpretzel, a standing wave sang, encoding the archetypal Zack Wigfall state function. The QRM lock was a permanent record of the collision event where Zack-1 and a Higgs boson had transmuted into Zack-1 and Zack-5.

With this record watermarked into Zack-5’s essence, any attempt to use the qloner on him would backfire. An encounter with another of the qloner’s Higgs bosons would turn Zack-5 himself back into a Higgs boson—rather than generating a Zack-6 qlone. It was an ineluctable consequence of the Pauli exclusion principle. Didn’t Woogie know this?

He had a second drink and felt for psychic vibrations from his deceased prototype. He seemed to hear the skunch of vertebrae crushing into a spinal cord. That one final sound—and then the cosmic dial tone.

The jet was every bit as plush and solid as Zack-5 remembered it to be. Idly he wondered if “remembered” was the right word. He felt a little cheated that most of his memories weren’t really his own. All he’d ever done, really, was work in the Qodoq labs and conference rooms. Not like Zack-1.

Zack-1 had lived well, and even in death he was getting a special deal. He was leaving four copies of himself, four Zacks molding the world along the lines that he wanted, four qlones expanding the reach and power of iQyoo. And—who knew?—maybe Zack-1 was alive in heaven, too.

Zack-5 imagined he could see the dead man’s soul peering down at him, as if from inside the warped volume of the QRM lock. Animated by Zack-1’s face, the shape seemed like a shiny blown-glass ornament on the heaven-tree of night. Zack-1 had an urgent expression, as if he had something important to say. But the message wasn’t coming through.

Zack-5’s thoughts circled back to himself; he wondered if qlones had independent souls. In those first minutes of existence, he and Zack-1 had been a single soul in two bodies. Had the soul split in two when they drifted apart? Or were they still one? Zack-5 was in any case certain that his progenitor’s soul hadn’t pulled back to leave him an empty shell, a qlippoth, a golem.

“I’m the soul man,” he sang to himself, feeling the two drinks. He stood up and pumped his hips as if he were already in bed with Woogie. He was lucky that she’d chosen him over the other three qlones. He was lucky that she wanted another Zack at all.

But how was he supposed to make more qlones? He couldn’t qlone himself, and the single existing qloner was personalized to run only on Zacks. Zack-5 visualized the qloner, feeling for a workaround.

It had been Zack-1’s little joke to house his qloner within a white 1967 Impala lowrider, replacing the huge engine with fiddling tangles of matter-wave tubes and optical quantum circuits. The hulk sat high on its hydraulic shocks in the cliffside meadow behind the house, facing the Pacific Ocean.

If Zack-5 were to get into the Impala, the qloner would recognize his Zack-like state function and power up its quantum circuitry. Moments later the fiber optic cable taped to the car’s steering column would guide a singular submicroscopic particle towards his chest.

It was strange that a Higgs boson could scatter off an object and form an identical qlone, drawing the necessary mass-energy from the uncertain crevices of spacetime. And it was stranger still that a second zap could turn a qlone into a Higgs boson again.

Woogie and Trevor Tang were waiting at the airport, Woogie stylish in Prada stunna shades and a pink silk suit, her blonde hair blowing across her face, her lips thin but enticing. Trevor wore black jeans, a black linen shirt and mirror-shades. In the brilliant afternoon sun, his nose cast a sharp shadow across his high cheeks.

“Zack’s back!” said Woogie, more cheerfully than Zack-5 had expected. She hugged him and gave him a quick kiss with, yes, a flicker of her tongue.

“I’m so sorry to hear about—” began Zack-5.

“I want to stop thinking about that,” said Woogie, holding him out at arm’s length and studying him. “My backup copy’s here! You look perfect.”

“Except for the QRM,” remarked Trevor Tang. “Makes him a little less than a man, huh?”

You had to stay on top of Trevor, or he’d eat you alive. “More than a man,” Zack-5 shot back.

“That sounds promising,” said Woogie.

As Trevor drove them to the Wigfall house, Zack-5 leaned forward over the seat, chatting up Woogie, reveling in her voice and scent.

“Is the funeral today?” he asked presently.

“No funeral,” said Woogie. “And no death announcement. All his horrible relatives would want a cut. We cremated the body this morning and threw the ashes off the—” She broke off and stared directly at Zack-5 for what felt like a very long time. “I’m so glad you’re here. Things will be like they used to be.” She reached out and touched his cheek. “Happy?”

“I’m—wow,” said Zack-5. “You’ve got no idea how much I want you.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” said Trevor sullenly.

“Shut up,” said Woogie.

And then they were pulling into the driveway of the Wigfall estate, a California Craftsman mansion walled in on three sides and with the back lawn rolling to a cliff that dropped dramatically to the rocky sea. The house was flanked by magnificent wind-warped Monterey pines. “Just leave us on our own for awhile, Trevor,” said Woogie. “Zack will catch up with you later.”

“I’ll wait fifteen minutes,” said Trevor, increasingly aggrieved. He jerked his BMW to an abrupt halt and stalked off towards the retrofitted garage that had served as Zack-1’s private research lab. Trevor himself had an apartment over the garage.

“He’s got such a crush on me,” Woogie told Zack-5 with a conspiratorial smile. “We have to be a little careful how we handle him.”

Woogie had a way of making you feel like you were in on a secret plot with her. Intellectually, Zack-5 knew not to set much store by this—but emotionally he was in her thrall.

Although he would have liked to sweep her up the stairs to the bedroom, she led him into the den. They sat on the couch, with him wrapping his arms around her and swearing his eternal love.

“It—it really is you, Zack,” said Woogie running a slow finger over his lips. “I’d thought—I’d thought maybe you wouldn’t have a soul. And that you’d just be a useful—tool.”

“Useful for what?” said Zack-5 guardedly.

“Taking care of your wife,” said Woogie. “Keeping iQyoo going. Making qlones.”

“Look, it’s impossible to qlone me,” said Zack-5. “I was thinking about that on the flight out. The QRM lock is—”

“I’m not talking about qloning you,” said Woogie gently. “Qlone Trevor. And then you can send his qlone to take over at Qodoq. He’d feel really good about that.” She planted a wet kiss on his lips, and ran a teasing caress over his fly.

“Can we please go to bed and—”

But now Trevor was at the front door. “Did you ask him, Woogie?”

“You two are in cahoots?” said Zack-5. He was seeing a pattern that he didn’t like. “Is Trevor your lover, Woogie?”

“Not any more,” said Woogie. “I only want you. But I promised Trevor I’d get the Rochester job for his qlone. If you help him with that one thing, he’ll be happy, and you’ll be able to stay here. Win win.” She wafted out of the parlor. “I’ll be waiting upstairs.”

“Mmm,” said Trevor, narrowing his lips and eyes.

“I’m supposed to qlone you and hand over my Qodoq job?” Zack-5 said to Trevor, liking him less all the time.

“You have all the real Zack’s memories,” said Trevor. “So you know how the qloner works. And you really do want to help me. Otherwise I could make things hard for Woogie.”

“How do you mean?”

“I captured some video of her putting the body into the lab’s smelting furnace this morning.”

The whole set-up stank. Instead of answering, Zack-5 strode out the back door of the house. Trevor followed along.

The gleaming, fancifully pinstriped Impala sat at the sloping edge of the cliff, slanted up on its extended front shocks as if considering a dive into the sea. The sun was setting over the Pacific, flooding the scene with honeyed light. April in California.

“The personalization feature is a circuit based on a square root of NOT gate that’s tuned to my wave function,” said Zack-5. “Yeah, I can turn it off. And then the qloner will kick on when anything at all lands on the front seat. It won’t have to be me sitting there with the beam aimed at me.”

The two quantum mechanics opened the Impala’s big flat hood and began tinkering. Trevor was a good sidekick for nitty-gritty tech work. As they fiddled with the quantum circuits, Zack-5 began forming plans. He’d let Trevor qlone himself and maybe help Trevor get the Qodoq CEO post. Fine. He’d settle in with Woogie and start living the live he’d been born for. Great. But then? He cast a sidelong look at his rival’s callow, implacable profile. Trevor was bent over a chrome wrench, tightening a lug-nut on the matter-wave generator.

A ray from the sinking sun bounced off the wrench into Zack-5’s eye, triggering the mental image of the warped polyhedron. Within it he once again seemed to see Zack-1’s face.

“Trevor killed me and he’ll try to kill you,” said a ghostly voice. “Push him over he edge. Make him take the fall.”

Which meant a change of plans.

“I’m outta here, Trevor,” said Zack-5, standing up and slamming the hood. “Qlone your ass off, you piece of crap. As of tomorrow morning you’re fired. And no way do you get the Qodoq job.”

Without waiting for an answer, Zack-5 trotted into the house and locked the doors. “It’s me!” he called to Woogie as he armed the security system. The windows were all but unbreakable. They’d be safe in here for the night. Thinking towards the end-game, he went into the den and got out the unregistered .45 automatic pistol he knew to be stored in the wall safe. And then he went upstairs.

Woogie stared at him wide-eyed as he laid the gun on the dresser.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she said, her voice unnaturally high. “I was a little worried that—”

“That Trevor would murder me like he did Zack-1?”

Woogie broke into tears. “I’m sorry. It got out of hand. Trevor was only supposed to scare him. But Zack was going to divorce me. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Divorce you, eh?”

“For that silly fling. But I’m truly done with him! Now that I have a fresh start I won’t mess it up. Come to bed with me, baby.”

The sex was good, much better than second-hand memories. And loud. When he dropped off to sleep, Zack-5 wasn’t thinking all that much about Trevor. Let him stew, let him be the one to overplay his hand.

It was just after dawn when the cries from the back yard awoke him. He looked down from the second floor window, holding his pistol at the ready. The fog was so thick he couldn’t even see the Impala. Close to the house were seven dark shapes, zombies in the mist, seven Trevors. In its default mode, the qloner was only willing to fire out a boson once every ninety minutes, otherwise there might have been a hundred or a thousand Trevors down there. Hearing Zack-5 open the window, the seven gathered below, baying like wild dogs.

“We want her! She’s ours.”

“Oh no!” cried Woogie from the bed.

“Talk to them,” Zack-5 told her. “Put the hex on them, Woogie. Sling your charm. And I’ll take them down.”

“Hi, boys,” said Woogie, sashaying to the window. “Maybe I should be Snow White for you Seven Dwarves.”

While Woogie kept the Trevors going, Zack-5 readied the clip of the automatic, wiped the gun clean of his prints with an alcohol pad, and wrapped the weapon in a handkerchief.

And then he crept out the front door and circled around the side of the yard. He unclipped the boson tube’s optical cable from the Impala’s steering column to hold the business end in his hand, pointing it well away from himself. He used his handkerchief to drop the pistol on the driver’s seat. It weighed enough to activate the qloner circuits.

“Continuous mode,” Zack-5 murmured into the Impala’s open window. Once it was running, the qloner accepted Zack-spoken voice commands. This particular prompt would set it to spitting out a boson every second.

The rising sun was gilding the fog. Aiming by instinct as much as by sight, Zack-5 directed the qloner’s output stream toward the Trevors. It was as if he couldn’t miss. One, two, three, four, five, six. Their freed Higgs bosons left short, pink, curly trails.

And now only the original Trevor remained. He came charging across the lawn, mad with envy and rage.

“Terminate activation,” Zack-5 told the Impala. Cunning as a judo master, he let Trevor wrestle him into the Impala and tug the now-inert boson beamer from his hand. He slid all the way across the car’s seat and opened the far door.

Getting no results from the qloner tube, Trevor snatched up the pistol and began pulling the trigger. Fully in tune with the rhythms of the moment, Zack-5 ducked before the first shot. And then the gun clicked emptily. Back in the bedroom, Zack-5 had removed all the bullets but one from the clip.

“Lower shocks and roll forward,” he told the Impala as he slipped out the door.

The car hit the rocks below, shattering the unique circuits of the qloner. Seven interchangeable seagulls pecked at Trevor’s remains.

Zack phoned the police about his psychotic groundskeeper’s mishap, called the qlone in New Zealand to tell him that the Qodoq job was his, and went upstairs to Woogie.

It was good to be alive.



About the Author




Rudy Rucker is a writer and a mathematician who worked for twenty years as a Silicon Valley computer science professor.  He is regarded as contemporary master of science-fiction, and received the Philip K. Dick award twice.  His thirty published books include both novels and non-fiction books.

His most recent pair of novels depict a near-future Earth in which every object becomes conscious. The first, Postsingular, appeared from Tor Books in Fall, 2007, and is also available for free download on the web.  The second, Hylozoic, will appear from Tor in 2009.  His radical dimensional adventure, Mathematicians in Love, has just been released in paperback.


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