Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dabbling Around Trinary

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

A flick of Sharda's barbed-wire fingertips and sparks flew. The fuse was lit and the archaic explosive she'd brought was suddenly as modern deadly as any quantum shuffler. If I'd still had any sweat glands they'd have been working double-time right now. The coiled molecules that saturated my new legs pumped beyond what the skeletomuscular rods were designed to endure. The surrounding pseudo-flesh heated in a way that the rip and burn of muscle fatigue could never touch. My head told me I was running from the crude bomb she had somehow teleported to the derelict factory. But my heart, my adrenaline, the few systems left that were still me were running in overdrive to get as far away from Sharda as I possibly could.

The shockwave pounded my limp body into a pink tensecrete wall. It was deep enough that the fire only cooked the back of my body. Thirty minutes earlier I would have been dead. But at least I would have died human.

I didn't know what she'd turned into but I knew it was still her, my wife of eight years. The one who'd spent so many days four stories below, dabbling around trinary in the cold labs of artificial light and purified air. What the industry usually meant when they used the word trinary was computer processing that used three states of electrical current flow: the absence of flow, and the two possible directions of flow along a wire. But everybody had that.

The philosopher's stone, the processor's stone that my once innocent prom date turned outcast engineer sought was true trinary. Most people knew it was a fable based on an impossible third state: A state that was neither "on" nor "off". You wouldn't have to change current processor architecture to use true trinary. Once we knew how to do it, it would explode across civilization at the speed of download, increasing the computational power of every binary and trinary processor-dependent system exponentially overnight.

I peeled myself out of my vertical grave, amazed that I could still stand. Through my pulsing yellow eyes I saw the blurred vision of Sharda, less human than I was becoming. It was tied to her research; she'd told me she had a breakthrough when she called me here to kill me. But how in the hell computer research could have turned her into this was beyond reason. What she looked like couldn't be completely understood by my still human brain. The colors that shaped her form were non-colors. Her body itself wouldn't stand still for a moment. She was in front of me, then behind and above me, then everywhere at once. As soon as I felt like I was within her range she raked those long phantasmal fingers across my soul again and I was ripped across universes.

My brain became so big I could only carry it outside of my head. I felt every change and knew what was happening. Sharda exchanged my body parts with other me's from other Earths. And every time she tore me apart and reassembled me, I knew a little bit more. My massive new brain was mechanical and analog, a thick network of trigger-and-spark creatures shaking a trillion tiny hands with one another. It was a brain unnaturally evolved in an alien timeline and yet it was me. I still remembered our apartment and the rottweiler puppy that waited for one of us to come back home.

Even this ponderous new brain was slowly realizing that what I knew about my changing body was what Sharda was silently telling me. It wasn't telepathy. On some level our minds, not our brains, had physical forms and were intermingling.

She dove at me again from all angles and it took everything I had to dodge at all other angles. I was slowing down; I knew I couldn't last much longer. Whatever she was doing to me, I didn't think it was murder anymore. The explosion was to soften me up; she was the one who had changed me to the point where it wasn't lethal.

Sharda's Cheshire smile was the only thing that stood still in the midst of her whirling chaos. Her mouth was as wide as my arm was long and it was full of short, sharp crystalline teeth made to chew metal. It hissed open and lunged at my plodding body.

I was an idiot to think my wife was looking for a new processing state all this time. I reached down into my chest with an extra-dimensional limb and slowed the swiping of my new windshield wiper heart.

I was total. I was in another state, a third state, not living and not dead. I understood now.

And I joined her.