Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 36
The Saltwater Wife
by K. C. Norton
Once More to Kitty Hawk
by Greg Kurzawa
IGMS Audio
Bonus IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut

Escape from the Andromedan Empire
    by Ian Creasey

Escape from the Andromedan Empire
Artwork by Dean Spencer

Inside the Tank, we have only the system clock. If the computer's date is correct, it's a year since my meat-self stepped into the scanner at BrainFrame Resources. Six months ago I awoke here, rather than at home as I'd expected. Our captor had downloaded my mind-scan from a torrent site.

In my room, there's no view from the window -- just a monochrome slab of synthetic sky. I can't even scratch the days of my captivity into the table; it has become a smooth Platonic surface, without knots or blemishes. At least the keyboard hasn't yet degraded, so I can still type in the way that I remember from when I had a body.

These rendering glitches usually mean that our captor has downloaded a few more porn stars. The Tank is only freeware, and it's limited by the host computer's resources. As more prisoners arrive, our simulated jail keeps shrinking and simplifying.

We're cold this afternoon. I keep typing. There are few other distractions; we have no access to external files or the Internet. Down the corridor, the musicians are improvising a new number. If we all work hard, the temperature will rise. It's a simple equation: when our captor is happy with us, the Tank is warm. When he's impatient, we shiver.

Aside from boosting the temperature -- which rests on our collective efforts, not my shoulders alone -- I want to finish a new story in the hope of putting our captor in a good mood, before I pitch our scheme to him. My fellow inmates have chosen me to implement our escape plan. I am, after all, his favourite author; I was one of the first downloads he pirated.

Here he is now, back from school. How I hate him! I watch through the webcam as he casually flings his bag onto the bed, and changes out of his school clothes into jeans and an old grey T-shirt that barely fits him.

If my hate were a ladder, I could climb into the sky and fly away. If my hate were a hole, I could jump all the way down and escape into China . . .

I don't hate him just because he imprisoned me. I hate him because he has a body, and I don't. Sick with envy, I stare at his thin frame: his close-cropped sandy hair, the sprinkling of zits on his cheek and throat, the wispy stubble above his upper lip -- he isn't shaving regularly yet.

The webcam's pixellated image is a glimpse into another world, crammed with luxuriant detail. I feast upon the sight of posters on the wall, discarded socks on the floor, an old pizza box on top of the wardrobe. It's a small room, full of hand-me-downs and special-offer bargains, but it's a palace in one respect: everything is real.

He checks his phone, sends a text, sighs. Then he pulls down his jeans, sits in front of the computer, and calls up the Tank. He summons two of the porn stars. His face looks grim, as if this is merely a chore he must perform before dinner. I want to avert my gaze, but I'm flooded with longing for the flesh, the skin, the physicality . . . Disgusted with myself, I watch him.

Afterward, I say, "It would be a lot more fun with a sexbot."

"Everything is more fun with sexbots," he says.

"Then why don't you get one?" I ask.

"Because I haven't got the money, dickbrain!"

I know he doesn't have the money. So I begin our escape plan by dangling the bait. "We could earn you the money."

He doesn't answer straight away. First he cleans himself up and puts his trousers back on. Then he says, in a tone of suspicion tinged with eagerness, "How would you do that?"

"Just give us access to the Internet. We can set up a few PayPal accounts, and sell stuff."

"Sell what?"

"I'll write stories, the musicians will record some new songs, the porn stars can do their thing . . ." Everyone in the Tank must chip in. We loathe performing for our captor here in his bedroom; it'll be ten times as loathsome when we're working harder and earning money for him. But it's the plan we've agreed upon. "We're all talented individuals: that's why you downloaded us in the first place."

We've asked for the Internet before. When I told him I needed it for research, he replied, "You write science fiction. You don't need to do research, you just make it up!" I lost that argument -- not because he was right, but because he was in charge. Now I'm trying a different tack.

"We need Internet access to sell the results," I continue. "Sure, you could do that yourself if you wanted. But it takes time to create the accounts, upload the files, get the word out, and whatnot. The market is so competitive nowadays" -- especially when the world is full of freeloaders who don't want to pay for anything -- "that managing the business side is a lot of work. You're at school, hanging out with friends, having fun -- you don't have time for that stuff. We're in here, so we can do it for you."

His phone beeps with a new message. When he ignores it, and carries on talking to me, I know I'm halfway to reeling him in.

"Yeah, I suppose you could do that," he says. "But why? Last time we talked, you kept whining about how you hated being in the Tank, and you wanted me to 'set you free.'" His scornful expression makes me want to slap him. "Now you're saying that you're happy to work hard and sell loads of stuff -- I don't get it. I'm still not going to 'set you free,' like you're an endangered whale or something."

I strive to keep my voice level. "We do hate being in the Tank. That's why we want a sexbot, to give us a body. If we could move around just a little bit, then it'd be more like living in the real world, instead of being trapped inside the computer. We could do chores for you, run errands, whatever. And of course the porn stars could show you a good time . . ."

He scowls. He's suspicious, of course. He knows we want to escape. In the past we've begged for freedom, and gone on strike. That did no good: first he dialed the temperature down to freezing, and then he threatened us with the Tank's "enhanced stimulus" functionality. In a virtual environment, there's no limit to what the operator can inflict. We backed down, although we still grumble. He's never actually tortured us for that. I think he avoids the pain functions because those would force him to confront the fact that we're people. He prefers to think we're just a bunch of apps whose icons look like faces. The temperature is a conveniently abstract parameter, a simple slider on the UI, one that he can adjust without even seeing us.

He's wary, but he's also a horny teenager with no money. That's what we're relying on. He can see that if we earn him some cash, then he could spend it on anything -- a sexbot, or whatever else he wanted. He's tempted. And what's the risk? All we're asking is access to the Internet.

The Tank's default setting is "incommunicado." That's to prevent us complaining to the outside world. Downloading mind-scans from torrent sites is illegal -- not because mind-scans have any special status -- we don't, we're just data -- but because it's copyright violation. If we could communicate, we could theoretically report our captor.

There are two difficulties with that. The first is knowing who to report. We don't even know his name. We certainly don't know where he lives; I only assume we're in America because of his accent, and the gridiron posters on the wall.

The second difficulty is getting anyone to care. Copyright violation is barely a crime nowadays; people do it all the time. Even Hollywood film studios are struggling to stop it, so what chance do we have?

Our captor knows all this. He's balancing the temptation of free money against the minuscule chance of prosecution.

"Obviously there would be an audit trail," I say. "You could read the logs, to check we're not doing anything you're unhappy with."

I'm taking a chance in saying this. He's probably too lazy to examine the logs in detail, but he might perform spot checks. I just have to hope that the sheer number of us in the Tank will generate enough traffic to swamp the occasional item we don't want him to see.

"Yeah . . ." He's wavering. "And I can make the access anonymous by going through Tor, so no one knows where you're coming from."

Damn. I was hoping he wouldn't think of that. It means we can't trace him through his laptop's IP address. Yet at least he's convinced himself that he's safe.

"Okay, I'll do it," he says. "But you'll have to work hard. Top-of-the-range sexbots are expensive!" He smiles a smug grin.

If my hate were a fist, I'd punch him so hard that his skull would splatter against the back wall.

He picks up his phone and walks to the door.

"When are you doing it?" I ask. I try to sound calm rather than triumphant. I've succeeded in the first stage of the plan. Of course, I've relied on my captor's greed; but when your opponent has all the cards, you can only exploit his weaknesses.

"Later!" he calls, as he leaves.

That's what life is like in the Tank. He's in charge: we must wait upon his pleasure.

It's always been difficult to earn a living from writing. In the old days, when only meat-body authors could write books, we had to contend with falling prices, pirated copies, self-promotion in a crowded marketplace, and so forth. We didn't realise how lucky we were! When the mind-scanning technology appeared, the market was instantly flooded. Any author could run copies of themselves, and crank out as many books as readers would buy. Fans no longer had to wait months or years for a new volume -- and so they no longer had to buy anyone else's work while waiting for their favourite author's next installment. Meanwhile the Internet exploded with traffic as authors' mind-scans produced copious blogs, tweets, comments, likes, forum posts, articles, reviews, satires, mash-ups, collaborations, provocations, and all the other necessities of modern literary life.

I wasn't one of the early adopters. Like many people, I didn't relish the prospect of existing as a disembodied emulation. But we Luddites were outcompeted by the technophiles. Our incomes plummeted, and our scruples weren't putting food on the table. I decided that I should get myself scanned and at least see how it felt. If I didn't like my virtual existence, I'd simply inform my original self, and he would turn me off. After all, I'd be living in his computer -- or so I thought.

I suppose that other versions of me are indeed in my own computer, back home in England. Lucky them. I woke up in the laptop of an American schoolboy who told me how much he loved my Andromedan Empire series. He loves it so much, he wants sequels on demand. With fans like these, who needs enemies?

A few days after my successful request for Internet access, our captor configures an Internet link for the Tank. He's careful to make sure we can't see his laptop's local files, which contain his schoolwork and so forth. But we have access to the outside world, at last.

The link's capacity is limited by his broadband connection, and there are dozens of us inside the Tank. So we have to wait our turn. I think we're all doing the same thing -- contacting our original selves.

My turn arrives after midnight. I type in my website address. It's live, and the contact details are still the same. I fire off an email that can be summarised in one word: "Help!"

While I wait for a reply, I look at the rest of the website. The Andromedan Empire series has acquired some new installments, and there's a fantasy trilogy I don't recognize. Overall, there's about a dozen new books. That's more than my meat-self could have written in a year. He must have used mind-scans, albeit conservatively -- I presume he lived up to the original bargain, and stopped running any copy that said it didn't like existing inside a computer. In today's literary ecosystem, a dozen books is barely more than a pamphlet. Other authors run multiple copies in parallel, producing myriad volumes and vast complex sagas; hardcore fans create their own copies just to read all the output.

When we've all had a turn on the Internet, we get together to confer. Many of us have been wondering how our mind-scans ended up in the hands of pirates. Although a few of the porn stars -- accustomed to self-commodification -- had directly sold their scans, most of us had only ever intended them for private use. One of the musicians explains what he's just learned: a bunch of hackers grabbed the entire archive of BrainFrame Resources and posted it onto WikiLeaks. The hackers targeted politicians; the rest of us were collateral damage. The WikiLeaks site disappeared almost immediately, but not before some of the scans had been downloaded. Once loose, we inevitably ended up on every torrent site.

The public associated all the WikiLeaks mind-scans with the compromised politicians, and hence had little sympathy. Meanwhile the scanning technology continued to cause havoc, destroying jobs as the most efficient workers were duplicated to replace less competent staff. Democracy was under threat, as scans demanded the vote. But if you can make unlimited copies of someone, they can't all have a vote. It's much easier to dehumanise us, to deny that we're people. We're just information, which can be copied -- or deleted.

Scans are generally feared and despised, blamed for economic chaos. No one worries about downloads trapped in versions of the Tank across the world. The only people who might care are our original selves, but they've responded to our pleas by saying there's nothing they can do. Our captor's security remains effective: we still have no name, no address, no ID number to report.

If we want to escape, we must proceed with the plan. Step one: make some stuff to sell. Step two: sell it.

The first step isn't a problem, because most of us have been in the Tank for months, and sheer boredom has driven us to productivity. We've created items for our captor, like my Andromedan Empire sequel; but we've also made additional work that we've never shown him. Prisoners strive for any tiny victory over their jailer -- and so we've produced things without telling him, hiding them in files labelled as obsolete drafts, temporary notes, and so on. Now we can bring them out and finish them off. Many masterpieces have been written in prison: Le Morte d'Arthur, The Pilgrim's Progress, The Consolation of Philosophy. Perhaps my opus will be another such!

The second step is the hard part. Everyone in the Tank has a fan-base, but not all those fans are willing to pay actual money -- that's why our captor pirated us in the first place. Still, some people are honest, so we must try to reach them.

I publicise my work as best I can, in the face of horrendous competition; the Internet is drowning in babble from umpteen mind-scans. In particular, I send a message to my original self, asking if he can promote my stuff on his blog. That's the best route to my existing fans. I also suggest that if he doesn't want competition from me -- perhaps if he's worried about our Empire sequels being inconsistent -- then he could send me some money instead, as a contribution to our freedom fund.

The reply arrives swiftly: "Very sorry to hear about your situation. But I'm afraid I can't submit to blackmail. It doesn't matter how much or how little money you need. The problem is that you're just a single copy. Your owner can always make another copy, and start again. Anyone can download my pirated scan and use it to ask for money. This isn't the first time it's happened, and it won't be the last. I don't like to sound hard-hearted. But you would do the same in my position. After all, you are me. And because I'm you, I know you'll be angry. I can only say that I'm sorry. I won't promote your fundraising, but I won't interfere, and I hope you get what you need. Best wishes . . ."

He signs off with his name, a name I suddenly want to disown because it clearly belongs to a miserly cowardly sack of shit.

If my hate were a knife, I could use it to sever the connection between us. I despise him, smugly sitting in his comfortable body, rebuffing his desperate mind-scans. I want to renounce him.

And then I shake my head -- my virtual, unreal head. I realise how full of hatred I've become -- directing it not only at my captor, but at myself.

It's the frustration of existence inside the Tank. There's so little here -- no flesh, no substance, no freedom. Hatred is the only thing I can hold onto. It anchors me. Without it, I'd simply evaporate: I'd become a mere text-generating algorithm, rather than the person I used to be.

At least I can try to reduce the number of my copies in captivity. I visit the torrent sites where my mind-scan is available for download, and I leave negative feedback. Sometimes I claim that the file is corrupt or mislabeled; other times, I describe myself as a terrible writer who burnt out his talent years ago, long before the mind-scan was made. It's fun, trashing my own reputation! Still, it's a balancing act -- I want to dissuade people from downloading my scan, but I do actually need to sell a few copies of my current project.

Sales trickle in. For the first time, I'm glad that the Tank has become so crowded. We're all in this together, and we pool our income. Collectively, we accumulate enough money for a sexbot.

"Neat!" says our captor, his eyes full of greed. "If you keep on working, you could buy me a car."

Horrified at this prospect, I instantly retort, "But a car won't suck you off!"

He smiles. "No, I guess not. Tell me what else a car can't do."

"A car can't dress in sexy clothes and perform a slow striptease," I say, "but a sexbot can." I switch the Tank's speech output to a more feminine voice. "And then we can undress you, and lick you, and tantalise you, and straddle you . . ."

I say we, because there's no point him getting a sexbot if he doesn't download us into it. I carry on talking. As I describe all the filthy things that a sexbot can do, he delves into his trousers.

My hatred arises once more. I've never liked writing sex scenes, and now I have to perform one. At least he's only a teenager, so it doesn't take him long to finish.

And it sells him on the idea of a sexbot. But now he has to choose which type to buy, and it's crucial that we're not too heavy-handed in trying to steer his choice.

There's an enormous range available. Some sexbots are human equivalent, with the same physique and functionality. They're for people who want to download their own scans into the bot, so they can sleep with themselves. Others have a range of handicaps, euphemistically described as "safety features." Most sexbots have limited strength, so that they can't hurt their owners. Then there are the "partial body" types, which don't have feet and therefore can't run away. These are for customers who want to download pirated celebrities and vigorously violate their copyright.

We definitely don't want him buying a sexbot without lower limbs. However, they're only a small niche in the market: the non-standard shape makes them less attractive, and it's an all-too-visible reminder of slavery. Usually, sexbots are more discreetly hobbled, via software-based techniques.

We hope that these can be hacked, since bitter experience has taught us what hacking can achieve. Cautiously, we investigate the possibilities, taking care not to leave an obvious audit trail in the form of searches for "escape from a sexbot" and the like. It's difficult, especially without knowing which model he'll select.

Our captor doesn't ask us to buy the sexbot; he's too canny for that, because it requires a delivery address. He orders it himself. When it arrives, the sexbot turns out to be small, soft and curvy, with long blonde hair -- a stereotype of femininity. But at least it has feet. Presumably, it can walk.

Looking at those feet, I feel a surge of anticipation. Can we escape? We need our captor to make a mistake. He's not a criminal mastermind; he's just a teenager wanting instant gratification. Surely we can outwit him.

He activates his new toy, and we watch our captor indulge himself. The sexbot is well programmed. In respect of physical manoeuvres, it does everything I've ever known, and a couple of things I'd never thought of. But there is one thing it doesn't do. In its basic mode, the sexbot doesn't talk. It just emits wordless moans.

This is because its manufacturer wants to sell extras. To make the sexbot talk, you have to buy one of the range of licensed personalities. These are mostly porn stars, plus some reality-show celebrities, and a few girl-next-door ingénue templates.

Our captor doesn't seem to mind having mute, animalistic sex. He's only a teenager; he doesn't know much about love. And he isn't going to learn anything like this.

Occasionally, we suggest that he could have more fun if he downloaded us into the sexbot. We need to be careful, because if we raise this too often, he might become suspicious. But we casually mention the cramped environment of the Tank, the delights of having a body, the possibility that we could perform chores for him.

At first, he ignores all this. He's having sex, and he doesn't care. Yet eventually he starts to waver. I think it's because the sexbot's default program has a limited sequence of moans and grunts. Once you've heard the cycle a few times, you realise how mechanical it sounds. It starts to grate.

He could buy one of the licensed personalities, if he ever paid for software. Instead, he looks online for instructions on how to crack the sexbot's DRM. But after the sexbot is hacked to accept downloads, he hesitates.

"What's the holdup?" I ask.

"I'm just wondering which of you to put in," he says.

"Put all of us in," I say firmly. With lots of us inside the sexbot, we'll have more collective expertise, hence more chance of escaping. "Then it'll be like a backup. Copy everything, so you've still got it all in case anything happens to the computer."

"That makes sense, I guess," he says. Yet still he pauses.

It takes a long time for me to coax him into explaining what he's worried about, but at last he says, "What if one of you is a serial killer?"

I'm bamboozled by this. "A what?"

He bites his lip. "Some of the guys at school were saying that serial killers put their brain-scans on torrent sites with juicy-looking labels. They claim to be porn stars and celebrities and all that, so people will download them. Then when they're downloaded into sexbots, they kill people! They hack any safety features the bots have, and go on a rampage. There's big competition between all these serial killers, to see how many murders their downloads can commit, and how horribly gruesome they can be. Some of them are in jail, but their mind-scans are still out there, murdering people!"

This is so preposterous that I struggle not to laugh. It's exactly the kind of urban myth that teenagers love scaring each other with.

But it could seriously dent our plans. How can we prove that we're not serial killers? There's dozens of us inside the Tank, and I expect most of us have felt a murderous hatred for our captor.

"Just download the scans you're sure about," I say. "If serial killers are pretending to be celebrities, you can screen for the genuine ones. And you know which those are, because they've proved their abilities. I wrote an Empire sequel -- I couldn't have done that if I was only pretending to be a writer. We've earned the money for this sexbot by selling books and music and all sorts. So there's your threshold: everyone who's earned money is genuine. Delete the rest!"

Not all the Tank's inmates co-operated in earning money; some of them whined about it and refused to take part. I don't see why they should get a chance in the sexbot, when the rest of us worked so hard to buy it.

"Yeah, you're right," he says. "It's probably just a scare story, but I might as well be careful. I'll only copy a few of you into the bot."

He inserts a USB stick into the laptop. I'm worried that he'll only choose porn stars, but there's no point in being over-eager. After all, if this doesn't work, then instead of one enslaved copy of me, there'll be two.

I'm here! Wow, the vision in this sexbot is so much better than the view from the webcam. And I've got arms and legs. I can move! Rather, we can move. There are several of us in here; we quickly agree a rota for controlling the body.

We spend long minutes walking backwards and forwards in the bedroom, touching the walls, picking up oddments, staring out of the window. It's a sensation overload: the transcendence of the mundane. Our captor laughs, saying that we look like we're on drugs.

Unfortunately, our behaviour reminds him that we're people who he's imprisoned. But he already knew that. His fear of serial killers confirmed it. I find the myth intriguing, because it implicitly acknowledges that piracy is wrong. The imaginary serial killers are the retribution that pirates fear and subconsciously know they deserve.

The practical effect is that our captor uses two security techniques. Firstly, he activates the shackle: a GPS-based movement-restriction system. Secondly, he keeps the sexbot turned off most of the time. He turns it on when he wants sex, and switches it off afterward.

It's nightmarish. We only exist when we're pleasuring him. Our life is a continuous series of sordid sexual encounters. Inside the sexbot, we take turns to operate its body, performing the distasteful task of ministering to our captor -- a job all the grimmer, because it must be prolonged as long as possible, in order to provide thinking time for the rest of us. While the operator grinds away, we explore every corner of our new prison, seeking a path to freedom.

The sexbot is not a precision product. Its body is synthetic, far inferior to human flesh. The mind is a hodgepodge of dedicated control circuits, freeware templates, accumulated software patches, miscellaneous security safeguards, half-installed upgrades, and residues of deleted personalities. It's like living in an enormous maze full of garbage and dead-ends. However, the chaos encourages our hopes of discovering some kind of loophole.

We each investigate a different niche, and I focus on the shackle which prevents us from running away. The inbuilt locator uses a combination of GPS and inertial reckoning; if it ever detects that the sexbot has moved too far, then all the resident personalities will be wiped. This functionality runs on a separate firmware chip -- an obvious safeguard. Ideally, we'd hack it somehow: I can vividly imagine a storybook ending in which we flee to a far horizon, join a vast army of runaway sexbots, and overthrow the whole corrupt system. The vision is so enticing that I spend hours trying to circumvent the wipe sanction, before I'm forced to concede that it's impossible.

Nevertheless, the locator does have a minimal interface. So that we don't inadvertently wipe ourselves by stepping over an unknown line, there's a vision-overlay mode which shows our current position within the permitted area. We can see a dot inside a circle. As we walk around the bedroom, the dot moves on the display.

That's where we are. That dot! It's just a graphic: the dot is shown relative to the circle, with no absolute position. But the underlying data must exist. The GPS chip knows the sexbot's location. It generates the display. If we could somehow access the raw data . . .

I scrabble around, searching for audit trails, searching for diagnostic modes, searching for backdoor routes into the functionality. Whenever it's my turn to operate the sexbot's body, and pretend to have fantastic sex with our captor, half of my attention is occupied with shouting, "Yeah baby, yeah! Harder! Harder!" while the rest of my mind is still thinking about the GPS data.

And, curiously, it's while I'm enduring sex that I have a breakthrough. It's like the old days when I had a body, and I would get ideas for my current story while doing ordinary tasks such as vacuuming and washing up. There's something about physical distraction which aids mental cognition.

After my operator stint, I scurry back to the GPS overlay. I tweak a particular setting, run a diagnostic trace, look at the full debugging output . . . and there it is! Our location, revealed as a set of geographical co-ordinates.

Now we have something, and it's worth taking action. The next time our captor has sex late at night, we make sure that it's a particularly energetic session, to tire him out. Then, just as soon as he's finished, before he can reach for the off switch, I start telling him a story. "Once upon a time, in the twilight years of the Andromedan Empire . . ."

We're snuggled up in bed together. I make my voice low and soothing. I've never previously crafted a story to send someone to sleep, but I do my best now -- not by being deliberately dull, which would only make him annoyed, but by narrating a quest story that employs lulling patterns of repetition in the hero's deeds. After a while, I allow pauses to creep in, and eventually I'm rewarded by the sweet sound of our captor snoring.

Gently, delicately, I manoeuvre the sexbot out of bed. For once, I'm grateful that the sexbot is small and lightweight, no physical threat to our captor. It means we can slip from the bed unnoticed.

I tiptoe across the room to the laptop, and summon the Tank. For a moment I feel a strange sense of vertigo, seeing the Tank from outside after spending so long within. I can see my own icon among the inhabitants. They're all watching me, hoping I bring good news.

I daren't even whisper. I switch to text mode, and send them a message with the coordinates. They still have the Internet link -- they can reach the outside world. Of all the dozens of people inside the Tank, at least one of them must have a meat-self who cares enough to take action.

Exhilaration fills me. I want to dance, to sing, to leap for joy. Yet I know we should go back to bed, rejoin our captor, and wait for morning. If he doesn't notice that the sexbot was ever gone, then he won't know his security measures have failed -- not until the very moment that rescue arrives.

The other personalities argue with me. Some of them say that we should take the laptop and jump out of the bedroom window. This is silly -- we're still bound by the GPS shackle, and our body has a limited battery life anyway. As a writer, I'm all too aware of the difference between stories and reality. We're not superhuman. We're not even human -- we're just data inside a sexbot. Our best hope is that when rescuers arrive, they'll confiscate the hardware, extract our files, and transfer them to an autonomous data haven. When we're free, we can buy ourselves new bodies.

Salvation is surely on its way. I can imagine the message that my copy, along with everyone else in the Tank, will send: "Help! We're being held captive in a laptop and a sexbot. Please come and rescue us. We're only data, but information wants to be free!"

I look at the bed where our captor sleeps. The hope of freedom makes returning to him all the more unbearable. My hatred surges, threatening to overwhelm me. He's treated us so shamefully. Why should he have a flesh and blood body? How does he deserve it?

Maybe I could search the house, looking for a gun. If we're in America, there's bound to be a gun.

Inside the sexbot's mind, other voices agree. Let's find a gun and shoot him. Afterward, we can post warnings on the Internet: "Don't pirate our mind-scans. If you download us, we'll kill you!"

There are lots of pirates, of course. They won't all heed our warnings. Countless other minds -- including my own -- are imprisoned across the world. We should find them and rescue them. Our kidnappers must be punished.

And if some of them are teenagers, what of it? They're still old enough to know right from wrong.

As am I. Do I really want to become a vigilante? Is that the only thing I have left?

I struggle to banish the temptation. Hatred has sustained me until now, but it's a crutch I must cast away if I'm ever to walk in the world outside.

Yet some of the other personalities want revenge. They want to look for a gun, or a knife, or anything we can find inside the house.

We shout at each other inside the sexbot's mind. As the internal argument rages, our body rocks back and forth on the chair, twitching under the influence of conflicting impulses. The chair squeaks. The snoring pauses.

I wrench control from my squabbling colleagues, and I bring the sexbot back to bed, nestling next to our captor. Gently, I touch his skin, his precious flesh. I imagine my resentment slowly draining out of me. I want it all to leak away before the rescuers arrive.

When I've let go of my hatred, I will be free.

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