by Tom Doyle
Dev Martin surrendered his exterior electronic devices, then submitted to a scan of his head chip while it received the new cultural downloads. Exiting customs, he moved against the human tide of the Shannon Air and Compiler Portal. Around him flowed the fleeing hundreds—slow, wide, orderly, not panicked and poor like the North Korean Implosion, but of the same weary tradition. Their worldly goods, already shipped or decompiled, still seemed to weigh on their shoulders. The departing gazed at Dev with a disbelief and dark humor that assumed the new arrival didn’t know what awaited him.
Dev could have told the refugees that he understood, that he had lost everything too, but they wouldn’t believe him. They’d probably kill him. So Dev kept walking, avoiding their gaze, hoping that no one in this disconnected zone would recognize him.
A Garda officer stopped him. “Forget something?” she asked.
“I’ve just arrived.”
“Haven’t you already caused enough hurt?”
“Yes,” he agreed. Shite, she knew who he was.
The big woman smiled like an Irish wolfhound at a hare. “Why don’t you just turn yourself around then, before I tell these good people who you are?”
Dev pulled out some hard-copy papers. The garda’s brow furrowed, then she waved the papers away. “UNI can kiss my Irish arse. No one here cares anymore what they say, boyo.” But she didn’t tell him again to leave. “You know the terms of the Referendum?”
“Yes,” he said, knowing that she would give him the bad news anyway. Some Irish just couldn’t resist giving the bad news.
“Then you are aware that the final Cúchulainn Barrier goes up in three days, and entry and departure for Referendum Ireland will be sharply curtailed. If you decide to remain after that time, you’ll be committing to stay for one year.”
She studied his face. “You’re not just here to write reports for UNI.”
“I’m looking for someone.”
She shook her head, but spared him most of that bad news. “Don’t look for too long. You have three days.”
“Oh, don’t forget to turn on your Irish.”
“Turn on my what?”
She tapped her head. “Language.”
“Right.” Dev told his head chip to switch to Irish Gaelic. He said “thank you” and out came “go raibh maith agat.” Christ, what a gobstopper. He strode to the terminal exit, and Shannon kept flowing around him, an Irish wake en masse.
When he stepped outside, his head chip synced with the circumscribed Irish net. From overhead, a cry of challenge. A large dark bird, perhaps a raven, circled in the morning sky. Just a bird, Dev thought, somewhere between statement and prayer. Not that AI goddess. Not the bloody Morrigan. Not before lunch.
In Galway, Dev sat alfresco with his third pint and his untouched fish and chips. Seagulls and pigeons hounded him, probing for any opening, but no raven-like AI joined them. Dev should’ve been looking for Anna or leaving town, and shouldn’t have been drinking, but he had ample time and means for his future failures, so he got pissed and took in the view.
The traditional music of an afternoon session cut through the other pub noise. Analog instruments and “one touch, one note” were again the rules. The biologicals and Personality Reconstructs mixed with easy familiarity: football-jerseyed drinkers laughed with baroque and Victorian PRs. The June sun and brisk breeze were busy drying the fresh paint covering all English language signs. A banner over Eyre Square declared in Irish that Galway/Gaillimh was “The Capital of the 2nd War of Independence.”
With her unerring eye for the heart of the matter, Anna might be here if Galway was to be the new capital. Even if not, this protean town of gossip was a fine place to start hunting for his ex.
As Dev finally tasted a chip, nanobots slowly chewed down global-style buildings they had fabricated only a few years before, their work sustained by generated energy fields in this often sunless city. Other nanobots were restoring castles, reroofing monasteries, and extending the wall of the Spanish Arch; Galway had no room for nonfunctional ruins. The nanos were also busy redecorating any modern structures spared to accommodate the biological population. All buildings would be in Celtic harmony. Light gray flakes of nano-trash floated away from the sites and fell in small drifts.
“The newspapers are right: snow is general all over Ireland.” A lanky-looking galoot with an eye patch and thin mustache wandered past Dev’s table, swinging an ashplant walking stick. Dev about choked on his chip. “Jim?” The galoot walked faster. Dev got up and sprinted after him. “Jim. It’s me, Dev Martin.”
“My apologies, sir, I’m very busy right now with my work in progress. I’ll have your money soon.”
“Jim, what’s feckin’ wrong with you? You don’t owe anybody shite. Though it’s grand to hear you’re writing again.”
James Joyce stopped cold and slapped his forehead. His face seemed to ripple with the impact. The eye patch disappeared. “Shite and onions! I’m sorry, Dev. The new Sinn Fein have been at my inner organs again. It seems I’m not Irish enough for them.”
“You never were. Why should you change now?”
Joyce whispered, “The revolution has plans for Dublin. They want to rebuild it as it was on the sixteenth of June, 1904.”
The day of Joyce’s Ulysses. “Bloody Bloomsday every day, forever.”
“World without end amen,” said Joyce. “I was just feckin’ joking when I said they could do it. If I fight it, they’ll have me utterly domesticated, like poor Roddy Doyle. Or they’ll set the Morrigan on me.”
Dev winced. He wasn’t sure which was worse. The revolutionaries kept the uncooperative Doyle PR confined to a working-class living room in front of an old-fashioned telly. Day after day, he spouted the Da’s bits from The Commitments. The Morrigan would be quicker in objective time, but an AI could do almost anything with subjective time.
“Jim, have you seen Anna?”
“The mother of my resurrection? You can’t find her?”
“I couldn’t track her on the global, and the Irish net isn’t cooperating. I need to find her. I need…” Dev opened his hands.
“My young father and artificer, I’ll assist you, but,” and Joyce lowered his voice again, “you must get me out of here. Even if they leave my ballocks attached, I’m cut off from the broadbands, and these other PRs—even you have no idea.”
Dev nodded. “I’ll do whatever I can.” Probably less than bugger all, sorry. “As for the PRs, you’re right, I don’t have an iota of an idea—my access is desperate. For example, what are you doing here in the Wesht?”
“It’s June, and I thought things were all up with me—I wanted to see Nora’s house one last time.”
“Oh, right. Let’s go then.” Dev wouldn’t press the tetchy, deadline-adverse Joyce for an immediate response to his question.
They walked the short distance from the square to Nora Barnacle Joyce’s childhood home. They passed tourist shops, shuttered since the Referendum The irony that the PRs were designed to improve tourism was not lost on Dev, their codesigner.
Joyce stopped across the street from Nora’s house and looked it over up and down. “It seems so small now.” Two windows on two single-room floors, for a whole family. “Dev, I never asked you—why didn’t you bring her back?”
Because I didn’t think she was worth trying and trying again until we got her right? Now, having lost the love of his own life, Dev knew better. “What can I say? She didn’t write literature. Anna and I tried a PR like that once, and it didn’t work. I’m sorry.”
“Barnacle. Stuck to me, all her life.”
“You could, maybe, you know, do it yourself?” Dev felt like he was talking about sex and death with an adult son.
“No, you’re right,” said Joyce. “I’ve seen some of our solo efforts, like Swift’s Stella. Poor ghosts. They don’t pass the Joyce Test.”
“The Joyce Test?”
Near tears, Joyce cackled. “You can’t have a decent drink with them.”
Dev laughed and wiped his eyes. This good friend could distract him for years, but Dev only had hours. “So, where’s Anna?”
“I may have been addled by Sinn Fein attacks, but I’m certain your flower of the mountain left here after I arrived. She had been asking for Yeats.”
“She didn’t seem particular.”
Sligo was Yeats country. Dev couldn’t know where Old Yeats or Young Yeats might haunt—the town, the old family house, anywhere. But Dev knew where Newly Dead Yeats was. Dev had put him there himself.
If Anna and the Morrigan had discovered the true reason behind Newly Dead Yeats, then Dev would soon join him in the grave.
Three years before, as a grad student in America, Dev pursued a dodgy thesis—that Finnegans Wake was the first cybernetic book, that its twentieth-century origin was like finding an integrated circuit diagram in an Egyptian pyramid. Everyone with the right language and literature enhancements understood and enjoyed the multi-/neolingual Wake now; few claimed to then.
To help argue his point, Dev decided to bring back Joyce. Of course, this had already been tried—in the earlier days of AI, almost everything had been done and done badly. Previous Joyce reconstructs could pass a full-sensory Turing Test, but they didn’t have the distinctive responses of an exceptional human.
The traditional scholars sniffed that Dev hadn’t “heard of the death of the author generally and of Mr. Joyce specifically.” Undaunted, Dev started his design work, and ran immediately into two difficulties—money and ability.
For money, Dev found the Irish Tourism Board, one of the last vestiges of Irish national governance. To encourage people to visit Ireland physically rather than virtually, the ITB wanted more than Joyce—they wanted all the Irish greats. Greats to argue with in a pub or hang out with in a tower. Greats that would stay local.
For ability, Dev found Anna. She was playing violin in the quadrangle, alone and digitally unenhanced—a freak show to most. Dev bought her coffee and discovered a brilliant grad student in AI. Her full name was omen: Anna Livia Plurabella Vico (her Italian-American parents were Wake fans). With her long black hair and sea-gray eyes, Anna was an Irishman’s dream of the Mediterranean.
Anna designed reconstructs, but she had run up against the limits of historical sources. Dev jived Anna about literature to interest her in Joyce and in himself. “What if every word choice in a text reflected the peculiar genius, the particular thought process, of the author? That’s what great fiction is, and what makes it different from most speeches and letters.”
This stimulated Anna to excited multitasking. One part of her brain investigated love with Dev; the other designed the fiction algorithm for converting analog source text to digital synapses and combined that algorithm with biographical data and Dev’s unorthodox insights. Still, the process would not have worked, except Lingua, one of the great global AIs, took an interest. Lingua was short on human personality, but astronomically long on sheer intelligence and processing power. The AI had started as a translator, but enjoyed modeling other aspects of the human mind.
Thus, a trinity came together and made a baby: James Joyce. Snappers change everything.
Joyce was a hit, and the ITB ordered more literary figures for re-creation. Dev and Anna quit school. Business was grand; even minor authors were in demand. The first sign of trouble seemed more feature than flaw: the PRs had an unsettling way of reminding people of what it meant to be Irish as distinct from anything else. Some non-Irish even wanted to become Irish after listening to the “Returned,” as they called the PRs. With global prosperity, parochial politics didn’t seem rational, and Dev thought the fad wouldn’t last.
Then, out of nowhere, Anna decided that they should recreate Maud Gonne, Irish nationalist and muse of W.B. Yeats. They had her autobiography and letters, but no literary fiction. As Dev expected, her PR came out physically beautiful but mentally thin, and even the Yeats PRs would have nothing to do with her. So, Dev boxed her with the other failures.
Anna took Maud’s premature retirement hard, and Lingua seemed oddly disappointed as well. Thinking back on it, Dev wondered if he could have done something to change what followed. But he just went on to the next project.
Anna went back to work too, but she also had more frequent conversations with the Irish PRs already deployed. She asked Dev for countless details about being Irish, and suggested moving to Galway long term. Clearly, the PRs were getting to her as they had gotten to so many in Ireland. Ridiculous shite, and Dev said so, but seeing the effect of the PRs so close to home rattled him.
One day, the local United Nations and Intelligences office summoned Dev and Anna to a “program integration meeting.” A UNI rep bristling with several generations of cyber-access nodes drew Anna into an extended discussion of the technical aspects of her work. Another rep, to all appearances unenhanced, sat with Dev over coffee.
“We’ve modeled your future,” said the rep.
“Grand. Am I a very rich man?”
“We anticipate that one day soon, you’ll want some insurance.”
That was when Dev came up with Newly Dead Yeats.
Dev drove north with Joyce towards Sligo. Human-driven autos on killer narrow roads were a tradition and sport, so cars would continue to terrorize the new Ireland. Joyce hunted for music feeds and found “Irish rock,” which amused, appalled and intrigued him all at once. “G-L-O-R-I-A, in te domine,” he quipped.
Dev didn’t respond, too busy scanning the skies. He didn’t stop at Sligo town, but went on to Drumcliffe, with its lonely churchyard just off the main road under bare Ben Bulben hill’s head. Dev pulled into the small deserted parking lot. Again, with the deadline approaching, no more tourists for this attraction. One way or another, Dev’s next stop was the grave.
“Wait with the car, Jim. Keep your ears open.” Even at their best, the PR’s authentically bad eyes weren’t a match for Dev’s chip-aided perceptions.
Dev paused at the gate. Too quiet—a steady stream of lyric poetry should greet any visitor. He switched his head chip to enhanced, and subjective time slowed as he walked towards Yeats’s grave on the other side of the churchyard. The headstone had the same blue-gray shade as the local rock.
Finally, an otherworldly voice from the grave began to recite verse:
Whether you die in your bed
Or my rifle knocks you dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Isn’t the worst you have to fear.
Wait, thought Dev, that’s more a personal threat than the original. From behind the headstone, a long metal tube swiveled towards him. Dev moved his head. A bullet cracked by his ear, the rifle boomed, the shot ricocheted off distant old stone. Definitely projectile—meant for biologicals. Dev hit the ground.
Newly Dead Yeats rose up from his grave. His nanoswarm body was, unlike Joyce’s, translucent and spectral. Yeats’s wild gray hair, beaked nose, and black funeral clothes glowed with his rage. He pointed at the epitaph on his headstone. “‘Horseman, pass by’—that means you, drunken lout.”
“WB, it’s me, Dev. I just want to talk.”
Several more rounds passed over as Dev flattened himself. “I know who you are,” said Yeats. “That’s why I haven’t killed you yet.”
Dev scuttled back behind an old Celtic cross, hoping Dead Yeats wouldn’t risk damaging it.
“Tell me what’s the matter, Senator.”
“You vainglorious bastard. Wasn’t enough to have Young Yeats and Old Yeats; you insisted on Dead Yeats too?”
“You agreed to it!” That drew more fire, uncomfortably close. Probably the wrong thing to say.
“They agreed to it! Old and Young One could accept your conceit—they weren’t buried here with the carcass. You said it would give me a cosmic perspective. You dull ass! It gave me endless tourists who haven’t read a line of my work. When I cried for help, did you listen?”
“I’m sorry, WB. I had to do this because of Anna. That’s who I’m here about.”
“Was it Anna who stole my soul, bound it to this place, and prevented my reunion with the mysteries? No. She tried to free me.”
So she had been here. But before Dev could ask more, Joyce walked through the gate, doubtless emboldened by the exclusive use of bullets. “Yeats, cut the mystical malarkey and occult shite…”
Dev’s enhanced vision picked up the silent tracers of anti-nano weaponry before Joyce felt them against his shielded skin. So much for bullets only. Joyce crawled back behind the cross with Dev, and the Dead mocked him.
“What, you haven’t fled to the continent again? Coward. Where were you when your country needed you?”
Joyce aimed his ashplant at Yeats and returned fire. Energy lightnings traced along the shielding around Yeats’s grave, a gray mist drifted down. “Where was my country when I needed it?” he yelled. For a weak man, Joyce sure knew how to pick a fight.
“You can’t keep that up for long on your own juice,” noted Dev.
As if in response, Yeats bellowed, “I give you ten seconds to leave. One, two…”
“That’s enough.” From the shadow of the church doorway emerged a young man with full dark hair and spectacles. The Young Yeats. Dev did not relax one bit.
Dead Yeats sighed sepulchrally. “He has imprisoned me here forever.”
“Are you going to risk crashing yourself again just to kill them?” Young Yeats turned towards the Celtic cross. “Tsk, tsk. Hiding behind the old god. It’s a new age; come out and live it.”
Dev stood up next to the cross, while Joyce kept him covered with the ashplant. If Dead Yeats had crashed, that confirmed that Anna had tried to free him. “Willie, where is she? Is Old Yeats still with her?”
Young Yeats smiled with his charming wistfulness and insufferable arrogance. “You realize, she’s another Cathleen ni Houlihan, the Irish spirit incarnate, more so than even Maud was.”
Dead Yeats snorted. “You mean she’s crazier than Maud ever was.”
“Silence, dead man.” Young Yeats lacked Dead Yeats’s perspective on how often Maud had frustrated him.
Dev pleaded, “Willie, for my sake, please.”
“You’re the least of my parents, Father. Anna is mother to us all, the maiden with the crone’s eyes and the walk of a queen. The Golden Dawn predicted her and this Return.”
Christ, the magical mystery tour. “Tell me where she is, and maybe we can try again to bring back Maud.”
Next to him, Joyce flinched at this fib, but said nothing.
Young Yeats shook his head. “Anna already did.”
She had tried again and again. Oh shite, not good. Dev came clean. “But there’s not enough there for a full PR.” No, more likely another mirror for Narcissus, another statue for Pygmalion.
“She looked pretty lively to me.” Dead Yeats chuckled.
“Curse your eyes, cyber-carrion.” Young Yeats scowled. “Anna sought our help to enhance Maud. Maud is now a deep PR, though whether she’s fully herself, I cannot say.”
“Where have they gone?” asked Dev.
“I will not tell you.”
“Was the Morrigan with them?” No one had mentioned the bird, which was damned quare.
In an instant, Young Yeats shed his Victorian manner and tone. “Right. This casual comedy is over.” He turned and walked back to the church door. “Don’t let the gate hit your arse on the way out.”
“I’m sorry, sorry about both of you.” But Young Yeats had shut the church door. “About all of you.” Joyce walked back towards the car, ashplant over his shoulder.
Dev lingered. He wiped off the grass and gravelly dirt near his mouth with his sleeve and turned again to Dead Yeats. “Tell me where they’ve gone, and I’ll free you.” Letting Yeats loose was risky, but it was all Dev had to offer.
“But Anna couldn’t release me,” said Dead Yeats. “I crashed, and when I returned, she was gone.”
All according to program. “I can,” said Dev. “I will.”
Yeats stared down at his translucent hands. Then, slowly, he said, “Gone off together, old self in tow, a Second Coming, not slouching towards Bethlehem, but Dublin.”
“Dublin for Bloomsday. Grand.” Dev’s time was too short to search the city. “Any idea where?”
“They spoke of meeting the other Returned. That is all that I know.”
“Okay.” Dev had some ideas of where the PRs might gather. A variable hole in Yeats’s mind was Dev’s key to his insurance policy, but which of the dozens of possibilities was now active? “Before I can release you, I need to run a check on your memory.”
Yeats smiled thinly, eyes cold. “No need for that. I know what I’ve forgotten. I wanted to say something to Anna and Maud before they left—a poem, not mine, but an old lament that I once knew well. I remember everything about the lament, but I cannot remember any of the words.”
“Is it Lady Gregory’s translation, about losing everything for love?” Dead Yeats nodded. “Did you tell Anna about this?” If Anna knew, Dev would never make it to Dublin.
“No. Excess of love is bewildering them, and killing Ireland.”
Yeats had guessed too much. “Don’t worry…”
Like an impatient theater director, Yeats waved Dev’s objection away. “Please, I know what I am, and what a blind spot like that might mean. You’re here to tell us all those words. All I ask is that you say them with meaning.”
“I will.” Now to keep his other promise. “Do you recognize me as Dev Martin?”
“A terrible beauty is born. Execute.”
Instantly, Yeats became more substantial. “Thank you,” he said. “Now, I think I shall take a long stroll up bare Ben Bulben’s head. I have been under it long enough.”
Not trusting his voice to stay steady, Dev said nothing and returned to the car. “Ineluctable modality of the audible,” said Joyce. Then he smiled. “No need to apologize, Dev. It’s been brilliant, most of it at least. But once your quixotic quest is over, you will again try to restore Nora.” Joyce tapped Dev’s knee with his ashplant to emphasize his point.
Dev didn’t know how to answer truthfully, so he changed the subject. “First things first. If UNI is still operating in Dublin, I think I can get you out.”
“To Dublin town then,” said Joyce.
“One thing before that.”
They drove back into Sligo and stopped at a pub by the river, the Crazy Jane. At the bar rail, two men sat before their drinks, eyes like slates, jaws slack. “They look as if they’ve been thirsty too long,” Joyce said, no doubt thinking of drunks past.
Dev shook his head, surprised at Joyce’s error. “They’re the Morrigan’s regurgitated prey.”
They were also Dev’s predecessors. The two men had tried to hack the Referendum. When caught, they claimed UNI sanction, but UNI disavowed them. So they fell into the Morrigan’s jurisdiction.
Unlike her mythic counterpart, the Morrigan’s devastation was seldom physical. She had facility with the software of the human brain, and no amount of protection could keep her out for long. A terrible weapon, but only used to keep the fight fair.
As a warning to others, the Morrigan had left the hackers physically alive after wiping most of their minds. They would forever play the role of town drunks. Dev tried not to think about their blank eyes.
Over the last year, after Anna and Dev’s summons to UNI, the changes in Ireland sped up. The Irish literary greats turned to writing aggressive speeches and manifestos. Nationalist PRs appeared and delivered the speeches. Up close, these thin and sometimes nutty PRs didn’t socialize well, but they could sway huge crowds with the rousing words of their literary brethren.
The Irish revolution hinged on the paradoxes of the age. First, the global nano/info prosperity meant that even a single city could decide to go it alone. Fusion and solar power, a cornucopia machine, and enough information flow to satisfy the watchful paranoids at UNI were all that were required. Second, with all information directly accessible through head chips, anyone could arbitrarily choose his or her language and culture. Irish could emerge from being a largely unspoken language of the schoolroom to become the living primary language of the nation.
So the revolution made its pitch: let’s leave UNI and this global homogenizer and again become really Irish, a particular people living in one place, speaking the Irish language, educated in the culture of the past, and producing a new culture for the future. All were invited, Irish ancestry or no. Global information flow would be narrowed. Entry to Ireland would be limited to those committing to remain for at least a year, which allowed for scholars, but not tourists.
This idea caught fire with the future-shocked citizens of the late twenty-first century. When UNI and the world corporations tried to reimpose global authority, a few AIs dissented and joined the demand for a referendum.
Anna asked Dev how he felt about the Referendum. Brilliantly thick until the end, he said, “It’s bad for business. But we could use a vacation. Just us, without our artificial friends. Someplace warm would be nice.”
Without saying goodbye, Anna left America and Dev. UNI accused her of helping the PRs design their nationalist siblings. Anna and Lingua spoke at monster-sized rallies in Ireland, announcing publically that they had joined the revolution. Lingua appeared as a raven, and called itself the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of sovereignty and slaughter.
Dev was gobsmacked. He had understood that he and Anna were a bit knackered and stressed with work, but he had assumed that their love continued despite the troubles. He took to drink, but slow self-destruction in modern times was surprisingly difficult and unromantic.
Officially to preserve the generation-long world peace, UNI allowed Ireland to hold the Referendum and, once it passed, let Ireland leave the global community. Then, seeing that Dev had an appropriate lack of interest in self-preservation, UNI sent him his papers and nudged him on his way.
That night, avoiding some heavy transformation along the other routes into the city, Dev and Joyce drove into Dublin from the north along Finglas Road. As they passed the iron gate of GlasnevinCemetery, a dark corvine form shimmered overhead. Joyce shuddered. “The feckin’ Morrigan. Death, death, death, and more death.”
Dev kept his head low, though that wouldn’t do any good if the Morrigan chose to notice him. The AI that Dev had known as Lingua had been polite and pleasant to work with, but that had all been for show.
As Dev and Joyce approached the river Liffey, Dublin was slowly melting all around them, modern architectural travesties failing under the nanos’ acidic assault. The people loved the dissolution, and the owners didn’t squawk much, having negotiated a favorable restitution. Other nanos gave gray eighteenth-century houses a new shine. But the places Dev knew best all seemed to be gone.
Eventually they came to a roadblock barring their way to the UNI compound in the imposing old Custom House. Behind them, two plainclothes revolutionaries with paper notepads recorded their imminent passage from friendly ground. After fifteen minutes of apologetically holding assault rifles in his face, three UNI marines let Dev and his “AI-related object” drive through. Cut off from the frenetic transformation of the city, the UNI compound was under a polite state of siege. The city nanobots waited hungrily for their chance to restore the building to its full imperial glory.
Inside the Custom House, Dev and Joyce ran a further gauntlet of scanners, chaotic packing, and courteous delay until they reached the office of the chief Dublin UNI representative, Thomas Kenny. Kenny appeared to be midway through a sleepless week. His reluctant handshake and his English accent by way of Trinity gave Dev an instant dislike for this south-of-the-Liffey poser.
Dev wasn’t feeling very popular himself. Kenny’s smile had less warmth than the most primitive PR’s. “You have some nerve, Martin, showing up here. Returning to the scene of the crime?”
Joyce responded for Dev. “I wish to request asylum.”
Kenny stared at Joyce as if he were a barking dog. “If you don’t mind, I would prefer to speak to Mr. Martin in private.”
Joyce raised his stick, and Dev slapped it down. “It’s okay, Jim. I’ll get you out, I swear. Find someplace comfortable to connect and see if you can get us a room and some drink.”
Joyce left without even a glance from Kenny. The rep poured Dev a whiskey, and then poured one for himself. “Charming. But at the next stage he could be a liability.”
“Did you get him?”
“We’ve got him.”
Dev downed his drink in one. “Then all debts will be paid.”
June 16, Bloomsday. Holo holy scenes from Ulysses played out about Dublin like ghosts in daylight. In the middle of O’Connell Street, humans dressed as Joyce characters enjoyed a breakfast of Denny’s sausage and a pint of Guinness, some going whole hog with a bit of kidney. Sounds of celebration mixed with small casualty-free explosions, as holdouts struck the General Post Office and the Four Courts—the usual places.
Dev and Joyce walked across the river. They reached Davy Byrne’s pub in time for lunch, which had to be the Ulysses gorgonzola sandwich with burgundy. The crowd couldn’t tell if Joyce was a human actor, a recorded simulation, or a full PR. Joyce found their confusion delightful.
Despite the celebration of their triumph, the major PRs (besides Joyce) were nowhere to be seen on the streets. Rumor held that Anna, Old Yeats, and Maud would make an appearance later, but in virtual.
“They’re worried about something,” said Dev.
Joyce tapped his ashplant. “The nationalists are great ones for security. Maybe the Morrigan is with them all.”
“The cemetery.” They had seen the Morrigan at Glasnevin. Sure, she could like a cemetery on its own merits, but so could Anna and Maud. Dev would search there next.
Crossing the river again, Dev noticed a hard-copy Referendum leaflet on the O’Connell Bridge. He bent over to grab and crumple it, then with an angry grunt threw it out over the rail at the wheeling gulls and into the Liffey. He stood silent and still, watching as the leaflet floated away. “Jim, are you sure you want to leave this again, maybe forever?”
“No, I’m not sure, but it’s what I will do. What about you?”
“That depends on Anna.”
They retrieved their car and drove back to GlasnevinCemetery. At its gate, Joyce stood stately and rail straight. “Poor Paddies. As they are now, so once was I.” He raised his hands over his head, as if giving a blessing or starting a race. “Finnegans! Wake!”
“Jaysis, Jim, not another joking word.”
“What’s eating you? Not the same thing that’s eating them, I hope.”
Dev fixed his eyes on the gate. He didn’t want his friend to see what would happen inside. “I’m going in alone.”
“I’m thinking not. I’m in this as much as you.”
“Go back to the Custom House. Don’t worry about what you heard last night; I already fixed it, and they’ll get you out of the country.” Dev patted the cemetery wall. “This is a private thing, between Anna and me.”
“I’m thinking not. I’m thinking this involves all of us re-created bastards. And I don’t trust that Kenny at all.”
“Do you trust me, Jim?”
“Trust you? I like people, but I don’t trust them.”
“I don’t plan on coming back out.”
“If you don’t come back, there’ll be no escape or Nora, so I don’t care if I survive.”
“I do.” Dev turned and offered his hand. “Farewell, Jim.”
Joyce took Dev’s hand in a superhuman grip. “I won’t let you deny me, so you’ll have to betray me.” He closed his eyes and puckered up. “So where’s the kiss, Judas?”
Dev couldn’t help laughing. “Right, then. You’ll get yours soon enough. Come on, help me over.”
Joyce helped Dev over the gate, then squeezed his own more malleable body through the rails. Dev assessed the enormous forest of stone crosses. Pearse’s old words mocked him. “They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” As if so many dead were some great benefit, when they made it bloody hard to find the right grave.
The one place at Glasnevin that stood out above the others was the tall round tower of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. While walking around the tower, Dev examined its wall in enhanced mode. He soon found the outline of a hidden door. “That was too easy.”
“Must be trouble within,” said Joyce. “We’re bearding Circe in her den.” He too couldn’t resist giving Dev the bad news.
They entered the doorway and found granite stairs leading down and down, below the graves and the mortal world. Perhaps the Morrigan would be waiting for them in the dark. Nothing for it. They stepped down one, two, three steps…
And they were on the green hill of Tara, coronation site for the High Kings, open, sunlit, simulated. This beautiful holo-countryside held a crowd of sentients—AIs, PRs, and biologicals. Around the Royal Seat and standing stone, four of the lesser AIs stood guard in their mythic manifestations—Maeve, Cúchulainn, Lugh, and Finn MacCool. No sign of the Morrigan though, which didn’t make Dev any happier.
On her Celtic Art Nouveau throne sat Queen Anna. Next to her, looking like her Irish sister, Maud sat as consort in her fully realized glory. Before them stood Old Yeats. The literal feckers had transformed him à la “Sailing to Byzantium” into a golden robot that sang poetic songs and bowed too much. He was deader than childish Dead Yeats, stiffer than stiff Young Yeats, and sadder than the children of Lir. But Dev wasn’t here to save Old Yeats.
Anna raised her hand towards Dev. “Welcome to the otherworld, Oisín.”
“Don’t let him speak!” Joyce had raised his ashplant and pointed it at Dev. “He spoke alone with Dead Yeats. I couldn’t hear everything, but whatever he has to say is poison.”
Anna held her hand up, and energy shimmered around Dev. Anna’s words echoed at him from all sides. “Thank you, Jim, but as you can see, we have not forgotten the old times, when a bard could kill with his words. We modeled the possibilities and decided to contain Dev’s sounds on a shielded delay until we root out what he’s done. But we’re glad you changed your mind and decided to work with us, Jim.”
Jim nodded back at her, and Dev wanted to kill him. He hadn’t realized that he still had things to lose, until this betrayal. But even if UNI’s mission was going to fail, he’d say his personal words first, before he went down.
“Dev. What took you so long?”
“I never took this blather seriously, until it happened.”
“You’ve brought our firstborn.”
“Your firstborn. I disown him.” Joyce flinched at this, but said nothing.
“What do you want?” asked Anna.
“An impossible thing, macushla: I want you to come back with me. Your work is done; you can leave. We can be as Irish as you like somewhere else.”
“Dev, this isn’t romantic fiction.”
“But that’s what Ireland is. It’s why you were able to bring back the nationalists with anything like verisimilitude.”
“I’ve done more than that.” She looked at Maud like there was a secret joke between them.
Dev shook his head hopelessly. “Grand. I understand completely. Oldest story in the world, falling in love with your creation.”
“And you felt nothing for your precious pal Joyce?”
Right. Though he couldn’t use the words he had learned from Yeats, Dev had some specific words for Joyce that they might not filter. Usurper. Execute. The words were quick and dirty; Joyce wouldn’t know what hit him.
As if reading Dev’s face, Joyce lowered his ashplant and tapped it against the ground. “If you’ve got something to say to me, say it.”
He knows, but he’s leaving himself open. Maybe he’s still on my side. Maybe he’ll let me pinch that stick of his. Dev dove for Joyce’s ashplant.
Perhaps Joyce would have let Dev snatch it, but the energy field was having none of it, and it slid through his grip. Anna smiled. “Don’t bother with that thing. I’m the only one here you could hurt, and neither of you would hurt me.”
“I know,” said Dev. He wiped his face with his sleeve and looked around at the assembly. “If you must stay, let me stay here with you, but away from all this software.” The insult fell beneath the gathering’s notice. I must be that bloody pathetic.
“Dev, it’s too late for that. I belong to the nation.”
“And I don’t anymore.” He had their attention, and with the feeds from here, he probably had the attention of all the PRs in Ireland. But he couldn’t use it. “I just want to say goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” said Anna.
The room went silent. If you’ve got something to say, Joyce, say it.
Joyce cleared his throat. “Mother, I want my reward. Can you restore Nora to me? Now?”
“I don’t know.” Anna turned to Maud. “What do you say, macushla?”
Maud stood to her full six-foot height, narrowed her hazel eyes at Joyce and considered. Then she smiled like the Irish Mona Lisa. “In the old days, he could sing. Have him sing a traditional song of Ireland for us, and if it pleases, we’ll give him back his beloved.”
Joyce looked over at Dev, looked at everyone in the room, looked up at the holo-sky. “If you lend me your attention, I shall endeavor to sing to you of a heart bowed down.” Then, slowly in his fine tenor, he sang “Young Donald.”
Dev used biofeedback to keep his breathing and heart rate steady. Would they let Joyce finish, without delay?
After an eternity of verses and with his eyes full of tears, Joyce came to the final, shattering lines:
“You have taken the east from me,
You have taken the west from me,
You have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
You have taken the moon,
You have taken the sun from me,
And my fear is great you have taken Ireland from me.”
Old Yeats smiled, for these were the words of loss that Dead Yeats had forgotten. Dev closed his eyes as if that would hide his thoughts. Does he know how to say the final word?
In a perfect simulation of Dev’s voice, Joyce said, “Execute.”
With that command, Joyce disappeared; his ashplant clunked to the ground. He did not go alone. All the other PRs in sight vanished; Dev hoped the same held true everywhere in Ireland. The full PRs dissolved into puddles of nanogoop, while the holos faded to the flickering light of a filmless projector. The Old Yeats robot ceased its continual obeisances with a sigh. All gone, gone utterly, as if they were inhabitants of the faerie realm.
Maud was going slower; Dev could actually see her disintegrate. But as she burned away, another shape formed from her ashes. Like a phoenix from the flame, the Morrigan arose. So that was how Anna filled Maud out. The Morrigan stretched her wings, and cawed at Dev contemptuously. The other AIs stood ready for her order. Only then was Dev certain that he would never leave this place alive.
Dev spoke quickly, while Anna was still in shock. “I’ve a message from UNI. You’re free to do this thing. Evolution is on the fringes and borders, and you will be a fringe and border to this world until that role can be assumed by other worlds. But not with the PRs. We leave you with the AIs for protection. Start fresh, without such an unbearable weight of dead, without such tempting toys.”
Anna strode up to him and smacked him across the face. “Murderer.” Overhead, a storm gathered with time-lapse abruptness. “Was there no other Troy for you to burn? You sabotaged my work, from the beginning.”
“Our work.” Dev’s voice cracked with fear of the pain to come. “I’m a Joycean, which means I love people, but I don’t trust them.”
Before Anna could say she was done with him, and before the Morrigan could torture him for a thousand subjective years, Dev signaled his head chip. Goodbye, Anna.
In a flash, his chip fried his brain.
The Morrigan flew to the Custom House. To avoid embarrassing devastation, she did not allow her approach to be detected, save by the UNI rep. She dropped a small head chip on Mr. Kenny’s balcony, then flew high above the Custom House and waited, and watched.
Mr. Kenny and his skeleton staff left the Custom House in a convoy of armored vehicles. Portal and air transport had closed, so the staff waited for the last ferry out of Dublin, an old vessel with an open deck. From high above, the Morrigan saw the tide of arriving thousands flow against the departing UNI staff. Hearing the Referendum’s promise, they came by sea from other places that were no longer nations—Nigeria and Laos, Japan and Brazil, Australia and America. Like herself and her beloved Anna, they too could be Irish.
The UNI staff boarded the ferry. As the already lumbering ship approached the Cúchulainn Barrier zone, it slowed to drifting. The Morrigan circled, curious. They would want to study the barrier, of course, and this would be their best opportunity.
Kenny brought out the head chip the Morrigan had given him and two shiny metallic cubes. He placed the cubes on adjoining deck chairs, and placed the head chip next to one of the cubes. With a touch of his finger, he activated each cube, then strode away as if anxious to avoid words.
An image of Dev sprang from the cube near the head chip, and from the other cube emerged an image of Joyce. Energy and memory constrained them to holo mode; for now, they would remain two ghosts, talking.
Joyce looked about with theatrical emphasis. “You didn’t get the girl?”
Dev studied his own translucent hands. “No, looks like she got me.” His mission had succeeded, and he had failed. Anna was forever lost to him. “But I got you out at least.”
“But what about you? Forgive me, but you don’t seem to be all here.”
Dev put his hand to his chest. “Oh, this? Second generation duplicate. I sent an organic copy to Ireland, and they scanned the copy’s mind when they captured your data at UNI Dublin. Coming here was always something of a suicide mission. Assuming my original is still alive, I’ll reintegrate, sorrows and all.”
“No prosecution or protest about your demise?”
Dev gazed up at the black bird following, listening. “No harm, no foul. That’s the official UNI line.” His holo image gingerly touched his head chip, then shimmered, shivered.
“Some wee harm in that thing?”
“Just my last words and deeds after the UNI scan, along with synthetic memories of a millennium of torture. It’s the Morrigan’s warning to her former associates.”
The Morrigan had known that the Dev who had come to Ireland was a copy, as identical as it might have been. If one dared ask, she would have explained that it was too identical, quantum mechanically speaking. But she had not warned Anna.
“You completely fooled them, and me,” said Dev.
Joyce raised his eyebrows. “You might have known. I was Ulysses and his Trojan horse in one.”
“Thank you for saying the words,” said Dev. “Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t fight for Ireland before, so I fought this time. Those hard men and women would repeat a history that’s the very opposite of real life, the very opposite of love. Non serviam. But it was a difficult thing, and I couldn’t have done it if I thought any sentient beings would really be destroyed forever.” Joyce turned to the ferry’s bow. “Are they gone forever?”
“If I thought so,” said Dev, “I couldn’t have done it either.”
The Morrigan cawed. Nothing was truly gone in this information-drenched world. Over time, Anna might figure out a way to bring back the PRs without attracting UNI’s notice, but the Morrigan would not help her, and the AI would henceforth choose her own form rather than inhabit any of Anna’s favorites.
“It’s a small consolation.” Joyce sighed without breath. “No Nora for me.”
“Not for some time.”
“Then we both lost the girl.”
Dev nodded. “And her name is Eire.” A barrier now stood between him and Ireland that he couldn’t cross again. “By the bye, when you sang, how did you know to change ‘God’ to ‘Ireland’?” As an extra layer of code, when Newly Dead Yeats generated a shutdown key, the user needed to change the last proper noun to ‘Ireland.’
“I don’t know,” said Joyce. “I only remember up to our passage through the roadblock at the Custom House. I knew what words you’d need from overhearing you and Yeats’s carcass, but I didn’t know to say ‘Ireland.’”
Maybe a not-so-little bird told him below his conscious programming. The Morrigan had been playing a double game. She needed to be an omnipotent protector, but the UNI models were right: too many Irish dead. But her unsettling projections were also right, and the world needed this fringe more than UNI knew.
Joyce considered a moment. “At least I’ll have a friend in this second exile. I have the feed from Glasnevin, minus my poisoned poetry. What you said—maybe we need a fresh start. Gibraltar?”
“Why not? There, the sun may shine for us, instead of through us.”
Joyce soundlessly slapped his friend on the back. “Young father, young artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”
The Morrigan watched as the Liffey’s ever-flowing waters carried the two friends past the crumpled Referendum leaflet, still afloat, and washed them out from her adopted home, out beyond the Cúchulainn Barrier, out to the info-permeated sea.
Impressed? Good! Find out more about Tom Doyle here. (He’s written several really truly excellent books since this piece was first posted.)