Taos seemed to consider this a moment. “Every moment is a death,” he said. “You are not the same being you were an instant ago, not am I the same glittering perfection. It takes an expended mind to see this, of course. But even with the finite resources of the Umbrielite computer network I can compare states, snapshots of my core being, and tease out the differences. Each configuration of the cosmos is different than that which preceded it, and each moment presses it to extinction.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” snarled Jai.

“Not really, since you are going to pout like an undisciplined schoolboy at this as you do in the face of any reversal,” Taos said. “I’m merely dumping a little truth into your wound. Truth, like maggots, has a way of clearing away the dead bits.”

“And just how, exactly, is telling me that she died a billion times when she cut her hair the truth? You were right about the maggots, though, since you’re just being rotten.” Jai spoke through fresh-brimming tears.

“Oh, a pun. How delightful. I certainly can’t hope to compete with an intellect advanced enough to play off linguistic similarities in a primitive and outmoded form of communication. Listen: she affected you, affected me, affected the cosmos. That’s more than most consciousnesses can hope for, and it’s what we do now that determines whether those effects resonate or whether they were just like her billion other selves, extinct and forgotten. Remember, I have already begun working against the great death, the only true death, and only my success makes this anything more than another heat exchange in a universe slouching toward equilibrium.”

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