The Third Inheritance
Troy didn’t move back to his father’s house until the inheritance trial had been settled. It wasn’t that his ownership of the house and the walled garden around it was at all in doubt. His father’s will had been as forceful as the man had been and given as little leeway for opposition. It wasn’t even because he had murdered him, for this, to Troy’s vague surprise, nobody nobody seemed to know. It wasn’t the porcelain crabs either, which although they could walk up or down stairs, and had done so in his presence to keep the fact fresh on his mind while he still had shared the house with them and his father, never bothered to go below the second floor where his bedroom was.
He wouldn’t enter the house because it held a copy of the AI his father had secretly trained during his long career as a forensic psychiatrist. Or rather it held the AI itself, in escrow encryption while the lawsuit was settled. His father had kept a single instance of the uncannily effective neural network a(“uncannily effective” was the most polite way in which his father’s colleges would have referred to him had they dared to do so anywhere public enough for Troy or his father to hear of it).
His father dead, the AI was valuable to those who had employed him. They fought against Troy for it with the casualness of the powerful. They lost not to him but to his father, who had left barely legal blackmail material with his lawyers. Not enough to make them go away but to give them pause. Long enough for Troy to take possession of the house, walk directly to his father’s office, and delete the AI almost as quickly as the computers could be turned on. Then Troy left the office where he had killed his father and closed it behind him forever.
That night he slept in his old room for the first time in a decade. Not uninterruptedly. At least his startled moments of wakefulness were due to the scraping sounds of a crab passing by on the careful irregular schedule designed to disturb his REM cycles. For ten years he had been awakened, in other bedrooms in other cities, as surely and as often but by his memory of them.
If the now-deleted AI had been his father’s secret magnum opus the robot crabs had been his long-time hobby, his garden, a project car in a garage. Their hardware had been purchased and upgraded to his detailed specifications — he had been a computational psychiatrist, not an engineer — their initial programming already in place by the time Troy had been adopted. Waiting for him. Troy had no illusions. He would have never assumed he had been the experiment and not the crabs, nor would he have entertained the notion that he hadn’t been what the crabs had been tested on. His father had wanted to make his house an extension of his expertise, a library and workbench, and for that he had written an AI trained with his knowledge and a whispering of robot crabs Troy had never known the precise number of. He had adopted a young boy because you can’t build a furnace without something to burn.
With his father cremated and his ashes dispersed far away by Troy’s universally misinterpreted request, with the AI where he had poured so much of his carefully venous skill deleted, Troy’s first night back in his father’s house was frightful enough to realize, or to let himself accept he had always known, that his father was still in there. The crabs crawled through the half-lighted corridors like malevolent thoughts, not Troy’s or the house’s but his father’s of course. To destroy the crabs would have left his memory of them still crawling over the floors and under his skin.
On the first morning after his first night back in his father’s house Troy burned it down without bothering to simulate an accident, just as he hadn’t bothered to turn off the security cameras when he had killed him. His father had done it for him or instructed the house to do it after his death.
The murder was still open. The destruction of the house, Troy knew as the walls burned, would not weigh on his shoulders either. Partly because, he was sure, it had been his father’s will all along, for his own opaque reasons and in his own opaque ways, and his father had not been used to consequences any more than he had seen it necessary to give him anything as respectful as an order. But mostly because there wouldn’t be time for consequences to find him.
The fire in front of him and the shadow of a police drone fluttering around Troy he took his father’s gun one last time and finished cleaning away his father’s works.