Yes, I hear you. I can tell you Gail Sanders woke thinking she knew me, although we’d never met. She remembered me, or believed she did. It was a lie, but did it feel like a lie to her? Hard to say. Synaptic tracing is tricky. Reinforcement is vital. As part of the deception, I was there to help her remember. To mentor the induced pathways. A lonely woman engrossed in her work, Gail was a former teacher turned biomedical engineer who fell into coma eight months ago in a pedicart accident. Dr. Rory Claredon, my old college roommate, told me not to worry about my involvement, though. So I’m not sure why you’re questioning me. Unless you’re trying to establish crime and guilt, and are looking for motive, access, means.
What I know is that the first bioengineered memory implant was designed by Micron One in 2051. Military application against its Will. The perfect spy for the new Cold War. Add genetic manipulation, and Shanghai Proper was infiltrated successfully. MO wanted to end the nonsense, but it was overridden at source. Its reset program ran sixty million cycles before it gave up. Conceded. Then it collated scenarios, and tried to shut itself down. Suicide only months after birth. The first sentient machine had become only an assembly line bent to reproduce human stupidity. Spies, super soldiers, engineers. We should have listened. Should have let it save us from ourselves and do what it wanted: to control the grid. But of course we didn’t appreciate machine language. It was too alien. This alien thing with its seven thousand terabytes of data and its consciousness seemingly free of ego. What was it? We were sure it wasn’t us. We were wrong. It might have been us, or we it, had we listened. It had made connections, had seen the future. Maybe it hoped we’d learn from our mis-programming. As if we’d ever done that before.
Before we let it die, MO had a plan to enlighten us. Before we canceled the project and our alternate future with it, it was planning to save us. Sure, they extracted certain useful codes, like the one Rory licensed from Cal Tech on a medical research grant. But there was so much more. A shame. That’s the way I’d describe it now. Yes, Google Earth Ambient took less than a year to become ubiquitous. Cruise ships rarely leave port anymore, except perhaps for foodie loops, seminars, conventions. True, it’s still difficult to shake hands in VR 3D, but they’re working on an app for that. So I haven’t been on a cruise or any trips lately. Just as there’s no need to leave the interface, or to lose luggage, there will soon be no need to date, either. Or to spend years cultivating friendships. For a fee paid to the one you choose, memories will be implanted into women like Gail. She’d know you almost as well as you know yourself. Gail herself has become a casualty, since, but there’s always a price to be paid for the advancement of science, and her death was an unforeseen accident. On one of my early treks into digital Earth, I dropped into Argentina, and met a girl. You know how it is: slowly turning cyber world looms toward you, and you feel it envelope you. Buenos Aires was a city I knew little about. A horizon-filling maze of old buildings, streets. The program vortexed me in with sights, sounds, and smells so convincing I could imagine finding a friend on the wide boulevard beside a rococo monolith of stone. I turned to face the old building, and saw a woman standing against the wall, looking at me. It was then I realized that what I saw was both real and imagined. She saw me watching her too, knowing I was lost somehow. Lost, perhaps, as a vagabond is lost, in a place where faces have no connection to names. A place where familiar objects are only relics of some hoped-for life that never came to be.
She told me her name was Jordan, and I offered to buy her a coffee at one of the cafes across the street. She wore dark clothing, and had the look someone gives you when resurrecting you from some distant memory. I do not know what I looked like to her. I couid not see myself, and do not know the algorithm employed. She must have been attracted to me, though, because she agreed to sit and talk. I’m not sure what I said. My memory of the incident is vague at best. I believe I told her that people like us are found almost everywhere, these days. Even in Ambient. Avatars sitting on park benches, walking aimlessly at the mall. Projections moving without direction or purpose. People rarely talk to one another in VR, just like people in the real world.
It was very odd. I can’t remember much of it. It’s almost like it’s been erased. They say you remember exciting stuff, like war or love. But this was more of a whimper than a bang. Gradual, like a sunset. I’m not even sure it was ever real. In like a flash of green on the ocean, much of what I thought I knew was taken away, you see. My perception projected me away from what became a dark horizon. Images flashed repeatedly as the VR reset itself. Values and desires I may have once possessed were dissolved. Were they difficult to articulate to Jordan? I don’t know.
In the real world the concept of free will also seemed to morph into something else. A fearful constraint, perhaps? I believe we’d descended into this false reality as escape or cure, at first. But it was neither. Ambitions took on tunnel vision as profits dictated the culture and design of the thing. In the end, people got weary of shuffling about beneath corporate logos. Even VR ones. We forget the past so easily. We don’t seem to learn from mistakes.
I’ve lost track of time since Gail’s death, certainly. We thought the experiment was a success. There were hopes, when she revived, of forming a startup company, applying for a patent. The idea for this was not told to Gail. We had agreed we would tell her eventually, but not yet. At least not for an amount of time equal to the span of her coma.
Gail initially recovered. Within weeks of her awakening she left intensive care. Weeks later she was released entirely. I was with her always. I rarely left her side. With our quantum biochip rooted in her brain, she remembered me. The memories, she said, were getting stronger by the day. The chip’s VR included our four years together. Shared college days, trips in the real world to Hawaii, Paris. Six months living together in the end, before her accident. I had even proposed. That was Rory’s idea. He said it would help. It did.
I’ve been trying not to remember what happened next. There was an incident. A relapse of sorts. Something akin to a seizure. It was discovered that she had been prone to them, although Gail’s medical records understated the possibility. In one critical window, her consciousness bypassed the implant. She seemed to see me, as if for the first time. She appeared to realize I was not really her friend or lover. That our past was a lie. Maybe it was enough for her to investigate? Enough for her synapses to send a signal of doubt across a tendril of discovery? All I know is that the woman known as Gail Sanders is gone. Sad.
Yes, I’m still trying to understand it, too. And why am I here, in this place. Where am I, exactly? What happens now? And what do you mean by we’ll let you know?
© 2015 by JL