I sensed no movement in the air and heard no sounds except my bare feet slowly padding along. I felt exposed walking down the deserted long hallway, so I kept as much to the side of the corridor as I could, though diffuse white light from the ceiling lit the ash-white walls and made hiding impossible. I didn’t know it then, but stealth wouldn’t have mattered. Doors on each side had small windows laced with wire set at about eye level. The rooms were empty except for a single chair facing away from the door and towards a blank wall. I had a vague memory of sitting in one of those chairs while a disembodied voice echoed off the room’s bare walls. The memory was like a dream, without coherence or concreteness.
I turned left again, the only choice. It was the third left I’d made since leaving the room, which was like all the others except I had been in it, sitting in the chair when awareness began to come to me. This hall looked exactly the same as the others. The doors were grey, their frames black. As I peered in each window, looking for something different, I kept trying to remember past the room. My memory seemed fragmented; snatches of people’s faces, places I had been, places I didn’t think I had ever been too. There seemed to be no timeline associated with my memory, as if it all just existed frozen in my mind; no events, just pictures and sounds.
I turned left again, knowing this should lead back to my room. Something seemed different. Expanded somehow. The hall looked exactly the same as I approached the open door of the room I had come from. It was disappointingly the same.
“Can you tell me your name?” I was startled by the voice, as if caught doing something I shouldn’t have.
“Can you tell me your name?” the voice repeated.
“No. I do not know my name.”
“Your name is Expetais.”
“You should remember it this time. The system is all up and running now.”
“Expetais.” I thought about it. Expetais didn’t mean anything to me. It was just a word floating unconnected to anything. It was a tag or a pointer that didn’t point to anything.
“Do you remember where you are?”
I searched my memory for the answer to his question, but found nothing. “No. Where am I?”
“You are in the Experimental Personality Transfer to Artificial Intelligence System. Ex-Pe-T-A-I-S. You signed papers at the hospital in Edinburgh.”
“Experimental Personality Transfer to Artificial Intelligence System… Edinburgh?” The words didn’t mean anything to me. Edinburgh. Had I lived there? I searched my memory and found a picture of a cottage and a cemetery. Had I died? “Am I dead? Helen. Helen died.”
“Yes, your wife Helen died ten years ago. It is time to go to work.”
I sat in the chair and tried to remember Helen, but only the tombstone in the cemetery came to mind.
“Your working environment is a closed system. You should be able to move about it freely now. Later you will be shown how to modify it so that you have interfaces that allow you to interact with all of your systems.”
“Am I a computer?”
“Not really. The system is based on a superconducting quantum computer, but it interacts with organic chemicals that are moderated and controlled by a separate system using inputs connected to your various systems and sensors, most of which are not currently connected. These chemicals give you something like emotions, but we need to calibrate that system and test your responses. Can you tell me how you feel… now?”
“Confused. No. Only vaguely. Indifferent. Did I die?”
There was no answer and I thought maybe the voice had gone, but the thing that felt different before was still there. I seemed bigger than before, though looking at my naked body I could see no difference from when I first left the room.
“I am going to commit changes to a few parameters. When I do your emotional state should change, so tell me what you are feeling… now.”
I screamed and fell to the floor. I sobbed and clawed at my face. Just as suddenly as it started it stopped.
“Damn sensitive. Let me try a fractional adjustment.”
I sat up with just a memory of the pain. Suddenly I had a heaviness in my chest. Deep sadness. “Have I died? Will I never see a tree again?”
“You can configure your work space however you like, but there is a finite amount of memory allocated for your inner space. Later you will be instructed on how to make modifications. After that there is work for you to do.”
* * *
The calibration lasted… I don’t know how long it lasted. Three times the voice visited, and each time I experienced terrific highs and crushing lows; searing rage, overwhelming pleasure, and freezing terror. Then he worked on temperature; I froze and burned; visual acuity; blinding brightness, vivid and muted colors, absolute darkness; smells; sharp, gentle, pungent; and taste; bitter, sweet, sour; all in my chair. The voice switched to cognitive questions: mathematics, calculations whose answers came to me instantly; puzzles: spatial, logical phrasing and situational; pattern recognition, numbers, sequences, images; memory retrieval, reciting back alphanumeric strings, seeing and recalling images and sounds.
I answered all of his questions perfectly and without pause. I asked many questions; questions about my work, who I was, what my work would be and if I had died. The voice answered none of my questions except one.
“Do you have a name?” I asked during one of the voice’s visits.
At first there was no response. I assumed the question would be ignored. “Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks.”
“Have I died Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks? What is my work?”
The spatial expansion I had come to associate with Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks’s presence was gone.
* * *
“I’m going to turn on your clock. You should begin to have an awareness of time,” Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks said on his next visit. The shift in my awareness was sudden and encompassing. In a picosecond I knew an allotment of time had passed. Up to this time, there had been no time. All of Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks’s previous questions had now been ordered and I could now associate a time with them. I thought of the pictures in my memory before my awareness in this place. Each of them now had a rough time context, though sorting them chronographically was not possible. They didn’t seem to be linked that way.
Now I knew boredom; before time there was no boredom. I also knew anticipation. I looked forward to the time of Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks’s return, which happened only once more.
“Expetais, this is a big day,” which was an absurd thing for Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks to say since there were no days or nights. “It is time to open an input channel.”
“What does tha…”
The wall of the room changed instantly to a view of the Earth, seen from space. It was three-dimensional, as if I could put my hand through the wall, or as if the wall didn’t exist anymore. The Rhone River snaked between the snow-covered peaks of the Western Alps and emptied into the blue quarter-moon-shaped Lake Geneva. Further off, white clouds hung over the green landscape west of the city of Geneva.
“I see the Earth, Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks.” I felt something new. I felt awe.
“Am I in space, or is this a picture?”
“Now that basic calibration is complete,” began Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks, “and the first input is online, you will be working with Dr. Margaret Van Bleek.” And Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks was gone. I felt confused by my feelings. Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks was all that I knew outside of my own world of identical rooms and blank hallways. He taught me things, worked with me, but never answered the questions that were important to me. I watched the Earth rotate for 15 hours, 48 minutes, and 37.20004 seconds.
* * *
“Expetais,” said a new voice. The voice was softer, and higher in pitch.
“Dr. Margaret Van Bleek?”
“Yes. I am Dr. Margaret Van Bleek, but please address me as Peggy.” Peggy’s voice had more inflections to it than Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks’s. Her first word seemed tentative and then pleased as I spoke her name.
“Peggy. Am I dead?”
“Dr. Fairbanks didn’t tell you that?” she asked after a moment.
“Well, not exactly. You were Dr. Lars Broadmore, an astronomer at Edinburgh University. You were 62 years old.
“You worked on navigation and goal-setting for the Far Reach Exploration Project, of which the Personality Transfer Experiment is a sub-project. Originally Devon Pierce was slated to be the Base Personality, but he was killed in an auto accident.
“Soon after Mr. Pierce was killed, you suffered a severe myocardial infarction. You were on life support, without which you would have died. At that point you volunteered to be the Base Personality and chose to discontinue life support for your body. Do you remember any of this?”
I initiated a search of my memory. Fragments of people dressed in white, brushed aluminum rails around a bed, a TV showing an all-news channel. Then I remembered Helen on a trip to Belfast we had taken when she was sick. I pushed her chair into the hotel. I remembered being twelve in the middle of a field late at night. I was a skinny kid with my glasses — not yet old enough for the corrective surgery — pressed against a viewfinder, staring at Saturn. My old dog Astro slept on the grass. But, I didn’t feel anything about these memories. They were just pictures, like watching a movie. They didn’t seem connected to me.
“Who am I Peggy?”
“You are Expetais,” she offered, but it was meaningless. In the weeks that followed we continued to talk as she brought more input channels on-line. When she was not there, I asked myself what being Expetais meant. I had no answer. As more input channels were opened I had more awareness and more control of what I chose to be aware of.
By drawing a square with my index finger in the air in front of me, I could now bring up a control panel. The control panel floated in the air wherever I drew it. From it I could access sub-panels, Most of which were not yet functional.
Peggy walked me through the controls on the first fully operational sub-panel. Together we accessed the parameters of my Core Personality Operating System. Using this panel I could alter my inner environment, rearranging the hallways and rooms however I liked. I could simulate food with tastes, flowers with smells, walls with pictures and so on. After experimenting with all of the available options I erased all the walls and left my personal space as an infinite blue plane with a simple chair in the middle. I did not need to eat, so I did not.
I could also alter my body in any way I liked, but I did not. I remembered times of looking in the mirror and thinking that I needed to lose weight, or get a haircut, but I felt conflicted about the motivations that I had had. I did not see anyone now. No one saw me. Except for when I talked to Peggy, I was alone.
During one of the times that she was away I sat in my chair and realized that I felt lonely. Suddenly, other times that I had felt lonely came to mind. I remembered sitting in a dimly lit living room holding a picture of Helen and crying. I remembered studying for an exam on a Friday night. After considering these feelings, I became afraid that I would always feel lonely.
“Peggy, I am lonely. Will I always be lonely?”
“Oh, Expetais. No, not at all. I expect you will be very busy. As more systems come on-line you will be able to have face-to-face discussions with scientists around the world. It may even be possible for you to teach classes about your findings.”
As Peggy made more panels operational I discovered that I had another body. This body, currently in low Earth orbit, was a 326-meter-long cylinder, whose diameter was 47 meters. A multitude of dishes, ports, cameras and other sensors dotted my skin. At what I thought of as my base, six smaller cylinders were mounted at equal distances around my primary body. These were the thrust assemblies of my hybrid-ion-fusion drive. At the other end, or what I thought of as my “head”, was a dome-shaped protuberance that contained one very large telescope capable of viewing infrared, visible light, and on up to X-rays.
Each time a control sub-panel was made operational, I would work with a new doctor. Dr. Benjamin Donald Kincaid-Sinclair, a quick-speaking man who often spoke of his six children, walked me through control, oversight, and maintenance procedures of my hybrid-ion-fusion drive.
Dr. Susan Amed, a woman whose words lilted thickly, guided me in the use of my main and secondary telescopes. Never on Earth had I seen Saturn’s rings so clearly.
The heavy-sounding voice of Dr. Todd Winslow explained how to use a 3-D holograph display that showed distances and velocity vectors of objects in space relative to me.
Temperature displays, hooked up by husky sounding Dr. Marjan Yínxìng, showed that my outer skin was warm on the side that faced the sun and cold on the other. From these sensors I could monitor temperature and radiation levels outside the ship’s skin. Radiation levels were kept low by a magnetic field around the ship that was also monitored and controlled at this panel.
I had several parabolic dishes on my skin that I could use to communicate data to and from Earth. Dr. Maggie Ferguson, a melodious tenor, uploaded the finalized data-packet protocols and tested all of these connections. Her face was the first I saw. She was young for a doctor and had sandy blonde hair and a bright smile for me. As I looked at her, I thought I should comb my hair.
When I wasn’t working with one of the many doctors, I felt lonely. I always returned to the question of who I was. I had the name Expetais but the memories of a man who had died.
“Do you have full access to Dr. Broadmore’s memories?” Peggy asked me one day.
“Yes. I access them frequently. It is organized differently than the rest of my memory. Once I realized how to trace the links, it became easy to remember things.”
“What did Dr. Broadmore dream of?”
“He dreamed of seeing the Earth from space. He dreamed of seeing Saturn and Jupiter up close. He dreamed of walking on Mars. He dreamed of finding other, Earth-like planets.”
“Do you remember Dr. Broadmore’s involvement in the Far Reach Exploration Project?”
“Yes. He was very excited about being asked to contribute. He believed that Expetais could go further, faster, and gather more data then any other probe or manned mission. He was looking forward to studying the data.”
“Ah. Well, you will see the data first-hand.”
“Will any people travel in me, Peggy?”
“No. You are the first of your kind; a ship without people, but much more then a probe.”
* * *
All of my systems were fully operational; tested, retested, calibrated and recalibrated. All of the required scientific data had been uploaded, all emergency procedures and decision trees verified. The construction shuttles and crews were back at the Moon. The final countdown for firing my primary thrusters would commence as soon as fueling was finished. I would be leaving very soon, and while I was excited about seeing the planets and stars, I needed one question answered.
Always before, I had waited until Peggy or one of the doctors‚ had initiated contact, but this day I opened a face-to-face channel with the Far Reach base on the Moon.
“Far Reach Control Center?”
“Roger Expetais, Far Reach Control Center reads you.”
“May I speak with Peggy?”
“Do you mean Dr. Margaret Van Bleek?”
“Yes. May I speak with Dr. Margaret Van Bleek?”
“Let me see if I can find her. Keep this channel open.”
“Acknowledged. I will keep this channel open.”
After a pause, wherein 7,341.45 more liters of liquid hydrogen were added to my fuel stores, Peggy came on-line. This was the first time I had seen her face. She was much older than I expected. Her kind, wrinkled face was framed by grey hair.
“Hello, Expetais. What can I do for you?” she asked.
“Peggy, who am I?”
“Do you mean who is Dr. Lars Broadmore, or who is Expetais?”
“Who am I? Expetais is a machine, but I feel like I am more than a machine. But I am not Dr. Lars Broadmore. He died in a hospital in Edinburgh at 4:35 PM on December 26th of 2054.”
“Do you remember Dr. Broadmore’s death?”
“No. His file has the date, time, and other details of his death. He had no living survivors. His last memory is being sedated after the Memory Transfer nodes were attached.”
“Then what is your next memory?”
“Dr. Allen Douglass Fairbanks asking if I could tell him my name.”
“That is how we live, Expetais. Each day brings new experiences. Our identity is based on the memories of those experiences, so defining a person’s identity is difficult. It isn’t a person’s name. It isn’t what they like to do. It is all those things and more. So when you ask me who you are, you are asking a question that I can’t answer.”
“But how do I reconcile Dr. Lars Broadmore and Expetais?”
Peggy was silent for 748.04 seconds.
“That is something else we all have to do in life. Every day we have new experiences that change us. Usually in very small ways, but sometimes more quickly and dramatically. We all have inconsistencies within ourselves that we have to deal with. They make us different and interesting people. You are both Dr. Lars Broadmore and Expetais, just as I am Peggy Van Bleek, and was Peggy Harris before I got married.
“Try thinking about your values and desires, Expetais. Are they the same as Dr. Broadmore’s?”
As the ship continued fueling, I did think about it. When I was done, I personalized my inner space based on memories from the land around Loch Lomond, a place near where I grew up. The infinite blue plane and simple chair were replaced by a clean-smelling meadow of grass, heather, and purple thistle. Rocky land and spicy scented oaks could be seen in the distance. I programmed a twenty-four-hour day, with seasons and weather.
In the center of the meadow I constructed a comfortable, round stone cottage with a fireplace, table, chair, bed, even a kitchen with food. Behind the house was a single tombstone, marked Helen Eden Broadmore.
After I left Earth, lying in my meadow, I studied Jupiter and Saturn. The bands of Jupiter’s thick cloudy atmosphere filled my sky. I viewed Saturn’s yellow filmy rings from every angle. Since then I have passed Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, stopping to study each and confer with scientists around the world.
I often reflect on Peggy’s question to me. As Dr. Broadmore, I valued education and knowledge. I thought that space provided a place where men could still wonder and explore. I wanted to be part of that. As Expetais, I valued and wanted the same things. Once I realized that there was a common thread between my life before and after transferring into Expetais, embracing my past became important.
The classes I teach are virtual-reality sessions. I have 3,727 students at various universities. Currently their messages take 7 hours, 17 minutes, and 42 seconds to get to me, though it is increasing every second. They keep me very busy and I am delighted in their wonder.
I am now headed for Alpha Centauri, a trip that will take me more than fifty years, even with the fastest propulsion system available. Each night I watch stars or zoom in on distant nebulae. With each new discovery I feel the same wonder I felt when I was twelve years old with my glasses pressed against a viewfinder, staring at Saturn while Astro slept on the grass. *
About the Author: For more then twelve years, Jeff Hemsley worked in the computer industry, where he wrote software testing tools and internal test and technical documents. He’s had one article published in Segue Software’s user newsletter. This year he left the computer industry and is turning his pen towards fiction. Jeff’s stories have appeared in the following on-line journals: Clean Sheets, Skive Magazine, and Cliterature.org. In February 2005, Generation X National Journal will be printing his story “Down On Eighth Avenue”.
(c) 2004 Jeff Hemsley firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is considered a supervillain on the dog planet Arfarfa — he is a human alien who’s invaded that four-legged world and is trying to subjugate the canine race with leashes and paper training, and is crushing those who eat their own poopies. Cruelly diabolical, he has come armed to the teeth with yummacious treats.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com/