Lost in Thought
by Jörn Grote
part 1 of 2
When I reached the age of sixteen and got my adult ID, I left my parents, entered the nearest Ascension Center, uploaded and then beamed myself into MoonSpace. I lived there for three years, lurking around, never doing much until I met Bernice.
“Where do you think you will be in a thousand years?” she asked me. I was falling asleep even though I knew she hated it when I did that after we had made love. “Gavrail.” She nudged me.
“I don’t know.”
“Where do you want to be in a thousand years?”
I could have said I didn’t know, but I realized that would be wrong. While I didn’t know where I wanted to be in a thousand years, I knew exactly where I did not want to be. “Not in Sol space. Far away from here. Out of reach of the Distributed Authority.”
The authority had grown too powerful in recent years, but many welcomed its far-reaching plans. “Stable Strategies” was its slogan, and people believed in it. If you’re immortal, the far future was suddenly a concern.
“Me too,” Bernice said. She sat up and looked into my eyes. “Gavrail, I want to beam out to the Starfarer community in Oort space. Why don’t we go together? They plan to assemble a Longwalk ship.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. “Give me some time to think it over. This is a little unexpected.”
“Sure,” she said and begin to nibble on my ear.
One month later she had gone, beamed herself outward. I wasn’t sure what had held me back. I tried to forget her, but our discussion crept into my mind. There was no reason for me to remain in MoonSpace. I knew many people, but in all my time there my only real relationship had been with Bernice.
I drifted from community to community, lurked here and there, but never really found anything I could connect with. I wasn’t a gamer, or maker, or selector, or anything else.
The one thing I hadn’t tried yet was being an explorer. But there wasn’t anything left to explore in Sol space, only in the universe beyond its borders.
I decided then that I would go to the Starfarer community, but not before I was sure that exploring the stars was something I wanted to do for its own sake and not just as a pretext to follow Bernice. I began to immerse myself in the study of astronomy and astrophysics.
And there I discovered the dream of the stars. That may sound sentimental, but that was how I felt then; it was as though my whole universe had ballooned outwards. I realized how inwardly I had lived, how small my world really was. I imagined myself walking on the surface of an unknown planet on the other side of the galaxy, looking back at home, wearing only a suitbody. And then going farther.
I had found my calling. One month later I beamed outward. Toward like-minded people, toward Bernice.
* * *
The virtuality of the Starfarer community was designed like an ancient forum under a night sky. The sky was littered with stars. Magnificent, I thought. That was the vision we all shared, the longing for the stars.
When I approached the forum, I saw people sitting there, following a demo of something. I scaled up the part of my vision that contained it and soon saw a hologram of a Longwalk. The Longwalks had been the triumph of the Galaxy Exploration Project, the first open-source, long-range spaceship that could be made by common assemblers.
“Hi,” I said when I reached a group of five people who were talking with each other rather than following the demo.
“You’re new?” one of them asked as he stood up.
I nodded. Obviously the entry point of the virtuality was always the same for those who came from the outside, and it made newcomers obvious.
“I am Hadrian Price, and that’s Alaric Sanna, Maryann Nolan, Finn Rademaker and Karen Estevez.”
“Gavrail Rajendra,” I said. I shook hands with everyone and then we sat down together.
“What’s your specialty?” Hadrian asked. “Karen and I are into astrophysics; Finn is interested in non-terrestrial life; and Alaric and Maryann do a little bit of everything.”
Maryann gave him a friendly thump and said to me, “Alaric and I are generalists. We think it’s good to know more than just one thing. If need be, we can always dig deeper into a subject.”
While she was talking to me, I saw Hadrian making faces. He distorted the surface of his face until it had roughly morphed into an image of Maryann’s face, then he used it to imitate her. I was trying not to laugh.
“He’s doing his face thing again, isn’t he?” she asked. As a comeback she distorted her own face and made a rather good impersonation of Hadrian.
“I’m mostly into astrophysics,” I said, answering Hadrian’s question.
They were my first friends in the Starfarer community.
Hadrian and Karen showed me some of the projects that hadn’t been taken already or could use some help. Automated drones were collecting matter for assembling the Longwalk ship, but there was much work that could be done prior to assembly.
Aside from work, Hadrian and the others showed me the many layers of the Starfarer virtuality. Weird Green was a simulated, theoretical alien biosphere, a side project that Finn was working on. Visitors could slip into alien avatars and experience a different, embodied point of view.
His main project was a generalized, constraint-dependent fauna simulation, but it was far from functional yet. The goal was to get the most likely organism spectra that could evolve under the conditions of any possible environments.
I hadn’t forgotten Bernice, I still loved her. But I felt awkward and didn’t know how to approach her. Would she be mad? Or would she be pleased and happy that I had followed her? In the end I just contacted her.
“That’s all? Just ‘Hi, Bernice’?”
I felt defensive. “Well, what should I say? Do you want an excuse?” Not that I thought there was something I had to apologize for, but if that was what she wanted...
“Why didn’t you came with me? Why now?”
“I had to see if it was something I was really interested in, not just because I wanted to follow you. To see if there’s something out there to explore that would matter to me.”
“That’s your reason? Why didn’t you tell me before I left, instead of saying you weren’t ready? I could have waited.”
I felt a stab of guilt and wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’m with someone else now, Gavrail,” she said to me.
“Oh.” I was dumbfounded, felt nothing inside.
After some more talk that didn’t register much in my memory, we said goodbye. Trying to forget her, I jumped into work the following weeks and months. Since the assembly of the Longwalk ship had already begun, my workload doubled, and it was easy to try not to think about Bernice.
After two years of hard work, the Longwalk ship was complete. The Starfarer community had grown to the size of two thousand and forty-three uploads. We all were ready to go; our first target was Groombridge 34. But we wouldn’t be the last: twenty-six more Longwalk ships were already under construction.
* * *
Sleeping wasn’t the first body process I switched off. The first had been urination and defecation, when I had still been in MoonSpace, shortly after I had uploaded. But switching off sleeping stands out in my memory as the watershed moment. I can still remember wondering why I hadn’t done it earlier. I could have dreamlike states even when I was awake, and the emulation of my body didn’t need sleep to rejuvenate.
I wasn’t even the first one on the ship to do that; many others had done it before me. Most said sleep wasted time that could be spent elsewhere.
For me, discontinuing sleep was the moment I began to explore the settings of my emulation without restraint. One of the first things I did was to create a female alternate of my emulation. I remember many different forms, some neither male or female. But hacking the emulated body was only the first step; after that, the emulated brain followed. Better memory, hardwiring advanced math, faster cognition, better spatial perception, the options seemed endless.
I wasn’t alone, many had began exploring their options of mind enhancement. Not everyone on the Longwalk ship participated, but most did. Aside from research and entertainment, hacking the mind and trying out new brain mods became common.
“Why are you doing this?” Bernice said. We still talked to each other occasionally.
“We’re scientists, we’re interested in better minds, smarter minds.” And we like to play with the toys in our box. But I didn’t said that out loud. “We’re just trying to determine the possibilities of uploaded beings. Change had to happen sooner or later. Or did you think uploaded people would remain satisfied with just being emulations of humans when there are so many other options?”
“But you are human, and this isn’t like you,” she said.
“You think you know me? What gives you the right to say that?”
She took my hands in hers: “Because I’m a friend, Gavrail. Friends do that for each other.”
Her touch still had an effect on me, and I took my hands away. And then I did something inexcusable. “I just switched off my sex drive completely and realize that all I cared about you was just a physical thing.” Then I left her subset of the Longwalk ship’s virtuality. I wanted to erase her memory from my mind, but somehow I couldn’t do it; I had to live with what I had done.
Copyright © 2006 by Jörn Grote