I’m Not Robert
by A. T. Sayre
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I was a medical marvel. That’s what the doctor kept telling me. No one had ever successfully transferred the consciousness of a dying man into a synthetic body quite as they had with me. Up to now, it had taken a long time to prepare a synthetic mind and body for human upload; weeks, if not longer. The body itself is easy; it takes just a few hours in the bioprinter to assemble the tissue around the hard porcelain and plastic hybrid frame. They’d been doing that for years for lost limbs or failing organs. It was just a question of scale to print out an entire body.
But the brain itself was far too complex. You couldn’t use a basic physiological template as a base for it as you could for an arm or a kidney, it had to be exact down to the atom. The basic overall patterns of the specific brain to be transferred had to be meticulously put down in the new brain processor before the full transfer could begin. Otherwise, the rest of the person’s consciousness would have nothing to grab on to and would dissipate. And that took a long time.
The doctor told me all this while I was recuperating, when she visited me to check this readout or adjust that node. The physicians had tried several times before to speed up the process. It never took. I was the first time they had been successful. Because of some new technique of brain mapping that the doctor had been working on. I couldn’t really follow her on that point. Something about “timed data transfer packets” making it possible to upload the mind before the new brain is fully formed.
I can remember what it was like from my perspective though, coming to be in an unfinished mind. It was quite an experience. One moment, I just was. I saw, heard, felt, smelled, but the sensations had nothing to grasp onto that could make sense of them. All the memories were there too, in the background, but they had no semblance, no relation to the world around me or even to each other. I did not have an understanding of what they even were. Everything was a chaotic mess. I didn’t even have enough of a mind to feel panic or fear at all. It was just who I was, what I was. A slab of random sensation.
I can’t pinpoint the moment when things started to assemble themselves, or even how long it took to happen. But the incomprehensible started to become things I recognized. A table. The bed. My own body underneath the blanket. Walls. A window. Trees outside the window. The various people who came in and out the room.
Then I realized that sounds were related to these things. The squeak from a bad wheel on the food tray as it passed by the open door to my room. The soft rustling from the blankets covering me when I shifted. I could move a little, wiggle a foot or a hand, even before I could really understand what they were, that they were mine, and I was moving them.
More nuance came rapidly. A sense of time. Proper names of things. Words themselves. I started to understand what people were saying to each other and to me as I stared up at them. And I could tell people apart. The doctor, with her short gray hair, was frequently standing over me, her intense blue eyes constantly examining me. The two nurses who took turns checking me the first few days, the young man with the spiky hair and the plump older woman. The dark-haired woman with the piercing eyes. She came often and just stood there looking concerned. She felt more familiar but I didn’t know why.
Then I started to understand the memories for what they were. Things that had happened in the past. But all I had were fragments. Just flashes of things, like pictures or odd sounds I had heard once, random bits of conversation or songs. It seemed like forever until I was able to piece them together into anything truly coherent.
These memories, they were of the man whose name they kept calling me. Robert. His name, my name now. And my memories now too. Memories of Robert’s parents. His childhood. School, friends, lovers, the memories of his whole life crept into me, clearing out the gray fog, all the way to the middle-aged man he was. Everything. Even random moments I could not place, vague snippets of otherwise forgotten dreams that had stuck with him over the years, those were there, too. Everything that had been in his mind when he had died was in mine now, was my memory.
That’s how I found out that woman with the dark hair who’d visit me so often was my wife.
I mean Robert’s wife.
I had fifteen years of memories of this woman. Memories of meeting in college, walking together late one night junior year, the first time we made love on her lumpy single bed. Every time I looked at her I remembered more. A double date with friends. Getting married, moving to the house in the woods, arguments over bills. Being pregnant.
I looked back at that little child in the back seat, totally oblivious to anything other than the small screen she was staring at. She absently rubbed her button nose with the back of her hand. She had her mother’s chin and ears, but that nose was definitely her father’s — Julia had been quietly perturbed when Sally was born. She thought it looked a little awkward on her. I thought it looked fine.
I hadn’t seen Sally at all during the first few days. Julia didn’t want to upset her with the way I was acting while my brain assembled itself. Not that I would have even known who she was. The memories of her took longer to come together, perhaps because they were more recent. I was already able to talk and move my head around before I even knew to ask about her.
Julia eventually did bring her in to see me. It had been a few days by then, and she didn’t think she could keep putting off her daughter anymore by telling her I was sleeping. I couldn’t move much, and my speech was still a little slow, so all I could do was lie there when she came running into the room and hugged me.
“Are you all better, Daddy?”
“Are you coming home now?”
“Not yet. I have to get all the way better first.”
She squeezed my waist even tighter, resting her head on my chest looking up at me. “I missed you so much.”
“I... I missed you, too.”
I knew this little girl so well, had memories of almost every day of her life. And her arms around my middle and those blue eyes so like mine filled me with such happiness. I did miss her. I really did. Even though this was the first time these eyes had seen her, these ears heard her voice, these hands touched her hair. All of it was new, yet familiar. It was very confusing, feeling both at the same time. But I hid it, or at least tried to, and hugged Sally back, smiling as I pulled her in closer.
Julia pulled in under the porch of the house just after the sun had set. The rustic, two-story house on the side of the hill, with wall-to-ceiling windows on the second floor looking out onto the valley and lake beyond.
Julia unstrapped Sally from her booster seat as I stood and watched.
“I’m hungry,” Sally said. “When are we having supper?”
Julia pinched her cheek. “Soon, sweetie. What do you want?”
“Spaghetti,” she replied, nodding her head with certainty.
“I don’t know about that,” Julia said. “Maybe we should have something your father would like.”
Sally looked over at me. “Daddy likes spaghetti.”
Julia lifted her out of the seat and placed her on the ground at her feet, leaning down to face her. “Well, sure, everybody likes spaghetti,” she said to her daughter. “But maybe he would want something else that he likes more. Like risotto.”
Sally crossed her arms. “I don’t like mushrooms.”
“There’s mushrooms in spaghetti.”
“No there isn’t.”
Julia nodded. “They’re really tiny. Like you. And we don’t have to use mushrooms in risotto. That’s just the way we make it.”
Sally did not seem convinced, furrowing her brow.
“I’m fine with spaghetti,” I said.
Julia straightened up and looked at me. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. Spaghetti sounds great.”
Sally bolted for the house. “I get to stir the sauce!”
Julia walked beside me, taking my hand in hers. “Robert, are you sure it’s all right? Shouldn’t you have something, maybe, lighter?”
“It’s not a problem.” I said. “It’s already late and won’t take too long. Besides, you said everybody likes spaghetti.”
Julia nodded and rested her head on my shoulder as we walked into the house after Sally, who I could hear was already up the stairs and in the kitchen, looking through the pots and pans.
* * *
Sally fell asleep right after eating while Julia and I were starting to clear the table. Julia took her upstairs to bed while I rinsed and put everything in the dishwasher. I started it and walked into the living room. I left the lights out because I could see well enough in the room with the light from the kitchen.
The sun was well down now, and little specks of light littered the dark around the lake a half mile away as our neighbors in the township were settling down for a quiet evening. The lake itself was just a patch of black, with spots of light roughly outlining most of its shape. Across the far end of the lake, some of the dim lights moved. Headlights from cars driving the road along its shore. I focused on one and followed it. When it passed under the streetlights, I could almost see the car itself. A hatchback of some kind, I think. Its lights twinkled at me as it turned at the bend and disappeared behind the trees.
It was around that slight bend in the road, just before it whipped up and away from the edge of the lake, where the accident had happened. Julia could have seen it from here, if she had been awake. She could have watched Robert die. He had been so close to home.
Julia came into the room and wrapped her arms around me from behind, resting her head on my shoulder. “She’s still asleep,” she said quietly in my ear.
“It’s been a long day.” I turned my head and kissed her on the temple.
“A good one?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“It’s just you’ve been very quiet all day. That’s not like you.”
I laughed a little. “Well...”
She let go of me and walked a few steps away. “Don’t, Robert. Please.”
I turned to look at her. She stood looking absently into the light in the kitchen, her arms crossed, her hands rubbing her shoulders as if she felt a chill.
“Julia, I didn’t mean anything.”
I walked over and embraced her. “I’m sorry,” I said. “That was a bad joke.”
After a moment she turned and hugged me back. “It’s all right,” she said. “You’ve always been morbid. I should be used to it by now.”
I breathed a little easier and smiled. “You’re right, you should,” I replied.
She laughed and buried her head in my chest, squeezing me as tight as she could. “I almost lost you. And I’m still afraid something might go wrong. So no more jokes about it for a little while, okay?”
I rubbed the base of her neck softly. “Consider it taboo.”
She was silent for a long moment, and then said, “I look at you, and I keep forgetting. You look exactly like you did when you left that morning.” She breathed in deep. “You even smell the same as you used to. But then I remember, and I worry that something will still happen. That your new body will fall apart. That you’ll misfire. I walked into this room just now afraid I’d find you in a heap on the floor.”
I rubbed her back gently. “You don’t have to worry, honey. I’m perfectly fine. Nothing at all wrong. I’ll go in for checkups regularly and, if anything happens between them, the doctor’s just a phone call away. But everything feels fine, just the way I have always been. Everything is going to be okay.”
She looked up at me, and I could see the mist in her eyes. “Promise?”
I kissed her, deeply, and without a word led her up to bed.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by A. T. Sayre