by Iona Douglas
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
conclusion“They sent everyone employed at the dig a xeno-programme to download. We thought that was a breakthrough before we looked again at your schematics. It was clear your scientists hadn’t the faintest idea how to reanimate you.”
The man paused, and Lola could have sworn it was confusion plastered on his face. “Your mother said she knew that before she committed herself.”
That shocked Lola back to life more than the current emanating from this man’s body had. “What?” She trembled.
“Your mother was one of the women found in the cryogenics lab.”
Anger flared in Lola’s stomach. “Well, now I know for certain that you’re lying. Or you’ve got the wrong person, which is pretty stupid for a robot from the future.”
“You cremated your mother five years ago.”
“How do you know that?”
“You’ve told me before.”
“It’s public record.”
The man laughed, a proper throw-your-head-back laugh. Lola shivered. “Truer than you know,” he said.
“You’re a crank,” She stood and motioned towards the door with her bow. “Get out.” The man sighed and gestured towards his wound A stone fell to the bottom of Lola’s stomach. She couldn’t remember having eaten it. It nestled in the fibers of her stomach wall, impervious to the acid trying to disband its molecules. He was right, or dangerous, at least. He had a robotic arm, and perhaps a robotic chest, too, although Lola didn’t see how that was possible.
“Our best theories suggested that it could be possible to reanimate you. We got the go-ahead for tests on animals, flew in some camels and kangaroos from Australia; the place is overrun with bios. Too hot for us there; our systems work faster and better in the cold.
“The place you knew as Russia? The largest population of Bots there now. It’s amazing; shame you won’t be able to see it. It took a global effort three days and ten thousand and thirty-two trials before we were able to successfully freeze and reanimate a kangaroo. But clearly this kangaroo had been frozen for a much shorter time than you had, so we weren’t expecting to be able to repeat the experiment with humans. The remaining one thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine that we were unable to revive were dissected and preserved in plastic. We needed to know how you worked in order to keep the rest of you alive.”
“I don’t give a damn about some cows. Why did you bring my mother into this? “
“Your mother was the first to be reanimated.” The man returned to his state of earlier reverie, a smile on his face. “I remember a collective impulse scoring through the network as she blinked and stumbled from the pod. Our emotions-recognition systems weren’t very developed back then, but your mother has since assured me she was terrified. I had no personal frame of reference for ‘terrified’.”
“My mom knew you?”
“She didn’t speak to us for a while, even when we transmitted colloquial English greetings such as, ‘Hi’, ‘How’s it going?’ and ‘What’s up, dude?’ through our specially commissioned audio boxes. We brought her a leg of kangaroo, and for seventeen minutes thirteen seconds she did nothing, and then she started making a signal with her thumb. We hadn’t realized that you humans could use a spacial-visual language.
“When she said ‘Fire?’ another pulse fired through the network as we realized we could understand her. In the beginning, we were still experimenting, and we wanted to study your mother as much as possible before we tried reanimating any more of you.
“We learned a lot in the first few days. She was sick a lot in the beginning before we developed a water purification machine. We shortly realized the importance of a sanitary waste disposal system. Your species’ outputs are so messy.”
Lola thought about getting sick in the shower and kept her mouth shut.
“We were beginning to understand how entirely illogical you humans are. She would spend days at the excavation site, peering into the faces of the humans we hadn’t shocked back to life yet. Or she would hold the empty shell of a pod, its inhabitant preserved with polymers in the labs upstairs, saline pouring from her visual sense organs.”
“More commonly known as crying.” Despite the fact she knew his story to be false, she found his description of her mom’s pain angered her. To his credit, the man blushed and appeared to regret his social faux pas.
“Eventually, our grant credits ran out, and we reanimated the rest, twenty-one in total. The breeding programme drew bots from all over the world to observe you. I don’t think you liked it in the beginning. Kept saying it was a ‘zoo’, but we know you had these, so your argument that it was ‘inhuman’ was illogical. I stayed for the programme.”
“Fair point about the zoo. But were you qualified to work with animals?”
“Of course I was qualified; I’m an archaeologist, you’re artifacts. We could charge a few credits for entry, a few more if any of you were in a good mood and agreed to dance. We got to continue our research, and you guys got free food and shelter. We kept you safe.”
“Wait: you’re saying that I was conceived as part of a breeding programme?”
This theory brought Lola no closer to knowing her father’s identity. She had been born late in her mother’s life, having been conceived in a test tube. The truth wasn’t so far from this man’s fiction.
She sighed and rubbed her tired eyes with her thumb and forefinger. “So what happened? Why have you traveled back in time to tell me about something I know never happened and never will happen?”
“It was clear after a few years that social bonds are vital to your well-being. We were witnessing a human society first-hand! The adults wouldn’t let us near you; we had to drug them. We didn’t do any invasive surgery, just inserted harmless trackers. The first newborn humans in two millennia; you were all such a valuable commodity.
“But it also became clear to us how little we understood your emotional framework. Members of your group became despondent, depressed. They wouldn’t dance, refused to tell us more about their society, refused to enlighten us. Your mother stopped eating when you were removed.”
“Seriously, dude, what are you talking about? What do you want from me?”
“You were sent to another display center. We found that the infants were more resistant to the infectious melancholy affecting the adults, and you were a prized commodity.”
“I grew up with my mom. It was just me and her.”
“Well, at this point we devised a solution, based on what your elders had told us of your methods of play, stories, fiction, video games and virtual reality software.”
“VR has been around for twenty years, pal.”
“We devised a platform that would respond to your parent’s memories of what your world had once been like. We built a world around their memories. We noticed an improved mood as this project went on, and were able to watch how they interacted amongst microwave ovens and public transport. We even introduced you to the software, enabling our specimens from all over the world to communicate with each other.
“Your mother’s mood improved a lot after then, but both sides found we preferred each other’s company in this fictitious world. We could watch our closest approximation to human life, and you get to blissfully live in ignorance that your world is a fiction, that you’re fed through a tube and defecate into a bag.”
“What you’re saying is... What you’re saying is that this is a simulation, and that really, this is years in the future, and I’m lying in a lab somewhere being probed by hyper-intelligent robots?”
“I don’t believe you, funnily enough.” The man shrugged with indifference. “So now you’ve got your little story off your chest, you can go.” Lola stood, marched to the door and opened it. The man looked towards his arm again, which was still sparking. Lola sighed. Clearly, there was something to his story. Even the best bionics didn’t look like that.
“You were praying,” he said, softly.
“Yes,” Lola closed the door. What was the saying? God works in mysterious ways? This was pretty mysterious. “I’m on the run.” The man waved this away as if swatting at a fly.
“Yeah, yeah, because some guys at your mother’s company were running a Ponzi scheme and you’re going to have to face a federal court. Ones and zeroes.”
How did he know that? This wasn’t how she’d imagined her arrest would play out.
“What are you talking about?” Her lawyer’s words echoed in her head. “This is federal court, it’s no small fry.”
“You’ve not asked me about when we’ve met before.”
“Please stop talking in riddles.”
“You’re being deliberately obtuse.”
“When have we met before?”
“When you wanted acceptance into Juilliard. But you couldn’t master your audition piece.”
Lola observed her hands, she remembered practicing her repertoire for that audition for weeks, and she had mastered it, she’d gotten in! She looked at her hands, squeezed her bow.
Playing didn’t require much thought now; it was mostly muscle memory, but it had been hard once. The thought that her talent was fake, that she was nothing outside of this musculature was a dark one that had encroached upon her at other points in life, but never because someone else had suggested it. It was a thought that kept to the periphery unless it sensed a weakness in her mental resolve.
“Then again just after your mother’s death, when her funds first went into liquidation. She really died, out there.” The idea, however false, that her mother had died in a way unbeknownst to Lola was insulting, and she was done with this joker. She picked the knife from the floor and brandished it.
“For the last time: what do you want?”
“We can credit your account with an edit and enough money to last you for... oooh, based on your previous spending patterns? Ten years? Otherwise, you could make it last the rest of your life. Shall we say sixteen million?” Sixteen million was a lot more than five thousand four hundred and thirty-six dollars
“In exchange for?”
“A leg, and a breast.”
“We’ve got two buyers who are looking for pieces to display to their clients,” the man smiled at this. “With your permission, we will amputate and compensate you fairly.”
“I’m kind of attached to both my legs, and I know they’re nothing special, but I’m fond of my breasts.”
“The muscles of your real legs would have atrophied were we not shocking them, and you’ve never seen your real breasts before.”
“Why do you need my permission?”
“Politics. Ethically sourced samples are favored. Besides, we’ve not been turned down yet.”
“Would anything change? Here?”
“Your company would no longer be in danger, you’d have a lot more money, and the warrant for your arrest and subsequent trial would never exist.”
“Why did my mom never tell me anything about this?”
“We offered your mother an opportunity,” the man said, fingers poised together. For a robot, his body language was remarkably human. “She could stay in our zoo, or enter herself into this simulated world. A fake world, yes, but she would have no recollection of any deal made, and it would be more enjoyable.”
“It’s not much of a choice,” Lola mumbled. “So? I’m guessing she agreed?”
“She had some demands.”
“She demanded that you be returned to the same center as hers and that you also be entered into the simulation.”
Lola looked to the torment outside in an effort to distract herself from the one forming within her.
“We said yes and, in turn, continued to credit her life here in return for a finger, a foot, a breast. Trophies for bio collectors the world over.”
“What do I need to do to agree?” She wasn’t agreeing, but she wanted to know what this man needed from her, what it would cost her to get rid of him.
“All you need to do is say yes.”
“And here, in the ‘fake world’” — Lola said this with an air of sarcasm, though they both knew that a part of her believed this man, and that part attached its desperation to him and grew — “I’d still have my legs? My breasts?” The man nodded.
Lola stood and paced. She was unsure what side of the fence to sit on with this one. She thought she probably didn’t believe him. But what would be the harm in agreeing? If he was a liar, she’d feign surprise when the cameras revealed themselves, and if he was telling the truth... He couldn’t be, could he?
Lola could play with her eyes closed, only aware of the slight pressure on her fingers and the music in her head. Habits like this had annoyed the staff, but before they were making cutbacks she’d had the foresight to soundproof her mom’s old office, and now she had a practice room on the 46th floor, with a view of California’s skyline.
Today the view was especially clear, and it made a fitting backdrop for her soundscape. She was playing to forget, today, though her thoughts strayed to Mexico and the cash in her home. How much was there? About five thousand? She hadn’t checked in for a long time. When David had told her what was happening to the company, she cut up every gold card in her wallet. David said she hadn’t needed to do that, and it was quite impulsive, and that he’d order her some replacement cards. He was annoying, but useful.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Lola lowered her violin and sighed. Once the music stopped there was nothing to distract her from her problems here, in the real world, where a series of bad investments that she had signed off on had proved fruitless, and she had to find in excess of five million dollars to bail the company out.
“Come in!” She pushed her chestnut hair out of her face in preparation for ‘work-talk’ as David Myers, her mom’s estate lawyer, entered. He was infused with nervous energy and made a beeline for the chair in front of her desk. Once there, however, he seemed incapable of sitting and placed his briefcase, which was overflowing with papers, on it. His thigh buzzed as his phone rang, but he ignored it.
Lola smiled to herself. “David, what’s wrong? You look like one of those retro wind up toys,” she laughed. “You know — the ones that look like chattering teeth?”
David handed her one of the envelopes grasped in his hands. “Your mother specified in her will that this wasn’t to be opened until today.” David was shivering, though the office was warm. Despite this, his words sent a quiver down Lola’s spine.
“David, you’re making me nervous. Please sit down.”
“Sorry, yes, sorry.” David removed the briefcase and sat, balancing it on his lap. The metal clasps clicked together as his knees shook. Lola raised her eyes and he placed his hand on it to stop the rattle.
Lola whispered. “Is this good news or bad news?”
“I can’t ... A bit of both, explaining this is gonna be — argh. Just open it.” David grinned.
She pulled the letter from the envelope. Her hands were shaking now.
My calendar is telling me that the day will be cold but bright on the 4th September 2038, your birthday. How accurate are our meteorologists?
Today, the funds of a special account will be made available to you. The sum total is $16,378,003. Don’t spend it all at once!
Happy birthday, darling.
Copyright © 2018 by Iona Douglas