The first thought that shot through his head. Or was it the last thought? What happened? He was scared, irritated, something he has not felt in a very long time. Yet he began to feel better, with each passing second, soon he felt strong enough to open his eyes. He could not make out where he was, it looked like he was lying in a friendly casket, if such thing exists, but he did not recognize the material, it looked white and somehow glasslike, but felt like warm soft skin. His other senses also started to message his brain, he could hear people talking, but something seemed off with their voices. He also had some funny smell in his nose, kind of sweet and sugary. Maybe he was imagining it.
Where was he?
He tried to remember, but his mind was blank. He should have some memories, but he had nothing, only this voice in his head narrating his thoughts. Was he dead?
“Don’t be scared, everything went perfectly fine. Some initial memory loss is perfectly normal, your brain functions could be rebooted completely, you will be up in no time”, a soft yet extremely clear voice told him.
The casket got opened up, now it looked more like one of those CT scan machines, just way slimer and less claustrophobic. He felt cheered up, after all, he got some warmth back into his body, and he wanted to turn his head to see the person talking to him. It was an attractive young doctor, at least this was what he assumed, given the person being dressed in a white lab coat, hair bound to a pony-tail, tender brown eyes behind slick square glasses. She smiled.
“Very good, bioconciliation seems to have adapted to your brains transduction pattern quickly, but do not worry if some things feel a bit off, we will have a full functionality calibration later”
It took him a second to take the words in. Bioconciliation? Transduction pattern? Calibration? He was confused, but he took a deep breath and tried to sit up, just to be upright when talking to her. She was actually very pretty, young healthy body and symmetric face; this thought popped into his head, as she was helping him sitting up, reminding him vaguely of his daughter. He had a daughter, his memory seems to be catching on slowly, and she was about to finish med school. He remembered holding her in his arms for the first time, that little angel, a feeling so deep that he would have never found the right words to describe it, yet wishes nothing more than to stop time in this perfect moment. Memories about her growing up flashed back into his mind, that tiny apartment he had together with his wife, those freshly married couples had to compromise on when suddenly becoming parents. His wife, the never-resting genius, hurrying from conference to conference to make big important decisions, yet never missing a chance to spend with her family, if circumstances allowed, which was decreasingly often. A sudden and bitter realization hit him, that he had to let her go, once her too short time came. Memories he now wished would have better stayed forgotten, yet they also came back mercilessly. He always gets tears in his eyes thinking about her passing, yet also still smiling remembering about her, those deep feelings for one person really only come along once in a lifetime, he thought, if there’s one thing he’d learned for sure in more than sixty years on this planet. Wanting to clear his eyes with the back of his hand, he stopped mid-movement in astonishment.
“These are not my hands”, he thought. A bizarre feeling.
Of course these are his hands, he can feel them and move them, they just looked different. He held them up in front of his face to get a better look, suddenly realizing the huge mirror next to his bedside. What came next made him feel dizzy again, wondering if his brain is playing tricks on him. He did not see himself in the mirror, at least not how he remembered himself. Blue eyes, brown hair, kind of biggish nose, no scars and wrinkles, this could not be a mirror… it is picturing him how he looked thirty years ago, when he was in his prime. But how is this possible?
“I have determined that your health parameters according to your genetic and epigenetic configuration are the most favorable at this age, so I hope you will feel comfortable in this body”, the young doctor explained after seeing him staring frantically at the mirror. “However, if you prefer a totally different avatar, we can upload you without any problems. Usually, we experience that retrosoma exhibit higher stress levels when not being reinstalled first in their familiar body, that is why our protocols got updated to always recreate a healthy version of the person’s previous body if possible. Luckily for you, many of your cells and most of your neuronal structure got well conserved when you died.”
There it was. He died. The pain when he woke up, it must have been the last thing he felt.
“Retrosoma?” He asked for lack of anything else to say. “That’s what you call people like me?” “Yes”, the young doctor replied, “I am sorry we only came around to you now, but our capacities are limited and it is not a high priority, to be very honest. In fact, I am doing this mostly with my free time. Some say I should get a better hobby, but I like it” She did have remarkably symmetrical teeth when she smiled.
“Wait a second, you are reviving people as a hobby?”, he could not help himself blasting out.
“Well, others might call it a hobby, but for me it is like a mission. I like giving people second chances, and I find it arrogant that people feel so privileged now with their immortality that they forgot all the people that did not have this kind of luxury. It makes me sick”, her tone was slightly rising, one could clearly tell that she was very passionate about it.
“I am sorry, I did not mean to insult you. Can you please explain a bit more, like what year is it now? And what is going on with this whole reviving people thing? And first of all, what is your name?” he asked apologetically, hoping to get some structure into the absurdity of this situation, some part of him still wondering if this is all an elaborate prank of some sort or a very realistic dream.
The doctor immediately turned to her kind voice again; “Ah don’t you worry love, there is no such thing as insulting me. For that, I would have to be a real person, apparently” Some mild frustration showing on her face, and when she continued he could have sworn to hear a sad undertone. “My production number is HLHCM1.3v, but I find it easier with patients if they just call me Adoria, it’s ancient Latin and translates roughly to glory of war. Originally the artificial intelligence constituting me was developed for military aid operations, but since the 70’s more and more of us got outsourced to mobile health care units in the private sector and public hospitals. I have been redistributed to work here at Habeas Corpus Hospital to take care of body switches and well, the occasional retrosoma.”
She looked at him with warm eyes.
“Although to be honest, retrosoma business is dying out pretty quickly, now that all insured cryofrozen rich people have been re-instantiated and nobody seems to care about the rest where either information got lost or no family pushes for re-instantiation. Also, the further you go back in time, the more troubles retrosoma have to adapt to their new reality. Many choose to end their existence again for good, saying they had their time and one lifetime really living is worth more than living forever being a stranger in this new world… unfortunately. Anyways, if you’d ask me, I also did not choose to be made, but since I am here now, I might as well make the best of it, right?”
“Well I guess… I don’t know… I… I…” like waves crashing in on a high tide, the information was too much to handle, he got up rapidly trying to go somewhere, not knowing where, his pulse hammering so loud he could hear the blood rushing through his ears, his head hurting with a pressure over his eyes taking his vision, and surely enough he lost his balance just to fall back onto the casket-like bed.
“You will have to stay here a little bit longer, see bioconciliations starts from you cerebellum down your spine, reconnecting your nerves with your muscles, and it takes time to get everything working properly. You should be done in about 15 minutes, then I will remove the nanobots from your bloodstream and you will be as good as new. However, I would recommend you to stay a bit longer and get some nutritional broth, as your body is still mostly biological and will need it to stay healthy.”
He could not care less about staying healthy at the moment, however he also could not help himself inquiring: “Mostly biological? What do you mean by mostly? And what the hell are you then?”
“Well, I do not think it was considered very polite, even at your time, to ask people what they are, not who they are” she replied, and there it was again, this passion in her voice. “Why don’t you lean back into the regenerator, close your eyes and let me show you, this will be way more efficient at communicating all the necessary information, the poor data rate of verbal communication was always very disturbing, if you’d ask me, personally”
She put her hand gently on his forehead, and he felt that something was off with her skin, although he could not point the finger at it, nevertheless it was not unpleasant. So he closed his eyes, when suddenly he could see again, although it was not the room or the doctor he was seeing, it was what resembled the most to a smartphone interface, which little icons and symbols spread over it. “You have to allow conjunction in order for me to transfer data onto your brain cloud, just focus and think about pressing the icon with a big “Cjn” written on it, alternatively you can press you thumb and index finger together to enable it”
Still with his eyes closed, he thought about directing his vision to the “Cjn” icon, and by pressing his fingers together, a message popped up reading “Are you sure you want to enable conjunction with [HLHCM1.3v 2068302]?”, he focused on the word “Yes” and pressed again, slowly getting used to navigating this interphase by just thinking.
Suddenly, he felt a tickling sensation behind his eyes, but what happened next was even weirder, he felt kind of pulled into … himself? This pull lasted only a second, but now everything around him suddenly changed form. In fact it looked more likely that he himself was placed midair into what seemed like a ordinary, but nevertheless impressive human city. Maybe Bangkok? Tokyo? He looked to the side and found Adoria, also midair, giving him a confident smile and reaching for his hand.
“I put us in the year -25 C.E., how we call it nowadays more politically correct. I think for you, it would still have been called A.D 2020… anyways, this is how the world looked back then. You can see the skyscrapers and the streets crowded with people going about their individual lives, with their cars and shopping malls, spending physical money in restaurants… always makes me a bit nostalgic, if you know what I mean. Simpler times. I’m gonna fast forward the next 25 years, until the big conversion and the begin of the common era.”
And with a snap of her finger, he could see the city changing, some buildings getting torn down while others are growing, the foggy air pollution gradually vanishing from the streets, more green areas surfacing here and there out of the grayish or glasslike background, traffic getting thinner and thinner. Overall, it looked like to improve to a greener, more sustainable habitat to host a species concerned about protecting not only itself, but also it’s surrounding. This thought made him happy, since he was always very big on protecting the earth and all too often despairing about the bad long-time consequences of profit-driven and short-sighted behavior within his peers.
Gradually, the shapes and forms in front of him started to get more unfamiliar, almost like a chameleon adapts to its environment, the city seemed to melt together with buildings still being distinct from each other, but somehow connected. He also noticed that almost every open space he sees, roofs on buildings and lighting on the streets appear to be covered by the same layer of a material he did not know. He was fascinated by how much humankind seemed to have progressed in only 25 years, when suddenly the city vanished in front of his eyes.
“In order to understand what you will see next, let me give you some short explanations on what has happened until this point.” Adoria chimed in, with her gentle calm voice.
“As you could clearly see, the environmental laws set forth in 2020 and later pushed the global economy to innovate into more sustainable ways for humans to inhabit their earth, especially regarding air and water pollution, recycling and energy generation. There is one thing I will never understand about you humans… why would you wait until you see people suffer so horribly before implementing a different course of action? At the time the data and predictive models were already accurate enough to say with certainty that this would happen… this behavior of waiting to see seems very inefficient at best, and detrimental to your existence at worst… I always wondered if there are still parts of your biology that have not been investigated enough, as far as I can tell your visual cortex should be far away from your ventromedial prefrontal cortex, so the likelihood of conserved hierarchical neural wiring appears to be insufficient to be causal for that behavior. Then again, many humans still only believe what they can see… even at our times, who would have imagined?”
“Well, I guess part of being human means being flawed, constantly trying to better ourselves while not always succeeding”, he answered, remembering his own struggles being young and flawed and hopeful.
“But if your heart is in the right place, that’s what makes all the difference”, he concluded.
“Coronal positioning is quite invariant in humans though, I do not see how this would have any effect on your behavior. Furthermore, I do not understand how having an obvious software bug makes you more human, if anything, it makes you less functional which should decrease your chances of survival, considering evolutionary selection parameters.” Adoria challenged his answer methodically.
“And yet, we are here, and we all are flawed. What is more likely, that us being flawed was an evolutionary oversight or that our “software bugs” might indeed come with benefits although intangible? I’ll let you do the math.” he replied, more defensively than seriously.
Suddenly, Adoria held in for a second, which stretched into an awkward moment of silence. Before she readdressed him, she put on a bright happy smile. “It appears you are quite right, all predictive models I tried estimated a high probability of this particular human software bug to be non-randomly distributed, suggesting indeed indirect beneficial attributes. I have to say, your calculating capacities are quite extraordinary for a retrosoma, I had to rent 5 ZettaByte of memory now to run my calculations reasonably fast… anyway, it was intriguing enough of a statement to compute, so I don’t mind the credits.”
He noticed that her mood seemed to have risen after this conclusion. Is she really not human?
“Well, it is always a pleasure to learn something new and unexpected, is that not how we progress, after all?” she laughed wholeheartedly, before she continued showing him how the world has changed.
This short story is part of a bigger story universe.
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