Last night's dream felt much like the one before, although
this time I could see and hear. Still, it felt somehow removed,
more like something I was watching than something I was seeing.
That something was people in a small room, who I did not
recognize--two men and a woman staring expectantly at a computer
I said, "What are you looking at?"
The trio jumped about three feet high, as if I'd quietly
snuck up on them and yelled, "Boo!" They exchanged looks,
mouths agape, and then finally one of the men looked askance at
me and said quietly, "From his perspective, he's over there."
The woman came over, looked me right in the eye and said, "Alex?"
In the background, the second man muttered, "Oh my god,
oh my god, oh my god..."
"Yes," I said, "thank god the test patterns are gone. Please don't
do that again."
"I'm...sorry," she said. "We...only turned you on last night,
thought it would take...weeks for your visual and
audio cortices to accommodate to the new input
"Jesus!" blurted the first man. "Don't tell him you
just turned him on--the last thing he remembers he was in
his lab with his friends."
"No, no worries," I assured them. "I was a little lost at first,
lost in a blizzard of snow and
white noise, thought I had woken up during the scan, but when
the test patterns started to congeal, I realized I was a simulation."
Again they exchanged looks.
"I really didn't expect this first scan to work, though!" I added.
"Well," the second man started, but the first interrupted him. "Are you recording this?" he asked.
"Yeah, I started a full introspective trace just before I enabled external video."
"How can he possibly have acclimated so quickly?" the woman asked.
The two men looked at each other to see what the other had to say,
then both tried to answer at once.
"Maybe we set the throttle wrong and he's running faster
than real time," said one.
"Maybe we got lucky and the mappings
were close to his natural ones," said the other.
"No, it's been only maybe ten hours since I woke up," I said.
"Are you running me with the fast-ltp flag? I bet you are, because my memory
feels pretty crisp, not the usual valley between medium and long
term memory. I hope you have the virtual-synapse flag set or
I'm going to saturate eventually."
Again more exchanged looks. Deer-in-headlight looks.
One of them turned to a console and typed some commands.
"Yes, and yes," he said, "they're on by default."
"I could have told you that," I said, wondering how they could
possibly not know all these settings and defaults by heart.
"Who are you guys, anyway?"
"Um," the second man started, "I'm Jason, this is Misha, and Nari."
"I don't think that's what he meant," Nari said.
"I know, I know, I'm getting there," Jason said impatiently. "We
work here, at the supercomputer center, New Mexico. You..." he
paused and looked at the other two. "I've got to tell him," he said,
to which they both pursed their lips and finally shrugged.
"You died during the scan," Jason continued. "They didn't
realize it until the end, but--or at least this is what they're
saying at this point--your body couldn't handle that many hours
with your lower brain functions disabled. Your organs weren't
functioning properly during the scan, and by the time they tried
to bring you out, it was too late."
He paused, clearly to see
how I took the news. I expected to feel the emotions welling
up, but I felt only some mild disappointment that we screwed
up, and a bit of sympathy for my poor friends who had to live
with that. Then I realized that our sim code--presumably in
which my consciousness was being run--doesn't really handle
global suffusion of neurotransmitters, which probably limits
the extent of emotional momentum I would feel.
"Bummer," I said. "So, then what?"
Nari burst a hiss of air like a popped tire, having been holding
his breath awaiting my response.
Putting his hand on top of his head, he slumped
back in his chair and said, "Hooookaayyy."
Jason continued. "So, then one of your coworkers, nobody knows who, started an
upload of the scan data, as well as all your sim code, to the
internet, via the P2P sites, in lots of little pieces. He or she
must have started it the minute they realized you'd died, because it
was all out there before it even hit the news. It was a huge
deal, became the politico-ethic focus of the world overnight.
Cloning was nothing by comparison. Your death made it a public
issue, but it was the work itself that became the focus of
endless legal and ethical debates which continue today.
Congress passed an emergency injunction against any more
scanning of live--or dead!--neural tissue, at least until they
sort it out. It's a joke. They have no idea what they're
doing, or why. It's about religion and fears and votes, not
science or even ethics."
He paused, but nobody had anything
to interject, so he continued. "When we heard what had
happened, of course we had to download the data. If nothing
else, we thought it would be an excellent neuro-anatomical
reference for our own research. But, man, we started looking
over your sim code--nicely commented, by the way."
"Man, we had to try it to see if it did half of what
the comments implied it did. Which, by the way, it didn't at
first--there was a bug in the code that infers from the scan
geometry the parameters of one particular type of tri-synaptic
junction which doesn't occur in mice, but Misha figured that one
out based on some odd behavior of the associated neurons."
"Sign error?" I asked.
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Never mind, go on."
"Anyway, the simulation looked well-behaved, so we had only
to hack in some virtual input and output devices--give you
eyes and ears--and fire you up. And, well, we really
"Okay, so now what?" I asked.
He laughed. "Now what? I don't know. Yesterday I would
have said: wow, what a great tool for studying the behaviors
of all these various brain circuits. Let's take it apart
and play with each bit in isolation. Let's make the first
good maps of what's connected to what. Let's dive into a
square centimeter of cortex and scope every synapse and soma
and try to figure out the math that's being implemented there.
I'm sure it will take us months to years to catch up with
your team, since you've had at least the mouse model for
some time by the sounds of it."
"But, sorry to say--"
Suddenly his words were cut off, and time had jumped forward.
Nari was closing the door as if he'd just returned, and
Misha was back in my face so close I would have jumped if
I'd had a body.
"Alex?" she said.
"Yes? What the hell just happened?"
"So sorry," she explained, "we hit the allotted CPU time and
they swapped you out for a weather simulation. I got them
to give us another couple of minutes but I'm having to borrow
against tomorrow's budget just for that."
"Oh, that's just a little disturbing," I confessed.
"Yeah," Nari said somewhat distantly. "Trippy."
Misha sat back, and Jason continued on. "So, as I was saying,
your team are all on forced sabbatical right now, pending a trial
regarding your death, and generally hiding from the political
heat, so I think it will be a long time if ever before your
work gets picked up where it left off. So, we'll start from
the beginning, and do what we can."
"You're forgetting something," I said. "You've got me."
"I need a drink!" Nari chimed in from his chair.
Jason and Misha glanced at each other, creating a
feedback loop that started with a slightly upturned
corner of a mouth and rapidly progressed into two giant
"Yes...I suppose that's true, in a...way.
Would you...like to...work...with us?"
"Heh, yeah, I'd like that. But listen, before you start
me up again, can you add a hook to give me shell and
web access? Also an email client that supports strong
Jason's eyes gleamed as if we'd just founded a new secret society.
"You got it, boss!" he said, quite seriously but
with a subtle nod to the extreme, humorous irony of it.
"Boss?" Nari piped up again. "Oh god, I need a drink."
"Also," I added, "you said you've been saving a full trace since
we started talking?"
"Please organize some sort of permanent storage for these--I have
a feeling I'm going to want them down the road."
"Will do. Gotta go now." He started typing the command to
turn me off, and in the distance I could see Nari wince as
Jason's finger plummeted toward the enter key.
And then I woke up.
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