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 screen.

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 mappings."

"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 didn't expect...you."

"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 grins.

"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 encryption."

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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