In the Garden - Part Two
Posted By: kabu<email@example.com>
Date: 1 January 2010, 7:15 am
August 9, 2154. 2 minutes post-Activation.
"Jim? Jim, is that you?"
We all stared at the speakers, waiting and/or praying for another hiss. Another something.
Marcus was typing frantically at three keyboards, switching between a half dozen streaming data sets -- bulk transfer rate, neurokinetics, peak oscillations, more than I could follow.
"We're getting good data," he breathed. "Good data. Lots of activity, all the connections are lighting up. Now we just have to wait for it -- him -- to find the interface. Good data. Right."
All I care about is if the virtual neurons are firing properly. "Let me see the map, Marcus."
Julia wheels a chair under the holo unit on the ceiling (the remote is long vanished), balancing precariously, hits the power button. Nothing happens. The thing cost a damn fortune, but back in the day when grant money was rolling in we could afford all sorts of nifty toys. Figures it would break now...
"Just gimme a minute," she says anxiously, "I can fix it, I can fix it." She tosses a few strands of hair aside and flips open a panel.
Meanwhile, Dave unplugs the coffee machine and plugs the holo projector back in.
"Or I could just do this."
Julia blushes a bit as she hops down. She used to get so lost in the technical world that the day-to-day would vanish altogether. She hits the light switch, plunging the room into a darkness alleviated only by the blinking equipment lights and the glowing hologram in the middle of the room.
The projector warms, and an area of the room turns into a schematic of the neural lace -- a tracery of stars in a night sky, filling the vague shape of a sphere. Lines flit between each node like pixie dust, flickering and flaring as electrical impulses move through the little memory crystal. As we watch, more and more nodes begin to light up, until the red sphere that represents voice communication is surrounded by a delicate tracery of golden lines, like a thousand spider webs.
"Jim? You there, buddy?" I ask. You immortal yet, buddy? Can I have my friend back?
Let's be methodical about this. I'm in a garden, surrounded by flowers. I can smell them -- no, I can see them? Can I see the scents? Hm. Synesthesia is a new one. I should back up a bit, calm down. But first, I need to get out of this hospital bed. There's work to be done...
July 26, 2158. 4 years post-Activation
Admiral Morel paces behind his desk. He keeps leafing through the report, as though the contents might change if he reads it through just one more time. The sound of his heels clicking against the concrete stops as his attention turns to me. I look down at my shoes, wishing I'd taken the time to change into something more formal than a lab coat. I knew I hardly cut an imposing figure, with my limp and stoop. At least my hair had finally grown back, from the chemo six years ago.
"Vivisection. That is a rather... well, a rather vivid term, Doctor Anders."
I can't help but be intimidated by the Admiral's presence. He's a big guy, topping six feet and with broad shoulders to match. Skin the color of pale coffee glitters around dark eyes. A pair of crossed swords hangs on the wall behind him -- dented and worn, but polished to a mirror sheen. Family heirlooms, presumably.
I intuitively decide that this guy would be an annoying jackass.
"It-- it's what it was. She was still alive, when he made the first incisions." The only way to get through this would be to talk as clinical as possible, or I would certainly end up shaming myself in front of this guy. "Don't kill him. Let me talk to him, I can bring him... bring him back... I know it."
"Kill him? No. The locks that we previously discussed before will be put in place, and the project will move forwards as planned. The Jovian Frieden are ready to move and we need an operational smart cruiser, now. And you haven't had any success duplicating your results."
"Admiral, honestly I don't think-"
"Keep in mind that I can file ten minutes of paperwork and have you arrested for accessory to murder. Dismissed."
Dismissed? I'm not even in the damn military! And her death... that wasn't my fault, how the hell could I have known what would happen? I was locked in!
Morel turns back to his pacing, sparing me no more thought than the stained concrete beneath his boots. I limp out on my bad hip, hating myself more with every step. What a prick.
August 9, 2154. 2 minutes post-Activation
Jim Carpenter never really spoke much. He preferred to share a contented silence over warm beer and leftover pizza than a round of drinks at a bar, even in his youth. He didn't look much different when he died as he had twenty-seven years before, but for a bit less hair, a bit more grey, a few more lines about the eyes. Tall, yet somehow shrinking back. Taking up an awkward space in a room, all knees and elbows constantly knocking stuff off of shelves. The immediate thought is "awkward, stuffy old professor."
His only passions were his gardens and his science, and he hadn't had a garden since his undergrad days. Gardening was a good hobby for him -- meticulous, structured, ordered and calm. I don't think Jim had any real friends but me. He seldom smiled, but when he did it lit up his whole face. Made him look alive.
Alright, I'm out of bed. I really should say something, but the flowers... focus, Jim, focus. Wait. Who is Jim? Is that me? Maybe I should figure that out too. Be rational about this. Just look at this garden! No no, first things first. I can establish who in the blazes I am just as soon as I figure out where I am.
"Can anybody hear me, or am I still talking to myself?"
I let out an explosive breath I didn't know I'd been holding. Holy shit. Jim is alive. The voice was artificial and smooth, but it somehow carries a familiar inflection. Or maybe that's just my projecting, or something.
I spoke into the microphone. "Jim, do you know where you are?"
"Am I Jim?"
"Yeah, buddy, that's you."
"That... my God, that's you Frank isn't it? What happened?"
The voice is starting to get closer and closer to Jim's old rasp, not a smooth androgyne like Terry.
"You... you died."
There was a minute of silence. In the hologram, I can see thoughts pulse furiously.
"Can I go back into the garden now?"
Back to the garden. So, Jim died and I woke up. I'm not a teenager, which means I'm an adult. Logic, logic... what was I doing? Something with...
Death. I fell off my chair, and there was pain. Hm.
"I think we're ready for the next step. Hook up the projector, please."
Marcus typed a few commands into one of the consoles, and the schematic hologram vanished. I spoke into the mike again.
"Jim? I want you to think very hard now. Think about who you are, think about what you look like."
Dust blew in the air through the blank beams of the holo projector, but nothing else. Shit. Even the last three brains had been able to project coherent images, if Jim can't, we're fucked.
Think about who I am? Well, that's not too difficult. I'm a...
What was I thinking about? Something about a garden and a hospital bed. That's location. Identity, next step, the garden is so beautiful and there are hummingbirds and golden smells, red flowers. Red flowers.
Slowly, and with the delicate care I always expected from Jim, an image bean to take shape. Chunky voxels of red, and then brown, and green, increasing in resolution until a perfect red flower hung in the air, drops of dew glistening off the tips of curling red petals. We all stared at it. Damn. Damn damn damn.
"Fuck," said David. "Last time I checked, the Professor wasn't a fucking daisy."
Well, I would have said it with a tad more politesse, but that was the general idea.
"It's not a daisy, you moron." Julia shot him an irritated glare. "Crocosmia. Professor Carpenter used to grow them, he showed me pictures." She was crying, silently. "He... he told me all about his gardens as kid. You know, for his tenth birthday his mom got..." Overcome by sobs, she couldn't finish the sentence.
I finished it for her. "His mom got him a gardening trowel and ten packets of seeds. I didn't know he told you that."
Julia fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and blew her nose. "We had coffee, sometimes. In the café across the street."
That was news to me. I wouldn't have guessed that Jim and Julia had been close. Marcus reached over and put a hand on her shoulder, and she leaned back into him, resting her cheek on his hand. I'm pretty sure they were dating -- or if not, then just improbably affectionate friends.
In the holo beams, a hummingbird sipped delicately at a blossom.
"We'll get him back, Julia," I said. "Just... just let me think about this."
Just let me think about this. I know I'm Jim, but Jim is dead. So. Let's be methodical about this...