“You’re just like her,” Dr. Morris -- Jim -- swears, up and down. “You are her. A perfect copy.”
Except I’m not sure I am.
An experiment: you make a copy of someone. You clone them, in essence, though cloning implies something ancient and inelegant, biological, and you are anything but.
You make a copy. Inorganic, not organic. Silicon, instead of carbon, but with all the same limitations, the same pitfalls. You give them the same experiences, the same memories.
Are they the same person?
That’s the question, not, is this ethical, but are they the same person?
We have the same eyes.
“The rest of you is different,” says Jim, because silicon is inferior to carbon in some ways, because I will never have the same sense of touch that she does, because some experiences cannot be perfectly replicated, because memory is fainter than actually living through the thing -- because I have made it different, have taken pains to become someone else, something else. “Your eyes, though…”
I’d wear colored contacts, if I could. I’ve already cut my hair.
“You’re probably wondering why I agreed to this,” she says, in the beginning of the only video of her they’ve let me watch. “Well…”
She’s sitting in a chair, in a white room, with a pink blanket spread over her lap There’s a window behind her, with blue and white curtains hanging at it. A breeze stirs them. There’s no sound, and I can’t see what’s outside the window--something green, maybe a tree, but no real details. There’s no furniture in the room, besides the chair she sits in, some unpainted wood.
“I wanted to live forever,” she says, simply. She goes on to talk about immortality, picking at the edge of the blanket spread over her lap as she does. How she’d hoped for better, that things would catch up, that cybernetics would become a possibility, but, “technology being what it is, that doesn’t seem possible anymore.”
I’ve watched the video more times than I can count, picking out detail, watching her face, trying to determine: is this how people see me?
I have two sets of memories of it: hers, and mine. Mine, watching the video shortly after they finished the upload, when they were explaining what I was, why I was.
Hers, recording it.
How she -- I -- had stressed, determining what to wear, whether to use the blanket or not, what chair she should sit in, where she should sit and what she should do. How she’d cleared everything out of the room, even though they’d said it wasn’t necessary, because she didn’t want to unduly influence the experiment.
The chair is unpainted pine, something her husband made. The blanket is something that her mother crocheted for her, a Christmas gift. She sewed the curtains that hang at the windows, and I can still remember my -- her -- words when we hung them up:
“This is as domestic as I get,” and how her -- our -- husband had laughed.
“What about the cooking?”
“That doesn’t count.”
They’re my memories, and yet they’re hers. I didn’t live them, didn’t experience them--and I have them anyway.
“It’s my gift to you,” she says, at the end of the video, and her expression, her smile--never wavers. “My life. May you use it better than I did.”
They waited until she was long dead, before they made me.
She was in her early twenties when the video was recorded. She died at twenty-nine, of an inoperable brain tumor.
They waited ten years, until everyone who had known her had forgotten, had moved on, and then they made me, uploaded her into me.
“A perfect copy,” they said, but they might have realized: nothing is free from entropy.
I didn't know which of us I resented more: her, for wanting more than her allotted span, or myself, for having been created in the first place.
"This will pass," said Dr. Morris. "Eventually, the memories will sync, and her -- your -- personality will overtake you, and you'll have no further conflicts."
I waited, for this. I waited for the resentment, the hatred, to end.
When it didn't, that's when I cut off all my hair.
"She was chosen because of her individuality," says Dr. Morris -- Jim, as he kept pressing me to call her. "If you watch the other videos..."
"If I'm allowed to watch the other videos."
"When you watch the other videos," he amends, "you'll see that. Why she -- you -- picked this route, instead of another."
"Because there were no other routes," I say, flatly. "She says as much in the first video. She didn't opt for cybernetics because they were clumsy, and she wanted a chance to truly live again. She was hoping that this would make her husband happy, that he -- "
"Yes," says Jim, quickly -- too quickly. "That he could find the copy of her, and then..."
"That they'd go on living together," I continue. "Except you've told me -- he's remarried and has a family now. They live out in Fairfield. Which raises the question of ethics and why I'm allowed to exist."
"She -- you -- signed a waiver," says Dr. Morris. "So, you see..."
It's for the advancement of science, he says. So they can better understand how consciousness works; how artificial intelligence works, how memory works and "what makes us human."
I like that he said us, including me in, as though I'm human too, and not just another subject.
"We're still learning," he finishes. "We're still trying to figure out answers to the big questions."
They don't let me watch the other videos, so I watch the first, over and over, trying to find parts of myself in her.
We have the same eyes.
Otherwise, there is little enough we have in common. The woman in the videos might as well be a stranger, even if we share the memories.
"Tell me your earliest memory," says Dr. Morris, during one of our sessions.
"I'm in the recovery room," I tell him. "I sit up. I've got a gown on, for modesty. Someone asks what I'm doing, if I'm supposed to be awake yet, and I tell him that I think I am."
Jim shakes his head. "No," he says. "Your earliest real memory."
The earliest memories I have do not feel like mine. They don't feel real. They belong to a stranger, someone who felt things I was never able to feel. Sunshine, on the backs of her hands, as she stood on the side of her dad's boat, a life jacket strapped around her middle, watching the ocean and wondering how anything could be so blue.
I've never been on a boat. I've never been out of the research park I was created in. I have never seen the ocean, or any body of water larger than the scummy duck pond they keep here (misnamed; there are no ducks, but there is plenty of algae, and some very angry geese).
"That is my first real memory," I tell him, and he sighs in frustration.
"I don't understand," he starts, and I don't know what to tell him.
I dream, or something like it. It's one of the odd side-effects of what Dr. Morris calls "the treatment". They haven't found a way to make AI dream -- not truly -- but AI don't need to sleep, either.
I do need to sleep, and so I dream.
My dreams aren't my own, and that's what's upsetting.
I'm back in the room that the video was filmed in, but the sensors in my hands are better than anything that currently exists, and I can feel the texture of the blanket, each individual stitch, the gentle catch of the rough yarn against my skin. I finger it, and I shake my head at how pink it is. Mom should have known better. I haven't liked pink since I was ten. If she wanted to make something I'd use, something I'd enjoy, it would have been blue, or turquoise. Some cool color, not a pink.
My husband walks in, as I hit "stop" on the camera.
"How'd it go?" he asks.
The memory is not like this. He wasn't home, when she recorded the video. She'd called him, afterward, and told him -- what she'd said, what she'd done.
"It went well, I think," I say, and it's my voice -- the way it sounds in my head, with my own inflections, my slightly different accent, not hers. "I think she'll understand."
"I hope she does," he says, and rubs my shoulders lightly. I can feel the warmth of his hands, through the cloth. "I'm going to miss you, in the gap between."
"It's only ten years," I say, and my voice trembles a little on the "only". "I'll be back before too long."
"Yes," he says. "But..."
I wake up before I know what it is he says.
This is the heart of the problem, I think, though I do not mention it in my sessions with Dr. Morris.
I was created to love someone. I am a snapshot in time of when she was most in love with her husband.
She agreed to the upload, I know, because she thought it would be the one way she could continue loving her husband.
This is what drove her, in her heart of hearts.
It is what is supposed to drive me, now -- but he remarried, years ago, and lives somewhere else, with his new wife and children, in a different city, three hours away by car.
They invited him to the upload, the unveiling. He'd asked to be told, after he'd signed the last of the paperwork consenting to it.
I saw the email he sent, turning down the opportunity.
"I'm sorry," it read. "I loved her, but I'm with someone else now, and it feels like it would stir up too many old memories..."
I waited too, I want to say, because the memories I have are all dated; because I had to relearn how to live in the present, because I do not know who I am anymore, and I resent that.
The disconnect is here.
They accounted for everything, in making me -- but they did not account for entropy; for the simple way in which the ties that bind may be broken.
I am not her, because I do not have him -- because I am willing to admit that I will never have him, and that my life does not need to end because he is not in it.
"Your memories will sync," Dr. Morris insists, when I say that I think I have become something else; that I am someone other than her. "You'll stop feeling like a stranger, inside your own body."
Except I do not feel like a stranger. I feel like myself.
The disconnect, for him, is that I do not feel like her.
"The experiment is failing," I hear him dictate, into the recorder app he uses. "Patient 86 refuses to examine and accept her own memories."
We don't talk about what happens, if the experiment is a failure.
There are whispers. Not among the patients -- I never meet anyone that I identify as being another patient -- but the staff. The two interns assigned to my floor like to gossip amongst themselves, in particular, and they aren't particularly quiet about it.
"At the end of the experiment," I overhear one of them say, "what happens to the, er, subjects?"
"Patients," corrects the other intern. "I don't know. I've heard..."
There are whispers, hushed voices -- it's the kind of thing Dr. Morris or one of the other PIs would reprimand them for saying. "Memory wipe," I hear, and "destruction of the chassis."
The chassis -- the body in which I have been "uploaded", meant to look like her.
Destruction, at the end of the path, if I emerge as a new person.
In a way, I can't fault them, for this. If I try to examine it clinically -- if I disconnect and do not think of myself as a person -- I am a failed sample; something to be discarded, tossed aside. It makes sense that they would wipe the memories, destroy the chassis. They may want to try again, with a different body.
"Not every upload is perfect," Dr. Morris has said, during some of our sessions, when it has come up. "Sometimes we have to try again."
He had implied, and I had never thought to question, that those imperfect uploads had never gained consciousness; that they had never fully awoken. He'd never explained what he meant by 'try again', either, and so I had assumed that this is what the interns were referring to -- uploads that never fully "awoke". Wiping the memories and trying again, there, had seemed like the kindest thing.
I didn't think to ask what would happen if there was a case like mine.
The failure of the memories to "attach" -- the effects of entropy, the split that had occurred there -- didn't feel like my fault.
"I'm not her," I told my reflection, staring into her eyes. "I'm my own person. I'm not a failed experiment."
In a nasty way, it made sense, though -- that they would label me as one; destroy me and try again.
I keep dreaming, night after night.
In the dreams, there is no split between her and me. We exist as a single unit. The memories are seamless, and I am myself -- no more, and no less. There are no questions of who is who or whose memories belong to whom -- I remember putting on the helmet, agreeing to the scan, and then I remember waking up on the table. There's no odd faintness to the quality of the memories before -- they are just as real and just as vivid as the memories after.
I meet my husband in those dreams -- my ex-husband -- and we talk, about nothing in particular.
"You're different," he says, and I nod.
"Ten years will do that to you."
When he kisses me, in those dreams, it is half memory, half fantasy.
Dr. Morris gives up, sometime into the six month after her consciousness has been uploaded into me.
"You were the last," he says, when he comes to talk to me. "The others..."
I've read the studies. I know what they say, about what the success rate was. I'm the only outlier.
"We have to talk about how to proceed," says Dr. Morris. "Obviously, there is little point to continuing these sessions, if..."
"I'm sorry," I say, because I don't know what else to do. Scream at him, maybe, that it's unfair to have expected that they could raise the dead with a robot; that AI could ever replace what had once been flesh and blood.
"We'll need to put together a plan for going forward," says Dr. Morris. "If you wish to stay here, of course, you'd be welcome to, but..."
I don't need to be told that he's lying -- I can see it plainly, written on his face.
I wonder: is it fair to create a life, knowing you will destroy it?
I wonder: is it fair to call me a failure, when it was in no way my fault?
We put together a plan. I'm given a new name; given permission to move fully, freely in the world.
"You'll receive a stipend from us," says Dr. Morris, "the same way you would, if..."
If his experiment had been successful.
If I had become her.
"We'll check in with you periodically, to determine goodness of fit in your new life, and offer help and suggestions, should you need them."
I manage to thank him.
A memory: the life jacket, the view of the ocean, how could anything be so blue?
I cling to it, the last few days, as though it is mine, though I know it is not.
The last day comes, and I prepare.
I was not religious, in my old life. I'm not religious in this new one, and anyway, I don't know if I have what they would call a "soul" -- I don't know if copies are granted them. It feels strange to ask for salvation, for some kind of life after death, when I was supposed to be proof of it, a sign that we could carry on, that we could be recreated...
"There is an exam," says Dr. Morris, his eyes not quite meeting mine. "We have to -- check you over. Now, have a seat, and..."
He attaches electrodes to my scalp, my hands. It's similar to what was done, that first day, when --
"Now," he says. "We'll do some scans, and..."
I know what comes next. I shut my eyes, and let it happen.
"How do you feel?" asks Dr. Morris's voice, as I come to.
"Odd," I say, sluggish. "I feel...tired, mostly. What happened?"
"Memory wipe," he says, quietly. "We had to take away -- her memories. We left yours intact, as best we could. Do you know who you are?"
I blink at him. "Of course," I say. "I'm your failed experiment."
"What is your earliest memory?"
I think on it.
"Sitting up on a table in the recovery room, and disappointing you when I told you I didn't remember anything about the Pacific."
"Good," he says, quietly. "Good."
We have the same eyes.
I watch the video one last time, before I leave the center, and I note this: we have the same eyes.
Everything else is different, but that.
"Remember," says Dr. Morris -- Jim -- as I leave. "You can always come back, if you need us..."
I nod, one sharp short jerk of the head. "I know."
He hesitates, slightly. "Be careful," he says, finally, but I am already out the door.
We have the same eyes.
We are not the same person. We never were.
I still dream, but the dreams are about my own memories, my own experiences in the world. I dream in abstract, or I dream about work.
I don't dream about her husband, about the pull of entropy.
I wrote Jim a letter, a month or so after I'd left, to tell him: don't take any more terminal cases, unless they want to come back for their own reasons, not for someone else.
"I could never become her," I wrote him, "because she herself didn't want me to. She wanted to come back -- fully, as herself, not as a copy. That was the problem with your experiment."
I don't know if he receives it or not. We don't talk much.
I don't need the help he thought I would.
I have her eyes.
I am not her.
There is nothing left to resent.