You wake up on a table. The last thing you remember is struggling to breathe in your own bed at the age of 92. A man appears with a clipboard and tells you that this is the year 3042, that you died a thousand years ago and your memories, personality, brain structure, and subconscious were put on a file and saved until a day where they could be adequately hosted by a working vessel. You look down and find your body is hard and smooth. There are bolts in the back of your elbows. He tells you they’ve constructed an artificial machine that nearly perfectly resembles a human body. It will not age, it does not get ill. You can eat, dance, and enjoy sexual intercourse. You must recharge every night.
“Do you have the personalities of everyone?” you ask. Yes, the man says. The personalities of every person from 2042 onward have been directly downloaded from the brain, and thousands prior to 2042 have been downloaded as well.
“Wait,” you say. “How do you save the personalities of people before 2042?”
“We reconstruct them,” the man says. “We place bits together from memories of loved ones, of writings, of records. It is a long, painstaking process.”
“How do you know it is accurate?” You ask. “What if you make a mistake?”
“There is a .02 variance in every replica,” he answers. “Even in yourself. The variance in personalities recorded prior to 2042 is .09. It is a negligible difference. All the presidents of the United States are currently living, as well as many major historical figures. A version of Shakespeare is currently living in New Jersey.”
“Historical records were not comprehensive enough for high levels of accuracy.”
“So is it him?”
“Only a little less than you are you.”
You run your fingers over your skin. It feels smoother than you remember, but you were old the last time you closed your eyes. Not that you’re any younger, now.
“Will I ever die?”
“Your body will eventually fail,” he says. “Macrocell bodies last for approximately 300 years before they must be replaced.”
“And I’ll be put into another one?”
“Yes, unless you specifically request a non-continuation of your memory.”
You stand from the table and test your walk. Your legs take a moment to respond to your will, but soon they move smoother, and quicker, and you spin around on one leg with incredible power. Everything is made of a material you don’t quite recognize, and it’s a strange shade of pink.
“So if you can reconstruct memories, can you change them? If I ask, can you erase shame, or the memory of death of loved ones? What if I were a murderer? Can you erase sadistic tendencies in people?”
“Yes,” he says. “There are extensive modification forms you can submit for change upon your next awakening if you wish to improve yourself. We refuse to reawaken criminals unless they agree to positive modification.”
“Do people choose to forget who they were, entirely? Are there people who wish to be someone else upon their next… wake-up?”
“We call them births. This is your second birth. And yes. There are many people who choose an identity and remove memory of their prior lives. Most are not aware that they are on their second birth; they believe they have simply been born.”
“Then how are they even the same person?” You have a difficult time understanding this. “How is this any different than booting up any arbitrary consciousness with arbitrary specifications?”
“It isn’t,” he says, simply.
You realize you are naked. He doesn’t seem to care. You can feel the ligaments within you moving… differently. More precisely. Cleanly. It is hard to focus on your body with your mind whirling. Your mind is moving very quickly. It’s as though the cobwebs have been cleaned from your brain.
“Are my children alive?”
“You have four children alive.”
“I only had three children.”
“One elected to be birthed twice.”
The man talks calmly, as though he’s said the words a thousand times before. “Your child Miranda lives in Texas. She also lives in Canada.”
“What are you saying?”
“There are two bodies that carry her consciousness.”
“But – which one is her?”
“Both are her.”
“Both? How do you have two of the same person? Could you boot me up again?”
You stand there dumbfounded, and stare at the table. “Would it be a clone?”
“No, it would be you just as much as you are you.”
“And this other me – over time it would be subjected to different experiences. It would be me for a little while, but then it would change. How could it really be me, then?”
“You think because it has gone through different things, that it is not you?”
“Then how do you draw the boundary between what is and is not me? Could anyone be me?”
“Some say everyone already is you.”
You grab your head – full of thick hair – and run your hands down your face. It feels like your own face, except without wrinkles.
“What are we?”
“That is a very good question.”
“Is this me? You’ve taken something that remembers some life of mine, some collection of ideas – hell, they might not even be real – and now I’m something that can be replicated? What is this? I died! I was gone, and now I’m awake again and I remember being me.”
“We don’t use the term death anymore,” he says, gently. “We call it sleeping.”
“Don’t try to soften the truth. People do die. I died.”
“And when you’ve gone to bed to sleep at night? You closed your eyes, fell unconscious, and then hours later you opened your eyes again and remembered being you. And just now – you’ve closed your eyes and opened them a thousand years later. Sleeping is no different from death, except with sleeping, you remember who you were last time. With death, the memory leaves.”
You can’t manage words to respond. The man continues. “You will meet many people who are on their tenth births who will not remember their past births.”
“What about me? Have I lived in the span before this time and chosen not to remember?”
“If you had, I would not be at liberty to tell you.”
“Why do people choose not to remember?”
“Most will say they got bored. You cannot be a child again if you do not die.”
“I thought you said you didn’t use the word death.”
“We do in cases of non-remembrance.”
“How many times have you been born?”
“I don’t know,” he says.
“Does anyone know, for sure?”
“No,” he says. He reaches into a drawer built into the wall and hands you a simple robe. “Are you ready for the world?”
“No,” you say.
He smiles, his first expression. “You can come back whenever you wish. There is food waiting for you. You will also find a full manual explaining the changes in this world and how to function in it. Two of your children will meet you outside.”
You thank him, your head still spinning, and with your new legs you step through the door.