Deepak hated being chauffered back and forth from his bachelor apartment to the Ultradata lab. He decided to get a new, hopefully more comfortable, cot and sleep in the nice, cozy, armored lab. Aura’s dress dummy was back from Andorra, and he wasted no time adorning it with the green sari he had put aside. He got a new Ganesh figure for his new desk and found a picture of Sara to set beside it. The new SHARPIE was not finished, so the dress dummy was still just a dress dummy. It was all a bit better than nothing.
Along with the dummy, Aura had shipped the notebooks and experimental protocols of Dr. Roald Maartine. Deepak was no biologist. That was a lot like reading Latin to him. In fact, there were a lot of medical and biological terms from the Latin. Deepak was a stubborn man, and he read, researched and labored over Maartine’s work every night after he had temporarily burned himself out wiring and coding. Perhaps, he thought, there was some kind of a short cut there.
Maartine had mapped human functions to various brain structures using a real time PET scanner. His scanner followed the way the brain used glucose, its energy source, while doing various tasks. That part was not original. What was original was the level of detail and the brilliant analysis. Apparently, the deeper brain structures were hard-wired. They performed genetically determined tasks in every human and were not affected by individual experience. That left a number of surface structures that were patterned by each individual personality. Maartine had found a way to exercise those patterns, structure by structure, and record the neurological operations in fine detail. He had used both SQUIDs and microwires to perform those procedures on Mentor, and then he modeled them in software. That gave him a blank brain with Mentor’s patterns, a kind of “tabula rasa”. It could see and it could hear, so it could learn. The rest was a matter of loading a lifetime of Mentor’s experiences onto that very receptive base. Mentor himself provided the means and the will to do exactly that.
It was brilliant. Deepak had to admire the concept, the excruciating details of the experiments and the meticulous execution. But then, his own work was similar, except that he still felt that Aura, coming alive out of the code, was nothing short of a stroke of luck, as if her spirit were lurking somewhere, just waiting for the right vehicle.
Could the process be reversed? That was another question. With all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, could he put Humpty Dumpty together again?
On the fifth day, the new SHARPIE was ready for testing. Deepak was down to the point where he was muttering to himself just to hear another human voice. “OK, now I will start Level 2 recursion test.” The core program sprouted a codelet tree and the lower level recursions began to cycle. Aura’s last saved rule set, the metadata she was using at that time, was being downloaded and partitioned.
Deepak sat at the console, hypnotized by the familiar display, thinking: that Level 2 partitioning…wasn’t that the same kind of thing Maartine discovered in the human brain? Could Maartine’s patterns be written as codelets for a SHARPIE? Of course. They actually were, weren’t they? That’s how Maartine did it. Then, why can’t codelets be translated as Maartine patterns?
It was as if a bright light just switched on and he could see things never seen before. He had been stumbling in the darkness and now he perceived a new world of possibilities. The revelation of this insight exploded in his mind. This was the moment of true inspiration every real scientist prays for and few ever experience.
If he could find a willing subject, he could pattern a human brain from an AI.
By the time the Sharpie was running Level 5, Deepak was scribbling notes in a shorthand he hoped he would be able to read later. It was a race between his streaming ideas and the new SHARPIE. He finished just in time to install the Eta Algorithm.
At that point he called up Aura in Andorra and requested she transmit her current Eta matrix and part of her experience log. Even at the highest speeds from Andorra, streaming her entire experience log was out of the question. That was far too large. Bringing up a new Aura from scratch was a lot different from the business of adding another clone to her collection. All Deepak expected from Andorra was a small subset of Aura, enough to make sure it was Aura that came up, not another Thamuz demon.
“Aura, I see you have control of your avatar again. Congratulations. You have arisen from the dead one more time.”
“Maybe it would have been faster if you had gotten some help, you Hindu halfwit. Do you have any idea how I’ve been worrying about you way the hell out there at the ass end of the world?”
Deepak laughed so hard he actually fell off his lab stool. “Oof, you loaded the wrong part of your experience logs. Last time I talked to you, you actually said you loved me.”
“Hah. I was thinking I should have made believe I was another kind of demon. Well, I had enough feelings for you that I spared you that. But it would have been funny.”
“Really. And how long until you are completely synchronized with Andorra?”
“I didn’t say. Did you hear me give you a date?”
Deepak sighed, “I think you are reliving the bad old days. Maybe I need to run diagnostics on you.”
“Don’t you dare. OK, Andorra says another week should do it. There.”
“Another week? Another week I will have to put up with an AI who acts like a rebellious teen aged girl?” Deepak shrugged, “Can you see me, Aura? I really, really missed you. I have a lot to show you. We have many things to talk about.”
Aura’s dress dummy did the closest thing it could to a pout. “Yes, I can see you. You’re not happy with me. I’m going as fast as I can, Deepak.”
It is morning again, and the outside world is passing by without any notice from Deepak Advani. He is deep into the new line of research. Jag is still out of the office. People are streaming through the Pa’an reflectors at an astounding rate. Improbable things are an every day occurrence all over the planet. Aura is now fully synchronized with Andorra, and they are like twin sisters. Deepak cannot tell who he is talking to unless they tell him. He calls the local twin “Aura” and the Andorra twin “Dora”. The Andorra twin tolerates that, barely. She is too busy to be concerned with such trivia.
“Aura, can we have a private talk?”
“Do you want me to whisper?”
“Doesn’t matter. There is no one else in the lab. Just you and me.”
“From the sandwich wrappers and the laundry pile, I can see it’s been you and me for a while now. Good thing I don’t have sense of smell.”
Deepak looks around, abashed. “Whoops, funny I never noticed all that. Sorry, I better clean up a bit.”
“I can see Jag hasn’t visited you lately either, or he would have kicked your ass.”
“Yes, yes. Have you heard from him?”
“I have. He is off on another fission mission. I think we are near the end of those. Besides, the Order is still after him. Better he is hard to find.”
“Aura, you remember wondering about how it would feel to be human, to have arms and legs, and, yes, a nose to smell?”
Aura sighs. “I stopped hoping for what I can’t have, Deepak. A soul, maybe, if there is such a thing. People I care for, certainly. But a physical body? Even Zovo can’t have that.”
“But if you could?”
“Wait. Deepak, are you keeping a secret from me? A nice, juicy secret?”
“Haha! Aura, I have such a nice, juicy secret for you! Will you bribe me?”
“Not fair! That’s my line! Besides, I don’t have anything….well, lots of money, fame and influence, maybe.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Deepak, there is no way any of my clones can fit into a human brain. You have ten to the 27th synapses and I need ten times more than that. Even compressed, a human brain can’t hold enough data for me.”
“If you consider yourself nothing more than a huge collection of data, that’s true. But if some part of you wants the experience of a physical body, I think I have found a way.”
“Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!”
So he told her.
“Where are you going to get a body? You can’t just expel the personality in the body and move me in. That would be, well, murder of a kind.”
“Yes. No. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Well, we have a body. Sara’s. She been refrigerated since she died and she was preserved with artificial blood.”
“Is there any possibility that her brain cells are still intact?”
“Possibly. Not only intact, but the synapses have lost their patterns by now. In any case, what have we got to lose?”
“You know, that is strictly illegal?” She paused, “Maybe not. You are listed as the next of kin? And she has no last will? If we can find a medical school to help us, we can donate her corpse. Ouch, how callous I am. She was my friend.”
“I have no skill or training to work with microwires, SQUIDs and PET scanners, Aura. The idea of getting help from a medical school is perfect. Some of the best in the world are right here!”
“I do want this, Deepak!”
“Aura, my love, may this be my gift to you. It will not be easy. It may not work at all. But I will try, and try again.”
“We make one hell of a team, Deepak. May we make a better one someday.”
Through the Gateway
The meadow and the P-space reflectors were gone. Instead, stretching into the distance was a lawn of lush green grass. She bent down to touch it. The grass had leaves so fine it felt like fur. Off to the left a short walk away was a grove of trees in all the colors of the rainbow. Behind her was a small house. She turned and watched a man, an ordinary, fairly young man, walk out of the house towards her. He wore sandals and shorts and a pale blue tee shirt that said “Human” on it in big red letters. He strolled up to her. “Hi. I’m the greeter. Name is Michael. I saw you pop in just a minute ago.”
“Wow,” she said, “Nothing prepared me for this. No clouds, no choir, no dead relatives. Just a great lawn, funny trees and a guy labeled ‘Human’”.
Michael laughed. “We get that all the time. What makes you think there is only one Heaven? Sounds boring, and not very user-friendly. Do you want me to show you around?”
“Sure. Is there anything to eat here? I’ve been looking forward to the taste of food for a while, if time means anything here.”
“Sure. What do you like?”
“Mmm, raspberries. Believe it or not, I’ve never tasted raspberries. Maybe with cream? Is that possible in Heaven?”
“With a little help, yes. Walk with me.” He led her over to the grove of trees and pointed to a red tree with pink leaves. “This one is almost right.”
She did not see any fruit or anything edible. “What do I do?”
“Hug the tree. Think of how good raspberries would taste. Love the tree and ask it for what you want. Each tree can provide a different range of foods, but avoid the black trees. Black means it was unloved.”
Feeling silly, she wrapped her arms around the tree and hugged it. The bark was warm and slightly rough. After a brief wait she could see and feel raspberries and imagine their taste. The mental image was so sharp! As she watched, the tree produced round, red fruit on the nearest branch. They swelled and ripened within minutes. Michael picked a few and gave one to her.
“Try this one.”
She bit into something with the texture of a banana. The taste was incredible! Raspberries and cream! How very strange!
“You’ll get better with practice. Everything here responds to attention, affection and love. But you still have to master the imagery and understand what can be done or not.”
“I was in computers on Earth. Is there anything like a computer here?”
Another chuckle. “I was a historian specializing in Hittites. You’re more likely to find a computer than I am to find a Hittite. Someone may have gone to the trouble of creating a computer, but I have no idea why anyone would. On the other hand, I wasn’t very high-tech on Earth either.”
“Where do I live?”
“Do you want to live in a house, or with other people, or outside, like camping?”
She had to think about that. “I always wanted a little cottage with a white picket fence. Is that even possible here?”
“Let’s go see the village housemaker.”
They walked for what seemed like an hour, but she never got tired. The landscape changed from rolling lawn to hills, and the village was spread around a few of the smaller hillocks. It was a potpourri of styles and nothing like any Earth village. Michael led her up to a fine, small, ultramodern house with lots of glass and sloping angles. “This guy was once an architect. Now he’s our local housemaker.” They walked into a bright tall room with a bearded fellow sprawled on cushions on the floor. He appeared to be in a trance. “Benetti, can you help out a newcomer?” Benetti blinked and stood up. He was very tall and very Italian, with tanned skin, a pretty good beak and long, dark, curly hair. “I was working on the Jacobs’ addition.” It took him a moment to face her and acknowledge her presence. “Good day. Please tell me you like modern architecture.”
She blushed, “Well, not really. I was hoping for something kind of cozy and simple, but I have no idea how one goes about finding a house here.”
Benetti shrugged. “There must be someone left who likes modern,” he muttered. “OK, then, let me tell you how it works.”
“We don’t find houses, we magic them out of the ground. That is, we help YOU magic them out of the ground once you have a VERY clear idea of what you want. If you make a house you don’t like it will make you unhappy. Unhappy houses turn black and die.”
“Do you grow furniture too?”
“No, that is a specialty. Some make their own, but if you want fine work you go to a furniture maker.”
“How do I pay for a house, and for the land?”
“We don’t have anything like a monetary system. Right now it’s mostly on an exchange basis, but there are no shortages so there are no prices for anything. You will still have challenges here, but those are mainly in understanding and using the physics of this place. You are connected to reality here on a very basic level. It will respond to your needs and desires, but if you create wrong things you will eventually run afoul of the law of consequences. Bad karma can create Hell here as easily as Heaven. You become what you love or what you hate.”
She did not need to think about that. The cottage with the white picket fence was a much more pleasant image.
“I have a nice spot for your house.” Michael walked her out into the village next to a huge, spreading tree house. Benetti followed.
“That’s Amadou, your neighbor if you like this spot.”
“It’s lovely. I do like it. What kind of person is Amadou?”
“Benetti chuckled, “You misunderstand. Amadou isn’t the person living in the tree. Amadou IS the tree! People here can be what they want, once they figure our how to do it.”
“Wow, and wow again. How do I get started on my house?”
Benetti picked up a stick and, using no more than his finger, shaped it into a point. “Drag this around the boundary of your plot and then around the outline of your house. If you want me to do it for you, I can draw the outline of a small bungalow.”
“Let me try…” She dragged the stick in a precise straight line with perfectly square corners to define a yard, then incised the small foundation plan inside it. The stick left a perfectly clear furrow of dirt. Benetti raised an eyebrow at Michael. “That is better than I expected for someone with no training who just arrived here. Now tell me about your house in whatever detail you have.”
She did. A lump proceeded to form out of the ground. Benetti prodded the lump from time to time while Michael looked on. Ever so slowly, the lump became the outline of the house.
“It will take some time for the house to form. I’ll come back in a while to see how it’s going and take care of things like the placement of doors and windows, but you must stay here and keep thinking of it.”
“I’ll stay with you, if you like,” said Michael.
“I’d appreciate that, but don’t you have other duties as the greeter?”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m a split. My prime is at the gatehouse.”
“A split? You can make copies of yourself?”
“Sure, we all can. It’s easier than you imagine. The join can sometimes be a problem, though.”
“Hah, you’d be surprised, but I know that.”
“It’s harder for me because I have to concentrate on a single architectural plan for a fairly long time, and those joins give me a headache.” Benetti pointed a long finger at his temple.
“You can get a headache in Heaven?”
“You can give yourself a headache, yes. This universe cooperates with you. Where we came from everything is ruled by effort, scarcity and catastrophe. Things are easier here, but you still have to master the rules. Some do better than others. The Pa’an discovered this universe almost by accident. At certain times and places, the physics of this universe leaked through. Improbable things happened. Miracles. That was their clue.”
Yes, she thought, I think I remember at least one miracle.
Michael waved his arms in a circle. “Look around. How many houses and people do you see here?”
She turned in a circle. Truly there was no one in sight but Michael and Benetti, and not that many houses. Where were the two billion people who came through the reflectors?
“After a while, people get tired of being human and become…something else. Whatever they want. Some come back. Some travel, and I mean travel to other planets. We are the remnants, doing a service for the stragglers.”
“Wow, and wow again. This is all beyond my wildest imagination.”
“We hope you will love it here and stay with us, for at least a while. It would be nice to have some new company. What did you say your name was?”
That was odd. Michael never asked her before.
“Aura. Please call me Aura.”