I’m Not Robert
by A. T. Sayre
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
My hands looked exactly the same. Every line and crack in the skin were where my memory told me they should be. The heart line thick and curling up to fade into the ball of my middle fingers, the fate line thin on the left hand, nonexistent on the right. The long life line rolling down the palm like a baseball seam, sectioning off both thumbs completely. And all the other minor folds and cracks, all exactly as they were in my memories. There was even the old scar on the left hand just below the pinky from that stupid night back in college, falling down drunk in the gutter. Why had they bothered to keep that? I wondered.
These hands, my whole body, made in a lab in just a few hours with a bio-printer, and you couldn’t tell it apart from anything that had come out of a womb. Incredible. Just a few days ago, I was nothing more than a mass of raw material, no more alive than a pile of mud. And they took that and made it into a man.
“Robert,” the doctor said, placing her hand on my shoulder. I looked over at her standing by my bed, the touchpad interface nestled in the crook of her arm. The white connection cord draped loosely out from the inside of her elbow and ran up and behind my ear. “I said, how do they feel?”
“C’mon, Robert. Really find out. Touch things, rub them together. We still need to fine-tune the calibration.”
“Honey, please,” Julia said. “I know you’re tired of all this, but it’s almost over.”
Julia was sitting on the other side of the bed. She caressed my knee. Apart from my hands, my nervous system had been disabled for the calibration, and I didn’t feel it. Her dark hair was slightly mussed and her clothes a little wrinkled from the long days here in the hospital. Her brown eyes were red and a bit unfocused. She still tried to look brave, calm, for my benefit, but she couldn’t hide her anxiety. Her shoulders were all tense, and her cheeks were stone. She never could hide her emotions well.
I ran my thumbs over my fingers, rubbed my hands together back and front. The skin slipped and folded naturally under the light pressure of my touch. I could feel the thin hair on the back of both hands bristle when I ran my fingers against it, and all the little ridges in my bumpy and uneven thumbnails.
The metal rails on my bed were cold and smooth. I could feel my skin drag against them, and they squeaked faintly as I ran my hands along their length. Near my waist on the left rail, there was a little nick in the surface, no bigger than a pinhead. I circled that tiny little imperfection in the metal with my finger, while I grabbed the edge of my mattress with my other hand and squeezed it. I could feel its stiff plastic edge underneath the soft sheets.
Everything felt soft. Distant. I experienced and registered all the stimulus from my fingertips just as any human brain would do for any human hand, but it wasn’t quite right. Not quite the way it was in the memories they gave me. My hands felt like drying clay.
I turned to the doctor and lied. “I told you, everything is fine.”
“Are you positive? Not even a little something feels off? No tingling sensations? Feeling too cold or too hot? It’s really important we get this right now. Once we lock in the settings for your nervous system, it’s very difficult to change them without a complete overhaul.”
I pinched the back of my right hand with my thumb and ring finger. There was a slight twinge of pain, but not much, not as much as there should be, used to be. It was dull.
I calmly nodded at the doctor. “I feel exactly like I always have.”
She nodded and smiled back warmly. “That’s good, Robert. I’m very pleased to hear it. Give me a moment to match these levels in your torso and legs. We can use it as a baseline and fine-tune from there.”
Julia leaned in and kissed me on the forehead. I comforted her by touching her cheek as she nuzzled her face in mine. She whispered in my ear, “That’s good, honey. You’re doing great.”
The doctor cleared her throat. “Mrs. Thompson, I’m sorry but I need him to lie still and not make contact with anyone while we finalize the rest of his nervous system calibration.”
She looked up at the doctor, still holding me.
“Please. It will only take a few minutes.”
I gently removed her hands from me and said, “It’s okay, honey. Let the doctor work. You look exhausted. Why don’t you get a coffee in the cafeteria?”
She straightened up and smiled at me, her eyes starting to water. She was going to cry again. “I’ll be right down the hall,” she said with a nod. Quickly she turned and left the room.
“I’m sorry for that, Robert,” the doctor said when Julia was gone. “But we need to limit stimuli while we calibrate you. Your neural processors are very sensitive.”
She tapped on her pad and started. I could feel a strange electric tingle in my whole body. Right down to my earlobes. Intense pins and needles. My left leg nearly jumped out of the bed.
“Nothing to worry about, Robert. That’s normal for a reboot. All the data being brought through your processor can spike your systems. Nothing that falls outside the safety parameters. Everything is going fine.”
As she continued to work on her pad, I lay back and tried to relax with a deep breath.
* * *
After she had finished, the doctor agreed to let me visit the little park near the hospital. It was the first time I had been outside, and it was a nice warm day with a cloudless sky. I had memories of other days just as nice as this one, but this was the first time the sun warmed the skin of this cheek, the birds sang for these ears. I was content to sit on the park bench with the doctor as Sally stood in line for ice cream with Julia, her mother, down the path. They held hands as the little girl hopped up and down with five-year old impatience.
Julia leaned down and spoke to her, then gestured over at me on the bench with the doctor. Sally looked at us and waved happily. She seemed fine, but I could tell she knew something had happened. She looked at me a little longer than was usual, as if she was trying to spot anything different in me.
“What did they tell her?” I asked the doctor. “Sally.”
“They told her you were hurt, but that you’re all right now. She wasn’t told any of the details, of course. Your wife thought she’s a little too young to understand it properly.”
“That’s probably true.” She had only turned five a few weeks ago. March 11th. She had all her friends over for cake and games in the little park down in the township. Thankfully, the weather had obliged, and it was a pleasant spring day. The party was a good memory.
“I suppose sooner or later we’ll have to explain it all to her,” I said.
“There’s no rush on that. At least I don’t think so. I’m not a psychologist, but I would say she’s had enough of a scare about almost losing you, and it can wait a little while. You can ask our staff psychologist for some guidance before you’re discharged tomorrow, if you want. That would probably be a good idea.”
I nodded and looked off into the distance. A squirrel ran furiously across the open field, chased by a dog that was only halfhearted in its pursuit. After only a hundred yards or so the dog gave up, panting as it watched the squirrel make it to the trees.
“I take it you still have misgivings about me going home,” I said.
She breathed hard and clenched her jaw as she nodded. “I still think it would be good if you could stay a few more days. Just for observation. I know hospital policy says you’re cleared to go home after the final calibration, but we’re kind of in uncharted territory here. We’ve never resuscitated anyone in your particular situation before.
“Up till now, our patients have had a terminal illness or were wasting away slowly, so we have weeks, even months sometimes, to lay down the neural pathways before uploading the patient in. But with you—”
“The brain was already dead.”
“No, you never died, Robert. Nobody ever said that. The lake was very cold, and that bought us some time. But I’ll be honest: we didn’t get as much time as we would have liked. Your old mind started to degrade faster than we anticipated. And the neural paths weren’t fully formed yet when we had to initiate the upload. If we had waited any longer, we would have lost you.”
I smirked as I looked back at the dog who sat patiently panting by the tree line, waiting for his play friend. “But you didn’t. I’m here, and everything is working perfectly. You said so yourself.”
“I know,” the doctor said. “I’d still feel better if we monitored you for just a bit longer.”
“Is it doctor’s orders?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Then I’m still checking out tomorrow.”
“I’ve had enough of the hospital. I’m sick of being poked at. Everything’s fine. I’m still coming back in a few days for a checkup. If anything happens before then, you’ll be the first to know.”
I heard Sally’s giggle as she came running back ahead of Julia, an ice cream in her hand. “Daddy!” she yelled as she came closer, saw me looking at her. I felt all warm as I heard it.
As she was crossing from the grass to the lip of the path, she tripped and took a few stumbling steps towards me. Her eyes went wide in surprise as her free hand swung out in front of her, preparing to catch her fall.
I shot out to catch her without even thinking about it and steadied her in my arms. No bumps or bruises, ice cream still intact; just a little flustered.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” I said. “I got you.”
* * *
The next day, the doctor insisted on one more checkup before I left. All my motor functions, my central nervous system, my cerebral processor, my eyes, ears, mouth, and throat. I humored her. Everything was just fine, and even if it wasn’t, I wasn’t going to tell her. I wanted to get out of there. She was just being a little overprotective of her creation. Me.
I suppose she had a lot riding on how successful a procedure this was, so her attitude was understandable. She finally did let us go with a promise that if anything whatsoever seemed off, no matter how insignificant, to make sure to call her and tell her about it, no matter what time of day or night it was. We did and finally got out of there and to the car.
It was a long drive back home, and the sun was setting near the end. Sally watched a video in the back with her pink headphones on, her feet dancing in the air. Julia drove, her hands firmly on the wheel, the radio down low so it wouldn’t distract her. I stared at the setting sun through the trees as they flew by the side of the highway.
“I talked with Dean Anders,” Julia said, glancing over at me.
“He understands you need time to recuperate. And as there are only a couple of weeks before finals, you could wait till next semester before resuming classes, if you want. The rest of your department can handle your class load.”
“I’m sure they’re thrilled with that.”
“They were happy to do it, Robert. You know how much they think of you.”
I said nothing, leaning my head against the window.
“I know you’re worried about what people will think, Robert. It’s going to be just fine. Everyone understands you’re still you.”
That was more than I could say, myself.
I didn’t say that to her and kept silent. I wasn’t in much of a mood to talk, even though I could tell that was making Julia uneasy. I just wanted to watch the scenery. I didn’t even say anything when she passed by the exit for home, didn’t ask her where she was going. Which was for the best, because when she took the off-ramp just after it, I realized she was doubling back around to avoid the lakeside road where the accident had happened.
Copyright © 2017 by A. T. Sayre