Jamie was old. He was just old. He didn't feel old, at least not on the inside. But his body would not let him forget his century plus of living. Drugs, surgery, prosthetics, good genes and a lifetime of athletics had kept him alive all these years, but they could not win against the inevitable decay and decrepitude.
Jamie felt like a 17-year-old trapped in the body of a 117-year-old. He still wanted to play ball like he had as a kid, but except for the cerebral interface with his virtual Gamechamp, the best he could do was watch the young people play. Gamechamp was a poor substitute for reality; you could manipulate the bat, ball, and glove, view the field as you virtually ran the bases, hear the synthesized crowd cheer. But you couldn't smell the grass, you never got out of breath, didn't feel the ache in your muscles, and you couldn't get hurt. Where was the risk, the triumph, the fun? Virtual baseball was a poor substitute for reality.
Where had his life gone? How had it slipped by so fast?
When he was young he had seen a film in which old men chased after pretty young girls. It was funny to see the wrinkled old perverts leer and snicker, and to see the girls flirt and tease and always stay out of their slow clumsy grasps. He saw no tragedy then, only comedy, yet underlying great comedy is great tragedy. Jamie didn't understand then, but he did now.
He vividly remembered his first love; the heat that had built up inside him, the feeling in his palms, his stomach, and especially his loins when he was close to her. All that was gone-no heat, no feeling, no nothing. Remembering only made it worse. He knew now the tragedy of those foolish old men in the film. Young and virile inside, old, hoary and impotent on the outside. Even if some young women would have them, they could do nothing about it but leer. These days there was a Gamechamp for sex as well, but it was too little like a woman and too much like an automatic milking machine.
It's depressing to get old. You see the signs
while you are still young, and you make allowances, cover up the evidence with
cosmetics, rage, rage against the dying of the light as best you can. Then one
day you realize that you are closer to the end than the beginning. You find
yourself talking about your infirmities more than anything else. You look back
more than you look forward. You remember more than plan.
It's depressing to see all your friends die before you, all those people you shared a common culture, a common history with. You can't reminisce with someone twenty, thirty, fifty years younger than yourself.
Of course he had outlived Clare. She was six years older than he, and didn't have the Southard genes on her side. And while she always had a slim figure, she was never an athlete. Clare was a city girl; the most ghastly thing to her was being more than a few miles from a shopping mall. But she was loyal to the end. Jamie thought of her often, could almost smell the lavender scent she always wore, woke up in the middle of the night hearing her snore, just to remember she'd been gone almost twenty years.
Twenty years. Never mind the years--where had the decades gone? Where had the century gone?
One thing about growing immensely old: you can perfect curmudgeonliness to a high art. Maybe it's endemic of old people that they see each subsequent generation as soft and lazy. "In my day, we had it hard...walked ten miles barefoot in the snow...my neighborhood was so rough that...". But Jamie had seen five generations grow up and grow old, each less capable than the last. The population had not divided, in 50 years of a hot, free economy, into the haves and the have-nots. It bifurcated into the knows and the know-nots. And the scale seemed to be tipping more and more onto the know-not side as populations grew and grew.
As a professor he had seen each brigade of students emerge from public education with less and less critical thinking ability or even rote knowledge. Simple algebra escaped just about everybody. No one had a clue as to the physical world around him. He actually had an adult student ask him "what happens to the Sun when it rains?" It had pushed Jamie toward early retirement.
The arts too had deteriorated. Singing and playing instruments had grown to be too daunting a task for most popular musical "artists", and form and attitude grew dominant over substance. Art music had all but disappeared-the few concerts were hi-fidelity broadcasts of recordings made fifty years or more in the past. Of the 500+ satellite channels, maybe 3 had any intellectual content, the rest being either vapid entertainment or science, art, and history repackaged into 5 or 10 second trifles with accuracy and veracity thrown to the four winds. Films had degenerated into amusement park rides.
Technology and medicine had advanced greatly while other human endeavors had dwindled, primarily because there was money to be made. Some state-sponsored big-science projects had continued, but most progress was made in the consumer arena. The know-nots had the cash, and those few knows who could excel in the Universities went on to push human knowledge wherever there was a market. Remember, the know-nots were still the haves (and their numbers were huge!), and with all their new toys they were occupied and content. Furthermore, the vast elderly population made gerontology a fertile, lucrative field. Yet the impotence of age ultimately could not be denied.
Jamie hated the dependencies. He depended on 22 pills a day, 4 nurses a week, and 3 doctors a month. He needed mechanisms to get out of his chair, to climb the stairs, and to see and to hear. His mind was as sharp as ever-Alzheimer's had been cured while he was still working-but the strong body he had come to depend on had finally let him down. He felt betrayed.
Yes, it's depressing to get old, but Jamie had an ace up his sleeve. One advantage of living longer than most was his ability to accumulate wealth. Since retiring from the University 60 years earlier, Jamie had had little to do but play with his investments, and he had piled up a nice stock portfolio, a dozen condominiums, open land in several states, and some healthy savings. Even the expense of the 22 pills, 4 nurses and 3 doctors couldn't dent his resources. Jamie had an ace, and this ace required considerable "grease" to slide easily down the sleeve.
In the late 20th century the Soviet Union, as it was then called, experimented with freezing cosmonauts (such a grand term!) for long space flights. Back then there were only chemical rockets, and a trip to Mars would take almost a year, so the Soviets looked into ways of cutting down on shipboard life-support. Suspended animation was the euphemism, but it really amounted to making an ice block out of a living creature. They did manage to freeze a dog and a couple of goats, but the Soviets were never able to thaw a higher life form. The cell damage caused by ice crystals was too great, and they never experimented on a human. So they said.
In the Capitalist West however, a way had been found to avoid the problem with the thawing process: freeze the subject, then wait for someone else to figure out the thawing. Wait for years if necessary. Decades, centuries even. This obviously wouldn't be suitable for space travel, but it was a way to extend life into the future. A company was established, SoCal Cryonics, with the following service. Let's say a customer had a terminal disease, something that hadn't been successfully cured. Perhaps the disease was a cancer, heart malfunction or even old age. Near the time of passing the customer would have him or herself frozen, either just the head or the entire body, with the hope of staying preserved until such time as the disease was curable and the customer could be safely thawed. Those who had only their head frozen (an "economy option") had the greater hope that future genetic research could regrow their body, and then transplant their thawed brain into a new young self. Hence a life may be extended; more than that, it was a form of time travel.
The whole procedure was not cheap. Generally the customer, financially stable to begin with, deeded almost all of his or her estate to SoCal Cryonics in perpetuity, presumably saving some resources for their new life. At even modest interest rates an average investment could outstrip inflation nicely.
The amount of faith needed to believe that a company that it would be solvent for decades or even centuries was unusual. The belief that countries and economic systems would be stable for such a long time frame was borderline fanaticism. However, these leaps of faith were somewhat mitigated by the simple truth that death was imminent, so what was there to lose?
Now, Jamie wasn't afraid of dying. He had an agnostic attitude about it, figuring whatever happened after death it was probably interesting. But he had had a good life, at least for the first 75 years, and he missed it. He hadn't done all he wanted to do, hadn't seen all he had wanted to see, hadn't been as much as he could have been. He didn't hate being alive; he hated being old. He deserved another chance; he'd been a good teacher, a good husband, and a good citizen. Jamie had accumulated enough wealth, and even though the drugs and prosthetics could keep him alive several more years at least, he was ready to give SoCal Cryo his business.
It was a tough decision to make. Despite his old-age grumpiness, Jamie the curmudgeon still wanted to see the future, whatever lay ahead. He'd now seen the lunar colony started, the Mars expeditions, the first planned robotic mission to Proxima Centauri. SETI had confirmed an intelligent radio source from space, but was no closer to understanding it than they had been 15 years ago when they first received it.
Yes, Jamie had seen some of the future, and he could see more of it. The choice was, see a little more of it definitely, or take that chance and see the far future, thanks to SoCal Cryo. He had agonized over this for several years; he wasn't dead yet, not really dying either, just decaying. Thanks to the Libertarian Revolution of 2016, a person in America again had the right to do with his body what he wished, so choosing to be frozen before he was medically dead was a viable option.
The event that finally helped him make up his mind was the successful thawing of a laboratory animal that had been frozen 20 years ago. The rat still remembered the maze training it had received, indicating that brain functions were normal, and the rat was healthy. There still was no 100% reliable way to have himself cloned so that a new body would be waiting, nor had brain transplants been successfully performed. Humans had not been thawed out either, but the time was right. Progress was being made, so Jamie made arrangements.
Getting his affairs in order took some time. Which asset does one keep over the stretch of time? The stock market could vary considerably; buildings could be razed or otherwise destroyed. Besides, there was SoCal Cryo to pay. At last he decided on keeping his open land; SoCal would prefer more liquid assets anyway, and at least he would have place to go, then, whenever. Anything that was not a serious asset he gave away, save for some personal mementos and other items which may be collectibles in the future (his Lionel electric trains from the last century would bring big bucks, if he could part with them, if they even used bucks in the future).
Getting anywhere when you are 117 years old was difficult. Jamie's first stroke at 86 had impaired his walking, his broken hip at 97 had removed the rest of his ambulating ability, despite the implants. His wheelchair had remotes for everything in his house, and he could at one time even drive his car with it, but it was too dangerous now. Reflexes at 117 weren't exactly lightning quick. His doctors didn't agree with his decision, being a conservative lot, but finally assented to getting him transported out to Riverside for the final preparations. He found the double meaning of 'final preparation' humorous.
The trip along the freeway was uneventful. Jamie brought two of his four nurses with him. He had provided for all of them with a year's salary, although he was sure each would find work if she wanted, even in their sixth decade. These two were a reassurance that, on this last trip, he'd make it in one piece.
His car was one of those with automatic controls, one that the highway could command. He and his entourage were in a car-train: dozens of cars moving along quickly with not one meter of space between them. Jamie glanced at the older manual lanes, and saw hundreds of fast-looking cars moving at no more than 20kph. Strange, he thought. Don't they get it? In all his years as a student of life, so many things had seemed self-evident: physics, technology, and most of all the fallacies that most people take as truths (like fast-looking cars go fast). The appearances foisted by marketing onto the masses to increase sales, or the images thrown out over the networks to sway opinion one way or another. Vagueness to cover lies. Spin, they used to call it.
The facades behind facades behind facades-why can't people see the way it really is? And why do they have the so much trouble reasoning out the most basic of problems? Ruled by emotion, I guess, thought Jamie, not by intellect. As long as they are comfortable, as long as they have the illusion of a fast car, or just a stable life, (and as long as there are enough knows to give them their illusions and keep everything running!), most people are happy.
Ignorance is bliss, ran the old saw, and some are more blissful than others. Is it a linear function? Are the more ignorant happier? Probably so, if the ignorant are comfortable. So long as their bodily and emotional needs are met, as they are in abundance today, the vast numbers of know-nots are content and enjoy life. So what if the great intellectual achievements of science and art escape them? So what if they can't see beyond their noses, or behind the facades? Happiness is good, Jamie thought, no matter how you obtain it. He was not happy as a withered old man, despite his lifetime membership in the know fraternity. But he was going to do something about that.
Nothing focuses the mind as the hangman's noose, he mused. While he wasn't necessarily going to see the hangman, he was facing the great unknown, the "big chill" in more ways than one. But it was ultimately a quest for happiness, no different than the illusion of a fast car. His happiness lay in the vim and vigor of youth, but more importantly, a chance to see the future, to expand his ever-inquisitive mind. And his mind was now racing.
Here at the end of his life, on a trip leading to who knows where, Jamie had a revelation, maybe even an epiphany. A cool blue calm settled over him, reality faded, the pain and depression of age evaporated. Resignation and acceptance revealed themselves like a reunion with two old friends. And in a great mental sigh he realized he shouldn't be too hard on the know-nots, because in the end they are all looking for the same thing he was. If you find happiness, real or imagined, maybe that's enough.
In his mild euphoria Jamie idly watched the Chino hills go by. Seems like every square inch of Southern California land had been plowed and made into a tract mansion subdivision in the last 20 years. The natural flora was mowed down, and sticks that would one day be trees stood hopeful in every postage stamp yard.
They finally arrived at SoCal Cryo. It was a single new professional building with a small parking lot and the obligatory sticks-that-would-be-trees lining the freshly paved driveway. His nurses guided him into the customer reception area--brightly lit, with motivational posters on the wall and the ever-present video screen-where he didn't have long to wait. One never kept such a financial asset twiddling his thumbs! When they came for him, he bid farewell to his nurses, who cried a bit, having been with him for 20 some-odd years. Jamie too felt the loss, but the impending adventure quickly commanded his attention. A youngish man stood up from his expensive and expansive wooden desk.
"Mr. Southard, so pleased to meet you," said Dr. Bayer, chief administrator of SoCal Cryonics. "I must say up front, you understand that there are no guaranties as to when, or even if, we can thaw you. We've been flooded with calls ever since the Mexican team thawed out that rat. Moreover, your decision to freeze only your head, while understandable, is far more speculative, as far as reviving you in any real sense of the word."
"Call me Jamie, everybody does. The way I look at it, I don't want to be revived like this. If doctors haven't figured out how to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, then I might as well stay frozen and become someone's science project. I'm already willing my body, what's left of it, to the University. Anyway, this is my chance to see the future."
Jamie thought of a line from a movie he saw as a youth, an innocent question asked by a self-aware computer. "Will I dream?"
"We've never recorded any electrical activity in a frozen brain, nor have any other research groups. So I'd guess no. But then again, no-one has ever been revived to tell us otherwise."
"So what will happen?"
"Well, to put it bluntly, we euthanize you. We take a tissue sample and administer a new drug, arresticine, to painlessly stop your metabolic functions without doing damage. It's not a toxin, just sort of a chemical off-switch. When your heartbeat and breathing cease naturally, we'll artificially maintain your respiration and cool your body slowly, treating your blood to prevent ice crystals from forming. When your body reaches 260K we'll amputate your head; veins, arteries, nerves and tissue being frozen, the damage will be minimal. Ultimately we'll take your head's temperature down to 77K. Ghoulish, isn't it?"
"Maybe from your point of view. I'll be way out of it by then. What about revival?"
"Ah, you see, that's what we don't know about for certain. Presumably we'll (or whoever has taken over the business-I may be a customer by then!) take your DNA sample and grow a new body for you. It'll be without a brain, so we'll, they'll have to maintain it artificially for many years while it develops. You can see why this is an expensive process! Next I imagine they'll thaw your brain slowly and perform a brain transplant. I would guess you'd need extensive therapy, both physical and emotional, as well as reeducation. The world may be a very different place by the time you awaken, no, by the time you are reborn."
Dr. Bayer looked carefully at Jamie. "Your nurses are gone, and we don't have overnight facilities here. Now's the time to back out."
Jamie cast him dim gaze around the room. He was feeling everything about his age at this moment; the fuzzy vision, the aches and pains, the helplessness. He wasn't happy, but he wasn't afraid.
"Let's do it!"
She woke up with a start. The room was dark and immensely quiet, especially after the dream she had just experienced. Can dreams be loud? This one was cacophonous-voices, roars, screeches-but nothing she could isolate. And no images resolved themselves, just the afterglow of shades of dark and light, making the transition from sleep to wakefulness all the more difficult in the pitch black room. She called for the lights and knew immediately something was wrong.
Jamie definitely did not remember being a soprano. As the windowpanes slowly went from opaque to transparent and the room brightened, an impossible fact rudely presented itself. Jamie looked down and saw thin, smooth arms where gnarled, atrophic ones once had been. And the image was quite clear, not the fuzzy blur of 117-year-old eyes. The supple arms ended in long-fingered hands with manicured nails, which lay on top of the comforter on the bed in the strange but friendly bedroom.
Scents, sounds, and sharp focus assaulted him (her?), as if Jamie had awakened from years of being wrapped in foam. He smelled vanilla, heard waves crashing, and saw that under the covers was the rest of a body, a female body, her body.
This is insane, she thought. I'm a 117 year old geezer, frozen in a cryolab; I must be dreaming or hallucinating this. Maybe it's a byproduct of the cryo process, maybe I've died and am in heaven, hell, or in the quantum foam somewhere/somewhen. It can't be real, but if this wasn't real, it was the best simulation of real a mind could ever know.
Summoning up a small bit of courage she lifted the covers to reveal what she had guessed: a woman's body, clothed in a long white T-shirt, and presumably underwear, although these were hidden. Jamie uncontrollably began to shake, to shiver, and then was lost in the marvelment of being able to shake. The old body could barely move at all, much less react quickly to anything. The shaking was almost a pleasure, but soon stopped as acceptance gathered strength. If this was her new body, in some new life, she might as well get used to it. How quickly the mind adapts! Too quickly, perhaps; this may well be the fluid reality of a dream.
She quickly (quickly! What a joy!) slid from the bed, pulled off her nightclothes and stood in front of a full-length mirror. She was apparently of Northern European descent, perhaps Irish, about 5'10", shapely but not voluptuous, mid-twenties, with green eyes and long dark hair. Looking down was a startling experience. As a man Jamie had seen many female bodies, from many positions, but never from this point of view. Her waist narrowed impossibly then flared to wide hips and an ample rear. Strange, at least from a male's point of view. Her breasts blocked a direct view of much of her abdomen, and she was amazed at their mass, and how as she turned they carried considerable momentum, at least compared to what she had been used to as a he. Also, the lower center of gravity of a woman made her feel very well balanced, especially considering that, as an ancient man, his equilibrium had been failing.
She also realized that hygiene was going to be a major consideration
Walking was an adventure, partly because it had been so long since Jamie had experienced easy walking, partly because of the new frame, new perspective. Everything seemed higher up now; she seemed to have lost about 5 inches. But her legs seemed even longer than before, and were joined at the hip differently, so her first steps were anything but graceful.
Turning her attention to the room, Jamie started exploring the closets and cabinet. Each drawer revealed evidence of a typical woman's boudoir. The clothes and shoes were tasteful but not elegant, there was a small amount of makeup, and the necessary toiletries. The furniture was mostly oak, but not a heavy, masculine design. There was a small flat panel display and unfamiliar interface on the desk, probably for video, communications, and network access. She started towards the window, but modesty stopped her long enough to put back on her (she must start thinking of these things as hers) nightclothes.
She was apparently living near the ocean. She couldn't place the beach, but it looked like a typical Southern California beach-sandy, not rocky, no steep bluffs or redwoods. But how many sandy beaches were there in the world? It appeared to be midday: clear, warm and sunny.
When the door chime sounded Jamie was first confused, then frightened. Confused, because she didn't at first recognize the sound, and when it dawned on her that it was nothing but a doorbell, she had no clue where the front door was. And frightened, because she didn't know who was there, what to say, how to act. She fast realized that everything was new to her, even answering the door. She wasn't even sure what country she was in, what language was spoken (she hadn't yet taken note of anything with writing on it), or even what year it was.
The chime sounded and resounded. Fortunately her place was small, only a few rooms, so finding the front door was easy. When she finally had summoned the courage to open it there was a young blonde woman, about 4 inches shorter than she, slender, standing there with a look of both exasperation and joy. The blonde quickly hugged Jamie, stood on tiptoe, and planted a big, wet kiss on her mouth. This had the immediate consequences of realization and arousal. Jamie hadn't had time to consider her sexual orientation; everything was too unfamiliar, too sudden. But this young woman confirmed her preferences, at least for the moment. The sensation of arousal was clear but foreign: soft and hard at the same time, an ache in the pit of the stomach, increased heart rate-- a full body experience, familiar yet dissimilar to anything she had experienced in her previous 117 years.
"Jamie dear, are you going to sleep all day", cried the woman teasingly. (Ah! Jamie thought, I am still Jamie, and the language is English. How did she know I was sleeping? Oh, I haven't changed my pajamas!)
"If you wanted to stay in bed you could at least have invited me!"
Jamie wasn't sure how to proceed, so she blurted out, "Something very strange has happened to me. I don't know where I am, how I got here, or even who you are. I just woke up here half an hour ago looking like this. No matter how scary that sounds to you, it's much scarier to me!" And then Jamie started crying, something HE had not done in decades, not since Clare had died.
The young woman was briefly startled by this unexpected statement, but she recovered rapidly, gently hugged Jamie, and guided her to a big, brightly colored sofa.
"OK, let's start with me. I'm Patty, Patty Clarke, your par amour for these last 18 months. You are Jamie Southard, a reincarnate, thawed out 3 years ago. Your body was grown from a DNA sample you provided and an anonymous donor ovum. You were frozen for 45 years, long enough for cryomedicine to advance and for this body, which I just adore, to be grown. When reborn, your had ample income from your past-life investments to buy this place and coast until you make a new life. That help, hun?"
Of all the things Jamie could have said she sobbed, "So I'm gay?"
Patty laughed. "Gay? You mean homosexual? Not in your mind. You lived an entire life as a man. Your brain is largely a male brain, after adjustments for the new body. They say it's typical for reincarnates to retain their previous orientation. Me? Yep, I'm "gay", although we don't use that word anymore. And I come about it naturally, thank Goddess. Much less confusion."
"But why am I a woman? I left no such instructions before I was frozen. And why don't I remember any of the past three years? Is this some kind of a Gamechamp simulation?"
"Gamechamp? I think you told me about that once. An old sim program, wasn't it? No, I don't think I'm a computer construct. Why are you a woman? To please me! No, sorry, you're hurting. Listen, I'm no scientist, but from what I've read, and what you've told me, the female body is more adaptable to brain implants. Something about a hormone called AMH being absent, whatever that means. Anyway, it's safer, so in the absence of instructions, and you left none, SoCal Cryo grew you a nice woman's body. Now, why you don't remember any of the last three years, that worries me."
Jamie suddenly stopped crying. It wasn't like her to cry. The expression on her face gave away her next question.
"Yes, dear, even though you still have mostly your old male brain, you've got a new set of hormones. And there's ample reason to cry, considering what you are going through. But I am here for you, not to worry. We'll get it all sorted out."
Jamie felt a nice little glow from that. It calmed her down enough to ask, "There must have been some kind of re-hab program when I was, er, reborn. They couldn't just pop your brain into a new body and say 'Have a nice day', could they?"
"That's right. All reincarnates are acclimated. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes years. Depends on the person. You told me it took you a month or more."
Jamie jumped up from the couch. "Well, let's go back there. Whatever has happened to me, they will know about. Is Dr. Bayer still there? He must have retired by now. I'll throw some clothes on "
"Whoa, hold on girl! You're not a guy anymore, you can't just 'throw some clothes on' and run out. Some preparation is required, and I better supervise. To the bathroom, dear!"
While Patty called SoCal Cryo's rehab unit Jamie took her first shower in 70 years. The warm water and scented soap made it a joyous experience. It also was an opportunity to familiarize herself with her new body. So, so different, being on the inside looking out.
Her long hair was dried in a device that removed moisture without heat, leaving her mane clean and fluffy. Patty had chosen some clothes for her and helped her with some makeup; evidently this was a female bonding thing, but Jamie found this too to be enjoyable, not the chore she had always imagined. Grooming was more than just vanity, she realized. She and Patty shared thoughts and secrets, spoken and unspoken. And there was honest affection in her touch.
When Patty declared her presentable, Jamie looked at the young woman in the mirror and was startled. She was quite attractive, and also strangely familiar, like someone she had known a century and a half ago.
The two women locked up the house and jumped into Patty's sleek-looking electric car. Evidently fuel cells had been perfected. Patty drove onto the freeway and raced along at 25kph. With the top down and the wind blowing in their hair there was at least the illusion of speed.
It was a glorious Southern California day. Eventually they connected to the same freeway that Jamie had taken half a century ago, although this time they were in the manual lanes. I guess Patty can't afford an automatic car; I'll have to do something about that. Those same tract mansions on their postage-stamp plots looked older now, and all those sticks had grown into impressive trees.
Patty said tentatively, "You know, I'm of two minds about this visit. I want you to get better and remember your life from your rebirth, but I'm scared that you'll find that I'm not in the picture. You may not even know me when you get out!" She looked teary. "Let's turn around; I'm sure I can help you myself without all those doctors probing your mind."
"Patty dear, whatever happens, we'll be friends, I promise. I know how I used to hate that 'let's be friends' bit when I was interested in more than a platonic relationship. But it's all I can say right now. And I do appreciate all your help. If only it was that easy, a little pillow talk and a memory jog. But I think I need professional help. This whole rebirth process-it's pretty scientific."
"Yes, I know, and I'm just a dumb girl"
"Dear, you know I didn't mean it that way. You know what told I my students who said they felt dumb, all those years ago? I said, 'How can you know something if you've never been taught?' You've never been trained in rehab, have you? That doesn't make you dumb!"
"I guess you're right, but I'm still scared."
Jamie reached over and held Patty's hand for the rest of the trip. How can I comfort her when I barely know what's going on myself? Patty's hand was soft and warm, and holding it seemed to relax both women.
SoCal Cryo had grown! Now there were several wings, an airstrip, and a heliport on top of the main building. I guess business has been brisk for the last half century, Jamie thought. Big shade trees and fountains lined the drive up to the rehab facility, and they drove into a large parking structure.
Patty decided to wait in the car. There was a sense of dread about her, as if Jamie would come out of the clinic indifferent to her. Poor girl, thought Jamie. Perhaps many of the reincarnates go amnesiac and forget their new loves. Patty may be scared about me seeing my doctor, but she's holding up, and I need to know what has happened to me.
Dr. Bayer, looking older, but not near his 80+ years, greeted her warmly and sat down in a big leather chair, offering her a similar seat. He looked apologetic, but at the same time like the cat who ate the canary.
"Yes, I'm not strictly rehab, but you are a special case. I'm sorry to tell you this Ms. Southard, but reconstituting a brain into a body is impossible. And, as it turns out, unnecessary for many."
"What?? Then what is this young woman's life I'm leading? A computer simulation? Am I just a disembodied brain sitting in a vat somewhere? Hooked up to a computer? Am I just a program, some kind of Gamechamp? Am I dead? Am I dreaming? You said you never say any signs of cerebral activity in your patients. Am I "
"Calm down. You are in a vat, of sorts, but that is no different from the vat you used to be in, a vat called Jamie."
"Now you're making no sense whatsoever."
"Where to begin? We've understood this in just the past few years. Ayn Rand was right, and wrong, at the same time. There is an objective universe out there, but we, you and I and millions of others, are not living in it. We did, once."
Jamie looked skeptically at the doctor, who continued,
"Remember when people used to say that trains were impossible, that people could not breathe at 35 miles per hour? We scoff at that now, but once it was true, it was a rule not to be broken. But broken it was. People once said it was common sense that man could not fly, but when it happened we accepted it. This was now the common sense, simple aerodynamics, and we broke another rule."
"Common sense for the common man (or woman) was possible until around the turn of the last century. Then all hell broke loose, and the "common sense" objective world became just a subset."
"We think is was Newton who first codified the true objective world, at least parts of it. He saw it for the clockwork, deterministic world it was. Later, Faraday, Dalton, and Maxwell all expanded our description of 'reality'. But with the electromagnetic catastrophe came the four, well, seven (at least), horsemen: Lorentz, Fitzgerald, Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, and of course, Heisenberg. People at the intellectual top. Suddenly common sense was out the window for most people. Then came Wheeler, Hawking, Penrose, Thorne, Trimble, Feynman all the modern physicists/mathematicians came up with realities that made no common sense to the common citizen. Black holes, curved space, time warps, exotic matter: how could Joeaverage relate to these? In school he dutifully memorized these patent absurdities and repeated them as dogma, like a litany, yet he never really accepted any of them. Then he forgot it all, which is fine, because his tunnel diodes still worked, his laser player still worked-everything worked, even if Joeaverage didn't know why."
"The thing of it is, Ayn Rand determined the real world, but for the last two hundred years, there has been no one real world. Reality has become a vast vat, if you will, a great mixture of possibilities invented in the minds of the few who could grasp what we call the greater world, with the old 'real' world just a small eddy within."
Jamie tried to take this all in. As a former science professor she knew of all the theories and discoveries Dr. Bayer had cited, but she failed to understand just how they could be given substance by the great minds that conceived of them. She said as much to his doctor.
"It's the Schrödinger's Cat scenario turned inside out," he explained. "You know the story: a cat is placed in a box with a lethal poison that may or may not be released. This cat's life is in an unknown state, a flux of probabilities, until an observer peeks in. Then all the possibilities, in this case life or death, collapse into a reality. It turns out that's only half the picture. Those possibilities were created by the observer in the first place, they don't exist without him. Therefore, when David Deutsch conceived of a Multiverse, it was possible for it to exist, and it does, because his conception is so logically consistent that evolved minds can understand and accept it. The conception became appended to the real world, adding to a greater world. It was the number of cognoscenti that was the deciding factor."
"Those at the intellectual top, the right tail of the Bell Curve, have been with us since Babylon, but their numbers have been small. I should say, our numbers have been small, since you and I are part of that group. And we are not just physicists, mathematicians, scientists; those few with an evolved brain can be found in any creative field."
"As populations increase, the number of those at the intellectual top (we call ourselves mentors) has increased, creating an alternate, expanded world, one we alone can fully live in." Dr. Bayer pondered for a moment. "Hmmm. Did you ever wonder why, when a physicist invents a device to prove a theory, it almost always works? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? In a way; those instruments show the existence of a greater world born of the mind of the inventor, then accepted by those who can understand it."
Jamie was incredulous. "Do you mean, say, lasers work because the user believes they will work? That metastable states are a figment of the imagination? Sounds suspiciously like solipsism."
"Not at all. Joeaverage-called him EveryMan--doesn't know a metastable state from the Golden State, and he's but one of the vast majority of people. But there are enough in that thin top intellectual stratum who do. Since about 1900 our numbers have been great enough to maintain a gestalt, if you will, to buoy up all the non-common sense physical laws our technology relies on. That's why ancient people never got the technology to work-not enough gestalt members to sustain any advanced systems."
"And we don't create an illusion. We actually don't do anything consciously. It's the intellectual gestalt that appends the rules of the real world."
"The rules were: man cannot fly. The rules are: man can fly if there are enough mentors who visualize it."
Jamie sat back in her comfy chair, stunned but not skeptical. Dr. Bayer smiled patiently, pleased as a man would be pleased watching a smart, pretty girl work things out. After a while she asked, "So what does this all mean? Am I alive?"
"Most certainly, though not in the manner that the masses are. About 20 years ago, when the world population reached 10 billion, there were enough mentors (about 2% or 200 million. Dysgenesis has taken its toll though; the top stratum used to be about 5%.) to bend the rules to the point that we can exist without bodies in the real, objective world. Thanks to an extraordinary crisis that I won't go into now, we reached a critical mass, enough to bend the rules even further, and the human race turned a corner."
"Anyway, you exist in the greater world, but can exist and interact with the real world, and change small parts of that world."
Jamie sat thinking for a while. "Why am I a young woman? If I am projecting myself, with the help of this 'gestalt', into the real world, why like this? I never wanted to be a woman, much less a homosexual!"
"With the evolved mind many hidden wishes manifest themselves. Perhaps you never wanted to change genders, but your femininity may stem from a lover who got away. You still wish to possess her, so in a way you do, whether you resemble her physically or not. And it appears you can't let go of your maleness entirely."
"I see. So how come you are 80 some odd years old "
"Oh that." In an instant the years melted away from Dr. Bayer, leaving younger him and more virile than Jamie remembered. "I didn't want to give you too many mysteries at once when you first arrived, like how I managed not to age."
Jamie thought for a longer while as the doctor waited patiently. "What does it mean, we are 'mentors'?"
"We maintain the complex world for the masses who cannot grasp it, and we do this without conscious thought. The mentors merely have to exist and enjoy life-our gestalt does the work of bending the rules, appending reality for greater possibilities. So in effect we feed them, entertain them, keep the technology running, educate them as much as possible just by being. We could rule them, but government is a drug, and most who want to rule get addicted. Besides, there is no greater power than the mind."
"It's not charity either, nor do we feel like caretakers. They are our family, friends and lovers, and we do anything we can for them, to make them happy."
"What if we decided to 'visualize' a starship and leave here, set up a Utopia on a distant star?"
"If we were to all leave, the other 98% would soon die. The workings of the world with the technology that keeps them alive are too much for them, and the real world doesn't permit such large populations: the land can't produce enough food without the technology. Simple Malthus. We can't let that happen. However, in all our 200 million, some may wish to emigrate. Once we evolve to conceive interstellar travel, you may wish to join them."
"I know this is tough for you. Give it time. Enjoy life, and enjoy the future you always wanted to see. Don't think about your responsibilities, the greater world, or any of that. Carpe Diem for a while. You've earned it. The greater world will not collapse if you have some fun. Your participation is an unconscious act-that's the whole point."
"What about Patty? Does she understand all this?"
"No, sorry. She's just a nice girl who, for the moment, loves you. When there is a big mismatch between a real-worlder and a mentor, it's hard. She has our version of who you are, how you were reborn, and she's happy with it."
"But what about the reason I came here in the first place? I don't remember any of the last three years!"
"Because you really were just reborn, so to speak. Patty is the one who can't understand the time differential. Just one small problem of living in the real world: linear time."
"So this is my life now?"
"Yes, for as long as you want, and then you can have another, and then another. The future lies open to you, with opportunities you could never imagine in your previous incarnation." Dr. Bayer rose and kissed her hand. "Now, I must get back to work. I'll be here if you need me, but you won't. Be happy!"
Jamie walked slowly outside, dazed by the hand-kiss as much as the lecture. She looked up at the blue sky, felt the warm Southern California sun, took a slow deep breath of desert air. Patty was waiting by the car, expectantly looking, not pushing, waiting for the verdict. Seeing her there Jamie felt her pulse race, had that old feeling in her palms and her stomach, lost so long ago. The heat was back.
"Seems like I have a lot to catch up on. Something tells me you're willing to help."
Kiss! "You bet! You make me happy, ya' know?"
And there at the beginning of her new life,
on a trip to who knows where, that's enough, she concluded.
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