With millions of lives at stake, I personally inspect every single line of code in the system. A deep breath escapes my lips. After seventy-two straight hours staring at the laptop’s screen, my headache escalates into a full-blown migraine. Closing my eyes, I allow the whirring sound of dozens of computer servers to drown out my own thoughts. Not that it matters. The Digital Eden project might’ve been founded by both Mariana and me, but the truth’s that she was always the real genius behind it. I just happened to be lucky enough to sit next to her in class at MIT, almost forty years ago.
From behind, someone opens the door. A quick turn of the chair and I confirm that Michael’s back. Since this room stores the mainframe server, it needs to be kept at a chilling fifty-five degrees. That’s how I know that his recurring visits don’t simply happen because Michael likes to chitchat. In these last three days I have reviewed the system’s code, over and over again, only to reach the same conclusion.
“Look, Michael. As far as I can tell, Mariana hasn’t changed the functioning of the system,” I say, shutting down the laptop’s screen and resting my hands on its lid. “Whatever happened with her reawakening. Digital Eden’s code seems intact.”
Dressed in an expensive suit, Michael loosens up the knot on his tie and stares at me. “For God’s sake, Vincent. It’s been more than a week since the system reported the error. What are you saying?” He asks. “That we still don’t know if Digital Eden was compromised?”
“Come on, man,” I say. “Even after the incident with Mariana’s reawakening, every single diagnostic test indicates that the system’s functioning perfectly.”
To be honest, if Mariana had really wanted to sabotage the system nobody could do a damn thing to stop her. Digital Eden was her dream from day one. With Mariana gone, I’m just the system analyst who helped her code and build Digital Eden. Someone capable of understanding how everything works, but powerless to overwrite anything that Mariana wanted to change. Getting up from the chair, I walk over towards the mainframe server. Its access panel slides open at the press of a button. Holding the laptop under my arm, I plug in a cable to connect it to the server. A couple of keystrokes are enough to access the information of all the servers in our system.
“That’s not what worries me. If something was broken with Digital Eden, half this country would know it by now,” Michael says, sitting down on the floor with his back to one of the servers. “What worries me is the possibility that Mariana sabotaged her own reawakening procedure.”
Silence is my only reply to Michael’s concerns. Instead of wasting time holding his hand, my attention focuses on the sea of information displayed by the laptop’s screen. At random, I pick a file out of the tens of thousands that Digital Eden manages every day in the city of New York alone. In this case, Digital Eden’s review of file number GH-197463 states that a Mrs. Helena Stewart, aged thirty seven, suffered a severe pulmonary embolism. The subsequent cardiac arrest led to her death.
Digital Eden then proceeded to check its servers for her clinical and personal information. Having found Mrs. Stewart’s registry as a citizen of the United States, the system analyzed the data to determine if there was anything that could exclude her from the reawakening procedure. Since her application satisfied all the criteria, Digital Eden requested that the latest copy of her consciousness be imprinted onto a cloned body. In the final stages of the reawakening, the system shows that a cloned body was readied and aged at one of our facilities to receive the copy of her consciousness. Digital Eden’s last entry regarding file number GH-197463 classifies Mrs. Stewart’s reawakening procedure as a success.
A random browsing of some of the reawakenings that Digital Eden performed last week demonstrates that everything’s fine. After what happened with Mariana, the system never once encountered another critical error. Every diagnostic test we ran. My review of Digital Eden’s source code. The inspections to our servers and consciousness imprinting facilities. Every bit of evidence supports the conclusion that nothing’s changed. Digital Eden seems to be working perfectly.
Out of nowhere, Michael pats me on the shoulder. When I turn around to look at him, he’s wearing a frown. “What happened to Mariana was a tragedy. I knew how close the two of you were,” he says. “But now I’m counting on you to help me manage Digital Eden.”
“Don’t talk about things you know nothing about,” I say, brushing his hand off my shoulder. “I’m not doing this for you.”
“That’s not what I meant. Mariana and I never saw eye to eye, but…” Michael mumbles and shakes his head. “I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry for what happened.”
Michael’s gaze drops to the floor and he steps out of the server room without speaking another word. Left to my own devices, I run a search in our servers for file number FB-749262. A knot tightens in my throat when the laptop locates the data for the reawakening of Ms. Mariana Ribeiro. The system’s review of the file shows that, on a Sunday morning, Mariana ingested enough barbiturates to induce a respiratory arrest. Called to the scene, the coroner pronounced her dead on the scene. Once Digital Eden updated the information regarding her death, the system triggered a reawakening request.
The early stages of Mariana’s reawakening went well. With nothing in her personal or clinical data to exclude her from being reawakened, a cloned body was readied and aged to receive a copy of her consciousness. Everything seemed normal. Except when it came time to imprint her consciousness onto a blank mind, an error occurred. File number FB-749262 registers a critical error that shut down Mariana’s reawakening altogether. Early on, I thought the problem might reside in the copy of her consciousness. That turned out not to be the case, when myself and dozens of system analysts combed over the file containing her consciousness only to deem it fully operational.
Desperate to force her reawakening to jumpstart, I tried every trick in the book. Rebooting the whole system. Swapping her identity with that of another citizen. Deceiving Digital Eden into imprinting her consciousness onto a different body. Nothing worked. That’s when I realized that her suicide and the error that occurred couldn’t be a coincidence.
Despite the botched reawakening procedure, her ghost remains in our system. The digital copy of Mariana’s consciousness contains her every dream, thought, and even emotion. Some people would even say that the file contains her very soul. Unplugging the cable, I disconnect the laptop from the mainframe server. While sitting back down on the chair, the migraine threatens to tear my head apart. But I suppose that’s what happens when you’re pushing sixty. My fingers hit the keyboard and the laptop returns to the source code of Digital Eden. If there’s any hope of understanding what might’ve caused the error with Mariana’s reawakening, then that hope lies in the analysis of Digital Eden’s source code.
Boxes of takeout food from General Tsang’s Palace lie scattered all over my office. I knock a few of them to the ground, searching the drawers of the desk for the car keys. Behind a photograph of Mariana, a metallic gleam betrays the keys’ location. Shoving the keys into my jeans’ back pocket, I walk over to the window. From the hundredth story of Digital Eden’s headquarters, the city of New York sprawls out as far as the eye can see. About to return home to catch a full night’s sleep, I watch the first drops of rain start to land on the streets.
Every bone and joint in my body aches. Enough to force me to sit down on the couch. Taking off my shirt, the stench of soy sauce and dried sweat serves as a reminder of these past three days. I fold the shirt into a pillow and rest my head against it to stare at the white ceiling. With my eyes in need of a few moments rest, the whole world begins to blur and a shroud of numbness dulls my mind.
Startled by the sound of the doorknob twisting open, I stand up. My heart skips a beat at the sight of Mariana walking over towards me. This must be some kind of hallucination because Mariana looks exactly like she did, forty years ago, when we first met at MIT.
“What a mess,” Mariana’s ghost says, sitting down on the couch. Her hand grabs my chin and turns my head. First to the left, and then to the right. “You need a shave. And a bath.”
“Yeah, I know,” I tell the ghost while my gaze lingers on every inch of her mocha colored skin. “That’s the first thing I’m gonna do when I get home. I only stayed here because I wanted to find out why you did what you did.”
She mumbles something to herself and gets back up. “You know why I did it, Vincent,” she says, heading for the window. “After those Washington suits took over Digital Eden, this was the only way I could get my voice heard again.”
Shaking my head, I follow her to the window. “What did you think was gonna happen, man?” I ask her. Below us, the city’s streets fill with a cacophony of people, cars, and neon lights. “Digital Eden was your idea. But your idea was always bigger than the both of us. You knew that.”
Mariana turns around to look at me. Her green irises burn holes through my soul. “Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she says. Taking a seat on the chair behind the desk, a swipe of her finger activates the computer. “But I never thought that something that the two of us built could grow so completely of our control.”
In the middle of the office, the computer’s optical sphere projects a holographic map of the United States of America. With all fifty states outlined in detail, a bright red dot begins to blink in the heart of New York. The system labels the dot as representing this building. Digital Eden’s headquarters. At once, a line materializes to connect the bright red dot in New York to a pale yellow one in Massachusetts. The computer quickly weaves an intricate pattern of connections over the holographic map of the United States. These connections originate in the red dot in New York and extend to every other state in the country. Above the elaborate tapestry composed of interconnected dots, the system loads real-time data regarding the status of every Digital Eden mainframe server. Federal funds subsidize the infrastructure required to keep Digital Eden functioning as a nationwide program. Twenty-five years ago, the Government consulted Mariana and me regarding the possibility of expanding our experimental system. But soon it became clear that Uncle Sam had plans of his own for Digital Eden.
“From the moment we got a prototype of Digital Eden to work, the world was bound to change,” I tell her. “You opened Pandora’s Box. Now you don’t just get to put the lid back on.”
“Digital Eden was born out of a simple notion. To prevent people from losing their loved ones too soon. I never meant for it to be used this extensively. I never meant for it to be used to cheat death,” she says. “It’s not Pandora’s box I fear. It’s the assholes who want to be holding the lid.”
“Even with bureaucrats like Michael in charge, we still made a difference. We still had a say in Digital Eden”, I yell at her. “Whenever a technical problem occurred, they always deferred to our better judgment.”
“Stop being so goddamned naïve. That might be true for now. But things will change,” Mariana says, her fingers hit the keyboard again. “Sooner or later, they won’t need you at all.”
At the press of a button, the holographic map of the United States fades way. In the digital void projected by the computer’s optical sphere, a bright green dot appears. Line by line, the computer projects the layout of the structure that surrounds the green dot. When several different sections of buildings align into the shape of a massive pentagon, I swallow hard. Although our servers recognize the existence of Digital’s Eden military counterpart, the two systems don’t share any data. Leaning over towards the desk, I place my hand above the keyboard and close it into a fist. The computer recognizes the gesture and turns itself off.
Too tired to get dragged into another argument over Digital Eden’s merits, I bite down on my tongue and turn around. Sitting back on the leather couch, the events of the past week sink in. “It’s been more than a week since you passed away. And you never even bothered to say goodbye,” I tell her. My eyes linger on her brown hair. “I miss you.”
Mariana walks over to me and rests her head on my chest. A warm flush spreads across my cheeks, as I feel her hand brush against mine. “I miss you too.” Mariana and I dated for a while, before realizing that we weren’t meant to be lovers. Only best friends. But, in this moment, I can’t help but entwine our fingers together. “You know I would have wanted to say goodbye, Vincent. So find out why I didn’t.”
Startled by the roars of falling thunder, I awake to find that Mariana’s already gone. If it wasn’t for my wristwatch, the darkness outside could trick me into believing that the sun hadn’t risen yet. The holographic cube that floats above my desk indicates that notifications arrived throughout the evening. With a verbal command, I order the computer to display the pending notifications. At once, the computer’s optical sphere projects a white canvas that covers the window’s surface in my office. A quick glance at the canvas reveals that most notifications concern a series of e-mails sent by Michael yesterday.
Walking over to the window, I squint in an attempt to concentrate on the text being displayed. The content of the messages exchanged between Michael and Digital Eden’s teams of system analysts seems straightforward. Last night, the final round of nationwide diagnostic tests was completed. Results indicate that the system remains in optimal condition and working at a hundred percent capacity. Michael then wrote to Digital Eden’s board of directors labeling the incident occurred with Mariana’s reawakening as a freak accident. A one in a million occurrence. In the messages that ensued, he presented a report on the incident to the proper Governmental authorities.
The most recent notification catches my eye, since it concerns an e-mail that Michael sent me only a couple of minutes ago. With the message’s subject line containing a single word, “Mariana”, I order the computer to display the message on the holographic screen.
Congress agreed that the malfunction that occurred with Mariana’s reawakening procedure should be withheld from public knowledge. In the past few decades, the degree of control over death that Digital Eden has afforded us quickly became one of the cornerstones of our society. Because the system requires people’s trust in order to function properly, we must ensure that not a word of this leaks out to the public.
I need you to purge Digital Eden of the copy of Mariana’s consciousness, along with all records of her reawakening procedure. Vincent, I realize how hard this must be for you. But if anybody found out what happened to her, Digital Eden could collapse. We must not allow Mariana’s doubts to undermine our life’s work. Together, we can help shape a better future for Digital Eden.
What a prick. Even I’m not dumb enough to believe that Michael would trust me with such a task. Returning to the seat behind the desk, my fingers press against the computer’s keyboard. The combination of keys shuts down the notification canvas to replace it with Digital Eden’s source code. In front of my eyes, lines of code hover mid-air. Not too worried about what Michael hoped to achieve by sending that message, I focus my attention on Digital Eden’s source code. Perhaps someday Michael’s armies of computer analysts can gain an understanding of Digital Eden that rivals my own. Meanwhile, however, all files concerning Mariana will rest safely hidden within one of the system’s many blind spots.
Behind me, the wind howls loud enough for the window to start rattling. The deafening growl produced by the storm renders it impossible to concentrate on anything, let alone review Digital Eden’s code. Even if I could concentrate, would it really matter? After three days without any answers? Before any more doubts creep their way inside of my mind, a flash of thunder ignites the entire sky. The sudden explosion of light reminds me of something that Mariana’s ghost said. Maybe she did try to say goodbye and I simply haven’t been able to decipher the message. Mariana’s suicide coupled with the sabotage of her own reawakening. There’s simply no way these two facts are unrelated.
The question concerning what kind of message could Mariana deliver through the use of Digital Eden, leads me to access the copy of her consciousness. Having already analyzed Mariana’s file before, I find nothing new. Her consciousness appears to be intact. Devoid of any signs of data leakage, cognitive corruption, or of a botched consciousness duplicating procedure. With a knot on my throat, I close the file to analyze instead the reawakening procedures of different people after she died. At the click of the mouse, my computer retrieves hundreds of files of reawakening procedures that took place in the days that followed Mariana’s death.
For each of the randomly retrieved reawakening files, I open the data concerning the consciousnesses that were stored and imprinted onto cloned bodies. In every file that flashes before my eyes, Digital Eden reviewed the respective reawakening as a success. Case file VD-678368 reveals that a Mr. Thomas Moore died of a ruptured brain aneurism this past Thursday. Digital Eden triggered a reawakening request mere moments after he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Friday morning, our imprinting facilities had readied and aged a cloned body to store a copy of his consciousness. By three in the afternoon, Digital Eden concluded the imprinting of his consciousness onto the blank mind. Then it hits me. Switching back and forth rapidly between the original copy of his consciousness and the file that ended up imprinted onto the new body. One small difference sticks out.
A five hundred terabyte discrepancy occurred during Mr. Thomas Moore’s consciousness imprinting procedure. Out of instinct, my hands move to the keyboard to determine something I already know. That this discrepancy can’t be a coincidence. Browsing through another batch of reawakening procedures confirms my suspicions. On Mr. Thomas Moore’s reawakening procedure. On Ms. Leah Summer’s. On Mr. Fredrick Stein’s. On Mrs. Elizabeth Bank’s. On Mr. Giuseppe Bernardo’s. On Mr. Gullaume Valjean’s. On Ms. Hannah Grace’s. Although the copy of a person’s consciousness varies greatly in file size, the five hundred terabyte discrepancy remains constant. To each of the initial copies of their consciousnesses stored in our servers, the imprinting procedure always added those extra five hundred terabytes. That’s how I realize that Mariana not only interfered with her own reawakening procedure. She changed something for all of us.
Opening and closing my hand in quick succession, I perform the gesture that makes the computer display Digital Eden’s source code again. Fingers glide down the track pad to navigate through the lines of code being projected mid-air. It takes a while, until I reach the section of Digital Eden’s code responsible for managing the imprinting procedure of a person’s consciousness. With my attention set on this specific part of the code, the disguised subroutine that Mariana added to Digital Eden finally becomes evident. At once, I get up from the chair and turn my back on the desk.
After making a decision, I tap fourt imes on the face of my wristwatch. The device dials an old contact on my list and patches the audio through the office’s sound system. A ringing tone echoes throughout the office, seemingly going on for an eternity. Or, at least, until someone on the other side replies to the phone call with a:
“It’s been a long time, Vincent,” says a disembodied voice. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, man. Everything’s fine. Just needed a small favor,” I reply. “My appointment for consciousness duplication isn’t coming up for another month, but-”
From the other side of the line, a burst of laughter interrupts me. “It’s alright. I get it. I’m old school too, you know?” He says. “I still remember a time when you were going in for these procedures every other day.”
“Thanks, man,” I say. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem. Stop by in a couple of hours.” In the background, muffled TV sounds grow louder. “We’ll get you sorted out.”
Before getting a chance to say goodbye, Arthur hangs up. Mariana sacrificed her life in order to pass along that five hundred terabyte message. As Mariana’s best friend, it’s my responsibility to experience her message for myself. I need to know why this meant so much to her.
When the control panel lights up, the elevator begins its descent into the building’s lower floors. After a while of roaming through corridors, I find the plaque that indicates the entrance to medical office 23-B. A knock on its door draws the sound of footsteps closer. On the other side of the door, a nurse answers and motions for me to step inside the waiting room. Before I get the chance to explain that Arthur’s expecting my presence, she asks to see the appointment for the consciousness duplication procedure. About to identify myself, I see Arthur open the door that leads to his medical office.
“Vincent, old friend,” the neurologist says, walking over to pat me on the back. “How long has it been?”
“Hard to say, man,” I say, shaking his hand and trying to smile. “But it’s surely been more than ten years.”
“Ten goddamned years. That’s what happens when you work in a building with seven thousand other people,” he says, nodding and asking the nurse to confirm everything’s ready for the consciousness duplication procedure. “Still working as chief system analyst?”
“Of course,” I say. “They always liked keeping me busy.”
Too tired to pretend that after ten years Arthur’s anything more than a stranger, I cut the conversation short and follow the nurse inside the medical office. No matter how many times my consciousness gets duplicated, the sight of the device for neural imaging and mapping never fails to send shivers down my spine. Composed out of a series of interlocked rings bound together by a metallic cylinder, the machine’s bulk easily dwarfs any man. When Arthur comes up from behind to grab me by the shoulder, my skin crawls. The psychiatrist gestures towards the control booth to the side of the machine and says that he needs to boot up the system. I nod at him and sit down on the bed that connects to the device for neural imaging and mapping. At once, the nurse brings me an IV tray.
Since the sight of blood makes me queasy, I turn my head to the side. The stench of alcohol permeates the medical office. The nurse pokes and probes at me, until, without warning, a surge of pain spreads throughout my hand. It doesn’t take long for the pain to ease, a sign that she managed to place the catheter. After a few adjustments to the roller clamp, a yellow liquid flows down through the IV line to make its way into my body. Already feeling the sedative relaxing my muscles, the nurse lays me down on the bed.
All of a sudden, lights appear to the flanks of the device for neural imaging and mapping. Its massive metallic cylinder hums in short bursts whose cadence seems to be increasing. “Alright, Vincent,” Arthur’s voice reverberates throughout the entire medical office. When the nurse returns, she covers my head with a cap full of electrodes and neural sensors. “Let’s get started, buddy,” the moment he utters that last word, I feel myself being dragged towards the center of the machine’s hollow cylinder.
By the time the top-half of the bed stops moving, my body’s already encased by several tons of expensive medical equipment. The first of the interlocked rings shrinks in size to fit around the upper section of my head. Close enough to my eyes, the ring’s sleek shape spins and envelopes my whole world in a grey blur. Little by little, the outer part of the grey blur starts spinning faster than its center and I realize that more rings have joined the first one. The device for neural imaging and mapping uses a combination of the rings’ motion and their divergent positioning to construct an image of the brain’s neural structure.
Even with the sedative hooked up to my veins, the crescendo of loud noises and bright lights turns my breathing into a quick succession of shallow bursts. As the entirety of rings work together synchronously, I shut my eyes in the hope that this ends soon enough. In darkness, the only thought that burns through my mind is Mariana’s face. A sigh escapes my lips as the sedative’s full effect kicks in. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I feel the cap of electrodes infuse a tingling sensation on most of my skull.
Stripped of any notion of time, I don’t know how long the machine’s rings have spun around my head. Out of nowhere, Arthur says something reassuring like, “Just try to relax. It’s almost over.” Not that it matters. One hour or ten. Right now, it’s the same. At some point, the head cap fires small electrical jolts into my skull. The spikes of electricity trigger a mixture of feelings, memories, and thoughts. Happiness and regret overwhelm me. Various scenes of a childhood spent in the Midwest play out in my head. My own voice echoes out a, “She’s brilliant”, in response to the first time Mariana spoke in class.
Every significant event of my life unfolds like a videotape caught on an infinite loop. Relived to the point of exhaustion, this amalgam of feelings, memories, and thoughts, begins to feel washed out. Each time a new cycle initiates, everything becomes less and less vivid. Eventually, it all fades away as my world reverts back to the grey blur of the machine’s spinning rings. The rings’ motion decelerates, slowly. When the device’s rings shrink in size and return to their original positions, its metallic cylinder grows dark and silent.
With the procedure finished, the device for neural imaging and mapping ejects me from its insides. The top of the bed slides outward into the medical office, where Arthur and the nurse are already waiting. While the nurse pulls out the catheter and helps me sit back up, the neurologist nods. It takes a few moments for my head to stop spinning around.
“All done, Vincent,” Arthur says, pulling the cap off of my head. “That bright little mind of yours is safely stored in Digital Eden.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Really appreciate it.”
As soon as my legs allow it, I bail out of Arthur’s medical office. Returning to the elevator, the climb towards the building’s rooftop takes less than a minute. Outside, the pouring rain drenches me to the bone. Step after step, I approach the rooftop’s edge. Grey clouds continue to blot out most of the sky, but the storm no longer threatens to rip out any trees. A knot tightens in my throat when leaning over the rooftop’s edge reveals the dizzying height that separates me from the ground. Confronted with the prospect of death, I wonder how much courage Mariana needed in order to embrace her own end. Mariana sacrificed herself to ensure that those five hundred terabytes reached all of Digital Eden. Since her message only awaits those that come through the other side of a reawakening, I take one last step towards the edge and plunge myself into the abyss.
On top of the desk, the digital frame displays a new photograph of Mariana every twenty minutes. Picking it up, I place the frame inside the small cardboard box that contains my personal belongings. Thirty seven years of my life devoted to Digital Eden and all that remains are trinkets. A coffee mug my mother once bought me. Old newspapers with headlines that feature the birth of Digital Eden. And some data nodules that detail how Mariana and I arrived at a functional prototype for Digital Eden. Looking out the window, the computer’s optical sphere uses part of its surface to project today’s newspapers covers.
Behind me, someone opens the door. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I immediately recognize Michael’s voice. “Do you really expect me to accept your resignation?”
“I don’t expect you to accept anything,” I say, without turning to him. Months after Mariana’s death, the newspapers’ covers reveal the rising trend in public opinion. Everybody, from the common citizen on the streets to most of the medical and legal professions, demands more regulatory supervision for Digital Eden. “My decision’s final.”
From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of Michael sitting down on the couch. “Just how stupid do you believe me to be?” he says, burying his face between his hands. “Even I realize why you threw yourself from that rooftop.”
Closing my eyes, I set down the cardboard box on the desk to join Michael on the couch. “What are you worried about? I’m not a whistle blower,” I tell him. “If anybody asks, I’ll stick to our cover. Mariana wasn’t reawakened because she signed a DNR order.”
Michael shakes his head. “If you decided to spill any of Digital Eden’s secrets, I’d be the least of your concerns,” he tells me, reaching for a box of Beijing duck. “Did you find out what you were looking for? Do you know what Mariana changed in the system?”
Right now, Michael probably has his legions of system analysts combing through every line of Digital Eden’s source code searching for that answer. In the days that followed my own reawakening, I realized exactly what Mariana changed in the system and the reason why she did it. Digital Eden’s functioning remains the same, except for the part that governs the consciousness imprinting procedure. Once Mariana passed away, Digital Eden submitted a request for her reawakening and that triggered the subroutine she wrote. Her subroutine then began to add five hundred terabytes to every subsequent consciousness imprinting procedure that took place. But Mariana also chose to make this modification reversible, if only anyone knows where to look.
“What she changed in Digital Eden. Man, that’s something each person should experience for themselves. It’s nothing personal, Michael. But after everything that happened, I think Mariana was right,” I say, handing him a fork from one of the table’s drawer. “Maybe we did take Digital Eden too far. Maybe we should’ve let the hospitals decide how to use it.”
The man loosens up the knot on his tie and opens the takeaway box of food from General Tsang’s Palace. “For Christ’s sake, Vincent. I thought you were smarter than this,” he says, starting to chow down on the Beijing duck. “What do you hope to accomplish? Sooner or later, we will erase every trace of her from our system.”
“Never doubted that,” I say, ordering the computer to display today’s The Daily Bugle. On its cover, the newspaper features a poll that indicates that sixty eight percent of people support the implementation of further restrictions to Digital Eden. “Question is: Can you do it before it’s too late?”
“I’m not your enemy. I never was.” He sets down the box of takeaway food and walks away from the couch. “Goddamn it, Vincent. Things could’ve turned out so differently.”
“Maybe, but what did you expect? Mariana and I go back. Way back,” I tell him. “Digital Eden was her dream all along. In a way, we robbed her of that.”
With the tens of thousands of reawakening procedures performed by Digital Eden since Mariana’s death, it’s only a matter of time until Michael’s team figures it out. Sooner or later, enough people will start talking about how something feels different after their reawakening. Even if Michael’s team of system analysts only happens to stumble across the problem, Mariana never designed any of her modifications to be permanent. It might take months, or it might take years. But eventually Michael will be able to cleanse the system of those stray five hundred terabytes. Pacing back and forth in front of my desk, he shakes his head and grunts.
“When you leave this building, I want you to hand over your ID badge. Collect your things and make sure nothing’s missing,” Michael says, glancing over his shoulder. ”Once you step foot outside of these facilities, I can’t allow you to come back.”
“No problem, man,” I tell him. “That was the plan, anyway.”
All of a sudden, Michael buttons up his jacket and heads in my direction. Leaning down, he reaches out his hand to me. My brain needs a moment to process what he seems to be doing. “Best of luck out there,” he says, shaking my hand. “But I still think this is a mistake. You’re going to miss this place.”
“Thanks. You’re probably right,” I say. Michael managed to catch me by surprise. Heading for the door, he leaves my office before I can add, “But this is my decision to make.”
Truth be told, a man’s life amounts to nothing more than the sum of his choices. Closing my eyes, I concentrate again on the memory that shouldn’t belong in my brain. Each time the memory unfolds, the more vivid it becomes. One moment, I’m sitting on the couch of my office on the hundredth floor of Digital Eden’s headquarters. And, the next, I find myself whisked away to the porch of an old house staring at the night sky. A man smiles and motions towards the small telescope already pointed at the sky. Taking a step forward, my eye peeks through the telescope’s lens to glance at a Universe big enough to remind us of our insignificance. The man places his hand on my shoulder and explains that tonight we’re observing the Swan Nebula.
Amazed at how much the Nebula actually looks like a swan, I feel the man’s grip on my shoulder begin to tighten considerably. About to complain that he’s starting to hurt me, the man stumbles backwards. My heart skips a beat, as droplets of blood fall from his nose onto the hardwood porch. Without warning, he collapses on the ground and panic explodes inside of my chest. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I run over to the man to try to wake him. Childish hands pound against his chest, over and over again. Tears stream down my cheeks.
For almost everybody else, this recollection from Mariana’s past probably remains a blur on the back of their heads. Something that might feel a little off about their lives, but never being able to fully understand what that might be. That’s not my case because in the years that Mariana and I shared, she chose to tell me how she had lost her father. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Mr. Adriano Ribeiro’s death was the real reason behind Digital Eden. As my eyes open again, a rift through space and time returns me to my office.
Whatever else the future might hold, I hope to get a chance to atone for my sins. In the end, Mariana managed to make her voice heard inside our very minds. Passing down this memory onto others, Mariana found a way to share the regret she felt over seeing her vision of Digital Eden corrupted. Now, time can only tell if Digital Eden’s nature can change as a system designed to stave off death at all costs. Mariana always intended for the reawakenings to become a medical procedure used under exceptional circumstances. Not that either possibly matters to me anymore, handing over my resignation was the last thing I could do to protect Mariana’s wishes.
Freed from Digital Eden, I smile and reach for the pocket of my shirt to grab the plane ticket. Mariana used to say that someday we’d go to Portugal so she could show me that fisherman’s village where she grew up. After thirty seven years without a decent vacation, I’ll be spending this summer in the peaceful village of Nazaré. Who knows what can happen there. The travel agency boasts that anyone who tastes a Mediterranean summer never wants to leave Portugal. But that’s something I need to find out for myself.