All My Tomorrows That Are Not Mine

What remained of Maxwell Peake opened his eyes and sat up.

Maxwell found himself on a cot, not more than a foot or so off the ground. He was outdoors, on a low sward of bright green grass that ran down a slope to a stand of elms. He wondered where he was. A park maybe? Somewhere out in the country? The sun beamed down out of a bright blue sky.

Maxwell saw he was wearing jeans and a thick white cotton T-shirt. His feet were bare. His head felt strange… light, somehow. He swung his legs around to sit on the edge of the cot. He flexed his toes, feeling the grass between them.

“How are you feeling?” said a voice behind him.

Maxwell turned, and a young, dark-haired woman, also in jeans and a T-shirt, also barefoot, was walking towards him.

“I’m, uh, I’m good, I think,” Maxwell said. “My head feels a little funny. Not a headache or dizzy or anything just…” he made small, helpless gestures with his hands, unable to think of a word that fit.

The young woman walked around the cot to stand just in front of him. “What’s the last thing you remember?” she asked.

“I was finishing up at work,” Maxwell said, “and getting ready to leave early. I had a doctor’s appointment. I remember… I remember getting in my car…” Maxwell struggled for a moment or two longer. What was wrong with him?  “Say, have I been in an accident or something? Have I been sick? I was just going in for some tests.”

“Does this look like a hospital?” asked the young woman, looking around at the trees and grass that surrounded them.

“No,” said Maxwell, who felt a small twinge of annoyance at not having his question answered directly. “I’m sorry, who are you? Do I know you?”

The young woman smiled and said, “My name is Iphigenia. I’m a scientist and a historian.”

Maxwell stood up and shook the woman’s hand , saying, “I’m Maxwell. Max. I’m a graphic designer, mainly. I also do some coding. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m very glad to meet you, too, Maxwell,” said Iphigenia.

There was then a long moment of silence that Maxwell did not find awkward at all. And this was very strange to him since he was naturally awkward around unfamiliar people.

“Say, Iphigenia,” he said with a short, nervous laugh, “this is going to sound kind of crazy, but am I on drugs or something? I mean, what’s going on here? Do you know?”

“Yes, Maxwell, I do know,” Iphigenia said. “And yes, we’ve given you something to keep you relaxed. There are a few things I need to tell you that could be stressful.”

Iphigenia bit her lower lip and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she went on . “I promised myself I would be as honest as possible. There’s no ‘could be’ about it ; this is going to be a difficult time for you. But I want you to know up front that I — that everyone who has been working on this project — have given a lot of thought to you. To you as a person. We’ve tried to put ourselves in your place every step of the way.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Maxwell said . “ What project? What are you talking about?” He was a bit panicked now.

“Max,” she said, “do you remember the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine? It would have looked like a large —”

“Shit!” Maxwell broke in, “shit! It was a tumor, wasn’t it? You guys found a tumor on the MRI and had to emergency operate, right?” He began feeling his head for some scar or fissure, but all his fingers encountered were hair and scalp.

“No, Max,” Iphigenia said, placing a hand on his arm to calm him, “no. As near as we’ve been able to determine, it was just some hypertension causing your headaches. No cancer. Nothing that a little medication and some changes to your diet couldn’t handle. Max, it’s the MRI machine I’m talking about.”

Maxwell gave her a confused look.

“Your MRI was the last one done with that machine before it was decommissioned,” she continued. “I and my team have been doing a lot of work with those old machines. Because of something called a super-positioning cascade, there’s an imprint, like a 3-D snapshot of your brain there in the atomic structure of the machine’s main coil.”

“You took the coil of an MRI machine apart to get a picture of my brain?” Max said. “But that’s what an MRI does — it takes pictures of things. I mean, why go to all the extra trouble?”

“It’s the detail we’re able to get, Max,” Iphigenia said. “With the data from the coil, with the right physics and a lot of computing power, we were able to model your brain, from individual electrochemical pathways right down to emergent deep structure fields.”

Maxwell gave her a long, hard look. “When you say ‘model’ my brain, do you mean, like, a computer model?”

Iphigenia nodded.

“A working model?” he asked.

She nodded again.

“Okay,” Maxwell said, holding up both palms, “I think I know where this is going and I’m right now calling bullshit.”

“Um… I’m sorry, what?” Iphigenia said.

“What you’re talking about is impossible,” Maxwell said. “I’m not a biologist or anything, and maybe I never finished my computer science degree, but I do know that even the average human brain is the most complex thing there is. You could have all the computers in the world linked together and running a hundred years without figuring it out. We’re still decades away from artificial intelligence, let alone artificially modeling human intelligence. So what’s going on here? What’s the joke?”

Iphigenia’s eyes unfocused for a moment. “Your brain contained on the order of 187 billion neurons, each of which interfaced with 1,000 to 100,000 other neurons through nearly 10 quadrillion synaptic junctions.” Her voice became rapid, with a slight sing-song quality, as she spoke. “Each synapse possessed a variable firing threshold, which is reduced as the neuron is repeatedly activated. The firing threshold at each synapse could assume more than 256 distinguishable levels. At about 20,000 shared synapses per neuron, the total information storage capacity of the synapses in your cortex came to 876 terabytes. Rounding down.”

Maxwell blinked hard. From some forgotten textbook the definition: Terabyte = 1 trillion short-scale bytes, sprang to mind. He looked down at Iphigenia, whose eyes had refocused, and whose expression was not unkind.

“That’s just talking raw capacity — hardware, more or less,” she was saying. “The software, if you want to call it that, is considerably more complicated. Some data was missing and some damaged. We had to make a few guesses and approximations.”

“Hold up. Time out,” Maxwell said. “First, talking about my brain as if it were a computer system is sort of freaking me out. And second, you’re assuming an awful lot to think I would give you permission to use my personal medical information like that. I mean, I’m all for science, Iphigenia, but even if you were somehow able to do what you’re talking about, I don’t want you programming a computer to think it’s me.”

“Oh, Max,” Iphigenia said, “Don’t you understand? We already have.”

It took a while for what she was saying and its implications to sink in. When it did, he was flooded with a strange longing; a need to trust Iphigenia, to believe the things she was saying as if they came from someone he had known and put his faith in for years. It was a sensation he was immediately suspicious of.

“Are you trying to tell me,” Maxwell said slowly, “that I’m some sort of simulation or recreation of… of myself? Because that’s just flat-out insane.”

“Max,” said Iphigenia, “look at your hands. You’re missing the scar that used to run across the base of your left thumb. You’re also missing your appendectomy scar and your vaccination scar.”

Maxwell in rapid succession checked his hands, his arm, and then pulled up the front of his shirt.

“Ah!” Maxwell cried, “my belly button! What did you sick fucks do with my belly button!” Where his navel should have been was only a smooth expanse of skin.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Iphigenia cried, alarmed at having inadvertently given him such a shock. “I should have mentioned that.”

Shaking badly, Maxwell sat back down on the cot. “Could I have a mirror to look at, please?” he asked.

“I have a compact,” Iphigenia said, working to keep her voice steady. She pulled it from her back pocket.

Maxwell studied his face in the glass for a while. It was definitely his face. And yet… some little thing about the nose bothered him. The shape of his nostrils, maybe? And was it possible his eyes should be closer set? Why was he having so much trouble remembering exactly what he looked like? Had he just never paid attention? He snapped the compact shut and set it down beside him. 

“When we said hello, you told me you were a historian?” Maxwell said.

Iphigenia nodded. “That’s right.”

For several long minutes, neither one of them said anything. A few small white clouds were just beginning to scud across the sky as the breeze picked up.

“So I’m not a brain in a vat,” Maxwell said. “If my consciousness was just, I don’t know, sitting in a computer bank somewhere, then this body wouldn’t have the obvious defects or changes or whatever, right? I mean, changing those things would be as simple as rewriting the code, right? Just please tell me this isn’t all a holodeck, okay?”

“I don’t know what a holodeck is,” said Iphigenia.

“A virtual environment,” Maxwell said, feeling the grass beneath his feet, the sun on his face.

Iphigenia smiled, “No, Maxwell. This is all real. There are some highly sophisticated virtual environments out there, but we’ve discovered there is nothing so… so comfortably unforgiving as the real world.”

“This,” Maxwell said, gently striking the back of one hand into the palm of the other a few times, “this body. What’s it made of?”

“It was cultured and grown from one of a line of cellular templates,” Iphigenia said. “It isn’t a clone of you; your previous body’s autoimmune system would have interfered with the nano-configured meningioma array that’s currently housing your mentality, but we did customize it with genetic information from your original genes.”

“I don’t understand half the words in that sentence,” Maxwell said, a helpless note to his voice. He breathed deeply, put his elbows on his knees, and covered his face with his hands.

Iphigenia came to sit beside him on the cot. “Max,” she said, “you don’t have to understand all the technology involved. I don’t even understand all the technology involved. I have nearly instant access to all the information, but understanding only comes with time. Just like it always has.

“The thing of it is,” she continued, “what you need to keep in mind is that the technology is nothing new. People have been recording and transferring their mentalities for a while now. The way you are living now is no different than the way a great many people these days live their lives.”

She tapped him on the shoulder, and when he sighed and looked up, she pulled up enough of her shirt to show that, like him, she had no navel. Iphigenia had to lean back on the cot to do this, and it made her feel awkward and silly.

“If you were even for a second wondering,” Iphigenia said, sitting back up, “you are a bona-fide person, recognized by our society. You have rights, a whole slew of them. If you want to speak to the media, or to a lawyer or to a — uh, let’s say a person who’s interest is in organizing other people — all you have to do is ask.”

Maxwell stared and knit his eyebrows. “So,” he said, haltingly, “the big project for you and your team has been…”

“Has been investigating to see if mentalities might have been inadvertently preserved during some industrial or medical processes and, if possible, to retrieve them,” she said.

Maxwell hooked a thumb toward himself.

Iphigenia nodded.

Maxwell put his hands on his thighs, stood up, and took a few paces around. It seemed like a beautiful day. He could not see a road, a building, or a power line anywhere in his field of vision.

“Well,” Maxwell said, “I guess it’s time for the big question.”

Iphigenia stood up.

“What year is this?” he asked.

“It’s the start of the Thirty-Second Century, Max,” she said. “It’s 3107.”

“So I’ve been… the original me has been dead since… since when?” Max asked.

“2048,” Iphigenia said in a small voice. “I’m sorry.”

“Seventy-four,” said Max under his breath. “Mid-seventies.” He felt strangely hollow, as if he had just heard some bad news about a friend he’d lost touch with long ago. “I guess that’s… I don’t know. I guess that’s a long life. Or maybe an average life. Did I do anything? Write a novel? Invent something? Have kids?”

“You had a family,” Iphigenia said. “You even have some descendents. Close to two dozen we’ve been able to track down. They know what our project is doing. They’re all very much looking forward to meeting you.”

“Wow,” he said. “Wow.”

My parents are dead, he thought to himself. For that matter my children – who I never got to know – are all dead. All of my friends are gone. All my coworkers, all my neighbors. Every musician or film director or actor or politician I ever admired. Or hated, for that matter. Every writer who’s next book or column I looked forward to. They’re all gone. And again Maxwell was struck by how certain he was that this was the truth, and by how strange it was that he could so easily accept something so monumental, so improbable .

To keep his thoughts from racing, he asked, “So, how are we doing?”

“Do you mean your country?” Iphigenia asked.

“Well, yes,” Maxwell said, “but I also mean everything. Everyone. How are people? How’s the species holding up?”

“Pretty well,” Iphigenia said. “The definition of ‘people’ has expanded to include a number of different modes of consciousness and a huge variety of physical forms. We’re at just over 43 billion people at present.”

Maxwell gaped at her. “And we haven’t sucked the planet dry yet?” he asked in genuine amazement. He gestured around himself, “We still have even this much greenspace left?”

“We have all the clean energy we could ever need, and we’ve become very efficient with our use of space,” Iphigenia said. “Trust me, visit almost any city and you’ll see plenty of congestion. But mentalities pack pretty small, Max, and a lot of people only use their bodies every once in a while.”

“Limitless clean energy?” Maxwell said. “You’re a historian so you probably know, but energy was a major problem back in my day.”

Iphigenia smiled broadly. She was very happy to see any sign of Maxwell’s sense of humor. “Yes,” she said, “I’m pretty sure I remember reading something about that.”

“So how did we crack that particular nut?” Maxwell said.

“I’m not going to bore you with the physics of it,” Iphigenia said . “ If you want to, you can look it all up for yourself later. But most of our power comes from gravity. From the motion of the planet around its axis and through space.”

Having already taken so much on faith, Maxwell couldn’t do much more than shrug and press on. “Is there still an America?” he asked.

“There are still Americans,” Iphigenia said, “but the nation-state as an idea is in decline. We have so many new ways to organize ourselves these days that go beyond geography. But the principles, the ideals that you associate with ‘America’ – people still hold on to those and try to live by them.”

“So do people still have wars?” He asked.

“We still have conflict,” she said, “But, ironically, functional immortality makes people a lot less willing to risk their lives for an authority. Armed conflict as a means of resolving disputes is now seen as wasteful and self-destructive. And I have to tell you, Max, it always was.”

“Did you say ‘functional immortality’ just now?” Maxwell said.

“Think about it, Max,” Iphigenia said. “This body breaks down, I can just go get myself a new one.”

“So how old are you?” he asked.

“I’m going to be 217 this March,” she answered.

Maxwell nodded. Sure thing, he thought. Why not? After all, I’m over a thousand years old myself.

“What about poverty?” he asked. “All these bodies must not come cheap.”

Iphigenia was suddenly worried. The smile on Maxwell’s face seemed fixed. Plastic. Please, she thought, please let him hold it together just a little bit longer.

Controlling her voice to keep her worry out of it, she replied, “We don’t really have poor people any more, Max. Most people now live a baseline existence that offers them more security, more comfort – even more luxury – than what you knew during your lifetime. We do have another problem though.”

“What’s that?” Maxwell asked.

“Disinterested people,” Iphigenia said. “People who just don’t do much of anything with their lives.”

“Well,” Maxwell said, “I guess living in Utopia will do that to you.”

“If it really was a Utopia,” Iphigenia said with a flash of something that was very like anger, “there wouldn’t be so many people throwing their lives down the drain. Right now one in eight of all people being born are in danger of retreating permanently into virtual realities , places where they’re kings or gods or superheroes, and then programming themselves to forget that there ever was an outside world.”

Maxwell felt embarrassed. It was obviously a sore spot with her.

“It’s such a terrible waste, Max,” Iphigenia said. “I wish I had a better way to explain to you the suffering it causes people.”

“I don’t suppose addiction is anything new,” Maxwell said, “no matter what century you come from.”

Iphigenia gave him a rueful smile.

“So, what else is awful about the here and now?” Maxwell asked.

Iphigenia was a moment before speaking, reluctant and unsure. “There have been plagues,” she said. “Viruses of various kinds. At every step in the emergence of the new flesh, of the new mind, there have been vulnerabilities that left people open to attack and exploitation. It has been a long, hard road getting here.”

Maxwell looked concerned. “I thought you said people didn’t die anymore?”

“Functional immortality has its limits,” said Iphigenia. “I can remember a time…” she trailed off and was quiet a long while before speaking again.

“When I was a little girl,” she said, “Something called the Third Entertainment swept the world. It was basically a game. A game that made you kill yourself. By the time people understood what was happening and how to stop it, almost six hundred million people were dead, their mentalities erased beyond any hope of restoration.”

She turned to him and held out her hands. Unsure, Maxwell took both of them in his. 

“I don’t mean to upset you, Maxwell,” Iphigenia said. “What I want is for you to be stable and sane and able to adjust to your new life here. I want to learn as much as I can from you, but even that is secondary to what you want to do with your life. I hope you understand that. That nothing matters so much to me as your integrity and freedom.”

Maxwell dropped both her hands. The wind had picked up slightly. “What have you done to my mind, Iphigenia?” he asked.

“What are you asking, Max?” she said.

“I’m not asking, I’m saying: there’s something wrong with my mind,” he said. “I never used to be this comfortable around people. I never used to be this credulous. This trusting. Every instinct I have right now is telling me to believe you. But at the same time, way down deep, there’s a small voice that says that’s just not me.”

“We… we had to extrapolate some data…” Iphigenia began.

“These aren’t gaps,” said Maxwell. “These aren’t things that are missing. These are things that have been inserted into me. Into my self.”

“I told you, Max,” Iphigenia said, a note of stress high in her voice, “that we gave you something to keep you relaxed.”

“This isn’t a drug,” Maxwell said . “ This is you messing with my mind and I want you to stop it. Undo it. Take it out.”

Iphigenia just stared at him.

“Take it out!” Maxwell cried, so suddenly and loudly that it made Iphigenia start.

“Max,” Iphigenia said, “Please. You don’t understand.”

“Then make me understand!” he said.

“This… this isn’t the first time we’ve brought you back,” Iphigenia said. “It isn’t the first time we’ve… compiled and tried to run you, if that makes sense.”

“How many other times?” Maxwell asked.

“…four,” Iphigenia replied.

“What happened those other times?”

“You went insane. Dissociative schizoid embolism,” Iphigenia said.

Maxwell was breathing hard, harnessing his anger, trying to power through a current in his mind that was attempting to calm him. “What did you do with those four other Maxwell Peakes?” he asked. “Did you just wipe the slate clean to try again? Is that what you’re going to do with me?” Maxwell held his hands like claws.

“No, Max, no!” Iphigenia said. “I saved them. All of them. The hope was that at some point all the extant versions of you could be re-incorporated into a single healthy mentality.”

“So why this time?” Maxwell said. “Why, if my ‘personhood,’ if my ‘integrity’ matter so much to you, would you fuck with my brain here, now, at the fifth go-round?” Maxwell was breathing like he was running a race.

“Because five is the limit, Max!” Iphigenia wailed. “Already the chances of a successful reincorporation stand at less than 20%. If this doesn’t work, if you break down this time, the chances drop to zero.”

Iphigenia began to cry, great salty tears spilling down her face. Maxwell felt poised, as if standing on a tightrope. And the wind rose.

“So you’re telling me,” Maxwell said, in a voice so even it surprised even him, “ that the conversation we’ve just had, you’ve had it five times?”

Iphigenia nodded and sniffed. “More or less.”

“What’s the farthest you’ve ever gotten?” Maxwell asked.

“This is,” Iphigenia said.

“How did the other ones end?” Maxwell asked.

“With you trying to kill me,” Iphigenia said.

From somewhere east of the green field, darker clouds were gathering.

“Take them out,” he said. “Now.”

“But you need them,” Iphigenia said. “Think of them like medicine.” She tried a small, hopeless smile.

“If I need medicine, give me medicine,” said Maxwell. “Lithium, Thorazine, whatever the hell you have here in the 32nd Century. But I need to know, Iphigenia. I need to know that I’m really feeling what I’m feeling. I need to know this is me, and not what you’ve programmed me to be.”

Iphigenia nodded. She squared her shoulders. “If it’s what you want,” she said.

“It is,” Maxwell said.

For the briefest of moments, Iphigenia’s eyes unfocused.

Maxwell grabbed the sides of his head, then sank to his knees overcome with sudden vertigo. A wash of emotions, fragments of memories and associations came over him. There in the sickening rush was a wild grief, a bright rage, and denial like a high stone wall. But throughout he could feel the green grass between his feet.

Some time later he felt the first drops of rain strike his shoulders. He stood up, and Iphigenia was still there. She looked suddenly very small to him. He walked the few steps to stand in front of her.

“Well,” he said at last, “I don’t feel much like killing you.”

“Good” she said, and tried a wan, sad smile. “Because, you know. Functionally immortal. Kinda pointless.”

And Maxwell Peak laughed in spite of himself, and then Iphigenia was laughing with him. He looked up at the overcast sky and wondered where they would go when it was time to come in from the rain.

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