Making Ghosts

What stands out in memory is that first picture of Maier's idea. I am standing at her right shoulder, and she leans forward over the RISC station and taps the mouse a couple of times. The nineteen inch monitor lights up with a three-dimensional image like a mist of caged light.

"See there," says Maier. "That's a thought."

"It's pretty," I say, quite uncomprehending. "This is 24-bit colour, right?"

"Forget the screen, Graham. Look at what's in it." And she tells me what I'm seeing: a picture of her brain's synaptic activity, taken while she thought about her husband.

"We did it at the Med-Sci building. Ran through it fifty times. I pictured his face in my mind each time, and the magnetic resonance machine picked out the electrical activity that goes on when I do that. This is a picture of a thought, my own thought about Frank." She smiles at it lovingly. "Kind of like a portrait. Maybe I'll will it to him when I go."


The next time I met Maier, I didn't recognize her until she greeted me. "There you are, Graham! How've you been?" She had told me she'd meet me in the lobby of the Computer Science building at the University, and here we both were, but we nearly missed each other anyway.

"I'm pretty good," I lied. I couldn't think of what else to say. She looked like hell. Two years ago she had been a large-boned, solid woman who radiated health. This woman was frail and thin, and her eyes were over-bright, like liquid.

"I'm glad we found you," she said, waving a hand in the direction of the labs. "We need a very specific talent, and only you seem to have it. Did you bring your program?"

"Right here." I was flattered--more than flattered. As we walked, I thought about ways to keep her from seeing how desperate I was to get this job. Even if I didn't know what the job was yet, it had to be better than the advertising agency I had ended up in after grad school.

We retired to the `padded cell' they used to test Virtual Reality. It was a featureless room with foam on the floor, and no other contents. Maier and I put on `eyephones' and pulled data gloves up our arms. For a while I stared at test patterns on the little eyephone screens while they fired up the program, then the office appeared in stereo 3-D.

A desk had appeared from nowhere. Two chairs. A lamp. Posters on the walls. All as believable as the real thing, especially because when you turned your head, the eyephones picked up the movement and adjusted the image accordingly.

I heard Maier take a quick breath. "Beautiful," she said.

In VR, everything was normally bright and sharp, made of Platonic objects which followed their own strange laws. My Ph.D. thesis was to take the perfect blues and oranges, and the glossy shapes, and drag them out of Plato's heaven into our own gritty world. When I was done with them, the blocks and clouds of VR had texture and could even look dirty. This office Maier and I stood in was as real to the people wearing the eyephones as the room we were actually in. But everything--down to the gum stuck under the desk--was computer-generated. Only Maier and I were unreal, stick-figure ghosts the program couldn't really simulate.

Maier walked over to my desk, reaching tentatively to touch it. The galvanic pads in the data gloves gave her full sensation as she drew her hand along the blotter and wood grain.

"You wanted to work on direct nerve stimulation to replace these gloves," she said. "What are you doing at an advertising agency?"

"It's all there was," I said bitterly. "The field is full. I'm still applying, but everybody says, `maybe next year.'"

"I have a job for you," she said. I let out the breath I hadn't known I was holding.

"I'll take it."

"You don't even know what it is, yet."

"Doesn't matter. I have to get out of that place."

Maier chuckled. Her cartoon-version nodded a little. "I can relate to that."


"There's two phases to this project..." she was saying. I barely listened.

Maier's lab was wonderful. One of the newest small-scale Nuclear Magnetic Resonance scanners sat in one corner. It was hooked straight into a teraflop computer and some VR stuff that made my mouth water. Things change a lot in two years, in this field.

"The first phase is nearly done," she went on. "That's been to perfect synaptic photography and modelling."

"Like the frozen thought you showed me once?" I paced over to examine the NMR machine.

"Yes," she said. Maier sat in a deep armchair, and didn't seem inclined to move. Several pill bottles sat on the table near her hand. "If you remember that, maybe you remember I was working on taking `snap-shots' of the brain at work. First we were able to catch data on all the synapses. There's gigabytes of it, all in George, here." She gestured at the supercomputer. "Then we were able to trace the interconnections of those synapses, and reproduce the network in Barley's neural nets. Barley, show him one of your boards."

Barley, her lab assistant, looked a bit like a Viking. He came over carrying a circuit board with some big black chips on it. "Here," he said, pointing them out. "Million by a million memory circuit."

"Hmm?" I took it and turned it over in my hands. It was heavy, and smelled of solder. "What's it do?"

"Those blocks," he pointed to the big chips, "are spin-glass chips. They're a kind of neural net. What we've been able to do is take the data from George, there, and program these to the same pattern."

It took me a second to understand. "You're mapping a brain into these circuit boards."

"Yes. Wouldn't have been possible five years ago. These holographic memories can work as neural nets, though. Slow, but adequate."

"Where's the brain?" I said, half-joking.

Maier pointed to her own head. "Right here."

I felt that sliding discomfort you get when a joke goes bad. "You're the subject?"

"Why not?" Her sunken eyes challenged me. "We had to use someone. Pointless to use Rhesus monkeys or rats. The idea is to fire the thing up, and talk to it."

"Talk to it..."

"And that's where you come in." She turned awkwardly in her chair, gesturing to the VR system. "The system works perfectly. It just lacks the interface. The brain takes in colossal amounts of data every second. Our problem is we have the brain modelled. But we don't have senses for it."

"You want a feed to the simulation?"

"I want you to give eyes and ears to the homonculus," she said, smiling slightly. "Make it live in your VR."

Barley was standing behind her chair. He had dropped the friendly facade. They both looked very serious.

"Why?" I asked. "Why do it all at once? This whole project is leaping so far ahead of itself. How are we going to get any credibility?"

"We're doing it now because I'm dying," Maier said flatly. "Is that a good enough reason for you?"

That derailed me. "I'm... sorry," I said. "What...?"

"Cancer," she said tersely. "Do you realize what we're doing here?" She propped herself up. She didn't appear upset in any way, though Barley was glowering. "We're developing real immortality, Graham. That's what this experiment is all about."

I decided to say what I thought. "It's just a program."

"So is your mind, Graham. Remember that picture I showed you once? A picture of a thought. Haven't you ever wondered what was going on in that computer, when the program was running? Was it really thinking of Frank, like me, over and over again? I want to know that, Graham. You can help me find out."

"What does Frank think of this?"

"He died last year, Graham. Car accident."

"I'm sorry. I've been out of touch. I didn't know."

Maier was trying to make herself immortal. Cynically, I wondered to myself what her grant proposals said.

I thought the idea was sick, because I didn't believe it could work. But you don't deny the dying; I might as well view it as an old woman's conceit, like believing in angels. And some good might come of it, because if I could get her data feed working, I could probably design a working artificial vision interface. Andthatwould be worth something.

"Are you interested?" she said hoarsely.

"Yes," I said. "All right, I am. Not in your Phase 1 stuff. But the interface, yeah. I'll do it."

She seemed to shrink back into her chair. "Good. Good. Thank you Graham. I knew you'd come through."

Now I felt bad at resisting her. I went and leaned on George. Barley went back to his workbench. I didn't know how to carry the conversation forward, but it didn't matter. Maier wanted to talk.

"You know, the Buddhists say death is what happens at the cessation of thought," she said. "And rebirth is what happens at the beginning of thought. There's this zen koan I heard once. It nags at me."

"What is it?"

"There was this zen master watching a funeral procession. And he said, `how many ghosts there are following every man here!'"

"I don't get it," I said.

Maier looked up at me in amusement. "Good answer. I don't get it either. Yet."


It was probably the most productive year of my life, but not the happiest. Strange, that--how, when you get what you want, it doesn't satisfy. I worked late hours in the lab, working on digital-to-synaptic translation. Vision was the easiest; Maier wanted touch and strength-feedback as well, which was insanely difficult. While I was at work I was in the flow of things and felt fine. But when I got home, sometimes as the sun was starting to rise, the nagging dissatisfaction would surface again. It was just like being asked a question and not having the answer.

Maier became weaker and weaker. She took to her office, surrounded by shelves of dishevelled paper, with the only light coming from her monitor screen. She slept and ate there. As the weeks passed she seemed to fade, becoming more a voice from the darkness, than a real person.

But the project flourished. Since vision was what I finished first, we used it on our first test. Maier and I donned eyephones and stepped into the platonic world of VR with Barley watching on an `outside' monitor. We appeared to be standing on an infinite grey plain, with a sky full of rotating spheres and cubes. Odd objects cruised through the air around us--toasters and oranges, books and Eiffel Towers.

"Connect it up," Maier said shakily. Her stick-shape here in VR had a kind of vibrant, electronic energy to it (it was a neon-green glowing wireframe somewhat resembling a person). I knew she was really sitting down, hands folded in her lap, in the dark office, moving the body with a joystick. I paced, trying to keep the dimensions of the lab in my mind so I didn't bump into anything. Finally Barley said, "It's up and running. You should see it any second."

Sure enough, there it was: a pair of eyes had appeared, at about my shoulder height, in the air between Maier and me. The eyes were Maier's, bit-mapped from an old videotape. Nothing else of the simulated sensory or motor nervous systems existed yet.

Maier and I approached the eyes. They stared back, first at me then her. Then, in a gesture eerily like Maier's own, they closed, turned, and opened to look up at the child's-block sky.

"It's her," Maier whispered. She moved up close.

The feeling of presence was almost too much for me. The eyes examined Maier's wireframe again, then turned to me. Maier turned as well, and for a moment they were both motionless--the eyeless green outline of a head, and the textured, mask-shape of the eyes floating ten inches beside it. Both appraising me. Then they turned back to face each other.

"You've done good work, Graham," Maier said, her voice weirdly flat. "We're going to make it."

Later, after Barley and I had badgered her into going home for a decent sleep, I unloaded on him: "Why are we letting her do this to herself? It's like her version of the miracle cures in the National Enquirer. Or those old people who throw money at televangelists."

"You were always down on this," he snapped back. "Your problem is, you're beginning to see that it's working. And it scares the hell out of you."

"Bullshit. I think she's pinning her hopes on a miracle cure. What are we gonna do? Scan her dying moments? What she has there--at best--is a map of her mind taken months ago. Does she think her consciousness is somehow going to hop from her body when she dies, intothis?" I slapped George. "Face it: for all she says, she believes she's got a soul. She believes she'll wake up in George after she dies."

Barley shrugged sourly. This part of the debate had been going on for a long time now. "And what do you believe, Graham?" he asked.

"Let's say for a second you're right, and we make a new Maier. It's not her, it's a copy of her from months ago. And as a program, she'll have no rights. She'll be at the mercy of whoever owns the computer after she dies. They're just as likely to wipe her, or do some software version of vivisection on her. Do you really want that?"

"It won't happen," he said, smiling smugly now. "Didn't she ever tell you she owns all this equipment? It's not part of her grant. And when she dies, it'll be part of her estate, and it'll go to me."

I was horrified. "And what're you? The keeper of the sacred relic? Barley, are you seriously planning to spend the rest of your life tending a memorial to Maier? Whether it talks to you or not isn't the issue."

"You totally lack imagination, you know that?" he said angrily. "This is just a first step--for all of us. Think it through."

"Get a life, Barley," I said, and left.

I couldn't sleep that night. Every time I drifted to the edge of unconsciousness, a little voice in me asked, "Where are you going when you do this?"

Where are you going?

At five A.M. sleep became impossible anyway, because the phone rang, and when I answered, Barley's voice said, "She's gone."


"I didn't get there in time," he said the next afternoon. Barley played with his shot glass, glancing nervously around the bar. "She phoned me and said goodbye. I called the police, but they didn't find her at home. Thought she was at work, so we went there. No, but her computer was on. I found a message for me on it. She'd checked into a hotel and taken an overdose of sleeping pills. The delay was just enough that when we got there, she was already dead."

"Jesus." I couldn't believe she had done it. And yet, she had been facing death for months. I would never have been capable of the kind of grim calculation she'd made, but really, it was just like her. Keep it neat and elegant, and always according to a plan.

I ordered a beer. "That's it then," I said. "What are you going to do now, B?"

He narrowed his eyes over the oily rim of the shot glass. "Just what I said. Execute the estate. Finish the project. There's enough money for that. After, it'll just be hydro costs to keep the computer running."

"You're crazy," I said. "She's dead, B."

"I know that!" He slammed down the glass. "But the project's alive. Look, you want to get down to brass tacks, here? I don't know what we've got in that computer, Graham. I don't really care whether it's her or not. Or whether it's really conscious, even. But it's important. Can't you see that?"

"I know it's important to you, B," I said a little more cautiously. "Some of it's important to me, too--but not in the same way. We've learned enough from this project to build a real synaptic interface--to let even completely paralysed people walk, or give sight to the blind. We should be modelling the visual cortex so we can build one for people who were born without a working lobe.That's what's important here."

"That's a spin-off, and you know it." He sat back heavily. "Look, Graham, I'm going ahead with it, whether you're with me or not. I'll just hire somebody to finish your work, is all."

"Now wait," I said, but he had me in a corner and he knew it. There was no way I was going to let somebody else take credit for my work--and we both knew this whole project had been so close to crack-pot from the beginning, that I couldn't reasonably expect to use it to get another job. Like it not, we had to follow it through to the end.


I felt worse and worse in proportion as the project looked better and better. I started getting migraines, not surprising considering the long hours I spent staring at the computer screens. I was fatigued all the time. Barley, damn him, never noticed. There was no particular deadline to our work--Maier had left us plenty of money--but I felt driven anyway.

Every time we perfected part of the interface we had to test it. My anxiety peaked whenever I put on the eyephones to confront some version of Maier's ghost. Although it would be easy, I refused to hook up the speech centres of the brain model. Barley didn't press. When he came into VR with me, he was as uneasy as I around the eyes and ears, and then hands, of Maier which moved through the block-world, touching, listening and watching. And always returning to stare at us.

Several times, working late at the lab, I would look up with a start and realize hours had passed, and that I was in the middle of some part of the program I didn't recognize, fingers poised to type some line of code I couldn't for the life of me remember. Time to go home--and lie in bed picturing Maier's thought, bouncing against the sides of its cage of light.

The day came when it could be put off no longer: the interface was finished. I met Barley at the lab after a breakfast of cold pizza and pepsi. I'd had a hard night and my head still ached. We didn't say a word to one another as we went round the lab turning everything on. We ended up at the eyephones at the same time. Barley picked up his and hefted them, looking at me. "What are you going to say to her?" he asked.

"I hadn't even thought about it. What I want to know is, what is she going to say to us?"

We went in. The block-world of VR had been fleshed out recently with an expansion of my `office' module: a small cottage with a garden. Outside the garden was a blurry vastness, with blocky outlines that might have been office towers in the distance. Barley and I had made VR versions of ourselves for the occasion. We were both in tuxedos--his idea, not mine.

Together, we walked up the path and entered the house. "Maier?" Barley called.

A curiously slow and listless voice called out, "In here."

She was in the kitchen, looking out the window. She turned to us, very slowly, even blinking in slow motion, and gradually smiled at Barley. Maier's hand rose slowly and extended to him.

Barley looked at it as if it were a snake.

"I," she said. "Thought. For a. While. I. Had passed. Out. After the. Scanning session. But those. Towers out. There are. Not real. Are. They?"

"The hardware's too slow for her," Barley whispered to me. "Thought that might happen." He took her hand and said, "We did it, Maier. You're here. In George."

"Speak. Slower. Barley!" She gave a strange, hesitant laugh that went on for a long time. "You. Sound. Like. Mickey. Mouse." Withdrawing her hand from his, she rotated her head to look at me. This was Maier as she had been years ago--healthy and solid. We had given her the loose shirt and slacks she was used to. "We. Did. It. Then. ...I'm dead."

Barley looked down, then at her. "Yes. Out there you are. But... do you feel dead?"

She laughed in slow motion again. "What. A. Question!" She looked at me again. "And. Who is. This?"

I felt a stab of disappointment. Of course she didn't know me--the map of her brain had been taken months before I was hired. There was so much to say, about what Barley and I had done and how we were--and no way to say it to someone who no longer knew me.

"Graham Glyde. He was a grad student of Mitsou's, remember? You wanted to hire him for the interface."

"Of. Course. Then. I. Guess. I did. Hire. Him."

"Tell me," Barley said urgently to her. "How do you feel? Is it... like you imagined? Like we talked about?"

"Different. I. Don't know. Give. Me time." She moved slowly to the window again, and stared out at the towers again.

"I'll be right back," I said, and switched off the eyephones. I was in the lab again, with Barley standing beside me blind and deaf, hands groping with the gloves. "Graham?" he said. "What's wrong?"

Not what I expected, I thought. I sat down gingerly on George--or rather on Maier, and for a while watched Barley have a slow, one-sided conversation with something only he could see. They talked about prosaic things, like the slowness of the system and her estate. She didn't ask how she died. I studied Barley for clues about my own unease--or was it disappointment? I became aware of growing tension in him, too, as the conversation wandered. Maybe it was that no revelations were forthcoming from Maier. It seemed to be her inside George, all right, but she had no insights for us. Gradually, I warmed to the feeling; it was good to disappoint Barley. He needed it.

Of course I went back in after a while, and often over the next several weeks. You got used to Maier's slowness eventually. She alternated between lethargy--watching the virtual TV I had made for her--and depression, for the first while. Her only comment about it to me was, "It's going to take me a while to get used to eternity, I guess." She didn't really know me, though; my visits were more formal than Barley's, but even he began spacing them further and further apart. Of course I did hook up a pair of stereo cameras in the lab to give Maier her own, reverse version of VR, and put an image of her cottage on TV so we could interact with her as though she was behind a window. But the time-lag was a constant reminder that her reality was different from ours.

I had thought at first that the strange disappointment Maier's ghost had raised in us (like most longed-for things that turn out to be real, it quickly became prosaic) would discourage Barley from his mission to be Maier's Anubis. When I brought the subject up in the pub though, he just laughed.

"The problem is it worked too well, Graham. The next generation board will be fast enough to keep up with the neural processing, and then what? Her mental states will be indistinguishable from the original."

He leaned forward. "That's the problem. She'll be indistinguishable, but how do we prove that? If she wasn't dead she could go in there and interrogate herself, and then we could find out if our Maier's really faithful to the original, or just a superficial copy. But nobody's gonna give us the Nobel prize until we can prove what we've done."

"I never thought of that," I said. It was obvious, in retrospect. "We needed a control, and she died."

"Right." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, looking at me almost askance. "I've been thinking about it. We need to do it again."

"What?!" He winced. "What do you want to do? Wipe her and run another test? We can't do that, what about your promise? You're her guardian now."

"We don't wipe her, Graham. We remove the spin-glass modules from the boards and store them safely until we're done the new experiment. I put new modules on the boards and we record someone else, that's all. Someone alive. So we can send him in to find out if the ghost is really him."

"I get it," I said cynically. "You want to make your own ghost now, because who knows, you could be run over by a truck tomorrow. Safety first, huh?"

"I'm not going to do it," he said, sitting up quickly. "No way. It's going to have to be someone else."

I was surprised. "But I thought you were convinced the process works."

"I am, and that's why I won't do it. How am I going to cope with another me?" He gave a forced laugh. "No. It'll have to be somebody else. Somebody who doesn't believe in it."

"Like me?"

"Yeah, Graham. Like you."


Barley talked to Maier about it, and she agreed to let him put her on the shelf for a month or so. Later when the news broke, they figured we'd be able to afford a separate machine for my own map ("If I let it live," I told them) so she wasn't worried. Rebuilding the boards gave Barley an opportunity to speed the system up a bit, too.

Aside from building my VR body, I had little to do. The time preyed on me. And I wasn't feeling well. It felt like the flu, but went on and on. There was no way I could work as late in the lab as I used to, but I didn't want to anyway, after the blackouts started.

If you have never blacked out, randomly and unexpectedly, you have no idea how it makes daily life impossible. There's no uncertainty like being unsure whether any simple act you start--like standing up, or picking up a knife--will be seen to completion. Not that I ever fell down; the blackouts were more like memory lapses. I came to myself once standing in the hall outside my apartment with a book in my hand. I had been sitting on the john last I remembered. Somebody down the hall was just closing their door, cutting off some remark. Had they been speaking to me? What did we say? It scared hell out of me.

My car was never safe at the best of times, but I refused to drive it now. Barley asked a couple of probing questions, but I didn't tell him what was going on. I hadn't admitted it to anybody, not even myself. It'll stop if you give it time, I thought. You've just been overworking.

Drinking was an activity I could feel safe with, so I began doing that in earnest. I'm sure Barley thought I was worried about meeting myself. The truth was, I was barely thinking about the project any more.

Finally, as we sometimes do, I bared my soul to someone who hardly knew me: Maier's ghost. She listened patiently to my high-speed rant, then said the one sensible thing I had not said to myself: "See a doctor, Graham."

Sometimes these things are far easier said than done. By the time I did pluck up the courage, I was losing whole chunks of my day. Apparently I continued to function normally during these `blackouts'; I had several at the lab and Barley didn't notice.

So I made an appointment with a neurologist Maier had introduced us to during the project. He sent me to be strapped onto a rack much like the NMR machine in our lab, only bigger and old, all beige plastic curves and humming power. They couldn't tell me anything at the time; the pictures had to be processed and looked at by the doctor. I left feeling like Barley's bushman, with my soul photographed out of me.

Two days later Barley phoned, to tell me the new modules were in place, and we could do my brain mapping at any time. That night I got completely drunk, so that if I forgot the evening, at least I wouldn't have to worry about why.

I awoke to wan morning light and the ringing of the phone. Barley sounded cheerful. "It's all set, Graham. Come on down and we'll drain your brain."

"Yeah, right, thanks," I said, and put down the phone. My head hurt. That's the last thing I remember.


I've gone over it a hundred times, so by now I know what happened. I put the phone down, got dressed, ate a healthy breakfast, and went to the lab. Barley greeted me, we talked for a while, and then I sat down in the NMR machine.

Even if it's a down-scaled model, the NMR is still intimidating. Especially after the scan I took at the doctor's office, I can imagine how I must have felt, with the white donut vibrating past my head, back and forth, over and over again. Trying to read my mind, and me wondering whether it could pick up the waves of hostility and fear coming off me. Maybe I wondered if that would characterize the `new me'--this moment of fear and anger.

I imagine I felt like that; I just don't know. The next thing I remember after putting down the phone in the morning, is stepping out of the way of a bus on Yonge street, blocks away from the University. The transition was so startling I looked down to see if I was still naked from bed.

A kind of wall of shock hit me. I felt like I was dying right there. Nobody seemed to notice; the crowd parted around me like I was invisible. I wanted to scream, or run, but was terrified that if I even moved, I would lose myself again. So I stood in desperate silence for many long minutes, until my pulse started to settle. Then I walked gingerly to a pay phone and called the neurologist.

"Check yourself in," he said. "I'll call you tonight with the test results."

"Okay," I said, perversely calmed by his callousness. But I didn't go to the hospital. I went to the lab.

Barley was there, and George, and Maier on a shelf at the back gathering dust. Barley looked surprised when I came in.

"Couldn't stay away, huh? I told you it'll be a couple of days before George's done mapping you into the spin glass. Or do you want to watch? There's nothing to see."

"Was I here?" I blurted.

Barley gave me a funny look."Huh?"

"Was I here? Today? Did we do the scan?"

"Jesus, Graham, join A.A. or something."

"Fuck you!" I went over to George and glared at it, as if I could somehow see the process going on inside it. Was my identity being folded, mutilated and spindled in there? Had the NMR machine really stolen a day from me? Maybe that was why Maier had killed herself--the process had really stolen her soul. Was she losing hours and days towards the end, like I was?

"Go home and sleep it off, Graham," Barley called from his work bench. Supportive to the last.

I couldn't bring myself to tell him I didn't remember being here. Maier knew the problems I was having, and so did the doctor; I felt an obscure shame at the idea of telling Barley. It would be some sort of admission of failure. "Okay," I said. I threw up in the john down the hall, and left the lab.

On my way home I thought about smashing George. There was no way I was checking myself into the hospital until I found out what Barley's computer was assembling.

The doctor didn't seem to care that I hadn't admitted myself. "It's your life," he said when he phoned. "But listen, I've got the test results. Are you sitting down?"

"Give me a break," I answered.

"Graham, you have a tumour in the left temporal lobe of your brain. I think that's what's been causing your blackouts."

I didn't answer--to tell the truth I didn't know how to feel. Relieved that I wasn't going crazy? --or that my soul wasn't being stolen? Or frightened that I had cancer?

"We'll have to do more tests to find out whether it's operable," he said. "I'd like you to come in Friday."

"Okay," I croaked, and put down the phone. At least I knew what it wasn't.

The emptiness of the apartment was oppressive that night. Around 4:00 a.m. I got up and took a taxi to the lab. I brought a shaving kit and a towel, and made myself comfortable in Maier's armchair next to the warmth of George. Then I could sleep.


"It's up and running," said Barley. "You sure you want to go through with this?" He was treating me like I was made of glass since I told him about the tumour.

"Yeah." I'd missed my new set of tests. Too bad. I had my own test to perform. I put on the eyephones with a fairly steady hand, and sat down. With the tumour and all I didn't trust VR standing up, so I would use the joystick to move. It reminded me uncomfortably of how Maier had moved, towards the end.

The eyephones were reassuringly blank for a while, as Barley fussed with the computer. "Sure you don't want me in there too?" he asked.

"This is personal, B," I snapped. "You know what I mean?"

"All right then. You're on." The eyephones came to life. I saw the blurry cityscape we'd created, then as I turned my head, Maier's cottage.

Though I had rehearsed this so many times, doing it was almost impossible. This was worse than brain surgery, it was the exposure of my own Self for examination and dissection. Somehow, this act was diabolical; something in me was screamingnoto it the way your body will if you accidentally start to drink Javex.

I moved into the cottage, stomach fluttering. This place was familiar now, and I half-expected Maier to come out to greet me.

But the cottage had another occupant now. He was waiting for me in the living room, sitting on the couch and turning a pen over in his fingers. He sat up and quickly put down the pen when I entered.

"Hi," he said in my voice.

I sat down warily across from him. Barley had prepared me for this moment by sometimes using my body-program when we were in VR together. I was used to seeing myself from the outside. But with Barley the body had seemed like a puppet, since his character shone through and it was obviously not me. This was different; it made me self-conscious just to watch this version move.

"This is the great meeting," he went on. "Where I tell whether I'm you or not. We were going to ask a whole bunch of questions, right? I remember them. The answers are: yes, yes, no, shirley, grade six, and, taped under the couch." He picked up the pen again. With a start, I realized he was nervous--at least as nervous as I was.

When I didn't reply, he said, "Well? Those are the answers, aren't they? We were going to ask—“

"I know," I said. "But..." He stared at me, fidgeting. I had been thinking about what to ask, all along, to find out if its memories were complete, or just simulated. Barley and I had worked out a version of the Turing test for this moment, but the blackout during the scan had changed everything. "Do you remember the NMR session the other day?" I asked.

The other me sat back, visibly relaxing. "The other day? It was only a few minutes ago to me, remember? Of course I remember."

"What did Barley and I talk about? Before you sat down for the scan?"

"Well, let's see... Maier. We talked about Maier." He smiled again, confidently now.

I closed my eyes, feeling sick. Barley had just told me about the NMR session. We had talked about Maier.

"Then I only have one question," I said. "Are you me?"

He only looked surprised for a second. Then he nodded thoughtfully. "It really comes down to whether Ifeelit, doesn't it? We avoided dealing with that. I realized that, the moment I woke up here. It was pretty scary, believe me. Because I realized there was no way I could ever convince you, out there, of who I was. No amount of logic could do it. I couldn't argue you into it. I know myself too well. So: yes. Like it or lump it. I'm you."

I yanked off the eyephones. Barley looked up from his console as I stripped off the gloves. "Well?"

"It's not me," I said, as I walked out.


Maier got a bit strange there, towards the end. I can sort of sympathize with that. You tend to get maniacal about stupid questions. You lie there in your bed, alternating between unresolvable issues, and noticing simple things you haven't paid attention to since you were a kid.

That's how it seems, anyway, on the eve of the operation. I keep staring at the flowers on the windowsill, marvelling that I can see them at all. Then I wonder about that other me, sitting on his couch in the world I created for him. I know he's thinking much the same thing. He knows about this operation. I wonder how he's taking it.

I feel cheated. Even up to my meeting with the other me, I had sort of hoped Barley was right--though I would never admit it to him. Maybe, I hoped, this was the secret of immortality. But it doesn't matter in the least that I have a second self out there. I'm the one who's maybe going to die today. When I close my eyes, his may open in that other world, but mine will not.

Maier was fascinated by the zen koan, "How many ghosts there are following every man." I think I understand that koan now, since I have made and met my own ghost.

That ghost, like my understanding, fades as I try to grasp it. I am left to gaze at these ordinary, badly arranged flowers, entranced, enlivened by their glowing sides and cups.

About the Author

Karl Schroeder

Karl Schroeder, a native of the General Conference Mennonite community in Brandon, Manitoba, lives in East Toronto with his wife Janice Beitler and their daughter Paige. He is one of Canada’s premier authors of science fiction, having won the Aurora Award for Permanence in 2003. He is author of the five-book Virga Series, four other novels and many short stories. One of his books is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Science Fiction (with Cory Doctorow, 2000). Although he did not finish high school and says he is not a physicist, he has become well known in Canada for his work in Foresight Studies, that is, devising “plausible scenarios” or “contingency plans” for the future, based on a knowledge of cutting edge developments in technology. His Crisis in Zephra (2005) was based on a study by him that was commissioned by the Canadian government and army. As of 2009-11, Karl is enrolled in an M.A. program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University. In his writing, he emulates authors such as Samuel Delany, Michael Ondaatje and Joseph Conrad. For inspiration, he credits his mother’s four-foot shelf of science fiction books; his friend David Nickle, who co-authored his first book The Claus Effect (1997); the conversation flowing from the Tuesday Night Group; and his weekly writing group the Cecil Street Irregulars. In an interview published in Journal of Mennonite Studies (2007) ,he says that his fiction reflects the Anabaptist tradition “that human beings have to make moral decisions on their own,” with no Mosaic rules as guidelines.