Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,
Insomnia
insomnia

A short story I wrote

For those making their way here from Strangemachines... welcome. This was a short story I wrote in early 2002. It was odd and kind of amusing finding out from Cory Doctorow soon after I wrote this that his book he was just coming out with, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom", was on this very subject.

This story is called :
----------------------------------

"Back Up Early, Back Up Often" by Mark Kraft


"Elise, please admit the next patient..." said, Dr. Redborn.

"Yes, doctor." Elise, snapped out of a unwholesomely non-work related train of thought, got up from her desk in a brisk manner. Turning on her heels rapidly, she sped down the hall, extending a hand down to matter-of-factly smooth her long skirt. Elise had an air of sharp proficiency, but it was a kind of proficiency that displayed itself in short spurts, allowing for maximum productivity and allowing her the maximum time to spend her time as she pleased. Elise had plans that evening to meet a cycle boy with some truely dreamy body modifications - a break from the monotony of the office. Her efficiency masked a dark streak, at which she was comparably efficient.

The doctor was in his private lounge - his private space - sipping latte out of a paper cup, while reviewing his next patient's chart.

"I wonder what I can tell him...?"

Elise opened the door at the end of the hall a crack and popped her upper torso into the waiting room.

"Mr. Harsgrove? The doctor is ready to see you now." she said, using a well-practiced tone. Alfred Harsgrove stirred stiffly, set down the three-year-old National Geographic, adjusted his glasses, ran his middle-aged hand over his sparse, greying hair, grabbed his wrinkled brown overcoat and his waterstained brown fedora, and got to his feet, thoroughly disheveled. He loped through the waiting room door and was escorted to a room, where he waited fretfully, hat and coat in hand. A few minutes later, Elise reentered the room.

"Ah... Mr... Hargrove. You can set those down over there," Elise gestured to the hat and coat stand in the corner. Within a minute, she had weighed him, taken his temperature, and attached and detached a series of electrodes to his body, giving him that odd, shaky feeling that made him dislike going to the doctors... he twitched minutely, uncontrollably, fidgeting with impatience.

"Ok, Mr. Harsgrove, that's all the tests I need to do today. The doctor will need a session with you in the examination cape, but that shouldn't take as long as your tests last week..."

Harsgrove looked visibly relieved - the first examination was nearly an hour long.

"Please go into the examination room and change into this..." she said, handing him a folded robe made out of a synthetic material, "the doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes."

Seven minutes later, Dr. Redborn entered the room, chart in hand. Mr. Harsgrove was sitting on the doctor's table, wearing the examination robe, trying to maintain his dignity. The doctor did a cursory examination of Mr. Harsgrove's health, before asking him to lie back on the table and put his head into the examination cape at the head of the table.

Harsgrove did so, the doctor hit a button, and the cape unfolded, surrounding him from the neck up. Harsgrove soon found his head cocooned in an oxygen-rich audio-visual cocoon. Panoramic floater images and sounds of lush green fields engulfed his perception, while, presumably, the doctor performed his tests outside. Harsgrove could feel his body outside the examination robe, and could even tell his arms and legs to move, but he knew it was an illusion. Even now, his senses were being blocked below the neck by the feedback loops, giving him the illusion of not being numb -- of his body still being there.

Still, he could detect some faint smells, despite the pumped-in odors of grass and flowers. Even as his smallest eye movements navigated him through this false garden, he smelled something that he was certain was not supposed to be there... a hot, synthetic, metallic tinge. He felt the urge to shut his eyes and concentrate on this smell, but he recalled the time when he did so as a kid, and the device alarm went off. Part of the nature of the examination capes was that they also subtly tested other senses - vision, balance, hearing, smell - closing his eyes could mean retaking the test, which is something he didn't long to do. Why all the tests? Why all the hassles? And what was necessary for him to get rid of these damned headaches and dizzy spells? Medicine and autoprescriptives had advanced to the point that the concept of going to a doctor seemed foreign. Alfred laid there on the table, watching the beautiful scenery pass by him, but he was frozen, only able to breath in and out. Today, perhaps for the first time in years, Alfred Harsgrove felt strongly about something -- he was really scared.

After a few minutes, he heard the doctor's voice, as if it surrounded this whole illusory world. "I'm bringing you out now." The illusion faded before him and the cape retracted. He felt a momentary ping in his nerves, as the senses that he was made to feel were there actually returned to being there... it was an odd sensation to return to your body, finding it not quite the way you left it.

Dr. Redborn gave Mr. Harsgrove a chance to situate himself again; it was an infrequent but important part of his job to do what he was about to do. He looked at Harsgrove, on the surface a non-descript and almost shabby person... "Ah, but he has something I don't have, doesn't he?" thought the doctor. "I remember what it was like, but do I actually feel what it was like?"

"Mr. Harsgrove," Dr. Redborn said, "I've located the source of your headaches and dizziness, and have treated them - they shouldn't bother you any more. If they reoccur, however, please see me as soon as possible, as we might need to recalibrate your settings until we're sure they're just right for you." Harsgrove looked relieved, as if a huge burden had been taken off his chest, thanked the doctor, and asked to get dressed. Within a few minutes, he was processed and sent on his way by Elise.

"Liar!" thought Dr. Redborn, as he walked back to his lounge. "That guy's a lovechild - a human human - and a dying one at that. Sure, much of his anatomy is constructed, just like anyone else's, but at heart the guy is going to die. Well, we all have to sometime..." he thought; at least he's had a recent backup. We'll treat the tumor and mask the symptoms for as long as we can, but in a few years, he'll have to be taken off the streets. Those who knew him will be told that he was a self-programmer, a hobbyist who changed his programming too much, yet another person who tried to escape the confines of their self and who went too far and needed to be restored from backup. The doctor sat down and made a few notes into Harsgrove's chart that would, unknown to him, seal his fate.

He was the first lovechild the doctor had treated in five months. The doctor always bristled at hiding their true nature from them, but it was for the best. Nobody needs to deal with that kind of burden. They don't need to feel alone in a world full of people who passed on, wondering whether any of them could really understand what it was like to be human... and for those who had passed on, the last thing that they needed was a walking reminder that they might have the recorded thoughts of a human being, and might even have recorded feelings, but at heart they were no longer a part of the species.

"Elise, are you out there?" asked the doctor.

"Yes doctor. Did you need anything?" Elise snappily materialized in the doorway.

"Yeah... there's nobody in the waiting room, right? Things seem slow. Why don't we close up a little early. If any calls come in, refer them over to the clinic hub... or check to see if Jill is in and refer them to her. I know she can use the business. Once you're done with that, feel free to take the rest of the day off."

Elise rushed back to her desk, glad to call it a day, purse already in hand, mentally halfway out the front door.

"So, what to do with the afternoon," thought the doctor, closing the door behind him and relaxing on the couch. He fished around for a cigarette and poured himself a scotch from the decanter nearby.

"Damn it, I am a human! I think like a human, I feel like a human..." Redborn watched as the climate control kicked in, and the smoke from his cigarette was unnaturally sucked upwards, seemingly straight through the ceiling. Lovechildren could make things so hard at times. Nothing like a cold dose of reality to make you feel "human angst".

He thought back to his first life... to the doctor who felt more like a marketing guru, offering him eternal life in the form of a backup - No money down! - and he wondered what it must have been like to die. Well, one day Alfred Harsgrove will know what it's like to die... and then the next day?! Will the new Alfred Harsgrove be passed on to a construct, with his last memory being backed up in his doctor's office?

Redborn took another drag on his cigarette and polished off his scotch. "Good thing I'm a doctor," he thought, "If I keep this up, I'm going to need some spare parts soon!"

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