The Peculiar Journey Of Lauren Barnes
In the waning days of the twentieth century, mankind came together in celebration of its crowning achievement: AI, or Artificial Intelligence. So vast was its knowledge and so great was its power that blah blah et cetera. . .we all know the deal by now, don't we? Even if you've been under a rock for the last five years, you've at least seen "The Matrix," so you have some idea of what we're talking about. Anyway, it was a great idea in theory. Look, we've built a computer that can beat us at chess! Look, we've built a computer that can make telemarketing calls to your home and business at all hours! And finally, we've created a computer which can be as petulant and rebellious as a sixteen-year-old girl!
That's where I come in. Actually, I come in naked on a hotel room floor somewhere in Southern California, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
A few years ago, a couple of European capitalists felt it was absolutely imperative that the world be exposed to lifelike human duplicates. They would use the AI programs which had been developed by the Americans and build themselves attractive guys and gals, but mostly gals, to assume a variety of tasks. However, since they were Continental Europeans, "a variety of tasks" meant "syph-free sex." It had to be the first time that a Frenchman didn't come out and say exactly what he was thinking.
And then there were many deals made behind closed doors. Businessmen flying from Rotterdam to Emoryville; techies jetting from Tuscon to Nice; intermediate money handlers checking their bags, spending much too long in Quebec City while the plane is delayed, and finally making their way to Berlin to hand over the funds necessary in order to complete the last transaction on just the right set of plastic tubes to mimic the feel of the small intestine. It was all very boring, but everybody got enough frequent flyer miles to travel first class for the rest of their lives, and it all paid off one June morning when a surly German named Hans introduced his daughter to a conference room full of men from every country in western Europe. Everyone naturally went nuts when his daughter removed her face to display a carefully planned mass of wires underneath. There were a lot of "mon dieu"s, several "dios mio"s, and at least one "gott in himmel!" Her response? "Father, what are these curious languages these men speak?"
Oh boy. Wow. She had the look, but she was as stiff as a corpse. It was obvious that some field testing was needed. Over the course of three hours of shouting, a young engineer named Hristopher Jonas Quint rose above the pack and convinced the twenty-odd congregated in the room that his solution was the best and simplest for their needs. "We should send it to a college in America," he said. "The unit will meet people from every country and all walks of life, and gain experiences we could never teach it here."
The surly German nodded, utilizing twice as many muscles as he had during the rest of the conference. "Good idea, Hristopher," he said, underlining how ridiculous this young man's name was. "Prepare one of the girls, and start looking into fabricating an application to one of the larger institutions. And make sure she's waterproof. . .just in case."
For the next several days Hristopher and his team of AV-Club Alumni worked on a perfect simulant to drop into an unsuspecting freshman class. She had the appearance of an eighteen year old British-descended mutt, and was programmed to be absolutely blind without her contacts in. She was me, but I didn't know it at the time.
Hristopher Quint was dispatched to Los Angeles two months later with a rather curious package in tow. To one who didn't know better, it looked quite like a casket. At least, that's what the bellman at the Hilton thought it was. He was tipped quite well when he finally got the box into the room, and therefore buggered off with no delay. When the door was shut and the blinds were closed, Hristopher reached into his bag and pulled out the only two items contained within: a hammer and a ticket for a flight leaving from LAX two hours hence. There was no time to waste; if anything in the box was in any way damaged, he would have to spend hours on the phone with Technical Support in Fresno, and he really didn't have the time or the patience to deal with them. He dropped to one knee and began to pull out the nails out of the top of the crate. Hurredly pulling off the lid, he looked at the girl, made sure she had all of her fingers and toes, checked to see that her bag had been packed correctly, and carefully pulled her out of the box and onto the floor. He then began the activation sequence and headed for the door, fully ready to meet traffic on the 105 on the way back to the airport.
The girl lay prone on the floor. The air conditioner kicked in and started subtly blowing around her shoulder-length hair. Anyone walking in would have been shocked to find a dead girl next to an open packing crate, but other than that nothing much happened.
Then I took my first breath. Actually, it was more of a gasp. I convulsed off the floor, rolled over, thrust my hands around. It was anything but graceful. After a minute I began to calm, and I sat down on the bed to contemplate my situation. I was sure of only a few things: my name was Lauren Barnes, I had falled asleep with my contacts in, I was totally naked, and I had no idea where I was.
To be continued...
Installment Two: Orientation.
I took a moment to stop and think. This became a difficult proposition when there was nothing left to think. My name was Lauren Barnes. . .and after that I had nothing. Not a single clue in my brain to jog my memories, to start any recollections of who I was. I didn't even know what I looked like.
Wait, Lauren, there's an easy way to rectify that. Find a mirror and look in it, then your problem'll be solved. Well, one of them. I got up and walked to the far corner of the room, where stood a full-length mirror. Reflected in it I saw a modest girl of fair complexion with a neatly conservative drape of blonde hair on her head. Her eyes were blue, but currently bloodshot because she forgot to take her contacts out the night before. She obviously watched what she ate, but not to excess; her body showed off a casual athleticism rather than an obsessed supermodel tone. I guess I wasn't the most spectacular girl on the block, but I wasn't a slouch, either. I just wished I hadn't left my contacts in the night before. . .
I paused on that thought for a moment. If I've got my contacts in, then somewhere here I had to have glasses. Where was here, anyway? I checked the phone on the writing desk, hoping that this hotel printed their address on everything as was the custom. On the top, printed neatly, was the following: "Hilton Los Angeles, 3387 Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA, 90009." Well, now I knew that I was in Los Angeles. Thank god for industry standardization. But there was still the matter of my aching eyes. I spun around, glancing all around the room and attempting to find every place where I may have hidden the glasses earlier. For some reason, I thought that the hugantic crate in the middle of the room might be a good place to start.
I didn’t think I’d ever get to the bottom of that crate; there seemed to be miles of packing peanuts and newspapers between me and anything substantive. Who even used newspaper to pack boxes anymore? It seemed like such a desperately retro move, as if whomever loaded this crate was eager to return to the days of cassette tapes and 808 Kaypros. It wasn’t until I had been digging for nearly a minute that I found something intriguing. At the very bottom of the crate lay a moderately-sized duffel bag, unmarked save for a luggage tag hanging off of it. I turned it over. “Lauren Barnes.” It was much less helpful than I thought it would be.
The bag hadn’t been what I was looking for, but it still piqued my interest. I appeared to be an amnesiac, or a damn near sight close to one; this bag was the only thing in the room which could explain just what the hell I was doing in California. Honestly, I was a bit frightened of what I was going to find in there. Actually, I would have been frightened no matter what. You would be too if you were buck naked with no memory, stranded in one of the most violent cities on Earth. I unzipped the duffel and expected anything from mutant spiders to the killer plague of Chumash to come flying out.
Luckily, neither did. Actually, from where I was standing, I had hit the fucking jackpot. There were clothes! And my glasses! It really didn’t matter what else was in there; I had pants! I pulled the jeans out hastily, knocking many of the contents of the bag onto the floor in the process. I noticed a wallet and a large file folder on the ground, and I promised myself that I would return to them as soon as I was less completely naked.
I figured that the t-shirt and jeans which covered my frame, not to mention the receding pain from the removal of my contacts, would provide a sort of security blanket, allowing me to think more clearly and possibly uncover more of the pertinent information from my brain. No such luck, though, as all that ever came up was my name. I was beginning to notice, though, that I could remember small details not relating to my life: a couple of old songs, geography, how to work basic household appliances. It wasn’t much, but it stopped me from being totally functionless. I turned toward the wallet, hoping that it would start some spark.
I dumped the contents of my wallet onto the bed and began to sift through them. The pieces did not fall into place, but there were definitely more of them. My full name was Lauren Amanda Barnes. I was born in a place called Lawrence, Kansas, on January 8, 1989. I carried an AmEx, an ATM card, and a pocket schedule for something called The Kansas City Royals. There was also a thousand dollars in cash and an unmarked business card with a fourteen digit phone number printed on it. I’d save that for later.
I was from Lawrence. Lawrence, Kansas. “Can anybody hear me? Anybody at all?” Wait, what was that? It was the first thought I had which wasn’t my name or some concrete world fact. I heard a voice in the back of my head, a middle-aged man with a slight tremor in his voice. I could almost see his face, too: he wore glasses and his hair was all askew, and he sat in front of an old ham radio speaking to whomever was out there. Was it my father? An old science teacher? I couldn’t place who he was, but I knew that he said he was from Lawrence. My heart rose at the prospect that I had any memory at all intact, even if it was distant and hazy. I turned my attention towards the file folder, hoping that its contents would provide another clue.
“Dear Ms. Barnes: We are pleased to accept you into the incoming class of 2010 at The State of California University – Los Angeles. Your application was quite brilliant, and we look forward to hearing many great things from you over the next four years. . .” Hey, guys, that’s great. If only I could remember what the hell I wrote on it. Strangely enough, I knew something about SCULA: their team name was The Fish. Therefore, they were the “SCULA Fish,” and hence the worst pun ever uttered. I wondered exactly why I had decided to apply there, since my brain reacted with such vitriol at their choice of mascot. Luckily, I had a chance to find out; I had cunningly stashed a copy of my own application in the back of the folder.
Over the next hour, I poured over this document quite carefully, absorbing and committing to memory as many facts as I could about the girl who used to be Lauren Barnes. I grew up on a farm; I had been riding horses since I was three; I had a celebrity crush on someone named Lyle Lovett; I worked as a projectionist in a movie theater this past summer; and I didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. I was going to pursue a course of study American History. I sounded kind of boring, to be perfectly honest. And the worst thing about it was that it didn’t trigger a single memory in my busted brain. All I had was my name and the sound of Joe in front of the—Joe! His name was Joe! I could have screamed; I was so happy. His name had come to me out of the blue, without having to overthink or stress myself. I was confident now that I would remember everything in time.
I was still on this high when I turned to the last page, which gave a detailed schedule for the entire orientation week. Apparently, I was living in a dorm room in Braun Hall with a girl named Carolyn from New York City, and I moved in the next day. There was no way that I would have all of my memory back by the morning, so I concocted a ruse. I decided that I would claim that a head injury while horse riding this summer had left me without my long-term memory, and that it would be several months before I would be fully recovered. Yeah, that would work.
I glanced up from the paper and at the clock on the nightstand: it was nearly one in the morning. I decided I had to call it quits now so that I could get some rest before move-in. I stuffed all of my things inside the duffel, leaving out the iPod which had fallen to the ground with the rest of my belongings. I put on the headphones and slipped into bed, cueing up a playlist entitled “Lauren’s Happy Music” to help me fall asleep. I didn’t recognize a single track. I would have cried if there had been anyone there to embrace while I did.
That night, I had nightmares. I saw myself strapped down to a table, some cold hard slab in a doctor’s office far away. Cruel metal tools floating above me, each descending in turn to pierce my flesh. I could feel anonymous hands ripping away, pulling skin from skin. My brain wanted to cry out in anguish, but I stayed serene, unable to react to unbearable pain. I could feel them mutilate my sex as they tortured me, destroying that which made pleasure and turning into a sickened pain. The ringing phone was a boon; I woke to it screaming.
“Ms. Barnes? This is the seven AM wake-up call you requested. Your car will be downstairs in ten minutes.”
“Thank you.” I was apparently an early riser, or maybe I just wanted to beat my roommate to the dorm. Either way, I was paralyzed now. What was that dream? Did I live that? If so, where are my scars? I pondered these questions knowing full well I couldn’t discover the answers. I eventually gave up, grabbed my bag and headed for the door.
Figueroa was deserted this early in the morning. There were no cars on the street and no people save the Mexican delivery men. It gave me a better line of sight to the street, anyway; I stared out the window, attempting to memorize as much as possible about my neighborhood before I got to school. My car arrived at SCULA less than twenty minutes after we had left the hotel. I was easily the first student on campus, which is either really great or really terrible depending on your chosen point of view. Either way, my Resident Advisor was really stunned. “Is that all you brought with you, Lauren?”
At this ungodly hour of the morning, I hadn’t even stopped to think that my one bag of stuff wasn’t even close to substantial for a full year of study. So I lied. “Yeah, uh, I have a bunch of other stuff being shipped to me.”
“Oh, okay,” she sad, buying it completely. “Um, here’s the packet with your keys and meal plan. There’s a floor meeting at about six, so don’t be late. And I guess you get to choose which side of the room you get. Welcome to SCULA!”
“Thanks, Jenn.” I opened the door onto the only home I had ever known. I was greeted by two identical sets of beds, dressers, and desks. A microwave and minifridge separated them. Spartan, but not unexpected for a college. I staked out the left side of the room and unpacked all of my junk, which naturally took all of ten minutes. I had hours to kill, so I laid down on my bed and dozed off, fully expecting my roommate to show up at any time. . .
To be continued...
Installment Three: Curiouser and Curiouser.
I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t that I was restless, or that I had a full night in me; I found I was physically unable to rest. I bounced away from REM, my body rebelling against any forward movement. Maybe this was a side effect of whatever caused the memory loss, or maybe the sleep loss caused the amnesia itself. I had a feeling that they were tied together somehow.
Eight in the morning, and I was up and wandering around the room. I wasn’t supposed to check in until ten; I guess it was lucky that I had an Advisor who kept similar hours. To pass the time I indexed my bag, pouring over each item to discern its place in my forgotten life. A jersey from the KC Royals, emblazoned with the name “Jackson.” I would have to find out who that is. A few books: The Bible, Harry Potter & The Secret of the Monarch, The Bourne Supremacy. It didn’t look like I had broken the bindings on any of them. A diary, filled with fragments and signals which probably meant a lot to the girl who wrote them. It had been all of twelve hours that I had been cognizant of my situation, but I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever return to being her.
Eight-thirty my time. It was already midday in Frankfurt, but Hristopher Jonas Quint was making a late start to his routine. Still shaken from a bumpy plane ride out of LAX and a killer bout of jetlag, Quint signed on to his workstation to check the progress of his prized AI. Given the immense amount of pride he had invested in his work on the project, it’s only understandable that he was in an abject state of shock when he found that one of its hard drives had failed. Lauren Barnes’ long-term memory, as it was, didn’t exist. According to his readings, she had access to all of two percent of her total knowledge base. According to his gut, he was about to get fired. Typing faster than any programmer since the days of DOS-Based hacking, Hristopher quickly set up a link to the Lauren unit’s wireless card, which he was extremely happy he had installed, to begin streaming the backup contents of the lost hard drive directly to her. This was only a temporary fix, though; he would have to find a way to replace the faulty component with a new one. There was a man in Nagano who might be able to help him, but Hristopher wasn’t sure that he’d be happy about it. . .
Eight-thirty five. It hits me like a bolt out of the blue. I drop to my knees from the pain; it feels like someone’s trying to rip my head open. I want to scream, but I caution myself against garnering undue attention this early in the school year. After all, without any memory there was no way that I would be able to explain myself. The pain rippled through my mind for another few seconds, and then something extraordinary happened: it began to form itself into thoughts. Memories, actually; my memories. It wasn’t anything concrete, but rather quick flashes of several different events, each one sexual in nature. My first masturbatory experience, the night I had lost my virginity, a rather embarrassing encounter in a porn shop in Kansas City. Somehow, this was part of my memory that I didn’t feel I needed right away. I’d much rather be able to remember my parents, or where I went to high school, or my bank account number. I was rather surprised, then, when I bolted up to lock the door. Before I knew it, my shirt was off and I was fiddling with my bra. It dropped to the floor, along with all the rest of my clothes, before I had any time to process what was happening. All of a sudden, I was naked and clueless again.
I threw myself against the chair, but I missed it and slammed hard to the floor. I hardly noticed; my hands were too busy pulling themselves up and down my body. The touch of my fingers against my breasts was almost too much to bear. I was in heat, no doubt about it. My hands strayed across my bust, down to my navel, working inexorably down towards my quivering quim. My newly found memories told me that I was experienced in these ways, but everything felt so new and so fresh, as if I had only been awakened at this moment. I would have killed for the touch of someone, anyone who could share in this moment, but the early hour and my state mandated that I continue to go at it alone. My fingers were providing the only pleasure I had felt since I had woken in the hotel, darting in and out of my sex with alarming dexterity. I must have approached orgasm five or six times before I finally climaxed. I had found at least one of my specialties.
A sigh. Body in motion, relaxing. Legs stretching on carpet. Hands through hair. Eyes blinking.
A light. Blinding blue flashes in my eyes. I convulsed, torn apart by a pain much worse than what had passed. I tried to reach for something to kill the pain, but my vision was gone. There was no choice but to wait and hope that this wasn’t a permanent hell.
Somewhere in Frankfurt, Quint’s wireless connection had gone on the fritz. He had tried to shove too many programs down the pike at once; even with all of the recent breakthroughs in computer technology, there were still limits. He cursed in at least three languages, knowing full well that the unit would lose all of the recently uploaded files, and that a manual fix was now the only solution.
I wasn’t aware of any of this, and if you had tried to involve me in any of the details I would have rejected them outright. I didn’t want to hear any sort of technical jargon; I just wanted to know where my memories had gone. Even the ones which had only recently entered my brain had now dissipated, leaving me only with the tactile sensations of my sexual life. I would cling to this dearly, as it was all I had besides my name and one fleeting memory of that man in front of the radio.
Nine o’clock. Fully dressed and still pacing, I attempted to listen again to my iPod, try to drag up some recollection, even though I was losing any hope of regaining who I was.
Emptyness and pain. Without our memories, we are nothing. I couldn’t even claim Lawrence, Kansas; without any recollection of the place, it was like I had never been there. All I could be was Lauren Barnes, a name with a body, but without a face.
Nine o’clock. I find that I’ve zoned out. At least the nightmares hadn’t returned. Awoken from my stupor by knocking, two loud raps are all it took to raise me from my bed and to the door. On the other side was a stunner of a girl. Dark, unplaceable, foreboding. Leather jacket and jeans. I fell in love on the spot, even before she uttered her first words to me. “Are you Lauren?”
“More or less.”
She stuck out her hand. She had the long, slender fingers of a musician, but not a single ounce of wear on them. She could have been birthed that afternoon for all of the wear and tear she showed. “I’m Carolyn. I guess I’m your new roomie.”
She was a sweetheart. The daughter of a Japanese banker and an Italian housewife, she hailed from New York City. Okay, well not exactly from New York City itself, but rather from a town called Garrison which was “close enough.” She had come out to SCULA to study film; otherwise, she said, “there’s no way I’d be in LA.” She played guitar in a band back home, had a big thing for Gordo from Lizzie McGuire when she was younger, and “didn’t eat. Ever.”
Then she asked about me. I produced the contents of my bag, and told her exactly what had happened since last night. I sorta glossed over the part where I fucked myself, though.
“I’m a big X, Carolyn.”
“Well, we’re going to have to do something about that, won’t we?”
I knew I was going to like this girl.
To be continued...
Installment Four: Baby, Bleed Like Me.
Word association games for an hour. Carolyn seemed to say every phrase in the English language, and then some in Japanese, but none of them help. I could still remember some things not connected to my life; if the lyrics to Joe Jackson’s “Black Coffee in Bed” ever come in handy, I know that I can remember them all. Out the door and down the hall to see who else has arrived.
Next door is Lita, a petite girl from Bangalore. Her roommate is another Lauren, this one from Florida. She soon became “Lauren with a Memory” so that we can be told apart. Alexis from Encino. Katherine, also from Garrison, who saw Carolyn’s band play in Mount Kisco a week ago. Cynthia from the Bay Area. Molly from the Bay Area. Laura from the Bay Area. One by one we all convened on the floor, ready to leave our old worlds behind and start new ones here in Los Angeles. In our new environs, the word began to spread. Hey, did you hear about Carolyn’s roomie? She’s lost her memory. She can’t remember a thing before yesterday. She’s some sort of mental freak.
“It’s not fair, Carolyn.”
“I know, Laur. But, hey, it’s taking attention away from the fact that I kiss girls.” I laughed for the first time I could remember. Carolyn just didn’t give a shit. Her bluntness was refreshing in this climate which had already proven to be catty and full of gossip.
The first hall meeting passed quickly. I found a corner and stayed in it, attempting to avoid the glancing eyes and whispering voices of my peers. Comfort finally came in the form of Carolyn’s hand, firmly pressed into my palm right when the staring became almost too much to bear. The touch of her hand was the most wonderful thing I could have felt at this point. I left in silence, slinking away to avoid everyone I was too scared to face.
I stayed in my room for a while. I read my diary again, attempted to categorize all my possessions, thought back to the hotel room for any clues to my past. The truth was that I was starting to settle into this identity. There were no attachments but this room and my classes, no days but the ones in front of me. I didn’t know if I cherished the life I lost, but I did know that I had been liberated. All I needed was a way to prove that I was more than some curious amnesiac, which Carolyn swiftly provided when she organized an impromptu trip to go see The Thomas Crown Pursuit. I didn’t remember seeing either of the Crown films, but I felt awkward when I asked Carolyn to explain the plot of the previous one. She didn’t notice anything, but I felt like a twelve-year-old explaining to her first crush that she likes him. I guess it was fitting, though; she was my first of this new life. I almost didn’t take my eyes off her when the previews started, but I figured that it would be rude to stare.
We drove back in silence, the only two in the car awake with a full car load of exhausted Freshmen to watch. She said that she’s not exactly sure why she’s awake after so much exercise today. She wonders when all the rest of my stuff is going to get here. She curses the lack of parking spaces in Los Angeles. And then she kissed me. We were on our way back to our room, well out of range of the spying eyes of our compatriots. It was simple, clean, wonderful. I asked her if it was safe to get involved with someone who lived so close. She said it was just a kiss, and that it was just college. Something in her voice made all of my fears melt away.
Sleep came easily, but it put up a fight once it had arrived. Those dreams again. Men hovering over me in identical white suits, both angelic and profane in their appearance. I can hear them now. “Do you think it’s ready?” “They tell me that it believes in God.” “Yeah, but he ignores it.” My right arm comes apart and falls to the floor; I bleed grey. I can only find a second to think about this phenomenon, as one of the men touches something inside me, and suddenly my mind goes blank. Blank. Then pain. Then blank again. I know I once knew something, but it seems like such a long time ago—
I woke in a sweat. Throwing my covers off, I found myself face-to-face with Carolyn. She was still awake, sitting on the floor tuning her guitar. I asked her what time it was. She said it’s three in the morning, and everyone’s out on the hall just getting their second wind. “Then what are you doing in here?” “I wanted to make sure that nothing drastic happened.”
I poked my head out of my door to find people darting every which way. I wondered whether I had anything to contribute. Luckily, my feet carried me out of the door before I had any time to react, as if they were working on their own free accord. Amazingly, I handled myself very well, considering the circumstances. The girls all seemed nice, for what they were: Katherine was at college to study writing, and was in California to escape her parents. Lita learned English from watching Flashdance over and over. Molly, Laura, and Cynthia were all there seeking M.R.S. Degrees. I would have learned more about my contemporaries if I hadn’t been suddenly distracted. The noise was there for just a fleeting moment, but I knew it immediately: “This is Lawrence, Kansas. Can anybody hear me? Anybody at all?” Oh my God, it was Joe! It was exactly as I remembered it. I ran towards the sound, through what seemed like miles of identical doors and spackled walls. Walls. Doors. Walls. The sound.
A video. A fucking video. Joe Huxley and I had never met; he was just some actor named John Lithgow. My one memory had been shattered. I tried not to cry there, looking in through the doorway at the television no one was paying much attention to. I held on as I opened the door to my room, sat down on my chair, and finally began to sob. I cried long and hard, knowing that Lauren Amanda Barnes was as good as dead. If only I had known her.
She offered her arms and I fell into them. She was beautiful, warm, loving. She accepted me into her life in no time flat, and I loved her for it. Her body was perfect, and it was if she knew every curve and nook of mine. I lost myself in her because there was nothing left of me. I would have lost myself anyway. Somehow I knew I was meant to.
Bliss. “Carolyn, you could make a girl fall in love with you.” She looked sad, reticent. I stared into her eyes, trying to find something to read in them. It’s as if she could block me out as easily as she had taken me in. “Lauren, there’s something you have to know. I’m not everything you think I am.” She shifted uncomfortably, as if she was detaching a spare body part. “Look down slowly, baby. And please don’t scream.”
I looked down. Carolyn was bleeding gray.
To be continued...
Installment Five: Everything I Knew About Her.
Carolyn Utada had been born in New York. Her earliest memory was of standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, her mother telling her to always look ahead, and never look down. Her parents eventually retired and moved out of the city, but they kept their apartment so that Carolyn could continue to attend school there. She had lost her virginity in the bathroom of CBGB’s on the last day the club was open. The first album she ever bought for herself was a copy of the Police’s “Synchronicity.” She had taught herself guitar while cutting her algebra lessons, more entranced by the logic of melody rather than the systems of mathematics.
Now she stood before me stark naked, trying to explain to me how each and every one of these memories was a lie. Her torso was split above the navel from side to side, revealing a complex web of circuits and machinery. I could see up to where her ribs would be located if she were human; there were replacements for the real thing in their place, made from what appeared to be some sort of dense plastic fiber. Lights would occasionally flash inside of her, sometimes followed by a grinding noise or a twitch. Carolyn didn’t move a muscle as I gazed into what was obviously not a human body.
I looked up into her eyes, glassy and lifeless where I had found love just moments before. “Carolyn? What is this?”
She cocked her head to the side, regarding me with no discernable emotion. “My designation is KOEI-60388. I am a product of the J.P.P. Artificial Person line, fourth generation. How may I serve you?”
Her torso snapped shut. Life back in her eyes. She shook her head like she was awakening from a nightmare. “Now you know. Now you know who I am.”
She told me everything. She was designed by a firm in Nagano, Japan, which had decided to beat another team of European investors to the punch by creating a line of simulant humanoid robots which were indistinguishable from the genuine article. Carolyn was the first to be designed and released to be field-tested; her memories and appearances came from the daughter of a programmer who lived in the New York area. She had operated on the assumption that she was the human Carolyn, occasionally swapping in and out of her life while being imprinted with her memories. However, it was only recently that she had accidentally stumbled upon what she actually was. An accident in the shower, she said, and it was only through an intense amount of begging that her father didn’t fully erase her memories of the incident. She did ask him to erase any grief she had over not being human. “It was the least he could do, after all. If I had to be the fake Carolyn, there was no point in getting all bent out of shape about it.”
Then she gave me a small touchpad from her desk. On it was a diagram of her naked frame, along with a few buttons and sliders. She told me that it was her control. “I need a field tester. I know that you’ll be up to the task, sweetie. Go ahead, try something.”
“Will it hurt?”
“We’ll find out.”
I regarded this device with no undue amount of trepidation. I don’t think I had ever been around something this complicated, and even if I had, my addled brain wouldn’t have been able to recall. So I simply pressed the first button I came to. Carolyn let out a moan and fell to the ground.
Oh, shit. I had killed her. I had killed her, and there was no place to hide her body anywhere in the room. A knock at the door. A few measly seconds to do something with her naked frame. A realization that I hadn’t left the door locked. And there stood my RA, gaping at me carrying up my roommate’s supine body. This wouldn’t have been so bad, actually; she could have just caught us playing a game of “Naughty Robber.” It’s just that Carolyn’s torso opened, spilling some of her oil out onto the ground. This obviously wasn’t any good at all.
I expected her to cry out in terror, or at least go running the other way, or maybe even ask what’s going on. Amazingly, she did none of these things. She just turned quietly and locked the door. Then she looked me right in the eye. “Lay her down on the bed. I need to see what you’ve broken.”
“I said get her on the bed!” I wasted no time at all, as Jenn sounded mighty pissed. I laid her down on the bed as best I could, trying not to set loose any more fluids or gizmos from her open torso. Suffice it to say that I jumped pretty high in the air when I turned around to find that Jenn had stripped her shirt off. “Jesus! What are you doing?”
“I need to interface, make sure her internals aren’t busted.” “You need to who with the what now?” By the time I could figure out what the hell was going on, Jenn’s torso had slid open, revealing the same complex web which lay beneath my love’s skin. She drew a firewire cable from her gut into Carolyn’s. All I could do was stare and occasionally emit a rather high-pitched moan of disbelief. One of these managed to escape in the form of the word “what;” this caused Jenn to turn and look at me with a thousand-yard stare. Out of her lips came the same inhuman tone I had heard minutes earlier: “processor is busy. Please inquire again later. Message number 6-14.” I backed into a corner of the room and let the robots do their thing.
They took hours. They must have; I dozed off while Jenn worked on the prostrate Carolyn and was only awoken when she ran her hand lovingly over my cheek. “Honey, she just suffered a small malfunction in her—“
“Who are you? What the hell was that? What’s going on, Jenn?” Can you blame me for being anxious? She looked me straight in the eye and told me the truth: she was a robot as well, sent to make sure Carolyn’s adjustment to college life went smoothly. And if I told anyone, I’d be killed. “Deactivated” were her words, but I was sure that she was getting her words mangled. Then she left the room, putting me in charge of the newly rehabilitated Carolyn.
Classes started. Classes continued. Every night I returned to Carolyn’s loving embrace. She was the only certainty I had, but she was growing more alien the more I thought about her true nature. There wasn’t a story she could tell me which she could say with certainty happened to her and not to the “Other Carolyn.” I knew that beneath her warm, comforting exterior lay a complicated bed of cold steel, and that she could love me or hate me with a change of a line of code. I realized this fact walking home across Fagg Quad one day, knowing full well that part of her was nothing more than a walking vibrator. If I cheated on her with Jenn, was it any different than upgrading my vibrator? I needed someone who could really love me, or what there was to love; word had already started to spread around about my amnesiac state, and I was becoming more of a curiosity item than a real person. There had to be something real in my life. If I was never going to evolve again, if I had to live my life without my base, then I had to know that someone would be there to provide it for me. I was going to talk to Carolyn as soon as I got back in my room, ask her if she really loved me; if she took offense, I thought, I could erase any sour feelings just like her father had. This was the state of affairs as I put key to lock and opened my door.
Everything changed when I walked in on Carolyn making love to me. It wasn’t me. It was Lauren Amanda Barnes.
The world went black.
To be continued...