Here’s a riddle for you. I woke up in my bed today a hundred years ago. Who am I?
“Thought you guys would’ve had better bandwidth in the future,” you say a little ruefully, eyes glued to the loading bar of the brain scan in front of you. Site Phi’s structure under you is a seismic riot as the Space Gun prepares to launch, your vision a mess of jittery lights and burning after images. The launch system for the Space Gun is running on the right hand screen, an automated voice counting down the launch of the ARK.
At ten seconds to launch, Catherine’s scan is complete but your own scan has barely started.
At five seconds the progress bar hasn’t even gotten to the halfway mark and there is a real goddamn chance that the scan might not finish in time. “You gotta be kidding me! Come on, load!”
Four seconds. The bar is still moving, lazy and torturous. You stare down at the screen with all the focus you have, as if by sheer force of will you can make this stupid computer get you loaded on the ARK before it leaves.
Three seconds. The bar moves faster, it’s going to---
Two seconds. 100% bar. Scan complete.
One second. You scream “Yes! Fuck yeah! We made it!” as your vision whites out and the sound in the launch bay expands and compresses the ocean water around you like a shrink wrap vice. You’re getting on the ARK. You’re going to get out of this fucking hell hole at the bottom of the ocean and you’re going to live in the perfect world, a virtual reality where everyone is pristine and whole and you can live out the life you never had. Finally, finally you’ll be safe. Finally you’ll be happy .
Your vision comes back to you slowly, your optics struggling to readjust from blinding bright to oppressive dark. The roar of the Space Gun bullet is receding as it makes it’s way out of site Phi and up through the ocean and into the atmosphere. You are still in the Pilot Seat, still looking at the brain scan screen, still in the launch room at site Phi.
The Pilot Seat’s HUD goes dark and lifts--- revealing the main terminal for the Space Gun, two screens showing you the full bars of yours and Catherine’s brain scans, as well as the tracking data for the ARK.
“I’m still here . . . ?” You feel as if the water has compressed around you again, as if you cannot breathe. The screen to your right has switched from the ARK tracker to a full system check of the ARK as it rockets into space. The Phi launch room does not change otherwise. “I’m still here.”
This can’t be right. It just can’t be. “Catherine? Catherine!”
The screen with the brain scan status vanishes, and is replaced by a static picture of Catherine’s face. The Omnitool still works, her Cortex chip is still in the port, her brain is still here --- Her voice comes through loud and clear from the console. “I’m here.”
“What the hell happened--- what went wrong?”
“Nothing,” says Catherine, which is a bald-faced lie . “They’re out there, among the stars. We’re here.”
“No,” you say, curling your fists around the arms of the Pilot Seat, “we were getting on the ARK, I saw it. It finished loading just before it launched.”
“Yeah, I saw.”
“Then why are we still here?” you shout.
“Simon, I can’t keep telling you how it works,” snaps Catherine, her calm demeanor cracking as she goes on. “You won’t listen! You know why we’re here: you were copied on to the ARK, you just didn’t carry over. You lost the coin toss. We both did. Just like Simon at Omicron, just like the man who died in Toronto a hundred years ago!”
“No no no no no!” You grab at your head, fingers digging into the dome of your power suit helmet. “This is bullshit! We came all this way. We launched the ARK!”
“I know it sucks, but our copies are up there. Catherine and Simon are both safe on the ARK, be happy for them,” says Catherine in her forcefully metered tone, and you hate how hard she’s trying to be poised, to maintain grace when the real fucking truth of it is that you’re both exactly where you don’t want to be.
“Are you crazy? We’re going to die down here, with those fuckers living it large on a spaceship! They’re not us!” The lights of the launch room are slowly switching off, and with each vanished light you feel your anxiety tick higher. “They are not us!”
Catherine’s retort is as cold as the feeling that eels it’s way into your subbrain. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Simon. I’m proud of what we did. We made sure that something of the hundreds of thousands of years of human history survived--- that something lives on.”
“No, fuck this! Fuck this--- fuck you! Fuck you , Catherine! You lied. And I believed in you, I trusted you. You said we’re getting on the fucking ARK!”
“We are on the ARK, you idiot!” screams Catherine, and the right hand screen goes dark. Catherine’s face flickers, the Omnitool status bars fluctuating wildly as she snaps, “I didn’t lie! I can’t be held responsible for your goddamn ignorance, you fucking---! ”
Something in the Omnitool breaks, fingers of electricity tracing through it and the main screen, and the whole terminal goes dark. CRITICAL FAILURE appears at the top of the black screen, followed by a string of PLEASE RETRY prompts as the computer tries and fails to repair the damage.
You stare. “Catherine?” The terminal remains unresponsive, the Omnitool a blank box hooked into dead port. “Please don’t leave me alone. Catherine?”
There’s nothing. There’s no one there, no one who can hear you, and your voice breaks as you beg, “Catherine?”
You are alone.