“It is safe, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is!” the doctor said, his eyes staring at the clipboard in his hands, the ceiling above his head, the opposite wall, the floor, anywhere but Brendan’s eye. This did not make Brendan feel much better.
“You’re not going to accidentally fry my brain, are you?”
“Mr Gloucester, we are scientists,” the doctor said smoothly, “we don’t have accidents unless we want to.”
Brendan frowned at the self-proclaimed scientist. He certainly looked scruffy enough for the part. His beard was scraggly and unkempt, evidently an accident that he had wanted to happen. His thick rimmed glasses were slightly cracked and his hair was an erratic, uncontrolled mess. Overall Brendan did not feel safe in the man’s company.
In fact, he hadn’t felt safe since he had first walked into the laboratory last Thursday in order to innocently enquire about a job vacancy.
Eight months ago Brendan had lost his rather cushy and undemanding job as a toll booth attendant to a sodding computer that, apparently, could do the job much more efficiently than he had ever dreamed possible. In those eight months his situation had gone from bad to worse. He had been forced to move in with his girlfriend, a woman for whom ‘boundaries’ was nothing more than a difficult word to pronounce. He had also been dismissed from every temporary job he had managed to scrape into his possession; it seemed that whatever job Brendan Gloucester wanted, a computer could do twice as efficiently. He was beginning to fear that he was to become nothing more than a casualty of the advancing technological age that people seemed all too happy to call ‘The Future’.
But, nearly a week ago now, whilst surfing on the internet an infuriating, flashing advert had popped up uninvited on Brendan’s browser. It had read, quite simply: ‘Want Easy Money for Easy Work? Then Call This Number!’ Brendan had hastily called the number before his laptop decided to have the same idea.
The speaker on the other end of the phone seemed incredibly eager for Brendan to take the job; in fact Brendan had been invited to come in the next day for what he had assumed was going to be an interview.
This was now four days later and he still didn’t know quite what the job was going to be. He had been kindly directed to a small, brightly lit, pristinely clean room and there he had stayed. If he hadn’t been paid up front Brendan would have presumed that he was being taken prisoner. As it was, the heavy lump of cash in his top pocket told him that he was simply an ignorant employee.
It hadn’t been long after his arrival that he had been ushered into another room, strapped to a chair and a computer screen, and then shown a variety of pictures. As each image flickered onto the screen, a figure in a lab-coat would ask him what he felt. Usually Brendan felt tired or hungry. These tests and others of varying detail had continued for the four days, and as each test followed another, no-one had deemed it necessary to offer Brendan an explanation. Only now was he finally being given any information.
The scientist with the tatty appearance had shuffled into Brendan’s small room with an excited grin on his unshaven face. “Hi,” he had said, as if he hadn’t spent the previous day asking intrusive questions about Brendan’s relationship with his mother. “My name is Dr Hall.”
“Hello, Dr Hall,” Brendan said mechanically.
“Please, call me Gnowett.”
“I see,” Brendan said.
Dr Hall picked up a small metal chair, the only other piece of furniture beside the bed, and placed it in front of Brendan. Sitting himself down, and placing his clipboard on his knees, the scientist continued to talk. “You’ve probably been wondering just why you’re here?”
“No, not really,” Brendan admitted with all honesty.
Dr Hall frowned, his disappointment was clearly noticeable. “No?” he asked, “Oh. Well, I’ll tell you anyway. We are here to undergo a truly remarkable scientific experiment!”
“We’ve nearly got everything that we need from you,” Dr Hall continued as he leafed through the various documents on his clipboard. “The last thing we need from you is a brain scan.”
“Like a CT scan?” Brendan asked.
The doctor laughed lightly, “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Not like a CT scan. What we’re going to do is just hook up some wires to your head and then download your mind.”
“Download my mind onto what?”
“Well that information is classified.”
“But it’s my mind!”
“Not according to the contract you signed when you first arrived.”
“You put that in the small print?”
“No, we put that on the first page under the heading: ‘Legal acquirement of Mr Brendan Gloucester’s mind.’ The heading was also in bold.”
“Unless you wanted to give the money back?”
“No!” Brendan snapped, his hand darted up protectively towards his breast pocket.
“Excellent!” Dr Hall said, clapping his hands and standing, “Let’s get cracking then!”
And so Brendan found himself, in a draughty white operation gown, strapped down to an intimidating, large, leather-bound table and alone in an empty room. Several dozen grey wires were strapped to his head and trailed across his body. They snaked down the table and along the floor, and were connected to a large concrete grey computer. As an uncomfortable itching began to flutter around Brendan’s groin he started to worry about the situation in which he found himself. Dr Hall entered the room.
It seemed that, whilst Brendan had been becoming appropriately terrified for the Mind Download, the doctor had found the time to shave and smarten himself up. He now wore beneath his lab-coat a plain white shirt with a wide kipper tie. He beamed excitedly at the wired up Brendan.
“All ready, Mr Gloucester?” Dr Hall asked, flicking some switches on the base of the heavy looking computer.
“Excellent!” the scientist said, evidently ignoring his subject. “Now, we shouldn’t need to download too much. We already have your basic information from your Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
“I never told you about them!”
“Oh, it’s fine, we’re part of the government; we already had access to that information before we hired you. Right!” He clapped his hands together again like a school child. “Ready to tread new ground?”
“Excellent!” He once again turned to the computer, looked up at a tinted window on the right hand wall and gave a thumbs-up sign. He then typed some numbers into the computer’s keyboard and slammed an eager thumb onto the Enter key.
In his moments of silence Brendan had been wondering what it would feel like to have his mind downloaded. He had expected to be contorted by an agonising surge of electricity. He had thought he would faint due to some mind-bending current of power sucking every last memory out of his ears. He had suffered nightmares that his mind would be boiled up into soup as the cables sucked away everything that made him Brendan Gloucester. As it was, the worst that he experienced was a loud buzzing noise in his ears.
It made his teeth vibrate and his eyes water. He screwed his eyes shut and dug his nails into the leather as the buzzing grew to an almost bothersome volume. Just as he was about to complain about the noise, it died away.
He slowly opened his eyes and saw Dr Hall standing proudly above the computer. “It worked!” the scientist proclaimed, slapping the computer merrily.
“Was that all?”
“Yep! Fancy seeing what it was all for?”
“Isn’t it all confidential?”
“Oh, only if it hadn’t worked.” Dr Hall admitted with a shrug, “We never tell the high-ups about our failures; if we did, we’d never get our grant money!” He skipped over to Brendan and then undid the straps. “Sorry about these,” he said, “didn’t want you getting cold feet and running away at the last minute!” he tugged the cables off Brendan’s head and then helped him to his feet. “Come on! Time for you to meet it!”
Being guided by the elbow, an incredibly dazed Brendan left the computer room and was directed to the next room. Several other scientists, each wearing a similar inane grin to Dr Hall’s, turned from the two-way mirror and greeted Brendan.
“Was it a success?” Dr Hall asked as he approached a pony-tailed scientist.
“Oh yes!” the woman said, “Better than we could ever have hoped! Not only was the download a success, but it also merged perfectly with yesterday’s data upload!”
“But – but I still have my mind!” Brendan mumbled, a thousand miles away from understand just what was going on.
“Of course you do!” the woman said, Brendan was going to say her name was Glenda. She looked like a Glenda. Not many women did, but this one did. “If you download a song from the internet, the song is still on the internet, right? The same goes with a human mind.”
“At least that was what we hoped when we started.” Dr Hall unnecessarily added.
“So . . . why?”
The probably Glenda and Dr Hall swapped a glance. “Why not?” they asked in unison.
“Okay . . . so what was it all for?”
“What we have created,” Dr Hall stated, his grin broadening, “is the first successful A.I.!” The scientist stared at Brendan, expecting him to be as equally excited as the other men and women in the room.
“The problem we faced with creating an A.I. in the past was success that we couldn’t fully replicate the intricate nature of the human mind,” Dr Glenda explained, “Most of what goes on in our heads is still a mystery to us! Then, a few years back, a university in America managed to replicate celebrity minds using algorithms.”
“You ask the computer something, the computers answers with the mind of Tom Hanks.” Dr Hall added.
“But the problem with that was the original source material was stale,” Glenda continued, “The Americans were just ripping the examples from a celebrity’s film or book. The material wasn’t fresh enough for the computer to generate anything original or new!”
“That’s where you come in!” Dr Hall said, “Taking a mind and information from a living, working mind, we were able to upload it to the computer with the tiniest of delays!”
“Err . . .” Brendan said, staring around at the eager scientists, “. . . What exactly does that all mean?”
“It means that this A.I. is not a mere replica of an already living or dead person ripped off some twenty year old films, it is you!”
“In computer form.”
“It has all your memories,”
“All your thoughts,”
“All your experiences!”
” . . . And?”
Dr Hall and Dr Glenda paused, their faces crumpled for a moment. “What do you mean . . . ‘and’?” Dr Hall asked.
“What’s the point in it?”
“Well, it was to see if we could,” Dr Glenda answered. “And it turns out we can!”
“Though we haven’t switched it on yet,” another, shorter scientist added.
“Well let’s do that!” Dr Hall trilled, jumping up and snapping his fingers. The scientists skipped around the cramped room, each one unsure of what part they would play in this groundbreaking moment. Eventually, as Dr Hall reached a small, square object covered by a black cloth, most of the other scientists decided to stand silently by the wall and watch with baited breath.
Dr Hall, his face glowing with a sheen of manic sweat, grinned at Brendan. “Mr Gloucester,” the scientist whispered, “Meet, Mr Gloucester, A.I.!”
He ripped the cloth out of the way and revealed a chrome computer screen; it was about the size and shape of a loaf of bread, yet seemed as delicate as a chandelier crystal. One thick, black cable ran from the back of the screen and vanished through a hole in the wall. Without appearing to have any button pressed, a soft hum suddenly emanated from the computer.
A red pinprick of light appeared in the centre of screen. It then slowly expanded until it was the size of a Granny Smith apple. Although it was just a computer, Brendan had the uneasy feeling that the red eye was staring directly into his heart. Suddenly, with no warning, a gravelly and horribly familiar voice burst out of the computer.
“Gnowett Hall? What a stupid bloody name!”
The scientist stared for a moment into space; silence dominated the room. Slowly, he looked down at the chrome computer. As Brendan held his breath, a huge grin burst onto Dr Hall’s face. He threw the cloth into the air and whooped with joy. “It’s alive!” he screamed joyfully.
The other scientists cheered like baboons and began dancing around the room. Some slapped one another on the back; a few shook hands and the others linked arms and jigged round the fold-out desks. Only Brendan stood still. His eyes were riveted on the machine.
It had been his voice. There was no doubt about that. He had heard his voice recorded a few times, so he was able to recognise it. Yet this was unlike any recording. It sounded . . . fresh. Brendan suddenly had a horrible feeling in his stomach.
“Is . . . is that me?” His voice once again escaped the chrome box. “How am I looking at me?”
Dr Hall stopped jigging for a moment and hastily ran over to the computer. “Sorry! Sorry, I really should explain!”
“You think?” the computer snapped.
“Erm . . . where to begin?” Dr Hall tittered nervously, “You are in fact nothing more than an A.I.”
“You’re not me!” Brendan squealed, his voice was much louder than he had intended. It in fact silenced the entire room. The joy of the scientists’ success was quickly deflating as they stared at the pale and panicked expression on Brendan’s face.
“I’m . . . an A.I.?” the computer asked; its voice fitted Brendan’s waxy features. It would have to – the voice belonged to the same man.
Dr Hall’s face brightened as he realised what he was hearing. His eyes sought out the nearest scientist and mouthed the words: ‘It’s feeling emotions!’ The doctor then turned back to the A.I.
“Yes, but don’t sound so disheartened!” he said with a grin. “After all, you’re unique!”
“You mean that I’m a computer now?”
“Well, ‘now’ would imply that you were in a state of existence before being switched on,” Dr Glenda explained, stepping forward smartly. “You have in fact always been a computer, only now we have given you the ability to recognise that fact.”
“Huh?” the computer asked through Brendan’s voice.
“You’re just a stinking computer with my mind shoved into you!” Brendan snapped at the computer. His hands were balled up into tight fists; the skin was blanched white with the veins spread thin and prominent. A few of the scientists who vividly remember the bullies of their youth shuffled away from Brendan.
“But . . . I hate computers!” the A.I. muttered.
“No! I hate computers, you are one!”
“You must understand, Mr Gloucester,” Dr Hall said, “A.I. Brendan has all of your memories, all of your emotions, everything that makes you, you! So yes, he does hate computers, but only because you hate computers! If it helps, you could always view him as your clone!”
“I wouldn’t,” another scientist offered, “the Branch in Basingstoke is working on cloning and they’d be pissed if we started saying we’d done it first.”
“All right, all right, not cloning,” Dr Hall snapped, “But it’s a similar sort of thing!”
“I . . .” the computer said slowly, “I . . . remember . . .”
All the scientists leaned in closer, desperate to hear what the little box had to say. “I remember,” it continued slowly, “I remember . . . everything!”
Dr Glenda’s eyes widened with fascination. “Amazing!” she gasped, “Just what is it that you can remember?”
“Apart from everything, of course,” Dr Hall added.
“I remember . . . I was eight years old . . .”
Brendan frowned; he knew that he had been a rather embarrassing child. He wondered just what part of this ‘everything’ the fangled computer was going to share with these veracious scientists.
“I was eight years old . . .” the computer continued; its voice was wistful and lost in a cloud of reminiscence, “And I went fishing . . . with my uncle . . . and he -”
“Okay!” Brendan exclaimed loudly, cutting off the computer just before the memories he had spent decades squashing down decided to knock on the cellar door of his consciousness. “I’ve had enough! I didn’t sign up for this!”
“Erm – yes you did.” Dr Hall pointed out.
“It was a twenty-six page document,” the computerised voice of Brendan added, “I stopped reading after the second page. I always do that.”
“I don’t care what I signed!” Brendan shouted, clamping his eyes shut so he couldn’t see the horrific computer that had taken possession of his memories. “I’m getting out of here, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”
“Oh sure, you can leave,” Dr Glenda said, “it’s not as if we need you anymore. Colin? Could you get the door for Mr Gloucester? Thanks. Have a nice day, Mr Gloucester!” she flashed Brendan a small smile and then turned back to the computer.
And that was that. From then on the fleshy original of Brendan Gloucester was of no interest to the scientists. Only Colin, patiently holding open the door, paid any notice, and that notice quickly vanished when Brendan stormed out of the room.
The door slammed shut behind him, and from beyond he heard the frantic mutterings of the scientists and the horrifying drone of his own voice. With his mind clouded in a storm, Brendan marched out of the laboratory and into the rain drenched night.
He didn’t go home straight away. He couldn’t. He hadn’t been home in nearly a week, and he hadn’t exactly told Caroline that he was going away in the first place.
Brendan could only imagine with fear what her reaction would be if he walked into the flat after a week of being missing. Instead Brendan checked into a small and grubby bed and breakfast just a couple of streets away from the laboratory.
He spent another three days in that damp, poorly maintained room whilst digesting just what those scientists had taken from him. His entire life and existence had been sucked out of his head and stuffed into a PC.
It wasn’t as if it even looked modern; it had looked as if Dr Hall had just dragged it out of a dumpster from the late nineties. But what haunted Brendan and kept him awake at nights was the thought of what all this implied.
What would be next for PC Brendan? He knew that he wasn’t intelligent enough to do any harm like the A.I.s from the movies. But if the process worked on some lowlife like Brendan, surely it would work for someone else.
Before he lost himself in the grungy terrain of cheap science-fiction, Brendan decided that it was best to consider the matter closed and forget about it. After all, scientists were always growing bored with their experiments and hurrying onto the next big thing. By next week Dr Hall and Dr Glenda would probably be ankle deep in transferring the consciousness of a goat into the body of a walrus. Why? Because they would want to see if they could.
With that thought in mind, Brendan traipsed from the B&B and worked his way back to Caroline’s flat.
He eased the door open as quietly as possible and then suddenly went stiff. Every muscle in his body froze as he heard the sound of Caroline’s laughter. He couldn’t remember the last time he had heard her laugh; it was just something she didn’t do. And what was stranger, was that she wasn’t the only person laughing. Mingled with her raucous howls of humour, were the unmistakable tones of his own mirth.
“Oh shit!” Brendan exclaimed. He pushed the door open fully and threw himself into the dining room.
Wiping tears of laughter out of her eyes and setting down a nearly empty glass of wine, Caroline looked up to see Brendan fall into the room.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, “Look what the cat dragged in!”
Brendan ignored her comment and instead stared at the computer sat in the dining table chair opposite Caroline.
“Hello, Brendan,” PC Brendan said politely, “I was wondering when you would come home.”
“What the hell is that thing doing here?” Brendan snarled.
“After you left Dr Hall called his bosses and told them about me,” the computer explained brightly. “As soon as they heard that the government cut all funding to my project and relocated the scientists. I was no longer wanted.”
“That doesn’t answer my question!”
“He had nowhere else to go!” Caroline snapped, pouring herself out another glass of wine. “And seeing as he is technically you, he called me up and asked if he could stay.”
“And you said yes?” Brendan howled.
“I thought he was you!”
“I am technically him.”
“You are not me! I am me!”
“And so am I! That’s scientific fact!” PC Brendan pointed out, “Actually, in many ways, I’m even more you than you are. I mean, I can remember everything that’s happened to me! And frankly I am appalled at some of the things I did when I was a human!”
“You were never human!” Brendan wailed.
“I mean, fancy not telling Caroline where I was! And I apologise yet again for that.”
“Oh that’s all right,” Caroline said, patting the computer affectionately on the side. “It’s really your fat counterpart over there that should be doing the apologising! Well, Brendan?”
“I cannot believe this!”
“It’s my issues with commitment, that’s what it is,” PC Brendan explained. Flesh Brendan frowned. Somehow the computer sounded different from what it had three days ago. It still sounded like Brendan, but it had something else tainting the tones. It was almost as if the computer possessed a maturity that the human lacked. Brendan began to have a very bad feeling.
“I had the exact same problem when I was going out with Marilyn,”
“Marilyn?” Caroline said, leaning forward, “Who was she?”
“No one,” Flesh Brendan snapped.
“Of course! I never told you about her. We dated about eight years ago.”
“She was a loony,” Brendan snapped.
“No she wasn’t, she just wanted to settle down and have a family,” PC Brendan corrected him.
“We hadn’t been going out for long!”
“Three years, actually!”
“You see? This is the problem with us,” Caroline said, setting her glass down. “There is so much about you that I don’t know! We never talk!”
“Well that’s all going to change from now own,” the computer declared.
“What are you talking about? She’s not your girlfriend!” Brendan said.
“You hardly act as if she’s yours either!”
“Calm down you two,” Caroline said, standing up and moving between the computer and Brendan. The latter looked just about ready to throw the PC out of the window. “I’m sure we can work this out. Brendan, I don’t expect you to change. I’m perfectly happy with you staying an emotionally stunted man-child. PC Brendan can fill in with all the emotional stuff, he’s better at it anyway.”
“Wait a minute!” Brendan spluttered, backing away, “You want to date us both?”
“Yeah!” Caroline said eagerly. “After all, you’re technically the same person! Just one of you is more intellectual and caring and loving, and the other one is . . . well, you.”
“I cannot believe this!” Brendan gasped, he leant against the wall and grasped his head. Everything was spinning and he felt just about ready to throw up.
“What do you say, me?” PC Brendan asked; his voice happy and chipper.
“I . . . I would just be the resident body?”
“Well yeah!” PC Brendan stated, “After all, I can hardly do all the physical stuff! Someone needs to put up the shelves!” Caroline and the computer suddenly burst into laughter. The pair chortled and chuckled, pointing tauntingly at the fleshy third wheel of their new, perfect relationship. With his head spinning and his stomach churning, Brendan slid down onto the floor.
This can’t be happening, he thought. First they took my job, and now . . . now they’re taking my life!
With his own laughter drowning his head, Brendan Gloucester realised that he had finally been replaced.