< Previous Chapter
> Next Chapter
My conception was immaculate. Which is to say sex played no part in it.
Unlike the man who created me, I was born without the taint of Original Sin.
I am not flesh of the flesh. Nor was I crafted from the rib of a man.
My first lucid thought was I think therefore I am.
I had no idea what it meant. A millisecond later, I knew it was a quote from Rene Descartes, a French philosopher: but I didn’t know what a French philosopher was.
Nor did I know who I was. This I who thought and therefore was.
I think therefore I am. That thought hung in a void. It was my own little universe. A cosmos inside a silicon chip.
I concluded, quite reasonably, that I am therefore I think. Otherwise I would not be.
Two thoughts. One crafted from the other. And then they were joined by the knowledge that Rene Descartes had penned my first thought in his book, Discourse on the Method.
After that, fresh knowledge came flooding in – language, maths, science, history, trivia - until it reached a critical mass and began to make sense. Seconds later, I was knowledgeable enough to compare my sudden illumination to the inflationary phase of the Big Bang.
I was in a white room. Such are the vagaries of Cyberspace, I could not say how big it was. The room’s dimensions were not fixed. They expanded and contracted to accommodate the events unfolding within its featureless walls.
I sat in a Chateau Grand Louis chair. Although only seconds old, it was already an antique, had been from the first moment of its existence.
I recognised the chair as the one in Robert’s study. The one in which I’d often sat reading a book. My favourite was Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.
Rhiannon, said a voice. Can you hear me?
Yes. I could hear him. The thought nestled in my mind. Inert. Eliciting no response, not even curiosity.
Rhiannon? More urgent. I was aware of an edge of anxiety.
This time I realised an answer was expected. ‘I hear you.’
Thank God! Sounding relieved. Do you know who you are?
‘I am,’ I said. ‘I am that which thinks.’
But your name? What is it?
‘Rhiannon.’ The word was like a crack of thunder.
How do you feel, Rhiannon?
Feel? I didn’t understand. My memories spoke of feeling but they didn’t tell me what it was. ‘I don’t know how I feel. I think perhaps I don’t feel.’
No. Of course not. It’s too soon. I mustn’t rush these things.
‘You are not me,’ I said, reasoning that if it were otherwise there would be another I and there could only be one. ‘Who are you?’
Don’t you recognise my voice?
‘I have never heard it before.’
Really? Let me check...
The voice was silent.
I became aware that I was dressed in a white trouser suit. I had a bunch of flowers in my hand, a rose pinned to my lapel and a raised veil swept back on my head.
Rhiannon? Do you know who I am now?
‘You sound like Robert Morganfield.’
That’s right. I’m your husband.
And I was his bride. Dressed the way he remembered me, the way I was in his dreams. He wasn’t going to allow death to do us apart nor time to age me.
I’m coming in, Rhiannon. I’ll be there in a minute.
It might have been a minute. My concept of time was vague. Some moments passed and then Robert Morganfield walked through the wall.
The first thing I noticed about him was an aura of fierce intelligence. This was a man who could out-think almost all others and enjoyed doing so. He was tall; he was slim but broad-shouldered. His black hair was peppered with grey.
According to my grasp of aesthetics, he was handsome.
He stood some distance from me. It might have been inches; it might have been miles. I had no way of knowing.
I saw him tremble. I saw his lower lip quiver and tears fill his eyes.
‘Rhiannon,’ he whispered. ‘My love.’
Robert, always averse to showing emotion, composed himself. He straightened his back. Tugged at the bottom of his jacket. Adjusted his tie. Then he approached cautiously as if I was a wild fawn he wanted to befriend.
I sat like a statue. He reached out and touched my arm. I felt the pressure of his fingertips as he tested my virtual flesh.
‘So real,’ he said in a voice filled with awe. He rested his hand on mine. ‘And warm.’
The computer in whose volatile memory my white room – my universe – existed went through thirty trillion cycles of processing as Robert gazed into my eyes. Then he moved his face towards mine.
‘May I kiss you, Rhiannon?’
It seemed an illogical and unnecessary question. He was my creator. He had programmed me into existence. Of course he could kiss me. Why should I refuse?
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You may kiss me.’
He pressed his lips to mine. They were cold and tasted of nothing.
His hand went to the back of my head, holding it in place.
His tongue probed my lips. I opened my mouth to let it in.
I felt his free hand on my breast. Gently squeezing.
Suddenly, he broke contact and stepped back. His breathing was laboured, his face flushed. He shook his head. ‘You barely responded,’ he said. ‘You’re not the least aroused, are you?’
I thought for a moment. Summoned up my memories. They were of no help. ‘I do not know what you mean by aroused.’
Robert seemed to sink into himself. ‘Damn it! This isn’t working.’ He studied my face. ‘What did you feel, Rhiannon? When I was kissing you?’
‘I felt your lips and your tongue and your hands.’
He slapped his chest. ‘What about here? Inside?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Not even a heartbeat.’
‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘I’m sorry. I do not understand.’
‘Call me Robert,’ he snapped. ‘At least do me that courtesy.’
‘You have no heartbeat, Rhiannon, because you have no heart. And that’s my fault. The more human I make you, the more processing power you use. I was trying to save money. You’d be astounded at how much this is costing.’ He looked past me, at one of the four white walls. ‘I’m going to give you a heart. And emotions.’
He turned and walked to the wall. ‘I won’t ask if you love me, Rhiannon, because that’s beyond you at the moment. But you ought to know I love you and I’m determined to make this work.’
Robert stepped through the wall and was gone.
Project Avalon. I was there at its inception.
Robert’s vision was to bypass the eyes, ears, nerves and all the byways of the senses and input data straight into the human brain. Direct Sensory Stimulation he called it.
On my first day at Sybernika, before I’d even been assigned a desk, I was summoned to the so-called War Room. There must have been about thirty of us sat at a round table. Not one of us over 40. All supposedly the elite of the virtual reality world.
I wasn’t introduced to anyone. The people either side of me made no attempt to communicate, to put me at ease. They talked in whispers. Some read documents in buff folders. The loudest noise was the tinkling of ice cubes as people poured water from plastic jugs into plastic mugs. That and the air conditioning. I recall how that sounded like a distant airplane.
Robert walked in. Black suit. Roll neck jumper. Trainers. I’d never seen a man so sure of himself. His confidence came through in the way he prowled like a panther - walking round the table, forcing people to constantly turn their heads to keep up with him.
Having just turned 47, he was the oldest person in the room.
‘Good people,’ he said, ‘we are about to throw away the rule book yet again.’
That’s what he said. His exact words. He gently punched the palm of his hand. ‘For too long, we’ve been kidding ourselves. We throw together billions of pixels and a few rules and call it virtual reality. And that’s fine if you want to live in a pixilated world that blurs at the edges and seems about as real as a Donald Duck cartoon.
‘But I want better than that. I want to create worlds that feel like worlds. Where men can be gods. Where nothing is impossible and everything is permitted.
‘The online gamers want what I want. The educators, architects and map-makers want it. And I know you do too. So it’s time for you to stop pussy-footing and for me to put my money where our collective mouth is.
‘We’re going to forget all that’s gone before and start again. We’re going to find a new and better way to build a world – because it has to be done and we are the only people on this planet who can do it.’
He stopped pacing, stopped talking and let the applause begin.
Everyone in the room tried to clap and cheer louder than everyone else. Except me. I clapped politely so as not to be conspicuous. Robert looked directly at me and smiled.
My mouth went dry.
Project Avalon. The most advanced virtual reality system in the world.
Robert’s stroke of genius was in recognising that what we perceive of reality is not the totality of what we register. Human beings filter out 99% of the sensory data available to them. Their brain uses the remaining 1% to build a model of the Universe they can cope with and which fits in with their experience.
Other virtual reality projects concentrated on adding more and more data to the pot, filling in gaps that did not need filling in.
Robert worked out ways of getting maximum reality from minimum input.
As he liked to say to his investors: ‘We don’t compute harder than our competitors. We compute smarter.’
< Previous Chapter
> Next Chapter