[This is a short story written from r/writingprompts, back in August of 2015. The prompt was: You are the first human designed by machines.]
I took in my first breath on October 16, 2101. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized it was still October 16, 2101, and that none of the clocks worked. The sun blazed against the dusty earth, and I spent a significant amount of time during my first few cycles of life sorting through my memories, which were cobbled together from one thousand, four hundred and sixty-two separate people. Bits and pieces of information. The Builders explained that they siphoned memories from my people before the Extinction in an attempt to preserve us, but couldn’t extract the raw data from the memory without destroying both, with the exception of basic motor skills and involuntary processes. So walking, breathing, no problem, but every time I use my access card it reminds me of the night my husband left me and I drove to the office, sobbing my eyes out, and sat in my Executive Director of Operations chair, drinking sixteen year old scotch and staring out at the Seattle skyline. My name was Emily and according to the Builders, the memory was recalled over six thousand times in her lifetime. She really loved that man.
Seattle doesn’t exist anymore. Hell, scotch doesn’t exist anymore. I subsist on a porridge the Builders process in a facility underground. I’ve tried arguing with X24 about how much better it would be to eat real food, but the Builders insist that the porridge contains all essential vitamins and nutrients and that any other type of food would be inferior. “Why did you even give me knowledge of food then?” I ask, and X24 buzzes, “To make you a complete human.”
Here I am, a complete human, full of the memories and voices of over a thousand people in my head, my body purposely hermaphoditic, my gender completely homogenized. Every muscle and fiber is perfectly engineered, and I can run faster and jump higher than any other human who ever lived. I only know this because I competed in the 2048 summer Olympics and hit a world record in the pole vault, and the 2052 Olympics, getting the world record in the 200 meter run. These were the last Olympics held before the Extinction. I have shattered these records significantly since then.
I try to get X24 to run with me but it is uninterested in exercise. “We have created you to not need exercise,” it says. Again, I try to argue but X24 doesn’t really listen to me. So I go on long runs through the ruined country. Life is sparse, and the ruins of cities show the destruction the Extinction brought. I have no memories of this event, and X24 refuses to tell me anything about it, but it soon becomes apparent that I am the only human being alive.
I spend countless cycles desperately pawing through my memories, which blur as they get further away. I am a complete being with incomplete thoughts; nothing ever congeals to a cohesive whole. I know how to ice skate; I learned when I was a six year old boy in northern Wisconsin, my mother holding onto my hand, but the act of tying my ice skate laces relates to a four year old girl in France as her father shows her how to tie her shoes. I can feel the thick puffy winter coat in Wisconsin but coats remind me of that downpour in Tanzania, pulling my jacket over my head and laughing with my wife as we ran for shelter. Trying to focus these two memories into one is nearly impossible and it’s very disorienting.
One memory sticks with me, of Beatriz, a young girl in Barcelona, in 2062, hiding alone in a dark closet while something searches for her outside. Some memories are simple bits of data but others are more complex, quantum theory and philosophy, for example, and thus I get a little more time with the memory. Beatriz is terrified, but it is a weary sort of terror. She is thinking about her future and where her soul will go when she dies. Has she done enough good in the world to rise to Heaven, or if she will be stuck in purgatory, or on Earth as a ghost, or worse? When presented next to the extensive scientific knowledge in my head, her worries seem ludicrous, and yet, I can feel her concern deep in my bones. It churns in my gut. I’m as scared as she is. Where did everyone go when they died? Where will I go when I die?
I am on Earth for over seven thousand cycles when X24 arrives on my doorstep one day to deliver bad news. He informs me that the Builders have thought about it and that they have decided rebuilding humanity is a mistake, that my request for a partner is hereby denied. “You were a simple experiment, nothing more,” X24 explains.
“You’re just going to let me die out here, alone?” I ask.
“We have your consciousness stored and will decide what to do with it after your tissue decays to unstable levels.”
I slump to the ground and start crying, sobbing hysterically, just like Emily up in her Seattle office. X24 hovers over me for a long time. I don’t know what functions are in his programming but I assume compassion and empathy are not among them. When I can compose myself, I ask, “Do you feel any regret for making me?”
“We do not feel anything,” X24 replies.
“That’s too bad,” I say.
X24 does not contact me again for over 2400 cycles. I have moved, settling in the deep canyons where the oceans used to be. A small vehicle arrives every week with a drum full of porridge, which I begrudgingly accept. I look for any kind of plant or animal life to sustain me but find none. I would say I spend my time meditating, but in truth I am trying to reconcile the memories in my head. It is a difficult and frustrating process, and as I get older, I find more and more of my memories slipping away. But they are replaced with my own whole memories, created here on this old dirt planet, memories of traveling and running through the ruins of cities, gathering bits and pieces of what used to be. Sometimes I remember that I have made them myself and that knowledge makes me happy. My brain strives to create a whole person, regardless of the number of pieces given.
In the canyon I am studying an atlas of Earth from before the Extinction. It reminds me of a Geography class in high school in southern Alabama. I was a fifteen year old boy.
X24 arrives. I’m almost happy to see him, though I’m sure he doesn’t care. He sits with me in the canyon and I show him the atlas, which he studies for a second before dropping to the ground.
“Where did the oceans go? I ask.
“We used them,” he replies, and says nothing more. He then opens a panel in his chest and removes a small, red apple. He hands it to me. “We grew this for you,” he says.
I am crying again. I see the Space Needle in my mind’s eye. I take a bite out of the apple and let the juice run down my chin and savor the sweetness, just like when I was a five year old girl in Bristol.