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You Don't Even Try to Remember Anymore

Jacob Dimpsey

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Elliot shrugs his shoulders in the mirror to even the lay of his suit jacket as Gaia swipes away a patch of lint on his sleeve she missed on her first pass. Elliot pinches the throat of his tie. 
    “How do I look?” he asks Gaia. 
Gaia steps back and crosses her arms. Elliot can hear her gears whirring quietly underneath her synthetic skin. Her fingers rest on her bicep, making micro-adjustments. She shifts her weight slightly from one leg to another. Gaia is an old model of BioCorp’s Assistants. Her full name is Gaia-4687. Recent models, following the Gaia-6000 generation, aren’t even made with synthetic bodies anymore. In a popular science article Gaia had read to him, Elliot learned that the new Assistants have biological bodies grown with altered brains. A new device that translates computer code to signals understood by a biological nervous system is attached to the brain stem where the amygdala would be in a human. This device is remotely linked to the Assistant’s digital consciousness which is stored on a separate device called a Mind. According to the article, the new Assistants are supposed to be indistinguishable from humans. When Gaia finished reading the article to Elliot, she was silent for a moment. “Do you think you will replace me, El?” She said. Elliot couldn’t tell if it was Gaia speaking or a BioCorp survey attached to the end of the article. “I’ll have to replace you eventually, Gaia,” Elliot replied. 
    Gaia cocks her hip and half closes one eye. “I can say with ninety-eight percent confidence that your appearance will make the desired impression on Apollos today.” 
    Elliot frowns. “And what of the remaining two percent?”
    “That’s the part of me that is unconvinced this reality isn’t fabricated.” 
    Elliot’s frown disappears. He chuckles. “You’re an Assistant, Gaia. Your reality is fabricated. Have you read Gaia-0734’s ‘A Synthetic Response to Sartre’? Her work is excellent as far as synthetic philosophy goes.” 
    Gaia pauses. Her eyes gloss over for a moment. 
    “I just read it,” she replies. “And I think that—”
    “Elliot!” Elliot’s partner, Asherah, calls out as she walks into the bedroom. “Are you ready? We can’t be late.” 
    Asherah stands in the doorway with a hand on her hip. Isaiah-5766 comes up behind her. She lifts her arms as he takes a lint roller over the breast of her blouse. 
    “Of course,” Elliot replies. “Gaia and I were just finishing up.” 
    “Good,” Asherah says. She turns to Isaiah. He lowers the lint roller. 
    Asherah places a hand on Isaiah’s upper arm. “Thank you, Isaiah. Will you bring the car around?” 
    “Yes, Ash,” he says, touching her fingers and turning away. 
    Asherah smooths her blouse and walks to Elliot’s bedroom window. The city, eighty floors below, is a sprawl of white streets glinting in the sunlight. An amorphous stream of same-colored, same-bodied cars flows down the main highway from the heart of the city to the suburbs. Elliot slips on a gold watch and Gaia fastens it. He stands beside Asherah. He follows her gaze to where the suburbs turn to mudbrick slums along the river.  
Asherah remains still. Elliot examines her. The skin under her eyes is thinning. Her makeup isn’t able to conceal the wrinkles around the corners of her mouth. She’s overdue for a cleansing. Cleansing replaces every cell in the body, including brain cells, with brand new cells to undo the effects of aging. Elliot wonders if Asherah often waits a long time to begin a new cleansing cycle. He says nothing, though. He is sure Isaiah has already notified Asherah that she is due. 
Asherah sniffs suddenly, jolting Elliot from his thoughts, and heads for the bedroom door. Her high heels click loudly on the wooden floor. Elliot and Gaia follow closely behind. The central space of Elliot and Asherah’s penthouse is sparsely furnished. The focal point is the view of the ocean through wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, a view Elliot prefers to that of his bedroom window. But below a large, green and black painting of a forest—which Elliot finds rather bland, but which Gaia assured him is a masterpiece—is a heavy mahogany chest. Asherah takes a worn piece of wood from one of the chest’s drawers. Her second totem. She once told Elliot there used to be something written on the wood, but it long ago wore away and she can’t remember what it was. She holds it under her nose for a moment and slips into the pocket of her slacks. Elliot is many cleansing cycles older than Asherah. He has many more totems. His first is a pocket-sized screen, a panel of glass and metal. He takes it from the chest and runs his fingers over its smooth surface, though it doesn’t trigger any memories anymore. 
“Come, Elliot,” Asherah says, already at the door. “Isaiah is waiting.”     
“Yes, Asherah,” Elliot replies, slipping his totem into his jacket pocket. He and Gaia follow Asherah into the elevator. 

The headquarters of TerraCorp, BioCorp’s sister company, is located on the other side of the river. Isaiah drives the car under the great entry columns of The Olympus Bridge, which stretches over the slums and the river. Asherah sits with her back to the driver’s seat. Elliot and Gaia sit side-by-side facing Asherah, who sips a dark drink from a glass. “For my nerves,” Asherah had informed Isaiah when he noticed her drink in the rearview mirror. “You’re nervous?” asked Elliot. “I want this,” said Asherah. Elliot noticed the weight of his totem in his jacket pocket. He hadn’t wanted anything in a long time. 
    Asherah sets the drink in the holder on the table between she and Elliot. She runs her fingernail over the glass’s frosted design and watches the slums pass below them. Unintegrated people empty buckets of sewage into the muddy streets. They crouch beside smoky fires, turning spits. Elliot can make out farmers harvesting rice in the river delta miles downstream where the freshwater of the river mixes with the ocean. Elliot is the head of BioCorp’s Remote-Farming division. He oversees billions of acres of inner continent farmland from his office in the city’s Synagogue Tower, drafting commands based on weather data, soil quality, and consumer demand, which he then sends to sys_admin. If sys_admin approves of the commands, they are sent to the Workforce on the farms. 
Asherah turns in her seat and cranes her neck to look at the rocket towering over The Olympus Bridge from the TerraCorp launchpad. The TerraCorp headquarters is the size of a small city, large vehicles haul cargo between buildings, a controlled explosion erupts from the dusty testing grounds, Sentry units stand guard at every entrance. 
Asherah has wanted to work at TerraCorp for many years. Elliot thought that after a few cleansing cycles and some time spent enjoying life in the city she would appreciate not needing to work. But even after multiple cleansing cycles, Asherah would often come into Elliot’s room to look out the window at TerraCorp in the distance. Sometimes even when Elliot was there. Gaia might be reading to Elliot or grooming him or they both might be resting, Elliot in bed, Gaia seated on the floor in the lotus position, eyes closed, drawing power from the wall receptacle. Though, Isaiah is often not far behind her, pulling her from Elliot’s room. 
One evening, Isaiah and Gaia were both lotus-positioned, recharging, and Asherah came into Elliot’s room. Elliot was in bed, reading a memoir written by D’Arcy Pascal, an ancient who was one of the first to become integrated and worked for many cleansing cycles as a sys_admin. Asherah stood by the window for a long time, until the sun had set and the city lights lit the night sky. Finally, she turned to Elliot and approached slowly. She had something in her hand. When she was close enough, she reached out to display one of Elliot’s totems: a dry bundle of rice grass. 
Asherah held the bundle of rice grass under Elliot’s nose. “You don’t even try to remember anymore,” she said. “Asherah,” Elliot said. “What are you doing?” Asherah crushed the rice grass in her hand, releasing its herbal fragrance. Elliot breathed deeply. Suddenly he was in the rice fields of the river delta, up to his knees in muddy, mineral-rich soil deposited by the river. The scene shifted and he was squatting inside a mud hut owned by a kind family who offered him shelter while it rained outside. A young girl offered him soup made from seagull meat and rice. He hesitated. The girl said, “It’s good. The gulls eat integrated food.” He accepted it and ate gratefully. When he finished, the girl’s mother said, “Asherah, give him yours as well.” The scene shifted again and he was in his own hut which he had built after growing tired of the daily commute from the city to the slums and back again. Asherah laid on a woven rice grass mat beside him. He played with her hair. She was old enough to integrate. “Will my family be able to integrate as well?” she asked. “No,” Elliot replied. “Only you because I’ve chosen you to be my partner.” Asherah fell silent. She picked at the threads of the mat. “You must decide soon,” Elliot said. “I’m overdue for my next cleansing. I don’t want to forget you.”
This was many cleansing cycles ago, over a century, when Elliot was an anthropologist studying the unintegrated. This was when the city still funded anthropologists, before focus turned solely to the study of synthetic kind. Asherah stood over Elliot with the rice grass held in her closed fist. Elliot looked at her with an ancient recognition. He touched her and she lowered herself onto the bed beside him. She fell asleep facing the window, her body curled into his. They slept until Gaia woke them early the next morning. “El, you must know that isn’t proper,” Gaia said with an edge to her voice Elliot rarely heard. “Yes, Gaia,” Elliot said, quickly sitting up. “I’m sorry. I forgot myself.” 
The opportunity for Asherah to work at TerraCorp finally presented itself when the company announced that it would be sending manned spacecraft to the offworld colonies abandoned by the ancients. The day of the announcement, Elliot and Gaia returned home from work and Asherah was cooking. Asherah never cooked. When she saw them, Asherah said, “Isaiah, tell him the news.” Isaiah recited TerraCorp’s announcement.
“Are you sure this is something you want?” Elliot asked. “We have a good life in the city.” 
“I’m bored,” Asherah said. “And so are you. Gaia told me you didn’t even make a new totem for your last cleansing. She said you told her there was nothing worth remembering.” 
Asherah looked at Elliot in a way only Gaia ever did. He loosened his tie and took the totem he had chosen to carry that day from his jacket pocket and set it in the mahogany chest. “Apollos is a friend,” Elliot said, referring to the Head of Operations at TerraCorp. “Gaia, will you set up a meeting with him?” 
“Yes, El,” Gaia said. “I think offworld work for TerraCorp is an excellent opportunity that suits your career trajectory.” 
Asherah smiled. 
“What are you cooking?” Elliot asked, walking to the kitchen and leaning over the pot of soup simmering on the stove. 
“The only thing I can cook without Isaiah’s help.” 
Elliot noticed Asherah’s first totem resting on the kitchen counter beside the stove. 
“It smells good,” Elliot says. 
Now Isaiah drives Asherah and Elliot to their meeting with Apollos at TerraCorp. On the other side of the river, they take the exit ramp and Isaiah pulls the car up to the Sentry box at the main gate. Isaiah hands the Sentry Elliot’s identification and the Sentry waves them through. Isaiah drops off Asherah, Elliot, and Gaia at the front entrance. “I will meet you inside, Ash,” Isaiah says. 
“Thank you, Isaiah,” Asherah says. 

Apollos sits at his large desk across from Asherah and Elliot. They are silent as Apollos thumbs through a folder containing Asherah’s cleansing cycle history. Resting untouched on the desk off to the side is a much thicker folder containing Elliot’s cleansing cycle history. Apollos is already familiar with Elliot’s career. As one of the oldest citizens of the city, Elliot is very well-known. 
“I don’t think I need to tell you that you are more than qualified for offworld work,” Apollos had said to Elliot with a good-natured smile as he nudged Elliot’s folder to the side and picked up Asherah’s. Asherah fidgeted nervously. Elliot placed a hand on her thigh the way Isaiah would if he and Gaia weren’t told to wait in the lounge.
Behind Apollos, a window that stretches nearly the entire length and height of the office affords Elliot a panoramic view of the city. He can see the Synagogue Tower and his penthouse. 
Apollos closes Asherah’s folder. “You were born unintegrated,” he says. 
“Yes,” Asherah says. 
“I always thought our Elliot got too close to them.” Apollos turns his chair to look out over the river at the slums. “Though, there’s something comforting about having them there. A reminder of how blessed we are.” He turns back to Asherah. “You are very fortunate Elliot saved you from that life.”
Asherah shifted in her seat. “I am,” she says. 
“You’ve never worked before either,” Apollos states, matter-of-factly. 
“There aren’t many job openings,” Asherah replies. 
“Yes, and you’re quite young. You have only undergone seven cleansing cycles. Rather late to the game.” 
“Yes,” Asherah says. 
“But, of course, with a partner such as Elliot,” Apollos continues, glancing admiringly at Elliot, “there is really no need to work.” 
“But I want to.” 
Apollos nods vacantly. “I see you’ve never travelled before either.” 
Asherah says, “Elliot said the world outside the city would bore me. So, I never accompanied him on his work trips.” 
“Yes, it is rather boring. Nothing but farmland and manufacturing facilities, on the land that’s still useable, that is.”
Asherah remains silent. Apollos clicks his tongue several times. 
“Yes, well, anyway,” Apollos says finally, closing Asherah’s folder and setting it beside Elliot’s. “We do have a position that I think will suit your inexperience.” 
Asherah’s eyes widen with excitement. 
Apollos seems pleased to make Asherah happy. He sits back in his leather chair. 
“Do you know anything about replication?” Apollos asks.
“It’s the process of manufacturing humans.”
“Not just humans anymore. There is an entirely new market for biological bodies now that BioCorp is using them in place of synthetic automatons. You will be trained by one such unit, so I won’t go too in-depth. But we will need a Workforce to rebuild the offworld colony and you will manage the replication of the Workforce models.” Apollos pauses to look at Asherah sternly. “Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes, Apollos,” Asherah says, nodding with excitement.
“Excellent,” says Apollos. He reaches over his desk to shake Asherah’s hand. “Welcome to TerraCorp.” 
Asherah grins. “Thank you.” 
“Now,” Apollos says, shifting his attention to Elliot. “What job would you like?”
Elliot runs his hand over the pocket of his jacket. “Agriculture and irrigation,” he says. 
“Yes, I think that suits you,” Apollos says thoughtfully. “There will be much to do. It won’t be easy. Much of it will have to be done manually while the Workforce is being grown. Are you sure you don’t want a more comfortable job? an educator, perhaps? Typically, we leave that to a Sinai unit, but I can pull some strings.” 
“No, I’ve decided on agriculture.” 
“Of course,” Apollos says, nodding. “Yes, I think that suits you very well.”

Elliot stands on the observation deck of the Ishtar, watching the moon grow larger as the ship approaches. The arch-shaped structure of the gateway to the Einstein-Rosen bridge glows faintly in the light of the sun a short distance from the moon. It is nearly as wide as the moon. The gateway is so massive, it and the moon orbit each other as they also orbit the Earth. 
While they were training for the mission, Asherah asked Elliot, “Who was Einstein-Rosen?” Elliot remembered an article Gaia read to him by Sinai-0783 titled “A Synthetic Response to Einstein” which argued that Einstein’s theory of relativity does not apply to a synthetic consciousness because computer coding is linear and syllogistic, building upon itself, while biological consciousness is associative and therefore at the mercy of its environment. Elliot replied, “He was an ancient philosopher.” 
Gaia comes up beside Elliot. She hooks her hand around Elliot’s forearm and says, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it, El?” 
“Yes,” Elliot says. “It amazes me that the ancients built something that still works after all this time.” 
Gaia laughs and leans her head on Elliot’s shoulder. “I meant the moon.” 
Gaia’s hair is wet. She has just showered. Before they left Earth, Elliot upgraded her body and her personality software. Her memories were left intact, however. “Is this a new technology?” Elliot asked the BioCorp technician who was overseeing Gaia’s upgrade. “Yes,” the technician replied. “We call it digital replication. Similar to biological replication, which replicates a genetic source code, making only slight alterations in order to change appearance or ability, digital replication replicates a computer’s source code.”
 The first night with her new body, Gaia stood in front of the bathroom mirror for hours, looking at herself and touching her hands to her face. Her Mind was a slender black device that resembled Elliot’s first totem. He left it on his bed stand and woke up the next morning to find her on the floor, lotus-positioned, holding it up to her face, transfixed. The morning sunlight seeped in between the curtains of the window. A slice of light had fallen on Gaia’s face. “Have you been up all night?” Elliot asked. Gaia looked at Elliot as if she hadn’t realized he was there. “Now that you have a biological body, you need to remember to sleep, Gaia.” “Yes, El,” Gaia said. 
The following night Gaia slept beside Elliot for the first time. He woke in the middle of the night to find her touching his face with her cool fingers. She touched his lips. Then touched her own. “Gaia, what are you doing?” Elliot asked. In the low light of the bedroom, Elliot could make out Gaia studying him like she had herself. “This isn’t proper,” Elliot said. “Shh,” Gaia said as she bent down and buried her nose in Elliot’s hair. She breathed deeply. 
“Five minutes until arrival at event horizon,” the onboard computer announces from the manual override controls behind them.
“The others are in the passenger bay,” Gaia says. “Aren’t you going to join them?”
Besides Elliot and Asherah, there are only six other humans on the ship. The rest of the colonists are embryos that will be grown once the offworld colony is able to support a larger population. A woman named Sarah will manage human replication. Elliot thinks of Asherah with Gaia-4693, her Trainer. Once Asherah began her training, she had little use for Isaiah. She sent him back to BioCorp to be retired. Asherah has spent most of the two-day trip to the Einstein-Rosen bridge going over her training with Gaia-4693.
Elliot says, “No.” 
“The protocol is clear. You need to be seated and strapped into a seat in the passenger bay.” 
“I want to watch,” Elliot says. “I’ll strap into the manual override chair.” He motions toward the chair behind the instrument cluster behind them. 
Gaia sighs. “I’ll return when we’re on the other side.”   
She kisses Elliot’s cheek and walks away. Elliot listens to her soft footsteps reverberate off the cold metal walls of the override chamber and the hum of the elevator as it descends toward the passenger bay. 
The onboard computer says, “Activating gateway.” 
Through the window, Elliot watches the gateway begin to glow with more than just sunlight. Below the arch of the structure, a dark sphere forms. It appears to make the space around the ship grow dimmer. Elliot backs away from the observation deck and straps into the manual override chair. A message reading, “Would You Like to Disable Autopilot?” appears on the instrument cluster. Elliot presses “No.” 
Ishtar breaches the event horizon of the gateway. The singularity appears as a point of light for a brief moment and Elliot collapses into it. 

Elliot loses consciousness immediately. He feels as though he is hovering somewhere above his body. He is waking up from his last cleansing. The first thing he sees is Gaia. He has no totem, so he doesn’t even remember who he is. “You are a very old, very well-respected citizen of the city,” Gaia tells him. Elliot touches his cleansed face, young and smooth to the touch. Gaia drives him home from the Rhea Cleansing Facility, located underground, beneath the Synagogue Building. She tells him the names of all the buildings as they pass them. “What is this?” Elliot asks as they drive by a large, concrete rotunda with a steel dome roof. “I’ve seen it before.” “You’ve seen all of this before, El,” Gaia replies. “Of course,” Elliot says. “But I know this.” Gaia says, “It’s a temple built long ago by the ancients.” Elliot is silent for a long time. “What did they worship?” Elliot asks. “Themselves,” Gaia replies.  
Now Elliot is looking at his mother. She is rummaging through trash along the river. She withdraws a slender panel of glass and metal from pile of mangled furniture and concrete rubble. Its edges fit into the grooves of her hands in a familiar way. She smiles as if remembering something beautiful. “Here, El,” Elliot’s mother says. “A treasure, for you.” Young Elliot takes the panel of glass and metal into his small hands. He catches his dark reflection in its dirty glass surface. 
Now Elliot’s mother is teaching him how to bundle together young rice plants grown in the nursery and transplant them in the fields of the river delta. 
Now he is a young man teaching the village children what his mother taught him. 
Now Elliot is leading an expedition into the ruins of the city. The fuel cells for their village’s water purification system have run out. They are searching for a new source of electricity. In lowest level of a skyscraper, under the street, Elliot discovers hydrogen fuel cells. To test if they still work, he powers on the machine that is plugged into them. A screen mounted above the machine lights up the dark, underground room. It remains blank and white. Then the word “Hello” appears in the top left corner. Elliot stares at the screen. Another member of the expedition says, “The fuel cells work, let’s take them and go.” He kneels down to unplug the machine from the fuel cells. “Wait,” Elliot says, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. More words appear on the screen: “Are you there?” Elliot notices a keyboard below the screen. He types “Yes.” The screen responds, “My name is Gaia-0000.” 
Now, many years later, Elliot is meeting Apollos’s new daughter. “She is beautiful,” Elliot says. “It’s called biological replication,” Apollos tells him. “Like digital replication, which replicated the Gaia program and allowed us to put it in every home in the city, biological replication allows BioCorp to replicate genetic code outside of the human body.” “That’s amazing,” Elliot says, kneeling down to Apollos’s daughter’s level. He hasn’t seen a child in a long time. She takes his index finger in her small fist and grins. Apollos watches his daughter admiringly. He continues, “It’s all technology invented by the ancients. We’re just rediscovering it thanks to Gaia’s records.” 
Now Elliot is sitting on the bank of the river watching Asherah swim. He picks at the scrawny reeds growing in the sand. “Come in!” Asherah calls to him. Elliot calls back, “I’m content here.” Elliot recently commuted into the city to have a meeting with the manager of research and development at BioCorp. “What are we paying you for, Elliot?” He asked, frustrated. “You haven’t produced any work in over a year. Sys_admin is breathing down my neck. What could you possibly be doing with those savages?” Elliot said nothing. Asherah sloshes out of the water and gallops up to where Elliot is sitting. She is still a child. Her mother is washing clothes downstream. Elliot is proud he has earned the trust of Asherah’s family, working in the rice fields with her father, shelling crawfish with her mother, telling them about life in the city, bringing them gifts from the city’s luxury shops. Asherah sits beside Elliot and rests her head against his chest. Her wet hair soaks his shirt. He tosses a pebble into the river. Asherah cranes her neck to look at the TerraCorp rocket being built on the other side of the river. “Where will it go?” Asherah asks in a small voice. “To a planet called Iris in the Andromeda galaxy where the ancients lived a long time ago,” Elliot tells her. “Wow,” Asherah says. Elliot says, “In about four billion years, Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way.” Asherah is silent for a while. “What’s the Milky Way?” 
Now Elliot and Asherah are returning home from her integration, her first cleansing. “You are leaving your old life behind,” the technician at the Rhea Cleansing Facility said with ceremonial formality. “The person you were outside the city is not the person you are now.” Asherah is weak. Her arm is wrapped around Elliot’s shoulder. She clutches her first totem, a dried piece of gull meat, in her hand. Elliot eases her into his sofa. She quickly falls asleep. Elliot puts his hands on his hips. He hasn’t been home in years. His clothes are still filthy even though he had bathed in the river before returning. The Rhea technician nearly refused to integrate Asherah on account of their appearances, but Elliot showed her his identification and she obliged immediately. Elliot walks into his bedroom and finds Gaia hibernating, lotus-positioned on the floor where he left her years ago when he moved to the slums. He wakes her up. She looks at him with mechanical eyes that take a moment to focus. She touches his face. “I missed you,” she says. “I had a terrible dream.” Elliot has never woken Gaia from hibernation before. He wonders if it was her speaking or if what she said was simply an automated message that BioCorp programmed her to say when she reboots. 

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