She woke up with a start. The room was dark and immensely quiet, especially after the dream she had just experienced. Can dreams be loud? This one was cacophonous-voices, roars, screeches-but nothing she could isolate. And no images resolved themselves, just the afterglow of shades of dark and light, making the transition from sleep to wakefulness all the more difficult in the pitch black room. She called for the lights and knew immediately something was wrong.
Jamie definitely did not remember being a soprano. As the windowpanes slowly went from opaque to transparent and the room brightened, an impossible fact rudely presented itself. Jamie looked down and saw thin, smooth arms where gnarled, atrophic ones once had been. And the image was quite clear, not the fuzzy blur of 117-year-old eyes. The supple arms ended in long-fingered hands with manicured nails, which lay on top of the comforter on the bed in the strange but friendly bedroom.
Scents, sounds, and sharp focus assaulted him (her?), as if Jamie had awakened from years of being wrapped in foam. He smelled vanilla, heard waves crashing, and saw that under the covers was the rest of a body, a female body, her body.
This is insane, she thought. I'm a 117 year old geezer, frozen in a cryolab; I must be dreaming or hallucinating this. Maybe it's a byproduct of the cryo process, maybe I've died and am in heaven, hell, or in the quantum foam somewhere/somewhen. It can't be real, but if this wasn't real, it was the best simulation of real a mind could ever know.
Summoning up a small bit of courage she lifted the covers to reveal what she had guessed: a woman's body, clothed in a long white T-shirt, and presumably underwear, although these were hidden. Jamie uncontrollably began to shake, to shiver, and then was lost in the marvelment of being able to shake. The old body could barely move at all, much less react quickly to anything. The shaking was almost a pleasure, but soon stopped as acceptance gathered strength. If this was her new body, in some new life, she might as well get used to it. How quickly the mind adapts! Too quickly, perhaps; this may well be the fluid reality of a dream.
She quickly (quickly! What a joy!) slid from the bed, pulled off her nightclothes and stood in front of a full-length mirror. She was apparently of Northern European descent, perhaps Irish, about 5'10", shapely but not voluptuous, mid-twenties, with green eyes and long dark hair. Looking down was a startling experience. As a man Jamie had seen many female bodies, from many positions, but never from this point of view. Her waist narrowed impossibly then flared to wide hips and an ample rear. Strange!, at least from a male's point of view. Her breasts blocked a direct view of much of her abdomen, and she was amazed at their mass, and how as she turned they carried considerable momentum, at least compared to what she had been used to as a he. Also, the lower center of gravity of a woman made her feel very well balanced, especially considering that, as an ancient man, his equilibrium had been failing.
She also realized that hygiene was going to be a major consideration
Walking was an adventure, partly because it had been so long since Jamie had experienced easy walking, partly because of the new frame, new perspective. Everything seemed higher up now; she seemed to have lost about 5 inches. But her legs seemed even longer than before, and were joined at the hip differently, so her first steps were anything but graceful.
Turning her attention to the room, Jamie started exploring the closets and cabinet. Each drawer revealed evidence of a typical woman's boudoir. The clothes and shoes were tasteful but not elegant, there was a small amount of makeup, and the necessary toiletries. The furniture was mostly oak, but not a heavy, masculine design. There was a small flat panel display and unfamiliar interface on the desk, probably for video, communications, and network access. She started towards the window, but modesty stopped her long enough to put back on her (she must start thinking of these things as hers) nightclothes.
She was apparently living near the ocean. She couldn't place the beach, but it looked like a typical Southern California beach-sandy, not rocky, no steep bluffs or redwoods. But how many sandy beaches were there in the world? It appeared to be midday; clear, warm and sunny.
When the door chime sounded Jamie was first confused, then frightened. Confused, because she didn't at first recognize the sound, and when it dawned on her that it was nothing but a doorbell, she had no clue where the front door was. And frightened, because she didn't know who was there, what to say, how to act. She fast realized that everything was new to her, even answering the door. She wasn't even sure what country she was in, what language was spoken (she hadn't yet taken note of anything with writing on it), or even what year it was.
The chime sounded and resounded. Fortunately her place was small, only a few rooms, so finding the front door was easy. When she finally had summoned the courage to open it there was a young blonde woman, about 4 inches shorter than she, slender, standing there with a look of both exasperation and joy. The blonde quickly hugged Jamie, stood on tiptoe, and planted a big, wet kiss on her mouth. This had the immediate consequences of realization and arousal. Jamie hadn't had time to consider her sexual orientation; everything was too unfamiliar, too sudden. But this young woman confirmed her preferences, at least for the moment. The sensation of arousal was clear but foreign: soft and hard at the same time, an ache in the pit of the stomach, increased heart rate-a full body experience, familiar yet dissimilar to anything she had experienced in her previous 117 years.
"Jamie dear, are you going to sleep all day," cried the woman teasingly. (Ah!, Jamie thought, I am still Jamie, and the language is English. How did she know I was sleeping? Oh, I haven't changed my pajamas!)
"If you wanted to stay in bed you could at least have invited me!"
Jamie wasn't sure how to proceed, so she blurted out, "Something very strange has happened to me. I don't know where I am, how I got here, or even who you are. I just woke up here half an hour ago looking like this. No matter how scary that sounds to you, it's much scarier to me!" And then Jamie started crying, something HE had not done in decades, not since Clare had died.
The young woman was briefly startled by this unexpected statement, but she recovered rapidly, gently hugged Jamie, and guided her to a big, bright colored sofa.
"OK, let's start with me. I'm Patty, Patty Clarke, your paramour for these last 18 months. You are Jamie Southard, a reincarnate, thawed out 3 years ago. Your body was grown from a DNA sample you provided and an anonymous donor ovum. You were frozen for 45 years, long enough for cryomedicine to advance and for this body, which I just adore, to be grown. When reborn, you had ample income from your past-life investments to buy this place and coast until you make a new life. That help, hun?"
Of all the things Jamie could have said she sobbed, "So I'm gay?"
Patty laughed. "Gay? You mean homosexual? Not in your mind. You lived an entire life as a man. Your brain is largely a male brain, after adjustments for the new body. They say it's typical for reincarnates to retain their previous orientation. Me? Yep, I'm "gay," although we don't use that word anymore. And I come about it naturally, thank Goddess. Much less confusion."
"But why am I a woman? I left no such instructions before I was frozen. And why don't I remember any of the past three years? Is this some kind of a Gamechamp simulation?"
"Gamechamp? I think you told me about that once. An old sim program, wasn't it? No, I don't think I'm a computer construct. Why are you a woman? To please me! No, sorry, you're hurting. Listen, I'm no scientist, but from what I've read, and what you've told me, the female body is more adaptable to brain implants. It's safer, so in the absence of instructions, and you left none, SoCal Cryo grew you a nice woman's body. Now, why you don't remember any of the last three years, that worries me."
Jamie suddenly stopped crying. It wasn't like her to cry. The expression on her face gave away her next question.
"Yes, dear, even though you still have mostly your old male brain, you've got a new set of hormones. And there's ample reason to cry, considering what you are going through. But I am here for you, not to worry. We'll get it all sorted out."
Jamie felt a nice little glow from that. It calmed her down enough to ask, "There must have been some kind of re-hab program when I was, er, reborn. They couldn't just pop your brain into a new body and say 'Have a nice day,' could they?"
"That's right. All reincarnates are acclimated. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes years. Depends on the person. You told me it took you a month or more."
Jamie jumped up from the couch. "Well, let's go back there. Whatever has happened to me, they will know about. Is Dr. Bayer still there? He must have retired by now. I'll throw some clothes on "
"Whoa, hold on girl! You're not a guy anymore, you can't just 'throw some clothes on' and run out. Some preparation is required, and I better supervise. To the bathroom, dear!"
While Patty called SoCal Cryo's rehab unit Jamie took her first shower in 70 years. The warm water and scented soap made it a joyous experience. It also was an opportunity to familiarize herself with her new body. So, so different, being on the inside looking out.
Her long hair was dried in a device that removed moisture without heat, leaving her mane clean and fluffy. Patty had chosen some clothes for her and helped her with some makeup; evidently this was a female bonding thing, but Jamie found this too to be enjoyable, not the chore she had always imagined. Grooming was more than just vanity, she realized. She and Patty shared thoughts and secrets, spoken and unspoken. And there was honest affection in her touch.
When Patty declared her presentable, Jamie looked at the young woman in the mirror and was startled. She was quite attractive, and also strangely familiar, like someone she had known a century and a half ago.
The two women locked up the house and jumped into Patty's sleek-looking electric car. Evidently fuel cells had been perfected. Patty drove onto the freeway and raced along at 25kph. With the top down and the wind blowing in their hair there was at least the illusion of speed.
It was a glorious Southern California day. Eventually they connected to the same freeway that Jamie had taken half a century ago, although this time they were in the manual lanes. I guess Patty can't afford an automatic car; I'll have to do something about that. Those same tract mansions on their postage-stamp plots looked older now, and all those sticks had grown into impressive trees.
Patty said, "You know, I'm of two minds about this visit. I want you to get better and remember your life from your rebirth, but I'm scared that you'll find that I'm not in the picture. You may not even know me when you get out!" She looked teary. "Let's turn around; I'm sure I can help you myself without all those doctors probing your mind."
"Patty dear, whatever happens, we'll be friends, I promise. I know how I used to hate that 'let's be friends' bit when I was interested in more than a platonic relationship. But it's all I can say right now. And I do appreciate all your help. If only it was that easy, a little pillow talk and a memory jog. But I think I need professional help. This whole rebirth process-it's pretty scientific."
"Yes, I know, and I'm just a dumb girl."
"Dear, you know I didn't mean it that way. You know what I told my students who said they felt dumb, all those years ago? I said, 'How can you know something if you've never been taught?' You've never been trained in rehab, have you? That doesn't make you dumb!"
"I guess you're right, but I'm still scared."
Jamie reached over and held Patty's hand for the rest of the trip. How can I comfort her when I barely know what's going on myself? Patty's hand was soft and warm, and holding it seemed to relax both women.
SoCal Cryo had grown! Now there were several wings, an airstrip, and a heliport on top of the main building. I guess business has been brisk for the last half century, Jamie thought. Big shade trees and fountains lined the drive up to the rehab facility, and they drove into a large parking structure.
Patty decided to wait in the car. There was a sense of dread about her, as if Jamie would come out of the clinic indifferent to her. Poor girl, thought Jamie. Perhaps many of the reincarnates go amnesiac and forget their new loves. Patty may be scared about me seeing my doctor, but she's holding up, and I need to know what has happened to me.
Dr. Bayer, looking older, but not near his 80+ years, greeted her warmly and sat down in a big leather chair. He looked apologetic, but at the same time like the cat who ate the canary.
"Yes, I'm not strictly rehab, but you are a special case. I'm sorry to tell you this Ms. Southard, but reconstituting a brain into a body is impossible. And, as it turns out, unnecessary for many."
"What?? Then what is this young woman's life I'm leading? A computer simulation? Am I just a disembodied brain sitting in a vat somewhere? Hooked up to a computer? Am I just a program, some kind of Gamechamp? Am I dead? Am I dreaming? You said you never saw any signs of cerebral activity in your patients. Am I "
"Calm down. You are in a vat, of sorts, but that is no different from the vat you used to be in, a vat called Jamie."
"Now you're making no sense whatsoever."
"Where to begin? We've understood this in just the past few years. Ayn Rand was right, and wrong, at the same time. There is an objective universe out there, but we, you and I and millions of others, are not living in it. We did, once."
"Remember when people used to say that trains were impossible, that people could not breathe at 35 miles per hour? We scoff at that now, but once it was true, it was a rule not to be broken. But broken it was. People once said it was common sense that man could not fly, but when it happened we accepted it. This was now the common sense, simple aerodynamics, and we broke another rule."
"Common sense for the common man (or woman) was possible until around the turn of the last century. Then all hell broke loose, and the 'common sense' objective world became just a subset."
"We think it was Newton who first codified the true objective world, at least parts of it. He saw it for the clockwork, deterministic world it was. Later, Faraday, Dalton, and Maxwell all expanded our description of 'reality.' But with the electromagnetic catastrophe came the four, well, seven (at least), horsemen: Lorentz, Fitzgerald, Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, and of course, Heisenberg. People at the intellectual top. Suddenly common sense was out the window for most people. Then came Wheeler, Hawking, Penrose, Thorne, Trimble, Feynman all the modern physicists/mathematicians came up with realities which made no common sense to the common citizen. Black holes, curved space, time warps, exotic matter: how could Joe average relate to these? In school he dutifully memorized these patent absurdities and repeated them as dogma, like a litany, yet he never really accepted any of them. Then he forgot it all, which is fine, because his tunnel diodes still worked, his laser player still worked-everything worked, even if Joe average didn't know why."
"Those at the intellectual top, the right tail of the Bell Curve, have been with us since Babylon, but their numbers have been small. I should say, our numbers have been small, since you and I are part of that group. We are not just physicists, mathematicians, scientists; those few with an evolved brain can be found in any creative field."
"The thing of it is, Ayn Rand determined the real world, but for the last two hundred years, there has been no one real world. There has been a vast vat, if you will, invented in the minds of the few who could grasp what we call the greater world."
"As populations increased, the number of those at the intellectual top (we call ourselves mentors) have increased, creating an alternate, expanded world, one we alone can fully live in. Did you ever wonder why, when a physicist invents a device to prove a theory, it almost always works? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? In a way. Those instruments show the existence of a greater world born of the mind of the inventor, then accepted by those who can understand it."
Jamie was incredulous. "Do you mean, say, lasers work because the user believes they will work? That metastable states are a figment of the imagination? Sounds suspiciously like solipsism."
"Not at all. The vast majority of people don't know a metastable state from the Golden State. But there are enough of that top intellectual strata who do. Since about 1900 our numbers have been great enough to maintain a gestalt, if you will, to buoy up all the non-common sense physical laws our technology relies on. That's why ancient people never got the technology to work-not enough gestalt members to sustain any advanced systems."
"And we just don't create an illusion. We actually don't do anything consciously. It's the intellectual gestalt that bends the rules of the real world."
"The rules were: man cannot fly. The rules are: man can fly if there are enough mentors who visualize it."
"So what does this all mean? Am I alive?"
"Most certainly, though not in the manner that the masses are. About 20 years ago, when the world population reached 10 billion, there were enough mentors (about 2% or 200 million. Dysgenesis has taken its toll though; the top strata used to be about 5%.) to bend the rules to the point that we can exist without bodies in the real, objective world. We reached a critical mass, enough to bend the rules even further, and the human race turned a corner."
"Anyway, you exist in the greater world, but can exist and interact with the real world, and change small parts of that world."
Jamie sat thinking for a while. "Why am I a young woman? If I am projecting myself, with the help of this 'gestalt,' into the real world, why like this? I never wanted to be a woman, much less a homosexual!"
"With the evolved mind many hidden wishes manifest themselves. Perhaps you never wanted to change genders, but your femininity may stem from a lover who got away. You still wish to possess her, so in a way you do, whether you resemble her physically or not. And it appears you can't let go of your maleness entirely."
"I see. So how come you are 80 some odd years old "
"Oh that." In an instant the years melted away from Dr. Bayer, leaving younger him and more virile than Jamie remembered. "I didn't want to give you too many mysteries at once when you first arrived, like how I managed not to age."
Jamie thought for a longer while as the doctor waited patiently. "What does it mean, we are mentors?"
"We maintain the complex world for the masses who cannot grasp it, and we do this without conscious thought. The mentors merely have to exist and enjoy life-our gestalt does the work of bending the rules. So in effect we feed them, entertain them, keep the technology running, educate them as much as possible just by being. We could rule them, but government is a drug, and most who want to rule get addicted. Besides, there is no greater power than the mind."
"It's not charity either, nor do we feel like caretakers. They are our friends and lovers, and we would do anything we can for them, to make them happy."
"What if we decided to 'visualize' a starship and leave here, set up a Utopia on a distant star?"
"If we were to all leave, the other 98% would soon die. The workings of the world with the technology that keeps them alive is too much for them, and the real world doesn't permit such large populations: the land can't produce enough food without the technology. Simple Malthus. We can't let that happen. However, in all our 200 million, some may wish to emigrate. Once we evolve to conceive interstellar travel, you may wish to join them."
"I know this is tough for you. Give it time. Enjoy life, and enjoy the future you always wanted to see. Don't think about your responsibilities, the greater world, or any of that. Carpe Diem for a while. You've earned it. The greater world will not collapse if you have some fun. Your participation is an unconscious act-that's the whole point."
"What about Patty? Does she understand all this?"
"No, sorry. She's just a nice girl who, for the moment, loves you. When there is a big mismatch between a real-worlder and a mentor, it's hard. She has our version of who you are, how you were reborn, and she's happy with it."
"But what about the reason I came here in the first place? I don't remember any of the last three years!"
"Because you really were just reborn, so to speak. Patty is the one who can't understand the time differential. Just one small problem of living in the real world: linear time."
"So this is my life now?"
"Yes, for as long as you want, and then you can have another, and then another. The future lies open to you, with opportunities you could never imagine in your previous incarnation." Dr. Bayer rose and shook her hand. "Now, I must get back to work. I'll be here if you need me, but you won't. Be happy!"
Jamie walked slowly outside. She looked up at the blue sky, felt the warm Southern California sun, took a slow deep breath of desert air. Patty was waiting by the car, expectantly looking, not pushing, waiting for the verdict. Seeing her there Jamie felt her pulse race, had that old feeling in her palms and her stomach, lost so long ago. The heat was back.
"Seems like I have a lot to catch up on. Something tells me you're willing to help."
Kiss! "You bet! You make me happy, ya' know?"
And there at the beginning of her new life, on a trip to who knows where, that's enough, she concluded.