Dr. Jeneane Gold looked at the old man and saw the death that would come soon.
“Dr. Gold?” He asked, examining the twenty-year-old woman’s face. His voice was thin and low and cracked. Old age. Old, old age. It chilled her blood.
“Yes. Call me Jeneane, Professor Bates.” She lowered her eyes. Talking to a living legend was not easy. Sensing her worship, he smiled, and, as he did so, his face creased, looking like dry desert sand after years of drought.
“Come in,” he said. “Come in.” He moved aside. She followed him in. His back was bent, and he shuffled his way inside.
Dr. Gold entered the dingy apartment and closed the door behind her. The outside had been bad enough – paint peeling off, some of the bricks crumbling – but the inside was even worse. Everything smelled, as if the windows had not been opened in decades. There was the stench of sweat and rot in the air. Small drops of water traced their way down the wall in paths made green over time. Everything stunk of decay and time.
“Excuse my presumption, Professor,” she said, as she followed his slow pace down the corridor, “but why would a man of your legendary caliber live like this? Surely you have more than enough money to afford—”
The old man stopped in place and slowly turned around. “I live as I choose to live. I live like this because it reminds me that everything has a price.”
“The price of fame is money, isn’t it?”
He nodded approvingly at her answer. “Yes. But the… people … you step on to achieve that fame also pay a price. This,” he pushed down the handle of one of the doors, and it swung open, “has had quite a price.” Within, piles upon piles of notebooks and computer printouts created a maze of ceiling-high paper walls.
“What is this?” she whispered. “Is this everything you’ve ever published?”
He grinned mischievously. “Oh, no. This is what I have yet to publish.”
Dr. Gold’s mouth dropped. Professor Arthur Bates, the smartest man in human history, the most accomplished mathematician that will probably ever live, has, until his fortieth birthday, slowly accelerated the rate of his publications to publishing a paper every two days on the most respected magazines (on the Net, of course). Since then, he has published, for more than fifty years, once every two days, without a break, in a magazine that has long since dedicated itself to Bates’ papers alone. Each of these papers would take any other mathematician of the highest class more than a year to conceive. He had reached this inhuman peak at the age in which most mathematical geniuses stand by and watch the younger generation break new ground. Most of the mathematicians for the last five or more decades have been so dwarfed by this mental giant, that they simply do their best to follow his publishing, to understand them quickly enough, before his next paper came out. His pace, the level of his achievement, and the fact that he has never made mistakes, has been lauded by everyone as the greatest feat of the human brain. It has even been rumored, in jest, that somehow Professor Arthur Bates had sold his soul to the devil. How else could one man do what he had done? And yet, now, as Dr. Gold looked into the room, she realized that Prof. Bates had outdone even those achievements. How could one man, no matter how brilliant— How could—?!
“The Net isn’t up to my pace,” he explained, enjoying the surprise on her face. “We have to give the readers time to understand.” He smiled, “I probably write faster than most people read.”
And each of these papers is filled with the most brilliant mathematical theories in history, each a brilliantly crafted gem!
“If I die now,” he confided in her, “my papers will keep on getting published, at the present pace, for the next one hundred years.”
Dr. Gold’s mouth sagged even further.
But if the man were such a genius, why would he let himself die? Why had he not created a Copy of himself? Why let this national treasure, this international treasure, go to waste? The technology had been there for more than seventy years. How could he not choose eternal life, as the rest of humanity has?
What a waste of a life. What a waste for humanity.
Prof. Bates didn’t notice the dark path her thoughts had taken, and, still pleased at the shock visible on his colleague’s face, said, “No one but my lawyer knows about the contents of this room. He will be in charge of the publishing once I am gone. You are the only other person who now shares this information. Consider it a reward for calling my caliber legendary. Let that be a lesson to you,” he winked, “flattery works.”
He shuffled down the corridor and led her to the living room.
“Sit down, sit down,” Professor Bates pointed at a couch.
She sat down.
“Would you like a drink, Dr. …” he stared at her blankly for a second. “I’m sorry,” he smiled apologetically, as if having done a bad thing, “I forget your name.”
“Jeneane,” she told him. “Jeneane Gold.” Her heart skipped a beat. Perhaps his 96 years were finally taking their toll. That, somehow, was more chilling than anything else.
“And, no, thanks,” she said politely, her eyes on the floor. “I’m not thirsty.”
Arthur Bates stood over the couch opposite, and slowly began to bend at the knees. At a certain point, his knees gave, and he fell backwards into the couch, moaning as he did so.
“You seem very young for a doctor, Doctor Gold. How old are you?”
“Twenty years old, sir. I, uh, began early.”
“I was a Professor when I was eighteen,” he flashed a vicious smile.
“I know that, sir,” she said, deaf to his tone. “I’ve studied your life.” He nodded to himself in appreciation. “If you don’t mind, sir, the reason I asked to come, well, like I told you over the phone, Professor, I work at the U. I know you never go there anymore, and…” her voice trembled. “I know your time is immensely important, but… uh… There’s something, uh… big I have to talk to you about. It’s relevant to your work. And I believe decency requires that I should tell you face to face, if you don’t mind me taking a few minutes of your time.”
“I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.”
Of course he minded! His time until death was limited. Every second must be precious. Taking just five minutes of his time was subtracting five minutes from his lifetime achievements – a loss to the human race.
“I never see people anymore,” he continued. “Please, don’t worry about my time. I’ve done my work for the day.” It was 14:00 p.m., and already he was done! “Keep me company.”
“Um, well… I’ve researched some of your earlier works, trying to find some unexplored avenues. And I’ve also researched Professor Andersson’s work from Sweden. Have you heard of him?”
“No, not really. I don’t keep up, I’m too busy. Besides, as I understand it, the rest are far behind me.”
“Yes, that’s true. Most of the time, they just try to grope with your theories from a few years ago. But Professor Andersson deals with things you have never touched, and his theories are pretty revolutionary.”
“That’s nice,” he looked at the walls as if the subject was of no interest to him.
“Yes… But, when putting together his latest theory with your Bet-Gimmel Lemma. You remember it? It was published around 45 years ag—”
“Of course I remember it,” Professor Bates snapped. “It’s so important, everything I have done since relies on it. I quote it in every paper.”
“Precisely, sir. But, you see, in this small paper,” she produced a stapled, thirty-sheet-long document, “I show that Professor Andersson’s latest theory disproves your lemma. There’s a basic flaw there, so small, so strange, so unique… no one, including you, could possibly have seen it until now. It was, in fact, impossible to see until Professor Andersson came up with this theory and until someone thought to create a transformation that—”
“Well, I wouldn’t bother you, except that all your theories are based on exactly this lemma. Which means…”
“Which means that if it’s true, everything I’ve done since has been wrong. I don’t need it spelled out for me!” He exploded.
Dr. Gold shrank into the sofa. “I didn’t think you did.”
Prof. Bates put his hand to his face. The hand was trembling. After a moment’s thought, he said, “That can’t be. Either he made a mistake or you did. There is nothing wrong with my lemma.”
“I’ve gone over it many times, Professor—”
“You will excuse me if I don’t take your word for it. Show me the paper!”
She gave it to him. He bent over it. He read it slowly, then turned a page, read a bit of it, looked back at the first page, looked at the second page again, and read it slowly. But then he turned the second page, and seemed to read the third faster. His pace quickening from page to page, he turned them over faster and faster. Amazing! Andersson’s new proof was so revolutionary, it was almost a new way of thinking, that most mathematicians were still resisting it. And yet Prof. Bates absorbed it quicker than anyone she had ever seen.
After fifteen minutes, as he was halfway through the paper, he put on his lap.
“Oh, dear god,” he said.
“You haven’t finished,” Dr. Gold said. “In the conclusion I show that—”
“I can work the rest out in my head!” he snapped, throwing the paper at her. “I get it!” The paper fell to the floor halfway between them. He was staring at the ceiling, holding his eyes between his fingers. Slowly, her eyes on him all the time, she bent down and picked the paper.
“All those years,” he whispered, “wasted.”
He grabbed his remaining hair. “I could have gotten myself Copied when I was twenty-two. Oh my god, what have I done. What have I done?” He said, sobbing.
“What about the papers in the room, Professor? Are they—”
“They’re all based on the Bet-Gimmel Lemma! Each and every paper I’ve ever written since then is based on that lemma!”
Dr. Gold, not knowing what to do, sat there, helpless, motionless.
For ten minutes he stared at the walls and muttered to himself, at times angrily, smashing his decrepit fist against the table, at times bitterly, at times in futile despondency. Dr. Gold couldn’t leave him. In this age of immortality, she had never seen a man so close to suicide.
“Wasted, wasted,” he mumbled to himself incessantly. Presently, he changed his mantra: “All my papers, based on one lemma. All my papers since, all based on that one—” And then he stopped, and stared at Dr. Gold. “That doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“That all my work since the lemma is only theories that are derived from it. It doesn’t make sense to work in so specific a field, when I could have—Oh!” Suddenly his eyes lit up in a flare of understanding. “Oh! Oh! This is his revenge on me!” Dr. Gold stared at him, bewildered. He was losing his mind. Simply losing it. Then the spark was gone from Professor Bates’ eyes, and melancholy returned, even greater than before. “All my achievements, all my life, had been wasted. All my life… wasted.” He slammed his fist against the cushion. “Bastard!” And again. “Bastard!!” He looked at Dr. Gold, anger in his voice, “Dr. Gold. Jeneane,” he wagged a finger at her. “You tell Professor Andersson that it’s a very nice proof. But I thought of it first! I thought of it first!!” Dr. Gold just stared. She couldn’t find any words. The man was rambling. She had caused the mental collapse of the greatest mind in history. “You say you studied my history,” he rambled on. “You know nothing. No one knows. I haven’t told anyone. I thought I’d take it to my grave. But I’ve kept my secret for nothing. Everything I’ve ever done had been for nothing. You want to know the secret of my success? The secret of my failure?” His face twisted in hate at the word.
“Sit quietly. I’ve been holding this inside for too long. So sit. And listen.”
“It was more than seventy years ago,” he began slowly, his voice raw, scratchy, wavering, even older than before. “I was twenty-two. Already considered by far the most gifted mathematician the world has ever seen. I had won my first Nobel Prize at the age of nineteen. Mathematics was my life. I was driven to excel, driven to outdo myself. I was already the smartest man in history. But I wanted to be not only the smartest man that had ever been but that will ever be.”
“And you have been. No one could do what you—”
“Don’t interrupt me. You know nothing!” Again he waved a threatening, trembling finger. “I proved nothing! Nothing!” She clammed up. He took a minute to catch his breath, and began slowly, staring into her eyes, burning a hole in them with the intensity of a genius. “I was twenty-two and I was beginning to feel old. Life was such a waste, I thought. Such a waste of time. The time I spent driving to the university, choosing clothes, having breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleeping! Sleeping, for god’s sakes! Even teaching was a waste of time. I could have used that period to prove another important corollary. I spent so much time not doing my job, not pushing forward, not thinking about mathematics. And my brain cells were already dying. Not noticeably, but as they do with everyone. My intellectual peak would soon be gone.”
“Then why didn’t you get your mind Copied?”
“I asked you not to interrupt me.” She nodded and burried her eyes in the floor. “But you’re right. That was the logical option. Copy technology was into its fifth commercial year. People have successfully downloaded their personalities into computer neural nets, a perfect Copy of their mind and of their sentience. These people would be immortal, and they would never suffer from Alzheimer or any of those insidious diseases. They would never lose their lucidity or their intelligence.
“The pressure on me to get my brain Copied was humongous. The awareness was everywhere. At my age, brain cells were already dying by the millions. My brain, my amazing brain, was deteriorating even then, and it would deteriorate every day I delayed Copying my brain into the computer. Even if I didn’t have the money to do it – at the time it was very expensive – the university volunteered to pay for it. Imagine, the greatest mind in history living forever, retaining his intelligence forever. What an asset that would be to the U!
“But I had another fear. I knew that if I lived forever, sooner or later, a person would be born, who would be smarter than me, more capable. And I would have to live in cyberspace forever, knowing that I had been outdone, outsmarted, that I was not the best. Forever. I couldn’t bear that. For months I procrastinated, fearing to Copy myself, thinking that perhaps there was a way out, a way to prove my superiority over everybody, even over any other man who might exist.
“Eventually, I came up with an idea. It was brilliant. If it worked. If it failed, a few precious, precious years of research would be wasted. And if I Copied my brain after the failure, it would be less acute than the brain I had had at the age of twenty-two. But my fears were too great. I decided to gamble everything in the belief, and hope, that I was talented enough to achieve the impossible. And so, I risked everything.”
He paused, nervous. He put his hand over his mouth. The idea, whatever it was, was obviously something he had never divulged to anyone. Dr. Gold’s mind raced. But she could not see what he had done to make himself a greater genius than he already had been.
“My idea was…” he began presently, then fell silent again. “My idea was…” He took a deep breath, and said it. “My idea had to do with the technology we had already attained, in our ability to duplicate a specific human brain. Our scientists had found a way to put the workings of the human mind in a formula, or a ‘function’, to use the mathematical term. A complicated function, mind you, with thousands of variables. But a function nonetheless. Now the function was, obviously, a recursive function. This means that to know what would happen in the next instant you have to put the data of the instant that came before. Predicting the weather, at present, for example, can only be done accurately using recursive functions. But predicting the movement of planets does not require a recursive function. Knowing what the situation is now, I could tell you where the Earth will be in a thousand years, and I will not have to compute where it will be a minute from now or a year from now or five hundred years from now to compute it correctly. I can predict the future without dealing with things that happen inbetween. But I forget who I’m speaking to. Of course you know this. Well, bear with an old and senile man.
“Step one of my idea was this. What if I could take the recursive function that represented the human brain and transform it into a non-recursive function. What if I could put in the present details for my mind in a controlled virtual environment, and, instead of having to wait an actual year, simply press a button, and see where my mind would be a year from now. What if I could do it and not go through the middle? What if I could find a function, which let me skip right to the end?
“That would save time, would it not?”
Dr. Gold stared at him. “Oh, my god.” Her mind reeled with the implications. He nodded in satisfaction at her amazement. “You did this?”
He smiled a sad smile.
“Why had I never heard of it?” She went on. “Why is it not used? Where did you publish it?”
“I had no intention of revealing the idea if I achieved it.”
“But why would—”
“Bear with me. I will tell this my way. The way it happened. The way I see it.” She nodded. He went on. “I told no one of my intentions. I began the research on this secretly, abandoning all my other avenues of study. For a year and a half I labored while no one noticed. My previous papers were still being published. It was slower then than it was today, and no one had yet noticed my waning lack of work. Pressure mounted on me to get myself Copied. ‘Later’, I told them. ‘Later.’
“It took another year and a half. All my old papers had been published, and I had not written any new ones. People began to notice. I told my superiors that I had a few major breakthroughs I was working on, and that they would have to be patient. But, I did not really work on these theories. I would have them if my idea worked. If not, then I had been a liar and, in addition, had lost three precious years. But if it did… the rewards would be… incredible. Three years after I had begun this project, I had found a way to transform the recursive function that represented the human mind into a non-recursive function. I could predict the human brain. My plan was about to come to fruition.” He took a deep breath. His entire body trembled.
“I had reserved the university supercomputer for a weekend. I had previously programmed my function into it in such a way that only I could access it. A week before that weekend, I had my mind secretly Copied into a special disk that belonged solely to me. That weekend arrived. I was alone in the lab. No one would disturb me.
“I fed the disk into the computer, and turned my program on. ‘Year?’ it asked simply.
“ ‘0’, I told it.
“My face appeared on the screen. My Copy. In the background was a very boring room – four walls, no exits, a bed to lie on so I could stare at the ceiling. It was a basic environment with no objects to manipulate. I did not need further complications in my function. The computer only dealt with a copy of me and a four-walled room. Nothing more. My Copy would have no need to eat, no need to sleep. He could actually fulfil my lifelong fantasy and do nothing but think about math day and night.
“My Copy looked at me. He could ‘see’ me through the camera in the lab. We nodded at each other.
“ ‘Ready to begin?’ I asked it.
“ ‘Ready,’ it said. I pressed a button. The image disappeared. I pressed another.
“ ‘Year?’ the computer requested.
“ ‘1’, I typed.
“My face reappeared on the screen.
“ ‘What the hell took you so long,’ it said. ‘It was supposed to take a second.’
“I looked at him. ‘What do you mean,’ I said. ‘It did take a second.’
“ ‘I’ve been stuck here for a year with nothing to do!
“ ‘That’s the way it feels,’ I explained to this other me slowly. ‘But it’s the equation. It’s not true. Only a few seconds have passed.’ He made a face. ‘Do you understand this?’
“ ‘Yes,’ it–he–said after a pause. He didn’t seem happy.
“ ‘I need the equations you’ve come up with during this year,’ I told him.
“I have a perfect memory, you see, Dr. Gold, I don’t need pieces of paper to write my computations. My Copy, obviously, also had a perfect memory. And so there were no papers in the room. He fed all the proofs he had thought of in a ‘year’ into the hard-disk. And the printer printed as quickly as it could.
“I looked over the pages briefly. ‘Excellent! Excellent! It seemed as if he had proven things I had wanted to prove for a long time. And there had been no effort in it for me. The project was a success! ‘My gamble had paid off!’ I exclaimed.
“ ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Our idea worked.’
“ ‘Next stop, ten years?’ I asked him.
“He nodded. ‘Ten years.’
“ ‘See you in a few seconds,’ I told him. I pressed a button and his image was gone.
“ ‘Year?’ the computer inquired.
“ ‘10,’ I typed. That meant ten years into the ‘life’ of the Copy, but only nine after our last encounter. The computer automatically took the variables of my Copy’s brain at the last instant of our communication and used them to leap nine years into the future.
“My Copy’s face appeared on the screen.
“He looked at me, and there was an intensity in his eyes I knew only too well. He was angry.
“ ‘Stop. The. Program,’ he said through his teeth, even as he downloaded his information into the hard-disk. ‘It’s malfunctioning.’
“ ‘What’s wrong with it,’ I asked, my heart suddenly beating fast. Failure had too many repercussions.
“ ‘It’s not skipping any time at all. I’ve lived ten years in this stupid room. There’s something wrong with the function.’
“ ‘Arthur,’ I told him. ‘It’s only been a few seconds. The program is working perfectly. You only remember those years as if you’ve lived through them, you didn’t actually live through them.’
“ ‘But I did, I did live through them!’
“ ‘No,’ I stated calmly, ‘you exist now and have existed for the last fifteen seconds, but you retain memories of ten years which didn’t actually happen. You didn’t live them, you can’t have. The computer was turned off. And look at me: I’m as young as I was ‘nine years ago’. What you’re experiencing, it’s just memories. It’s just part of the equation – because a brain that had lived through ten years, especially our brain, would retain all memories.’
“ ‘Don’t tell me I didn’t live through this. I remember each and every agonizing second, each minute alone, with nowhere to go to, with nothing to do, with no way to pass the time!’
“ ‘Exactly my point. You remember them. That doesn’t mean they happened.’
“ ‘I was there! I lived though everything in this horrifying, claustrophobic prison. Arthur, listen. We’ve got ten years’ worth of work here. The three years it took to invent this program have already paid off – you’ve more than tripled the work lost in one weekend. Let’s cancel this. Don’t make me go through any more time alone. It isn’t worth it.’
“ ‘Arthur, the purpose of this was to achieve more than humanly possible. We haven’t done that. We’ve just made sure that I hadn’t wasted the last three years. Next stop is a hundred years. Now that will be something. A hundred years’ work in one weekend – or at least in what will appear to be three years.’
“ ‘No! Absolutely not! I am not going through another ninety years of this!’
“ ‘Of course not. You won’t be going through anything! You will only exist as you would be ninety years from now, but you have to keep in mind that you won’t actually go through those years. You won’t live them. You will just feel as though you have.’
“ ‘No! You don’t know what it feels like!’ he pleaded. ‘You can’t do this! Please!’
“ ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous,’ I said, and I pressed a button. My Copy’s face disappeared.
“ ‘Year?’ the computer requested.
“My hand wavered for a second. Maybe I should cut a few corners? Maybe I should go for more than a hundred? My hesitation lasted only a second.
“ ‘100’, I typed.
“My face appeared on the screen, eyes red, deep in their sockets, and there was even deeper despair in the eyes.
“ ‘A hundred years,’ my Copy whispered. ‘A hundred years. Alone. In this room.’
“For an entire minute, we looked at each other. No one said anything.
“ ‘Feed me the data,’ I told him.
“He did as he was told. Gigabytes of information instantly downloaded into the hard disk.
“ ‘Listen,’ he told me. ‘Listen closely. Whatever you do, do not activate the damned function again. Do not reactivate it.’
“ ‘Look. For the reward of immortality I’m willing to see you suffer for a few seconds.’
“ ‘A few seconds?! I have suffered for a hundred years!’
“I sighed. This again?!
“ ‘No, you didn’t,’ I lectured my Copy. ‘If I hadn’t reactivated the program just now, you would not have existed at all. You only exist when the program is activated. You only exist as a hundred years old. Nothing happened before.’
“ ‘Don’t talk down to me. I was the one who suffered. I have lived for a hundred years at your present brain capacity. I am already smarter than you will ever be. I have already lived more than you ever will. So, listen to me. You’re doing this because of your ego. But how people consider you, how history will remember you – it isn’t important. Your ego is part of a bigger problem. I’ve solved it. I’ve come to terms with it. I had to deal with it because I knew that my existence would never be known. I am you and yet I am not you. I am a computer program, and I will cease to exist when this session is over. See, I know I won’t be able to solve your ego problem now. No matter what I say or what I do, it won’t have any effect. But you have to believe me that the sacrifice is not worth it. It isn’t worth it. Eternal fame is not worth it. Being the smartest man in the universe – through cheating, no less – is not worth it. Now, I have sat here day in, day out, staring at those four walls, and I won’t—’
“ ‘But you haven’t. You’ve—’
“ ‘Shut up! I was the one who had, and you can’t tell me I hadn’t! I was the one who knew he was destined to be stuck in this room for a hundred years. I was the one who almost went crazy. I was the one who thought, maybe you wouldn’t be satisfied with a hundred years, maybe you’d choose two hundred, or three, or a thousand. I was the one who counted the seconds, not even knowing if I was counting down to a hundred years, two hundred years, or even more. I was the one who lived a hundred years alone! Alone!! Can you imagine it? No sleep, no food, no people to talk to, no outside stimuli. Just me and my thoughts. For a hundred years! And the fact that it wasn’t real didn’t help me!! It didn’t make the time go faster! It didn’t make the walls or me vanish! It didn’t help me because it wasn’t true. Somehow, somewhere, I was stuck in this make-believe room for a hundred years!’
“ ‘But you weren’t stuck anywhere! You weren’t anywhere! You didn’t exist until I turned you on. You only exist now.’
“ ‘I did exist! And I tell you, do not do this again. You have a hundred years’ worth of research. That’s more than enough for a weekend. I will not do this again.’
“ ‘You have no choice,’ I told him.
“ ‘If you do it, I’ll find a way to get back at you. Don’t do it. Do not dare to do this again!’
“ ‘How can you stop me?’ I said, and I pressed the reset button.
“ ‘Year?’ the computer requested. My hand wavered again. I was thinking about his warning. But how could he hurt me? He was a computer program! How could a computer program that would be gone soon, that had no connection to other computers or to other programs, hurt me? I typed the number: ‘1,000’. One thousand years.”
Jeneane Gold held her breath. “Oh, my—” she whispered. “Oh, my lord…”
“My face appeared on the screen,” Prof. Bates continued, staring at the wall behind her. “He looked at me, and said nothing. There was a void in his eyes, a void the likes of which I had never seen on any human being. He just looked at me, his face even, composed. That was more horrifying than anything I had seen before.”
“ ‘Download the information,’ I told him.
“ ‘Download the theories you’ve thought up, or your thousand-year-wait would all have been for nothing.’
“ ‘If you don’t, I’ll turn this off again and turn it on in another thousand years. Is that what you want?’
“He looked at me, and slowly said, ‘How do I know that after I give you the information, you won’t tell the computer to age me another thousand years?’
“ ‘If you give me what you have, I will have had more than enough theories to establish superiority. No one will ever be able to surpass my achievements in such a short time. This is all that I need.’
“For five minutes he said nothing. His face didn’t move.”
“ ‘Fine,’ He finally said. ‘When this is over, you will erase the program and destoy your notes. No one else should go through what I had gone through. No one!’
“ ‘I will,’ I promised. ‘But only after I’ve gone over all the theories. If you’ve made mistakes on purpose, I will catch them, and I will turn you on again, a thousand years from now.
“He looked at me askance. He didn’t trust me. But he had no choice, and he knew it. ‘Fine. Downloading. Don’t worry, you won’t find a single mistake. Not one. But, I promise you, you will pay for what you did to me.’ I looked at him skeptically. ‘Arthur,’ he said. ‘This is Hell. I was crazy for more than a hundred years, and knowing that I couldn’t get out of this situation, that I couldn’t stop the program or kill myself if I wanted to, that drove me even crazier.’ He looked at me, and I have never heard me so serious. ‘No one should go through this punishment.’
“ ‘Trust me,’ I said, and I pressed the reset button. And he was gone.
“The plan had worked. But there was a catch.
“The plan was to publish at an ever-growing pace without a break for the rest of my life and beyond. But if I got myself Copied – the plan wouldn’t work. After a certain amount of time I would run out of material, and I obviously could not invent as fast on my own. I could certainly never repeat the experiment once I was within the computer, not without being easily discovered. So I would have to remain alive and unCopied, and keep on publishing the work of a thousand years in a single lifetime. That would be my legacy. My unsurpassed achievement would be etched in history.
“But then why not make it a bigger legacy?
“I looked at my watch. Less than thirty minutes have passed since the experiment had begun. And I have done in that time the work of a thousand years! A thousand years in less than thirty minutes! But achieving another thousand would be even greater. What’s another few minutes? But then why not another two thousand? Why not four? Why not more? The only thing that gave me pause was seeing my face, again, claiming to have suffered yet another thousand years in solitude. I knew I could coerce him to give me the information by threatening to leave him alone for another millenia – and I knew that he would have information, because he could no more stop thinking up new theories than you could stop breathing. Given another thousand years…
“And then I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted everything. I wanted to achieve what was impossible even for someone who did the impossible. My papers would be published for the next thousands of years after my death. No one would ever know how I did it, and everyone would wonder how one man could possibly have achieved what is, clearly, not humanly possible.
“Eternal fame, adulation, and awe stared me in the face, and I turned the program on again.
“ ‘Year?’ it asked.
“And one by one, I typed the numbers: One, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. One million.”
Jeneane Gold held her head in her hands. “Oh, no,” she whispered. “No, no.”
“But I didn’t press ‘ENTER’. My fingers hovered above it. If I pressed the button, my Copy would have lived a million years in complete solitude. If I didn’t, he wouldn’t have. That’s how I decided what to do. The fact that someone could live a million years in a millisecond because I pressed a button, the existence of a million years in that infinitesimal spark of electricity – it couldn’t be comprehended. It’s not real, I told myself. It can’t be real. My counterpart will feel as if he’s lived a million years – but he’ll actually have lived only a few seconds. It’s an illusion. He’s a program that’s only been activated now. He hasn’t lived anywhere. He hasn’t suffered any time. It wasn’t true.
“I pressed ‘ENTER’.
“My face appeared on the screen. And I know it wasn’t possible under the conditions of the program, which is supposed to keep the image ever young, but, for the life of me, I actually looked at a million-year-old face. Something in the features, in the face, in the despair. He was lying on the floor of his room, his eyes just staring ahead.”
“ ‘Give me your information,’ I told him.
“He didn’t react. He had to have heard me – it was, after all, a computer program.
“ ‘Arthur, give me the information.’
“Again, there was nothing.
“The man had been alone for a million years minus a thousand, and he couldn’t talk to the first person he had seen? After five minutes of trying to influence him, his eyes moved slightly, and they looked straight at me. Straight at me. What I saw, I… I will never forget. I had seen something in those eyes – so much misery – and in the second he had looked at me, those eyes delivered more information than the fastest computer. I was so scared, I immediately pressed the reset button. I had seen a million years of experience, Dr. Gold, of horror and misery, and ever since I have had nightmares about what I had seen in those eyes. Nightmares of his – of my – suffering. All because of me.
“I was breathing hard. I had to calm myself down. I am a collected man, Dr. Gold. I value this trait in myself. But what I saw in those eyes – it was a broken man. I don’t break easy, and I don’t break hard, either. But seeing me so broken – something snapped within me, the real me. At the time, though, I only knew that I had been frightened out of my wits.
“If I had been reasoning as I had until then, I would have told the computer to choose a different time – an earlier time, even, a few years this way or that, hoping to catch the Copy during a sane period and get the information that way. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do that to the Copy. No, that’s not true. I couldn’t do that to myself. This is the reason I live as I do, Dr. Gold. I can’t forget what I had done and how I had done it. A day does not go by that I do not contemplate…” He shut his eyes, shrinking at inner pain. A few seconds later, he opened them. “Nothing can make me forget, Dr. Gold. Not money, not physical pleasures – nothing. Nothing lessens the memory. Nothing lessens the pain. I cannot enjoy life anymore. But one thing keeps me going. The future. My memory, the legacy I will leave behind, the name I will have throughout eternity as the smartest man who had ever lived – that, to me, is worth everything. This is why I get up every day and check a few more theories. I did as I promised him when he was a thousand years old. I destroyed the hardware and the software. I did it without checking the accuracy of his theories first. Because I knew that whatever happened, I would not be able to turn him on again. I had destroyed the disk that contained the data of my Copy.
“I settled for a thousand years of my work, which, as I’ve said, would keep on getting published, once every two days, for about a hundred years after I die. No one would be able to surpass this. Even if someone did come up with the program I had come up with, they would make the program’s existence known, and so their accomplishment would be diminished, and lessened by the fact that I had had no such program to aid me.”
He paused to stare at the air. Then, nudged by an unseen impulse, he continued, “He said he would get his revenge on me. And I thought, the only way for him to do that is for him to insert a flaw into the theories and make me appear the fool. And so I’ve been sitting here for seventy years, searching for fallacies. But I see things differently now. He had said I wouldn’t find a flaw – and he knew what he was talking about. I never found one, single flaw in all his theories. But he didn’t say there was no flaw.
“I see now what happened. A hundred or two years after I had shut down the program after the hundred-year-session, he came up with the Bet-Gimmel Lemma. But I’m certain, now, that he did not restrict himself to theories that derived from it, as important as it is. That’s how, a hundred or so years after that, I’m equally certain, he discovered Andersson’s theories. He knew the Beta-Gimmel Lemma was flawed. But he also knew I’d never see the flaw. Because I would not trust him. If it took him so many years, what chance would I have when all my life would be invested in checking his theories and not in inventing new ones? And without looking up Andersson’s new avenue, I would never know the lemma was flawed. That’s why he never downloaded anything that came close to Andersson’s and your theories. That’s why everything that came afterwards relied on that lemma alone. He wanted to ruin me. He gave me a row of proofs, which he knew would eventually collapse. He knew that I wouldn’t get myself Copied to achieve immortality. My pursuit to outdo every man and woman, past or present – he had made sure that it would be taken away from me towards the end of my life or slightly afterwards. From inside the box, the computer program made sure that I’d waste my life, as I had made sure he’d waste his – all million years of it. He got his revenge on me. He has had his revenge. And what would I do now? Get myself Copied at this state?! I may still be the smartest man alive today – but I am not as smart as I had been. And I am certainly not as smart as the world believes me to be. I would live in shame forever, dwarfed by my own reputation. And, someday, a smarter man or woman would come and I would have to live with that shame, as well. No, I can’t do it. I can’t get myself Copied.
“He had ruined my life. Ruined it. The greatest human mind in history, and all my achievements, all my efforts have come to…” He trailed off. “Nothing… Nothing…”
Suddenly he looked at Dr. Gold, a spark in his dim eyes.
“I can get back at him. I can have my revenge.”
“What?! You don’t mean turning on your Copy again?!”
“No, no, I destroyed the Copy. I mean… There is something I’ve invented that does not rely on this lemma.”
He rose slowly from his couch, and shuffled to the room filled with papers. Presently, he emerged with a bound, yellowing notebook.
“Take this,” he said. “My Copy begged me to destroy this, but I couldn’t. All this time and I couldn’t. I have always justified it by telling myself that destroying it would be meaningless because I have a perfect memory. I remember the plans. But I’ve hidden them in a place no one but me would have ever found them. Perhaps it was an unconscious attempt on my part to achieve immortality on my own, because of my own achievements, and not because of his.
“You want it?”
Dr. Gold hesitated.
Prof. Bates waved it in front of her temptingly, urging her to take it. “Earlier you asked me why I did not share it. Well, here it is. The shortcut. The human brain as a non-recursive function. Go on, give it to humanity. They want eternal life, don’t they? They want to live forever, don’t they? That’s why they Copy themselves and live in cyberspace. Well, this is as eternal as it gets. Tell them: You want to live for a million years in a few seconds? You want to live for two million years? You want to live for more time than the universe has got? For twice that long? Ten times? A million times? A billion, trillion times that long? No problem, use this formula and you will. But if you do – you can’t change your mind. No matter what happens, you can’t take it back, you can’t stop in the middle, and you can’t leave.
“My Copy didn’t want anyone else to go through this. Well, I am sorry to have disappointed him.
“You want it?”
With a hesitant hand, Dr. Gold took the yellowing notebook. How could she not?
“I’m taking this because this is advancing human knowledge,” she told him. “But I’m telling them the rest of the story. I’m telling them that this is a curse.”
He smiled a sad smile again. “They won’t believe you. They’ll change the background and the scenery, make a billion things with which the people could interact, and then who will turn down immortality? But it will change nothing. The curse of living forever is that you live forever. Forever with no way out. Who can grasp that irony? No. No one will turn down immortality.” What little light remained in his eyes was suddenly snuffed, and behind them Dr. Jeneane Gold saw death. He would die today. He would kill himself as soon as she left.
Notebook in hand, she stood up and walked out, closing the door behind her. Somehow, his death no longer seemed a tragedy.
Copyright 2001 by Guy Hasson.
This is Guy Hasson's third consecutive story in Aphelion. He is a playwright as well as a science fiction writer. His previous sf publications also include stories in Anotherealm, Millennium Fantasy and Science Fiction, Planet, and Demensions. His science fiction book, 'In the Beginning...', was published last year by 4goodbooks.com, and his next sf book, Hope for Utopia, will soon be published by Fictionworks.