Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
It had finally happened. The Cryonics Research Institute had finally managed to transfer the consciousness of a long dead human into a new body. It was now only a matter of powering it on.
Previous attempts at restoring life to cryogenically frozen human bodies had been unsuccessful. The freezing process always damaged the bodies beyond repair. Even if a cure had been found for the disease that initially caused the death of a particular body, there was no way to reliably revive it. Modern research instead turned to transferring the consciousnesses of the Cryonics Research Institute's clients to new artificial bodies.
Winston Wright, an eccentric millionaire who greatly feared his impending death, had paid to have his body cryonically frozen after he died in hopes of being brought back to life at some point in the future when a cure was found for his pancreatic cancer. A minimally invasive cure was found decades ago, but the primitive freezing process had destroyed too many of the cells in his body. In the best-case scenario, any attempt at thawing and repairing his body would give him a few more hours of suffering worse than anything he had ever experienced in his original life.
Winston Wright would be the first human to have his consciousness transferred to an artificial android body. Luckily enough for Winston, his number had come up just after the Cryonics Research Institute made the decision to scrap all attempts at reviving their clients in the traditional sense. He would be the first human to benefit from the Living Android Project. The Cryonics Research Institute's earliest adopters unfortunately never got a chance at a second life. The longest that any of the previous subjects were able to stay alive after the defrosting process was a mere three hours.
The consciousness transferring procedure wouldn't be without risks for Winston Wright, however. Though animal tests had proven successful, this would be the first time it was attempted on a human subject. Any number of things could go wrong, and there were still some ethical considerations to consider. Winston Wright had signed a contract to have his body revived. During the era in which he had lived, the idea of having one's consciousness transferred to an artificial body was unheard of. Nevertheless, he had stated that he wanted scientists in the future to do everything in their power to bring him back to life. And they were about to do just that.
The transfer was complete. Melvin, the head robotics technician for the Living Android Project, was ready to power on Winston's new android body. His consciousness had already been transferred to the robotic brain of the android.
Melvin flipped the switch that would give Winston a second life. The light indicators on the android's face, which created an artificial approximation of eyes, lit up as though Winston was awaking from a long nap. The android's head turned from side to side, looking around at its surroundings.
"Welcome to the World of Tomorrow, Winston," Melvin said in a cheesy voice. He had watched too many B-grade science fiction movies from bygone eras.
"Where am I?" the android Winston Wright asked in a robotic voice. He paused. "What is wrong with my voice?"
"Allow me to explain, Mr. Wright," Melvin replied. "Do you remember when you signed the contract to have your body cryopreserved to be revived someday in the future upon your death?"
"Of course," said Winston. "Why that was just last week!"
"Actually," Melvin tried to explain. "You have been dead for over 400 years."
"400 years!" Winston exclaimed. He paused. "What took you so long to bring me back? I paid a lot of money to have my cancer cured, and it took you 400 years to deliver the service?!"
"The technology only became available recently," Melvin tried to explain calmly. "Everything was in the contract. We made no guarantee of a timeframe for your return." Melvin could see the android Winston looking down at his new body.
"Of course. That is the risk in investing in new technology, I suppose. At least I'm alive and well now, I guess." Winston replied. "So, when do I get to take this spacesuit off, doc? I'm guessing this is some futuristic cancer-curing, body-restoring suit or something."
"Not exactly, Mr. Wright," Melvin said. He wasn't sure exactly how to break the news to Winston that this was, in fact, his new body. He decided to take the most direct approach. "This is your new body."
"Ha! That's funny," said Winston. "But seriously. When can I take this thing off and go home?"
"Mr. Wright," Melvin said in a serious tone. “I think you had better sit down.” Melvin took Winston by the arm and directed him to a nearby chair. "The Cryonics Research Institute ran into some problems with unfreezing and restoring the bodies of our previous clients. It just couldn't be done without completely destroying the bodies at a cellular level."
"Okay..." said Winston. Even through his monotone robot voice, Melvin could tell that he was confused. "But you scientist guys have obviously figured it out, since I'm awake now!"
"Well... not quite, Mr. Wright," Melvin continued. "You see, we couldn't find a way to safely unfreeze people who were cryopreserved. The few poor individuals whom we did try to unfreeze and bring back to life, well… their bodies degraded almost instantly following the unfreezing process. Those that did survive the reviving process died, once again, within hours. Our scientists were forced to turn to other methods of reviving our remaining clients. The only other alternative was shutting down completely and leaving the bodies of the remainder of our clientele locked in the storage freezer indefinitely."
"Well, as long as I'm here, I don't care about the scientific specifics," Winston replied. "As with most business ventures, the results matter more than the method!"
"I am so glad you think so, Mr. Wright," Melvin said. "As I was saying, our scientists couldn't reliably unfreeze our cryonics clients. We had to turn to a new method of revival. For the past decade, the Cryonics Research Institute has focused its research on the Living Android Project. You have been selected as the first beneficiary of this project."
"Wait, slow down. What does this all this mean?" Winston asked. "Is this robot suit keeping me alive in here?"
"In a manner of speak, Mr. Wright." Melvin said. "Your consciousness has been transferred from your frozen brain into the hard drive of your new android body."
"Wait... What?!" Winston exclaimed. "Are you trying to tell me that I haven't been revived at all? That I'm just some sort of AI controlled robot?"
"Your intelligence is very real," said Melvin. "Not an artificial intelligence at all. Your consciousness is just the same as it was before. You are simply occupying a new and improved body. It is really the top of the line currently. It has all the proper sensors to allow you to touch and taste and even smell. Just like your original body!"
"Improved!" Winston said in disbelief. He held his robotic hands up in front of his face. "This... thing looks nothing like my original body! It looks nothing like a human body at all!"
"Well, no, Mr. Wright," replied Melvin. "I suppose not. This is still the prototype model after all. Technology always has room for improvements."
Winston looked down at his robotic hands. "So..." Winston paused, thinking of his next question as the reality of his new life hit him. "How does this thing work? You mentioned something about sensors on my body..." His sentence trailed off into static.
"I'm so glad you asked," Melvin answered. "Your fingers are equipped with touch sensors, which send signals to your brain whenever you touch something or pick something up. As I'm sure you noticed, your limbs and digits respond to your thoughts. They work just like your original parts. You can walk. You can even dance! Sensors in your feet tell your brain whether or not you are standing on solid ground, so you don't end up walking into a hole or something!" Melvin seemed a bit too enthusiastic. "Your body even has a gyroscope inside so you can tell where you are in three-dimensional space! As I've said before, it is just like your original human body!"
"Umm.. yeah.. okay," replied Winston. "You said I still had taste and smell? I can hear just fine as well, I noticed."
"Yes, of course," replied Melvin. "You have ears that are just like your old ears. Your head is equipped with microphones that pick up sounds around you. They're just like human eardrums. Your sense of smell and taste are also just like before. You won't even notice the difference after a while. Your nose can pick up scents and send the signal to your brain. You also have digital taste buds that work the same way."
"Why do I even need to eat?" asked Winston. "I'm not even real," he added quickly.
"Well, you don't really need to eat," Melvin explained. "You just need to plug yourself into a wall charger every night while you are in sleep mode to make sure your power isn't cut off. Bad, bad things could happen if you lost power to your brain. It might never work correctly again. As I said, your body is a prototype. But, anyway, we did add taste sensors, and even a mouth slot." Melvin opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small card-shaped object. "You see, Mr. Wright, we developed these taste cards. You simply insert one of these little innovations into your mouth slot like a credit card and you can experience all the wonderful food from your previous life. It's just like the real thing. Would you like to try it? I've got a delicious cheeseburger right here!" Melvin waved the card around in front of Winston.
"No, that is quite alright," Winston declined. "I don't have much of an appetite. What about using the restroom?"
"Don't be silly," replied Melvin. "Androids don't need to use the restroom. Electricity doesn't produce any waste."
"That makes sense," said Winston. "Where will I be living?"
"We have an apartment all set up for you right here in our facility, Mr. Wright." Melvin said. "Of course, you are free to move elsewhere as you please. The accrued interest of your savings and investment accounts should sustain you for quite some time."
"Sounds fair enough," Winston replied. "Will my family be joining me soon? I expect that they signed up with your organization as well. Do you bring people back in the order they passed on, or are families brought back together?"
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Wright," Melvin replied. "I have checked your records, and it doesn't appear that any of your relatives have chosen to join you in cryopreservation."
"What?" Winston replied. "How can that be? My wife promised she would come with me! And my son and daughter! What happened to them? How could they send me into the future alone?" Winston's wife Sarah had been 20 years younger than him. He knew that some people in his life assumed that she was only with him for his money, but she had stuck by his side and cared for him during his illness. Before he died, he made Sarah promise him that she would arrange to have her body frozen as well so that they could be reunited once again in the future. He left enough money behind for his entire family to be frozen and revived after their own deaths. As far as Winston was concerned, "'til death do us part" applied only to those without the financial means to cheat death.
"I am sorry, but I do not know, Mr. Wright." Melvin said. "We don't keep records on the deceased who are not clients. You are free to research your loved ones' lives on your own, however."
"So... I'm all alone now," Winston said to himself. "I'm a robot and I'm completely alone in the future."
"You won't be completely alone, Mr. Wright," Melvin replied. "We have reviewed your files and decided that, in light of the fact that you do not have any family joining you, we would offer you one of our experimental android puppies as a pet to keep you company as you adjust to your new life. It is really the least we could do."
"An android puppy?" Winston replied. "Are you kidding me. My family abandoned me in the future, I am stuck in this robotic shell of a body, and you are offering me a toy puppy?"
"Not a toy puppy, Mr. Wright," Melvin tried to explain. "A real puppy. One who's consciousness has been transferred into an android body. It's just like you, Mr. Wright."
"Umm. Thanks, I think," Winston replied. He had always been partial to dogs, but that wasn't exactly what he wanted right now. The entire reason he had gone through with the cryonic freezing procedure was to buy himself some more time with his loved ones in the future once a cure for his cancer was discovered.
"Don't mention it, Mr. Wright," Melvin replied cheerfully. "We usually destroy them when we're done anyway. Shelters tend prefer the real thing."
"The real th..." Winston began. Melvin continued talking.
"Well, would you like to see your new apartment, Mr. Wright?" Melvin asked.
"Sure," Winston replied. He just wanted to be alone.
Melvin took Winston to the apartment on the second floor of the research institute. It was sterile one bedroom apartment with a sizable living room. It also had a decent sized kitchen and a bathroom, the irony of which was not lost on Winston.
"Here is your dog, Mr. Wright," Melvin said as an android dog came running into the living room. Its bark reminded Winston of his own robotic voice. "We call him K9-034, but you can call him whatever you would like. He's your pet now."
"If you don't mind," Winston said. "I'd like to be alone now."
"Of course, of course, Mr. Wright," Melvin replied. "If you need anything, you can call me. My number is by the phone in your kitchen."
"Thank you," replied Winston.
"Someone will be back to check on you in a couple hours, Mr. Wright," Melvin said. "We will help you to get acclimated to the World of Tomorrow!"
"Goodbye," Winston replied.
"Oh, and your power cord is in the bedroom. Don't forget to plug yourself in before you go into sleep mode, Mr. Wright," Melvin said as he approached the door. "Remember, bad, bad things."
"Okay," said Winston. "Got it." Melvin finally left the apartment and closed the door behind him.
Winston sat down on the couch. "What have I done?" he said to no one in particular as he buried his face into his hard robotic hands.
The android dog jumped up onto the couch next to him, as though to comfort him. Winston turned his head toward the dog. "So, they've done this to you, too," Winston said. The dog turned his head to the side and continued to look at Winston. "You remind me of my old dog, Buddy. I'll call you Buddy." Buddy wagged his artificial tail. Winston reached out to Buddy to pet him. The sensors in his hand allowed him to feel the cold, hard, plastic-like material that made up the outer shell of his new pet. Buddy might have the brain of a once real dog inside him somewhere, but he was nothing like the pets that Winston was used to from his old life.
The dog pawed at Winston's leg. Though he could see Buddy's artificial paw hitting his own robotic leg through the camera lenses that made up his new eyes, he couldn't feel anything at all. "The scientists must have cheaped out on the sensors, huh, Buddy." Winston sat on the couch with the android dog for two hours, lost in his own digital thoughts, until he heard a knock on his front door.
Winston didn't move from the couch. "It's open," he called out to whoever was on the other side.
A young woman walked in. "Hello, Mr. Wright," the woman said. "I'm Charlotte. I'm here to take you out and give you a tour of the city, and to answer any questions you may have that Melvin didn't answer. I'm sure there are a lot of things you want to know."
"Umm... sure," said Winston. He looked over at the dog. "Can I bring Buddy?"
"You sure can," replied the woman in an upbeat tone. "Whatever makes you feel more comfortable. There should be a leash for him somewhere around here."
"Thanks. I'll be sure to clean up after him," Winston said sarcastically. He noticed the leash hanging from a hook on the wall near the door. It was attached to a dog collar. Winston put the collar around Buddy's neck and followed Charlotte out of the apartment. He didn't bother to turn off the lights.
Charlotte led Winston through several hallways and into an elevator that took them to the first floor. She directed him to a glass door that led to the outside world. The door slid open as Winston, Charlotte, and Buddy approached. "After you," she said as Winston exited the building with Buddy in tow.
The city had completely changed over the past four centuries. Winston could barely see the gray sky past the metallic silver skyscrapers that surrounded him on every side. "The buildings have gotten taller," Winston remarked. "Is the entire city like this?"
"Pretty much," Charlotte replied. "Every city is, really. There's nowhere left to expand but up."
Winston noticed the cars in the street. They were sleek, futuristic, and hovered about a foot off the ground. "So, we finally have flying cars," Winston remarked.
"Oh no," Charlotte replied. "Flying cars were all the rage about 200 years ago, but they caused far too many accidents. We've returned to the more primitive hover cars. Only experienced pilots are permitted to drive flying cars now."
"I see," said Winston. He looked around at everything, trying to take it all in. The future wasn't exactly what he had imagined.
Buddy barked at a dog that was walking down the sidewalk toward them. The dog's walker stopped in her tracks and looked at Winston, and then at Buddy, and then back at Winston. She started walking quickly, muttering something to herself as she passed. Winston thought he made out the words "it's finally happening" and "damn robots."
"What was that about?" Winston asked. He and Charlotte walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the woman. "Hasn't she ever seen a millionaire-turned-android before?"
"Not everyone is supportive of our research or of the Living Android Project, Mr. Wright," Charlotte replied. "Some people just don't understand, especially with the issues we had with the original AI androids last century. Once we bring back more real people, I'm sure most people will be lining up to take advantage of our services at the end of their lives. Your story has been highly publicized, believe it or not, what with you being the first. We had to pull a lot of strings to keep the media from paparazzi-ing you today, you know. But the last thing you probably wanted was to be hounded by reporters after such a long nap. Right, Mr. Wright."
"I suppose," said Winston. "I guess some people must think it's wrong to turn people into robots against their will or something." Winston wondered if he would agree with the critics had he been born into this era.
"I believe that immortality is almost every human's dream," Charlotte said. "They are just afraid of what they don't understand. Once they realize that Living Androids are the same as any other living human, they will come around. Give it time, Mr. Wright."
Charlotte showed Winston around the city. It had changed so much in the last four-hundred years. Winston didn't feel much like making conversation with Charlotte as he wandered around looking at the futuristic buildings and vehicles. Sure, everything was new and different, but he missed his old life. Even if he had been revived in his original body, rather than turned into an artificial life form, he would still never be able to get his own life back. Not without his wife and children by his side.
"Is there a library around here?" Winston asked. He hoped to find some old newspaper archives or anything that could tell him what had happened to his wife and family after he died. There had to be some explanation for why they had not followed him to be revived in the future.
"A what?" Charlotte asked. "Oh yes. I've heard of those before. A library is an old building where you can read... what were they called...? Oh yes, books." She paused. "There haven't been any libraries in over three-hundred years!"
"There are no libraries?" Winston asked. "What happened to them?"
"Well," Charlotte replied. "I guess there was just no need for them anymore. If you're looking to access information, we do still have the Internet."
"How can I get a computer," Winston asked. He had never been the most tech-savvy old man, but he did know how to use a web browser. "Will the Research Institute provide me with one?"
"Oh yes, personal computers," Charlotte said. "I read about those once in a history textbook. So clunky and inconvenient. Not very portable. You should have been equipped with a chip that allows you to access the Internet from anywhere. We all have them now, not just you androids!" She laughed.
"What are you talking about?" Winston inquired.
"Press that button on the right side of your face." Charlotte said. She pointed at Winston's head. Winston felt for the button and pressed it. Information about his current surroundings appeared at the forefront of his vision. "Just think about anything you want to search for. I recommend waiting until you're home and not surrounded by traffic to try it out though. At least until you get used to it. Safety first!"
"How does it work for... um... regular people?" Winston asked. Of course, an android could be outfitted with this sophisticated technology, but humans weren't machines.
"Basically, the same," Charlotte replied. "We are all implanted with a chip that sends a signal to the visual cortex. It's fairly simple technology, really. The button is placed under our skin for cosmetic reasons. You can barely even tell it's there!"
"Um... Makes sense," Winston said. Of course the humans of the future wouldn't mind being slowly turned into cyborgs. "I think I would like to go home to my apartment now."
Charlotte took Winston back to the Cryonics Research Institute's facility. After she left, he sat down on the couch and accessed the Internet. He thought of his wife's name. A page displaying her obituary instantly appeared in front of him. There was a photo at the top of the page. Sarah looked much older than she had been when Winston last saw her. The page was dated about fifty years after Winston went into freezing.
Though he already knew that she must have passed away centuries ago, Winston felt a wave of grief wash over him. She had grown so old. She must have experienced so much throughout her life without him. Even if she had agreed to be revived alongside him, their new life together could never have been the same as it was in their original life. Would she have even still been the same person Winston remembered?
He read the page that was displayed in front of him. "Sarah L. Sones née Miller (formerly Wright) passed away in her sleep Tuesday night."
"What!" Winston exclaimed. "She remarried after I was frozen!" He continued reading the obituary. This had to be some kind of mistake. He was sure she would have remained loyal to him until the end. She said she loved him. She promised she would wait for him.
"Mrs. Sones was preceded in death by her first husband, Winston Wright and her second husband, Kevin Sones. She is survived by her three children: Isabelle Wright-Owens, Lyle Wright, and Becky Sones." Not only had she replaced him after his death, she even had a child with this new man. Winston couldn't believe what he was reading. Before his death, Winston had made Sarah and their children promise that they would wait for him. They promised that they would be frozen alongside him at the end of their lives so that they could someday be reunited and become a family again. Winston had even set aside money for each of them to be frozen when the time came. Apparently promises to a dead man meant nothing.
Now it all made sense. No wonder Sarah and the children weren't there when he was revived. They had moved on with their lives without him as though he had never existed. He spent four hundred years frozen and waiting for technology to catch up so he could live out a full life with his loved ones, and they simply moved on without him. He suffered through cancer treatments and surgeries that tore his body apart. Now he had been completely removed from his body had placed inside an artificial machine. All his suffering had been for nothing. He didn't deserve any of this. How could anyone deserve this kind of life?
Winston felt as though he had gone through more than any human should ever have to go through, and he got nothing in return. Sarah had betrayed him. He wondered if she had ever really loved him, or if she was simply staying by his side though all his health struggles, waiting for him to finally die so she could keep the money.
Winston stood up and slowly paced around his apartment. Perhaps it was selfish of him to have expected her to put her life on hold for him, but he couldn't shake the feeling that she had betrayed him. He was only human after all. Winston caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He was only human. But not anymore. In his desperate attempt to save himself, he had lost everything, even his humanity.
Winston saw Buddy sitting on the couch. "It's getting late, Buddy," he said to the android dog. "What do you say we go into sleep mode?" Buddy barked as though he understood Winston's words and followed him into the bedroom.
Buddy curled up in the dog bed in the corner of the room. A power cord hung from the wall near the dog bed. Winston knelt to attach the cord to Buddy's charge port. He noticed a keypad on Buddy's back above the port. After examining the keypad, he pressed the button labeled "sleep mode" and watched his artificial companion power down.
Winston stood, turned off the lights, and got into the bed that had been provided for him. He couldn't tell whether it was comfortable or not. His body's sensors weren't sophisticated enough for those types of readings. Winston noticed a second power cord hanging from the headboard for him.
He enabled his own sleep mode setting from his internal settings menu. His sleep mode setting included a sleep timer function, which he set to start in five minutes. A display appeared in the upper right corner of his vision showing a timer countdown and his remaining battery power. His body still had fifteen percent of its battery power remaining. There was plenty left for now, but it wouldn't last through the night if he didn't recharge.
Winston laid down in the bed as he watched the timer count down. Four minutes remaining. Winston reflected on the past day as he stared at the ceiling. Had he known that his wife and children were going to abandon him in the future, he would never have paid to have his body revived. She must have gotten over his death quickly. Did she think of him at all throughout the remainder of her life? Did the thought of him waking up at some unspecified point in the future without her ever cross her mind when she chose to remarry and forget about him? Winston stared at the pattern in the ceiling. He felt numb inside.
The countdown reached two minutes. He thought about his children. He wasn't there to see them grow up. His cancer had cheated him out of ever really getting to know them. Did their new stepfather replace him in their eyes as well? Maybe some things are better left unknown, Winston thought to himself as he waited for the time to run out.
He continued to stare at the ceiling until the timer finally reached zero. The lights above his eyes went black as his body powered down into sleep mode. Winston wondered if he would still dream. Everything went black for Winston. In the still air of Winston's apartment, the power cord dangled from the headboard untouched.
© 2021 Jennifer Wilber
greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on September 15, 2021:
Hi Jennifer - of the three stories from you in my feed today, this was my favorite. Not that I didn’t like the others, mind you, because I truly did. But this one really carried me with it all the way through. I could see and feel Winston growing more and more saddened and frustrated and enlightened and hopeless and just all of it. This is a well-told though gut-wrenching tale and I’m glad I found it today.