"Greetings, Oleg, How are you feeling?"
I opened my eyes and nearly fell, grabbing for the backrest of a chair in front of me. I took a look around by instinct. I seemed to be in a study of some sort. Walls were lined with wood, a dark green rug spread beneath me, the ceiling was covered by a mosaic of geometrical patterns. Lanterns filled with bright floating spheres hung from the walls.
Through a window to my right, I was able to glimpse a wild pine forest. A massive cloth-lined table took up the middle of the study. Behind it sat a stocky man, somewhere around the age of 50, his brown hair somewhat touched by grey. A large nose, a massive jaw, watchful grey eyes, and thin lips created the impression of a smart high-handed man who, judging by his clothes, was quite successful. The stranger was wearing a white shirt with a collar and a dark brown waistcoat with large silver buttons.
"I'm fine." I answered, hiding my bewilderment. As hard as I tried, I was unable to collect myself, but intuitively I felt as though it's better to play along for the time being. "Thanks."
"Take a seat, we have a long conversation ahead of us."
I stepped around the cloth-lined chair of a creamy color. As I sat, memories came crawling back into my mind. And judging by the images that flashed in my head, I wasn't supposed to be here.
"With whom do I have the honor?" I asked. In my head, I hear the voice of my old friend saying: "The professional deformity is obvious at this point."
"Michael Eugene Arsenyev, Head of the rehab facility in the Nano-Med Corporation, Sector One Healthcare Department. Tell me, Oleg, What's the last thing you remember?"
I forced a crooked smile. I heard a shrill whistle and saw the horrible, insane view of torn holes erupting from my body, first from my stomach, then from my chest, completely bursting my rib cage. The sight of my left arm flying away somewhere to the side as if in a twisted, macabre slide show. Helena shrieks... I remember taking two steps back and falling onto the blood-splattered pavement. My last stupid thought, 'Explosive, high caliber rounds. And then Darkness. Nobody walks away from that.
"Did I die?"
"Good question! Technically, yes. On the 19th of June, 2017, a death certificate was issued to Oleg Fidex. Cause of death: Multiple gunshot wounds, death was instantaneous."
"Then why...? You don't exactly look like St. Peter! And this doesn't look like a hospital!", I gestured at my surroundings with resentment, "Or is this actually the afterlife?!"
"Technically, yes." The man gave a slight smile. "At the time of your death, section 17 of your extended medical insurance package came into effect. Your brain was cryogenically frozen and has been kept in storage till your revival would become possible."
"And? Have I been Revived? Then why aren't I at a medical center?"
"Yes, you have been. You are currently in our rehab center's virtual reality simulation."
I started starring at my arm. It looked like mine. I messed up my hair, bit down on my knuckles. I scratched my nose, tugged at the collar of my shirt Becoming aware of what I was wearing. I had on a white shirt, creamy pants, and brown leather shoes. Nothing out of the ordinary. No! There was one thing I noticed: I didn't want to smoke.
"So, what am I? A brain in a jar?"
"Not anymore. Your conscience has been transferred to a silicone-based hard drive."
"And my brain?"
I sprang to my feet. The chair fell behind me with a thud. I'm an App.. a script, a set of bites, or whatever they have on IT classes today! I don't even have DNA!
Jesus! Just like the Matrix! Only worse!
I suddenly recalled my second year at the university. The audience was filled with teachers and students alike. Everybody was listening to a lecture on the topic of the future of cybernetics held by a Japanese professor named Hirosi Isigura. During his speech, the question of the difference between man and machine arose. The professor stated that there was none which caused an uproar in the audience, and one student shouted louder than the others:
"That's impossible! Professor, could you please elaborate on how can ..."
"Of course, I can, for instance: You have sustained an arm injury. And your arm is replaced by a prosthetic limb. Have you become a robot?"
"After some time you have had your second arm replaced, then your legs, heart, liver... are you still human?"
"Definitely so, still human."
"First one internal organ, then another, and another. As a result, you have become a mechanical shell, with an artificial skull stuffed with your brain. Have you become a machine?"
"No, I remain human. Or a cyborg of sorts, but still human. The brain remains my own, and so does my conscience."
"Now bear with me: The nerve tissue of your brain has worn out with time, and you replace a small fraction of that tissue with an artificial one. Has that made you a machine?"
"I don't think so..." The voice started to waver a little.
"Little by little, piece by piece, your entire brain is replaced, without any functionality disorders of any kind. Are you still human?" The audience fell into silence.
"And now make a complete copy of your physical carrier and conduct a simple Copy/Paste operation with your conscience. Now, where is the "real" you?"
A grave silence settled in the room. It was then that I realized that I stopped breathing, so I pushed the air out of my lungs (exhaled) with a wheeze. The lecture went on. Afterward, I, being a promising student, was offered an internship under Isiguro's supervision, under the university's foreign exchange program. In the international relations office, I honestly said that I consider the professor to be a deranged psychopath and declined. The university administration wasn't happy. It looks like in the end, the professor was right...
"Excuse me, right about what?"
I seemed to have let the last phrase slip from my lips.
"Back in the 21 century, there was one interesting Japanese professor, Hirosi Ishiguro, who sort of predicted this whole situation. A God Damned prophet!"
"Are you saying that you knew Professor Ishiguro?"
"I attended a few of his lectures..." And then it hit me, "What year is this?"
"The year is 2375."
"Sonova...." I sat right down on the floor. 358 years... My thoughts raced: What happened to Mom, Dad, my sisters? And Helena? It took nearly all I had left in me to ask. What came out was a low whisper:
"Pardon, why what?" – replied Arsenyev watching at me mindfully over his folded arms
"Why did you bring me back!? Why the hell would you need a guy, perhaps even a smart one, with the knowledge that's already 400 years out of date? Did a bunch of archeologists dig me up in some forgotten refrigerator? Back then, I had a life! I had Dreams! Plans! A girlfriend! A Future! What have I got here?! A few terabytes on a hard drive?! A coil of wires for a brain!? I don't even have any Descendants! Everything I had was lost to the ages! What do you want from me? Memories? Knowledge? You could have copied all of that without reviving me!"
"There's no reason for such despair, Young man!"
"I'm 300 years older than you!"
"Actually, it's just 196 years. and I can answer all of your questions, but first, you must tell me: Do you like living?"
"Sure, why not? I like Living. Living, breathing, eating, smoking, drinking, Getting drunk, I like fucking! I... I wanted a family, to raise a son, to watch him grow, and what can you offer me? A program with inheritance protocols?!"
Arsenyev silently slid me a pack of cigarettes without a label with a built-in lighter. I started to smoke. A few minutes passed till the cigarette had smoldered down to its filter, and the fumes seethed into my virtual lungs. I smothered the flame down on the rug and breathed in the scent of burning wool. My miraculous host broke the silence;
"Your situation is not as dire as it seems! Allow me to answer in succession. Your first question: why were you brought back? Three years ago a package of certain laws was passed, by which citizens of the Federation have the right to an unlimited extension of life. According to these laws, anyone who died without direct damage to the brain or some of its's specific segments will have his or her personality digitized and placed into a virtual reality of their choice. As a result of such a statement, everyone who ever died and signed the freezing agreement in the history of the Federation Became subject to revival. Secondly. You do have direct descendants. There are currently a little over 700 of them. Your fiancée preserved a sample of your DNA and extracted the necessary amount of genetic material required for artificial fertilization. The offspring later inherited your company which has developed over the last 300 years and is now a multi-million corporation in charge of the terraforming operations on planet Mars. And finally yet importantly, any citizen has the opportunity to have an artificial body grown and their conscience transferred. However, I'm afraid it's not that simple."
"And under what conditions is that possible?"
"Social value over 300 units. Participation in special activities, a private capital of over 3 billion universal energy units, or an intellectual level of 400 points and over following the Lesinsky table."
"Damn. That's quite a list, I don't have any idea what any of those qualifications mean. But if it's a question of cash I don't see a problem! My heirs are the owners of a successful megacorporation! I'm sure they've got the green to bring back their beloved Grand Dad! Plus with today's technologies Even my son might still be alive! Or even his mother..."
"It pains me to say that your fiancée, Helena Fidex, refused the freezing procedure and died at the age of 112. Your son perished during the second expedition to Mars. Your grandson was assassinated. Your great-great-great-grandson, who is 174 years of age, is currently running the company and does not intend to relinquish power any time soon. You don't possess any property rights to Mars-Terraform, and 3 billion ergo is a considerable amount of money, even for a corporation this big. Finally, no one will transfer such funds to you simply because it is prohibited by our laws. Your current Social Value is 70 units, your intellectual level: 320. Special applications for citizen revival won't be provided for the next 20 years."
"Bummer... So I don't have the slightest chance of getting a body?"
"Why not? It is possible to raise your social value to the desired level in-game. In that case, you will need only a hundred million ergo, and pass a course of adaptation therapy in a secure VR sector to be permitted a body."
I kept circling the study, considering my options. The fact that my life plan suddenly turned out to be easy as pie did not fail to please. I was I little sad that my grandson seemed to be an old Scrooge, who wouldn't give a piece of his company to a distant ancestor. I begin to wonder if I would... But hey! It's all for the kids, right?
I'll get along fine on my own! Thumbs up to Helen, of course! A pleasant warmth spread through my chest, and a lump came up to my throat. I finished off another virtual smoke, and my mind became clear again. Well, at least I won't spoil my health! I walked up to the window and sucked in the fresh forest air. And where the hell is the difference from the real world!?
"Ok, I understand. What's next?"
"You will be transferred to the virtual plains of "Outlines of equilibrium." You can choose any other game if you like, but only the outlines can give you the desired amount of SV points. Live, thrive, relax. If you don't change your mind about getting a body by the time your SV reaches 300, just send an application to the Administration; by that time you'll have the required amount of money, I'm sure. In the worst-case scenario, you can request a line of credit and any bank or corporation will be happy to oblige with that much SV points assigned to your name, but you will be forced to sign a long term contract."
"And can I see some manuals or game guides? To choose the best course of action? "
"Naturally. You will have access to the in-game forum, which is restricted to the rest of the world to avoid any social disturbance and cultural shock among the population. You should actually apply for a review every 6 months. However, I would advise against it."
"Do you mean applying for the review or using the guides?"
"The latter. The game mechanics are unique: "Anything goes." Moreover, your imagination will help you more than any guide. You will see. Have an excellent game."
Аrsenyev stood up and put his arm forward from behind the desk. I shook it and asked the question that was weighing on me for the last several minutes:
"What do I have to do to get that much SV?"