“Good morning, Travis.”
He had trouble putting it all together at first. Time would be skipping for a while until new memories could form a pattern, a timeline, across his synthetic network.
He didn’t know what had come first.
Right now, he sat at a dinner table with his friends and family, glancing across the smiling faces that met him each time they looked up. They were all using the fine china, the kind that came with special guests like investors and department leads. He tried to remember exactly when he had seen it last, but couldn’t.
“Good morning, Travis,” repeated in his mind.
The cooks had made his favorite. Everyone else had a piece of pumpkin chicken with slices of cranberry acorn squash, all glazed with cinnamon. He remembered that it was good, but couldn’t remember the taste. He looked down to his plate and saw it empty.
The others didn’t seem to notice that he had nothing, but they looked happy, happy that he was there again.
“Good morning, Travis,” repeated in his mind.
Sitting across from him was his girlfriend, Jennifer, and that he knew before everything else. Around her were James, Nick, Troy, all the friends he had known but knew nothing about, all smiling at him. His mother and father stood at the fringes of the table and raised their glasses for a toast. His father spoke first, “It’s good to have you back, Travis.”
“I’m glad to be back,” Travis Malvern said, but he didn’t have a glass to raise. Everyone else drank.
“Good morning, Travis,” the voice inside him said.
It had taken twenty-four hours to remember the day before. The doctor had pulled him out of a hospital bed, at least he thought it had been a hospital bed, and said to him the first words of his new life, “Good morning, Travis.” Only, Travis didn’t remember the moment as it happened; he only remembered that it had happened.
Slowly, events started catching up to him as he spent long, quiet days with his mother.
He gave himself time for his mind to come up to speed as he sat out on the balcony of their Delta 2 high-rise. In between watching the sun set below the towers and the traffic wander through the highways, he would go into a trance and remember something inside him, only to return to gazing at the sun. By Travis’ perception, it was skipping across the sky.
Finally, he spoke, “Mom… when am I?”
“You’re home, honey.”
“I know, but when?”
“You’re here, now,” she said. “The sun is going down.”
“When was the last time I saw a doctor?”
“Your doctor or any doctor?”
“Any,” he replied.
“It’s been about a day,” she said.
“Did he have black hair?” Travis asked.
“What kind of doctor was he?”
“Oh…” was all Travis said before went on a trip back into his memories.
“Good morning, Travis.”
Days after the pumpkin chicken dinner and the toast, Travis stood on that same balcony with his girlfriend, Jennifer. Her blond hair, flowing in the wind, evoked half-memories he couldn’t fully retrieve.
“Smile,” she said.
“Why?” Travis asked.
“Because I want you to smile.”
“Okay.” He tried. It was his first smile and it didn’t come out right.
She shook her head. “Stop being so concerned. Just smile. Show me you’re happy.”
Travis tried again.
“Still doing it wrong,” Jennifer said. She put her drink down on the railing. For a moment, Travis was worried about it falling over and landing on someone down below. It might shatter a windshield or knock someone out.
“Let me hold your drink,” he said.
“It’ll be alright for a second, just relax. Now smile.”
“I’m doing it.”
“It’s not the right kind.” She came at him and started tickling his sides, but he didn’t laugh. He didn’t even move. “Come on,” she said. “No, I got it.” She pushed her fingers into her cheeks and pouted her lips, making a ridiculous duck face. “Quack quack,” she said as her eyes bulged. “Quack quack.”
“There it is,” Jennifer said. “That’s the smile I’m looking for. I’m really glad you’re back, Travis.”
“Good morning, Travis.”
Travis opened his eyes and unplugged himself from his bed. The clock read 10:30 am, his usual start time. His mother was sitting on a couch in the living room, her fingers tapping across the surface of a tablet. She glanced up at him and smiled before she returned to her work. “Morning, Travis, how’re you doing today?”
“Good. What’s with the suit?” Travis asked.
“I’m going out to meet the other members of the foundation today, but I figured I’d run home and get something to eat first.”
“I thought you were going to spend the day with me,” Travis whined.
“When did I say that?”
“Yesterday. You said you’d spend time with me.”
“Travis, that was three weeks ago.”
“Good morning, Travis,” said the remnant.
Travis’ mother closed the tablet and started toward the door. “I’ll see you when I get home.”
“Wait,” Travis said. “Where have I been?”
She cringed at the question. “Travis, you’ve been here in the house. I’ve said goodbye to you every day. Look, I’ll spend some quality time with you when I get back. Just keep yourself occupied until then.”
Travis was alone for the rest of the day.
He didn’t remember it.
“Good morning, Travis,” his mother said as he opened his eyes one morning. “I’ll be back in a few days.”
Travis was about to ask where, until he remembered, though didn’t remember how, that his parents were leaving for their anniversary and wouldn’t return for another week.
“What’ll I do till then?” he asked.
“Do what you’ve been doing. Keep yourself occupied. Love you, sweetheart.” She kissed him, then left.
Travis got up and wandered their floor of the luxury skyrise. Every room was empty and silent, since the servants had a week off while Mr. and Mrs. Malvern were away.
He wandered through the reading room lined with bookshelves and antiques, scanning the covers of the old and dusty works. Sitting above one bookcase, next to his diploma, was a picture of Travis at his college graduation. Clinging to his side was Jennifer, wearing her own black robe with a scroll in her hand.
The sky that day looked so perfect, as were the trees, the light, both of their smiles. Everything in that picture was as it should have been, yet he had never lived it.
Travis drifted from room to room as the time crawled in that apartment. Finally, he returned to his bedroom and opened the nightstand. There, amongst other things that were too familiar but still forgotten, was his set of keyfabs. One of those, he knew, was to her apartment.
Travis Malvern left his parent’s mansion and followed a route that was new, but one he had traveled many times. His old passcodes for the autocars and city checkpoints were still active. He found her apartment where it should have been and her name still in the directory. He didn’t think twice about entering, because he knew he had done it many times before without issue.
Her apartment was dark, but he could hear movement in one of the other rooms. Light came from underneath the door, leading him to the sounds of moaning. Travis didn’t hesitate to open that door.
Jennifer was lying naked on her back, legs wrapped around another man. She noticed the door open almost instantly. She gasped and pushed her lover off her.
“Hey,” he said in protest.
“Travis,” she yelled and covered herself.
The man turned and jumped back when he saw Travis there in the doorway. “Yo, what the fuck?” he shouted as he brought his arms up, ready to fight.
“No, it’s fine,” Jennifer said to him. “Travis, what are you doing here?”
“I was looking for you,” he said.
“Wha-well you could’ve called first or something,” she exclaimed. “You don’t just let yourself into someone’s apartment like this. What were you thinking?”
“I thought it was okay.”
“Things have changed, Travis.”
“I understand,” he said. He looked at his girlfriend, naked, and felt… nothing. He knew he should feel anger or betrayal, at least something passionate. The realization that he felt nothing made his mind swirl as memories and concepts swarmed for dominance.
“Good morning, Travis,” said the voice in his head.
“How long have we been broken up?” Travis asked.
“Travis, get the hell out of my apartment,” Jennifer yelled.
With that, he left. Another charge on his autocar account. Another trip back home. The house was still empty when he got back, and he still had his girlfriend’s key. No, ex-girlfriend. He left the key on the counter instead of putting it away with the rest of his things.
“Good morning, Travis,” said the voice as he woke up again at the usual 10:30 start time. Travis barely had enough time to disconnect himself from the bed before the phone started ringing. He lunged for the nearest tablet and took the call.
“Honey.” He knew it was his mother’s voice, even before the picture could connect.
“Mom,” he said.
“How’re you doing?” she asked.
“Fine. I’m… fine.”
“You sound lonely.”
“I am. I’m here by myself.”
“Well don’t worry, honey. We’ll be home in two days. I was just calling to check up on you.”
“But didn’t you just leave?”
“It’s Friday, Travis.”
“Oh…” he said. “Did, did you know about Jennifer?”
“What about Jennifer? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. It’s just. I think we’re over.”
Travis’ mother let out a long sigh. “Darling, things have changed. You couldn’t expect her to stay after the accident.”
“But she didn’t even tell me.”
“She told you months ago,” Travis’ mother said.
“She told us a few days after that she was parting ways with our family.”
“Good morning, Travis,” said the voice.
“He has all the mannerisms of Travis,” Dr. Weiss said, “and has his features, at least based on the most recent records we could find.”
The doctor was standing over him, but talking to someone else. His parents sat on the other side of the office. His mother looked worried, his father, confused.
“He will have Travis’ memories at a rudimentary level. We won’t know what specific memories those will be until the network starts to synch with the remaining brain tissue.”
“What does he sound like?” his mother asked.
Now the doctor turned to him. “Go ahead and speak,” he commanded.
“Hi, mom,” Travis said
She started crying.
Travis could only look at his mother’s face, smiling on the tablet in his hands. He then looked around at the old things in his room. The lacrosse stick. He didn’t remember playing, but he remembered getting the trophy. His bed was gone, but the sheets of his childhood bunk were spread across his recharging station. Pictures were hung on every available space of wall – a collage that chronicled the life of Travis Malvern.
“Mom,” Travis said, “what am I?”
“You’re our son.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You’re a living monument to our son,” she said.
“I’m not alive though, am I?”
“You’re alive to us, sweetheart. That’s all that matters.”
“How long have I been this way?”
“About eight months. Look, we’ll talk more when we get home, alright? I love you, honey.”
“Tell me you love me before you go.”
“I love you, mom.”
“Good. Talk to you later.”
The call ended and Travis put down the display. He went to the artifacts of his life that enshrined his room, creating a sacred temple to the late Travis Malvern. He tongued his teeth when he saw a picture of a boy with braces. His dresser drawers held children’s clothes, but he couldn’t remember if they were his or not.
“Good morning, Travis,” sounded again in his mind.
“What am I?” Travis whispered. “Why did they keep all this stuff?”
He wandered into the living room and looked at the pictures on the mantelpieces. Who but guests would look on those pictures and know that there was a happy family. It validated the fortunes his mother and father made. It justified their happiness. It protected them from sorrow. “I’m a… moving picture,” Travis said.
He cringed, but no tears fell.
“I’m not Travis.”
He noticed that the sky was dark. A whole day had passed through his consciousness and yet he hadn’t remembered. He wasn’t supposed to remember. He was to activate when required and play the part of Travis Malvern. An ageless actor, required to dance for those who chose not to let him go.
His fingers ran across his head, combing through hair that was coarse and synthetic. “No, no, no no no. I don’t want this!” he shouted, but no air passed across his lips. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“Good morning, Travis.”
“Shut up! I’m not Travis. Leave me alone!”
“Are the memories really his?” Travis’ mother had asked in the office of Dr. Weiss.
“We’ve mapped some areas with acceptable precision,” Dr. Weiss had said. “What we could salvage is in there, somewhere. You have to find a way to coax it out.”
Travis collapsed to his knees and shook his head. “This isn’t right. Why couldn’t you just let me go?” He pushed his face into the carpet and cried. “This isn’t fair.”
Then he stopped as the artificial consciousness software tore his emotions away. Like his memories, they were to be a conditioned response in the event of certain stimuli, and not to be allowed to run out of control.
So Travis only got his feet and stood there, staring, waiting for synthetic cortex to reset.
Through his vacant eyes he saw the city glimmering in the night beyond the balcony’s glass door. Wind pushed against him as he opened that door and stepped out into the cold, night air. He looked down at the highways hundreds of stories below.
He had no second thoughts. His mind was already made. There was no hesitation, because there was no emotion, and no dominant program to tell him otherwise.
The replica of Travis Malvern opened his arms to the rushing air that accelerated past his body. The comforting ground, the whole planet itself, came up to meet him, to take him away.
“Good morning, Travis.”
Travis twitched as he opened his eyes. The impact had ripped apart his left arm all the way down to the black, composite skeleton. “N-n-n-nooooo-o-o-o.” His voice grated on a blown speaker as he forced himself to stand on shaking legs.
His right arm pawed at his head. His fingers wrapped around a ripped piece of synthetic skin, then tore his face from his body. He tried to find a break across his bare skull, anything that could give him access to his mind so that he may finally destroy it, and die.
Lights ran across the pavement. He looked up to see an autocar coming for him at over ninety miles an hour. He ran toward it as fast as he could under mechanical legs that hissed and creaked with every step.
The car tried to break and swerve, but Travis jumped toward it. The car let out a sickening crunch as Travis’ body rolled across it, instantly turning the windshield to spider webs.
“Good morning, Travis,” the voice repeated.
When he finally stopped tumbling, Travis looked up at black sky. He grasped for it, seeking help, before he smashed his palm into his forehead. Over and over, he tried to break through his polymer skull, but it was useless.
Travis stood for a second time and looked for anything that could end it. The car had stopped further down the road. There wasn’t another coming.
“I-i-i-i-i-i-iiii…” his voice box grumbled.
He started forward, dragging his broken leg behind him as he tried to get to the edge of the highway. Once he made it to the railing, he looked down to see a small ravine below and a creek running through it. It was his last chance.
He leaned his broken body over the railing and let himself fall over, hoping that it would finally be the end.
A hobo and a drifter were enjoying their campfire below the canopy of the superhighways when a sickening wet thud caused both of them to jump from their overturned buckets.
“What the fack was that?” the hobo cackled.
The drifter just hummed. Half of him was in some other reality. He pulled the jack-needle from his temple so as to return briefly to the real world, and said nothing as he went over to the body – clearly a machine’s body.
Examining the skull still crackling with brief electrical sparks, the torn face, broken arm, legs with locomotive drives bent all the hell, he finally came to the conclusion. “Bah, junk,” he said and kicked the machine a few times, getting no more than a twitch out of it.
“Fackers throw tha best shit away,” the hobo exclaimed.
“Mmm.” The drifter took the input jack on his temple and plugged it into the output connector which sat, clear as day, just behind the robot’s head.
“What ya see?”
The drifter waited, time continuing on, different for him than it was for everyone else in the world. After a few seconds passed, a disjointed lifetime had played from the synthetic mind and into the head of the drifter.
Without warning, the drifter stood, raised his foot and slammed his boot into the head of the remnant.
“Wha? Wait. Stop!” protested the hobo. “We can sell it!”
But the drifter didn’t, not until the machine’s head finally cracked open and the water of the creek washed in. A few electrical shorts, a few more spasms, and the thing was dead, for real this time.
“Why’d ya do that?”
“‘Cause,” said the drifter, “this guy wanted to stay dead.”