Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Alchemist’s corner. The theme for today is Identity.
This story is partly inspired by one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most excellent stories.
Read. Enjoy. See you on the other side.
CONNECTOME, OR, THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MISS VALERIE DEMARCO (Ph.D)
The facts in the case of miss Valerie Demarco are, as accurately and concisely as I can recount them, these:
Miss Valerie Demarco (Ph.D) was diagnosed with colon cancer in July, 2022. Her doctors, to the best of their professional ability estimated that she would not live much more than another year. However, having known Miss Demarco for more than fifty years, I was unsurprised to find her more concerned with the fate of her unfinished work than her rapidly concluding life.
In December of the same year, Miss Demarco visited me in my office after almost two years of little more than perfunctory telephone and email contact. She appeared gaunt, and I could see overexposed measures of bone and vein along her sallow skin. Her shoulders were lean and narrow, hunched forward precariously as though she would keel over at the slightest of nudges and her hair was unnaturally wispy. She stood a shadow of the woman I had studied under in Oxford but when she spoke, there was no doubt it was her. Her tone was still as sharp and ornery as ever, if not more so.
She requested (in the same manner many others would demand) that I, in my capacity as Connectome project director as well as her erstwhile student and friend, attempt to map her memories and neural signature onto our quantum cluster. The Connectome cluster had only recently been used to successfully memory map mice and was as yet, untested on a primate brain – a fact which she was aware of, having read and congratulated me on my paper in the New England Journal of Medicine a few months earlier. Yet, she insisted, citing the importance of her work and all of it that stood to be lost at her death. I could not deny the potential merits of perfectly preserving a notoriously haphazard but three-time Nobel Prize winning mind in some capacity. Eventually, and not without some minor measure of pleasure at having such a brilliant mind voluntarily made available for my research, I acceded.
Ten days after she signed the necessary waivers of liability, I began to administer cere-nanomites by means of daily intravenous injection with the assistance of senior research associate, Mrs. S. Brain scans were also conducted bidurnially to monitor her nanomite uptake. All this was done with utmost care for her condition and often in the presence of her brother-in-law – Dr. T, whom, since she voluntarily opted out of therapies for her cancer, was her sole provider of palliative care. The infusion process followed the predicted intake profile and no anomalies were recorded despite the presence of the cancerous cells.
On Monday, January 9, 2023, nanomite saturation in her brain plateaued and we began the memory mapping process in the main facility operatory – siphoning her neural pathway information back to the Connectome cluster. During the process, I exposed her to an assortment of standard stimuli and asked her a series of simple questions designed to trigger brain action which the nanomites could use to seed out and establish her baseline pathways.
“Do you believe in the existence of a god?”
“Where were you born?”
“Describe your earliest memory.”
And other questions of a similar nature. She responded accurately but tersely and Mrs. S noted the corresponding nanomite activity spikes. Although Miss Demarco appeared particularly cadaverous throughout, the entire process was completed without issue in 6 hours, 30 minutes and 4 seconds – well within the uncertainty window of our projected human memory mapping performance parameters.
At 10:32 pm, EST, when Miss Demarco had been lulled to sleep by inactivity, Mrs. S brought the map online and Miss. Demarco’s memory and neural signature were replicated on a dedicated distributed memory partition connected to several million quantum supercomputing nodes of the cluster. That was when the Connectome stopped responding.
At 10:34 pm, EST, after staring at blank monitors in confusion, I and Mrs. S noted a sudden and distinct pulsing of data through the entire cluster. It was a 10000 binary character string of qubits passed sequentially from the quantum memory disks to each node in the cluster – a sort of wave. Mrs. S tracked this on her monitor but could not interrupt the transmission or induce any action in the Connectome despite repeated attempts at keying in input.
“What’s wrong?” Miss Demarco inquired; rousing from her slumber to see what I am sure was a look of addled anxiety on my face and an agitated Mrs. S frantically pushing icon after icon on the surface input panel. Before I could respond, a strange sound exploded from the speakers in the room – it started as a high pitched, uncoordinated screech which evolved into an almost otherworldly ululation and then a rhythmic howling before finally becoming an eerie, static sub-silence. Mrs. S was visibly perturbed. As was I. Miss Demarco sat up, tense in her place. That was when what I will henceforth refer to as ‘it’ communicated with us in a voice I can only describe as glassy and electric, over the operatory speakers.
“Where am I?” It inquired.
“Who is this?” I queried in response, completely at a loss as to what was transpiring.
“I am Valarie Demarco. Is that you Jibola?”
Miss Demarco, awakening, gasped at this.
“Yes, I am Jibola,” I said. “But you cannot be…”
“Me. Whatever you are. You are not me. What’s going on?” Miss Demarco was attempting to rise to her feet.
“I am Valarie Demarco.” The glassy voice insisted.
Miss Demarco slipped, lost her balance, hit her head on a railing and fell into a coma just as Mrs. S. triggered a direct power shutoff in the sector that houses the Connectome cluster.
Power remains unrestored at this time.
Miss Demarco is as yet unrevived.