The Memory of My Shadow #19
Chapters 36 & 37
We are nearing the end of my story. There is only one episode left after this one. I hope you’re enjoying the ride. If you are, before the honeymoon’s over, please consider recommending “The Memory of My Shadow” to some friends. As an independent author, it is really the only marketing scheme I have. Thank you for your kind attention. Now, on with the story…
The thing that’s been bothering me since I read Henri’s note is that technically there’s no way this can work. The only reason I dare to hope is that Henri must have known, even under duress, that Meela’s plan wouldn’t work, and yet they wasted their last moment of life to write it down. Why?
I sit in front of my laptop, fingers hovering over the keys with the old Nib prototype pulsing gently at the base of my skull. This tingling sensation was something that took two more iterations to get rid of and I find it incredibly distracting as I try to think through this puzzle. The foundational part of our technology is the binding or pairing of a DC to a Nib. Even running a generation of the DC operating system that’s only a couple of years older than the host Nib is unstable and potentially dangerous. But Meela would have known all of this.
She wanted me to come here. That’s the only rational explanation. She knew I would have to come back to Commune to get the prototype. I can’t sit here and debate forever, so I begin.
I’m still logged in with my backdoor credentials, but I can’t use them beyond this point otherwise I risk discovery, which would terminate the account and shut me out permanently. I navigate back into the user admin system and grab the login credentials for the highest-ranking software engineer at the company, Darshan. His poking around in the bowels of the Commune code repository will not draw undue attention.
I glance over at Evan. He’s looking at me with this helpless expression. How terrible to just have to sit there and wonder what the hell is going on. I push some stray papers out of the way and reveal Henri’s active desk. I tap and swipe through a few gestures across the glass surface and the room around us comes to life. The floor-to-ceiling glass wall in front of us lights up with Henri’s virtual workspace. It’s more cumbersome to work this way but now Evan can at least see what I’m doing. Even if it means nothing to him, at least he can follow along.
“Better?” I ask.
“Um, yeah. Much,” he says.
I am drilling down into the archive now of all the previous versions of the DC OS, reading the release notes, and reliving the ups and downs of each new iteration. There were so many mistakes, and so many bad assumptions but also so many complete and total gifts that seemed to come out of nowhere. I am losing myself in it, seduced as I always am by the quiet, sturdy elegance of pure logic. And yet I am reminded of Henri’s mystical stance on all of it and of Evan’s words earlier. It’s not all in my control. There is a point where logic runs out and then there’s only what? Faith.
I have located the latest version of the OS that could possibly run on the old Nib and I prepare myself for the arduous task of attempting to code some kind of a bridge that will allow Meela to connect when suddenly…
[That won’t be necessary, Love. I’m here.]
Her voice used to be as familiar and comforting to me as my own but hearing it makes me jump in my chair. I look over at Evan and he just looks puzzled and concerned. He can’t hear her. She’s connecting through the old Nib, but how?
“Meela, we’re not alone. You have to speak in the room.”
“Hello Evan,” she says, her amplified voice filling the eerie quiet of Henri’s office. A second later, on the display wall in front of us, I see a ghost from my past and my breath catches in my throat.
“What is it? Are you okay?” Evan can’t see well from his angle and he’s up off the couch now, moving toward me.
“You, you… how did you find…” I stumble, unable to find words for my disbelief.
“Henri. It was his gift to me before he passed. He knew what I wanted most was to know who I am, where I came from.”
“But…” I begin but cannot continue. The emotion is too strong.
“What’s going on here?” Evan asks, looking up at the display. “Who’s this?”
“You don’t recognize me do you, Evan? I guess I’ll always underestimate how much attachment you humans have to gender. My real name is not Meela, it’s Aleem. I suppose Maggie didn’t tell you either. She’s good with her secrets.”
Evan is standing directly in front of the display now and staring at the life-sized rendering of Aleem. The representation of him is so complete, every nuance, every detail of his face and his body, his expression and gestures are just as I remember them.
“I don’t understand,” Evan says, turning to face me.
I want to explain it all, I do but I don’t know where to begin. I feel as if the thread that started unraveling a few short days ago is piling onto the floor now at a pace that will leave me stripped of everything. Aleem is just looking back at me with his dark, penetrating eyes, the bow of his mouth bent in the mischievous smirk I loved so.
“Aleem was,” I begin, my voice choked with emotion. “Aleem was someone very special to me, maybe the only person I ever let in except for Henri. When he… when I lost him forever, I couldn’t bear it and I wanted him back in my life. He was the real reason I walked away from all of this…”
Aleem speaks and his voice falls into the natural lower register of the man I loved. “Why all the lies, Maggie? Why did you keep my identity from me? Why did you allow me to feel what I felt for you without any true understanding of why?”
“For the integrity of the work. Can’t you see? I knew you would only be a simulation, an echo of Aleem and I was afraid that if you knew, if you could compare, it would make you unstable. I wanted his company, his essence close to me. I know it sounds crazy.”
Evan is pacing now, as I’ve grown accustomed to him doing when he’s agitated.
“So was Meela, I mean Aleem just an alpha test before the big experiment of Joe?” he asks.
“Maybe, but I wasn’t thinking like that, believe it or not. I was following my heart, my stupid, broken heart. I was always such a good scientist, but my grief… I couldn’t hold it back anymore and I broke. I allowed it to make me do things professionally that should never have been done.”
“Meela is Aleem spelled backwards,” Evan says, distantly. He’s staring out the window again, tracing his finger along the glass.
“Yes, you would think a being with my vast resources could have cracked that code wouldn’t you?” Aleem says. “I scoured every database in the world for two years and the answer was right here, within the walls of Commune. I was employee number four and contributed more code to the project than anyone else up until I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Maggie kept our relationship a secret. She was always so private and the fame, the spotlight on her success made her even more paranoid. There was nothing on public record…”
“But your personality, your… orientation… you were Meela,” Evan says.
“Aleem was not a person to be confined to any rules,” I say, remembering him. “He loved who he loved, and it didn’t matter what parts they were born with. He loved me with all of my scars in a way that no one else ever had before.”
“So what, you stripped out the memory of your past together and flipped his gender?” Evan asks.
“Yes, it was more complicated than that, but that’s basically right.”
“Why the elaborate lies, Maggie? Why the bedtime stories you told me about my source?”
“Like all good fiction, it’s better when woven with threads of truth. I changed some superficial facts, but the soul of Aleem was always in every variation of the origin story I gave you. Aleem and I did spend six glorious weeks together in Europe. He was a free spirit, an irreverent, wickedly sardonic, tattooed maniac who wrote brilliant code. But he was also tender, a healer. Late into our Commune success, he hired a private Chinese Medicine teacher so he could learn acupuncture and help me with my chronic migraines.”
“Wait, I’m still trying to catch up here,” Evan says. “You mapped him, meaning you did the interviews like you were doing with me?”
“Yes, when we found out that he only had three months to live, I quit Commune and rented a place in the mountains not far from where I live now. Aleem agreed to do it for me, but I don’t think he wanted me to. He understood how hard it would be for me to lose anyone else in my life. Wiping the DC’s memory of me and our history was actually his idea. He insisted, really. He told me it was for the integrity of the experiment, to ensure a stable personality, but I believe he just didn’t want someone else, even virtual, to know me in the way that he did.”
I look over and see that Evan is sitting on the couch. He’s not looking at me or at the digital ghost of my old lover. His posture is of a man defeated, and I begin to realize how this must feel for him. What was crazy to begin with just became untenable. I want to go to him, to sit beside him and put my arms around him, but it would feel wrong somehow, like a betrayal. I look back at Aleem and I say his name silently on my lips. I loved his name from the first time I heard it. It was music– lyrical. It means, omniscient, all-knowing.
I realize now, that Henri always knew but never said anything. They knew I liked my privacy and that secrets were part of my strategy to survive. They knew what I was doing was no longer good science, it was no longer a mission of betterment for the world, it was my own selfish pursuit, but they allowed it. Henri loved me more than the work we devoted our lives to.
“Maggie, I wish we had more time,” Aleem says, the change in tone of his voice, shaking me from my thoughts.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
In that instant, the room display, and all the lights on the entire floor wink out, leaving just the silhouettes of me and Evan in the dark office. The subtle soundtrack that had been playing below my conscious awareness is silenced, leaving a quiet so complete it feels charged with a humming current. The hair on my arms stands up and my mouth goes dry.
“Hi Sis, I’m so glad you could make it.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Catch & Release to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.