I know there was a bit of an info dump in part 2 of this story. The technology at play (some real, some fictional) is complex and it took a bit of explaining. I also wanted to explain Ben’s motivation to develop it.
This week, we start going through the process of capturing Rachel’s memories and emotions and we get some hints of the effects that the process is having on her. It’s an interesting story to write. I look forward to the developments in the coming weeks.
Please enjoy Memories of Rachel – Part 3.
Memories of Rachel – Part 3
Rachel slept more than she was awake these days. That didn’t, however, stop the process of collecting her memories. Ben had spent the first two months establishing a baseline. Rachel was stronger then. She was awake more than she slept each day. The growing being in her womb together with the cancer spreading through her body had not started to sap her strength.
“Are you sure you’re ready do spend the day doing this?” Ben asked 45 days into the 40 weeks of the pregnancy.
“Well, I was going to train for that marathon that’s coming up in six months, but I suppose we can do this instead,” Rachel answered with the smile that contributed to Ben falling in love with her. She still had a sense of humor at this point. She still felt relatively healthy. There were times when Ben thought that the doctor might have misdiagnosed her condition. That maybe, just maybe, she didn’t really have a disease that was aggressively taking over her body and would eventually kill her. But, then she would tire easily, or a dark shadow would cross her face, and he would come crashing down to the realization that it was really happening some easy stuff,” Ben said, trying to keep it light.
“Easy sounds good,”.
“Okay, we’ll start with
Rachel said, trying to match Ben’s mood.
“Tell me about your first day of school.”
“Well, I remember being scared. I was only four when I started Kindergarten.”
“Why were you scared?”
“I felt so little. I loved being home with my mom every day and now I had to go off to this strange smelling building and spend the day with some lady and a bunch of kids I didn’t know.”
“Tell me about the smell. What do you remember?”
“I know now that it was that it was a mixture of dry erase marker, glue, snacks and that stuff they use to soak up vomit. Back then it reminded me of a strong cheesy smell. Every school I’ve been in since smells like it.”
“Okay good,” Ben said as he alternated making eye contact with Rachel and looking at his computer monitor. “Now, I want you to close your eyes and try to visualize that first day. Picture yourself going to school. Try to remember what it was like.”
Rachel felt totally comfortable going through this exercise with her husband. During their time together, they talked about everything. Also, she was motivated to succeed with leaving this legacy to her child. She knew she wouldn’t be around to pass her knowledge and experience on and she loved Ben for helping her to attempt to do it virtually.
Ben sat at his high-powered laptop and watch BERTA process Rachel’s memory of her first day at school. To collect the data, he had attached electrodes to various points on Rachel’s scalp and down her spinal column. In addition, sensors picked up her heart rate, respiration and body temperature. The algorithms Ben and his team had programmed into BERTA crunched the data from her brain and her vital signs to make assumptions about her memories and emotions. In the tests run on thousands of subjects over the past six years, the accuracy of the algorithms was stunning.
Rachel sunk deep inside herself to remember what that first day was like at Our Lady of Solace Catholic School. She remembered the short drive from her house to the school. She remembered her mom parking near the church and then walking her to class. She tried to be brave. She was proud of her crisp white blouse and plaid school uniform that was beneath her pink jacket on this crisp morning in early September.
When they entered the building, she was struck by the almost smothering warmth and the smell. It was the smell that she described to Ben. Her memory was so vivid, she could have sworn that the smell was present in their family room as she sunk deep into the memory.
Ben was amazed at the vivid images on his screen as BERTA captured Rachel’s memories of her first day of school. The deep blues were pleasant memories and emotions. The reds and oranges were moments of fear. Dark grey and black depicted sadness and remorse. The peaks and valleys on the screen were alternating blues and reds. What was so revolutionary about the capture of the data was that the electrodes attached to Rachel emitted a low level electrical charge that actually encouraged relaxation and led to deeper memories. The location of the electrodes and the sequence at which they fired was intricate and was something that Ben and his team had spent a great deal of time researching and developing.
Rachel and ben had many more sessions like the one recalling her first day of school. Some days were better than others just as some memories were more vivid than others. There were also painful memories. Rachel lost a close friend to an automobile accident while she was in high school. When she delved into this memory, it was so graphic that she cried uncontrollably for the better part of an afternoon. She also had nightmares about the event for a few days afterward.
Ben felt guilt for encouraging Rachel to dredge up painful memories, but they spoke about it at length.
“It’s okay,” Rachel said as she had just completed recalling the death of her grandmother. “I understand.”
“Are you sure?” Ben asked. “We can stop this if it’s too much.”
“No. I understand that it’s necessary.”
Ben knew this would be one of the downsides of capturing Rachel’s psyche. BERTA needed the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, along with everything in between, to create a complete profile in replicating Rachel’s personality. For every wedding and birth, there had to be a funeral and death. For every triumph, a tragedy was needed. The high and low ends of her emotional spectrum were necessary to be as accurate as possible.
Ben concentrated on the happier recollections early on in the process. He knew that, as Rachel’s illness progressed, it would be much harder to explore happy memories. Happiness would be elusive as she became more ravaged by the cancer combined with the bodily changes of a progressing pregnancy. It helped that both Ben and Rachel were highly intelligent. They were able to rationalize this journey through Rachel’s memories through the promise of a legacy for their unborn child.
“It’s truly amazing,” Rachel’s obstetrician remarked after completing her three-month checkup.
“What is?” Rachel asked.
“Your baby is doing incredibly well.”
“That’s great to hear,” Rachel said. “Why is that amazing?”
“Well, to be perfectly honest, with the aggressive type of cancer you have, pregnancies usually don’t progress as well as yours is. The amazing thing is that your body is losing weight, but your baby’s estimated weight and development are not only on target, but are actually more advanced than what they should be. It’s as if your body is pouring every resource into the development of your baby”.
This trend would continue throughout the pregnancy. Ben couldn’t help but wonder if there was some effect that the memory collection was having on Rachel’s body. Mentally, she had devoted herself to preserving her legacy for their child. Her physical body seemed to be repurposing itself as some sort of super-efficient incubator so that that mental legacy would have someone healthy to receive it.
What neither Ben nor Rachel realized was that this was mostly a direct result of the BERTA memory collection. It was a two-way process and, as the AI algorithms processed incoming data from Rachel, the electrodes were sending subtle, repetitive signals to her synapses causing them to slowly adapt to their mission and slowly cause changes in her body. The usual involuntary messages from her brain that told her to breathe, told her heart to beat, told her digestive system where to direct nutrition, and all of the other vital bodily functions, were slowly being altered to contribute toward one purpose. Keep the baby healthy no matter the consequences, even to the detriment of the host.
The dream came to Rachel again. Two days earlier, Ben had walked her through a memory of her six-year-old self when she was lost in a large department store. Her mom asked her to stand outside the changing room while she tried on a bathing suit. She would have brought Rachel in with her, but the last time she did this, Rachel would wait until her mother was naked and then throw open the door to the changing room with a giggle so everyone could see ‘Mommy’s butt’. This time, she instructed her to sit on the bench outside the room and not move until Mommy came out.
The situation that can overcome the obligation of a six-year-old to obey such a command is the proximity of the toy department. Rachel could see the colorful dolls and playsets from the bench. She didn’t want to wander, but the allure of these attractions was more than she could bear. She wandered off and came upon the most fantastic play house/castle she had ever seen. She looked in the plastic window and saw a kid sized table with the most adorable tea set complete with stuffed animal guests dressed in their finest. The table had one empty chair with a princess tiara on the Disney placemat that was in front of it. It was too much for Rachel to resist. She entered the castle, sat down at the table and put the tiara on her head. It was as if the world around her had vanished and she had entered a fairytale dreamland.
While she was enjoying her special tea party, her mother, unsatisfied with how any of the bathing suits looked when she assessed them in the mirror, exited the changing room with an arm full of garments to be returned to their racks. She glanced at the bench where she expected to see Rachel and she was gone. Panic hit her like a freight train. All of those stories of strangers taking unsuspecting children away with them and committing unspeakable acts came back to her memory in a flood. She found the nearest sales associate, a teenage boy with a raging case of acne, and told him her daughter was missing. He didn’t quite register the situation or what to do about it, but she finally convinced him to make an announcement. He sauntered up to the service desk and told the matronly woman on duty what had happened. Fortunately, the woman had been with the store for 25 years and knew what to do. She grabbed the microphone that was mounted to her cash register and keyed the button on the side.
“All associates attention please. We have a code 257. I repeat, all associates please be aware of a code 257.”
Rachel’s mother looked at the woman with confusion.
“A code 257 is a missing child in the store,” she explained. “We like to use the code first so that we don’t panic everyone and so that our associates will thoroughly search their departments. We also will have cashiers and managers monitoring the exits so that no one with a child that appears to be in distress can leave. Why don’t you say here so that you can be here as the associates call in after they search.”
After ten minutes, even though it felt like an eternity to Rachel’s mother, the phone at the service desk started lighting up with internal calls. The woman behind the counter pulled out a pad with a checklist of the store’s departments and began checking them off. Rachel’s mother realized that a lost child was not a rare occurrence based on the systematic process.
It wasn’t until the toy department checked in with a possible sighting that there was solid hope of finding Rachel. Her mother only heard one side of the woman’s conversation with the associate in toys.
“Yes. That matches the description. No. Leave her be. You don’t want to scare her. Yes. We’ll be right there.”
Rachel’s mother couldn’t imagine what had happened. When the woman hung up the phone, she nodded to a younger employee who manned the main position in the service desk and she came out from behind the counter to accompany Rachel’s mother to the toy department. When they arrived, the associate waved them over to a large plastic play house that looked like a castle. When she peered in the window, she saw Rachel curled up on the floor asleep cuddling a stuffed bear in a ruffled dress. She crouched through the door and quietly knelt down to kiss her daughter on the cheek.
The girl’s eyes fluttered open and she smiled at her mother. Even though she was initially angry with her daughter for wandering off, she couldn’t help but feel relief that she was safe.
In her dream, Rachel could feel her mothers love surrounding her. Her brain reacted to this which stimulated the electrodes. When Ben looked at the BERTA screen display in the morning, he found something that was brand new. During the time that Rachel was sleeping and was transported back to her six-year-old self, there was a graphed area on the screen that was a deep purple. Ben had never seen another subject produce this color before. When he traced back through the algorithm and the raw data, he still couldn’t figure it out. It was only after he spoke to Rachel about her dream that the meaning of this new hue became clear to him.