When Santosh was six years old, he found out that Santa Claus didn't exist. After writing his Christmas list, he told his parents about it, mentioning the Game Boy and roller skates on the list. His parents laughed at him and told him that Santa wasn't real. They were the ones buying the gifts and they certainly weren't going to get anything on that list.
MAY 8, 2000
"Hey Santosh! How's it going?"
"Hi, Guy. Thanks for meeting me."
"Of course! We haven't talked in ages. Plus, anart! You want to do anart! How could I say no?"
"Yeah. Hey, thanks very much for agreeing to help me. I've never done this before. But, uh, what's with this place? I had to plug a USB drive into a door to get in here."
"What, Eurtec? I almost forgot! This is your first time here, isn't it? Before we do anything else, I need to give you the grand tour!"
When Santosh was eight years old, he forgot that he had a math team meet. At home, his father sat him down and castigated him for being so stupid. He made it clear that Santosh would never have any kind of future besides cleaning the toilets or mowing the lawn for the Chinese. After all, Chinese children had ten times the work ethic and drive to succeed and deserved to beat him at everything. Santosh never missed another math meet again.
"So, Eurtec," Guy started. The two of them were walking down an enormous, gleaming chrome promenade, flanked by mile-high glass and concrete skyscrapers. What seemed to be thousands of humans, cyborgs, robots, androids, and even holograms streamed by. Great flashing billboards seemingly everywhere broadcast advertisements for expanded petabyte drives, brand new augmented reality implants, bionic prosthesis replacements, and smart kitchen sinks.
"OK, so before we even talk about Eurtec, we gotta talk about this group called the Servants of the Silicon Nornir. Long story short, they're transhumanists who think these three supercomputers in the center of the city are going to bring about the singularity, and so they have a real hard-on for paratech. So in 1985, the Servants got to thinking that the rate things were going, the singularity was never going to arrive. They decided to speed up the process."
As he spoke, Guy dodged a cybernetic spider, which chirped angrily at him. He waved apologetically, and then stopped in front of a seemingly nondescript store front without a logo, displaying only an icon of a brain sitting on a laptop. The windows were floor-to-ceiling, displaying all kinds of electronic parts.
"First stop, we need to get a transistorized positronic cognition matrix. BrainGate should have plenty of refurbished ones."
Santosh followed him in. Guy continued speaking as he browsed the selection of digital brains. "Like I was saying. 1985. Servants get impatient. They figure, normalcy agencies like the Gocks and Foundies are keeping a tight ship on things. There's no good place for people to get together and collaborate on paratech. So, the Servants decide to make one. They modeled it after a bunch of global tech centers - here we go!"
Guy held up a wrinkled, silver-and-grey brain. He held it out to Santosh. "Take a look at that. Eight petabytes of storage space, a full terabyte of RAM - it's even got solid-state glia! This is perfect!"
Guy took out a thin, chocolate-bar sized tablet from his pocket. "Check it out," he said, holding the brain underneath it. "It's called a smartphone. You can take photos, scan products like this matrix, play games, and, you know, call people."
Santosh admired the device. As they walked out of the store, Guy explained a few more of the phone's features, "… plus it even acts as an Internet hotspot! Course you can only find it here in Eurtec. Actually, getting back to Eurtec. The name's like, a pormanteau of 'Europe' and 'tech'. I also heard that it was supposed to be a pun: 'Eurtec, your tech'… I dunno. I don't really know how they built it or how they hide the place - some kind of pocket dimension, I think - but the point is, Eurtec is basically a paratech lover's paradise."
When Santosh was eleven years old, he proudly showed his father the 95 he had received on his math placement exam. His father pressed him on where the remaining 5 points were and agitatedly pointed out that all of the Asian students would have received the full score. At this rate, his father remarked, Santosh would never make it into MIT. Santosh bit back tears. From then on he stopped showing his father his tests.
Guy and Santosh walked out of the store, Santosh carrying a bag with the cognition matrix. "Next stop, Anna's for some body parts. You don't need any augments, right? Regular organic parts are good?"
Santosh nodded. The two of them crossed the promenade towards a small, two-person booth. Guy swiped a small plastic card on the door and waved Santosh through. Then he swiped it again and stepped inside. "Okay, stand on this circle here. This is a telepod. It's based on the PL model, actually. Didn't your dad work there?"
Santosh shrugged. "Used to. Anyways, uh, you were telling me about Eurtec?"
"Yeah, hang on a second." Guy moved towards a glass circle on the wall of the booth and pressed his finger up to it. The circle flashed red and then an electronic voice rang out, "Please select a destination."
"Um… Urthor Center. Fiftieth floor," Guy answered.
"Your destination is… Urthor Center, fiftieth floor. If this is incorrect, please provide the correct destination. Otherwise, please stand still. Travel in five… four… three… two… one…"
A bright flash of light forced Santosh to screw his eyes shut. When he opened them again, they weren't in the promenade. They stood on a marble floor of a skyscraper, looking out of a window five hundred feet in the air. The booth doors opened, and Guy stepped out.
"Come on. Anna's is right around the corner."
They rounded the corner and entered a storefront. Much to Santosh's surprise, the store was littered with corpses and body parts, propped up on racks and folded into shelves. "Uh… Guy? What the hell is this?"
Guy snickered. "Weren't you listening? Anna's sells body parts. Don't worry, they're just shells. For like, biotech. You know, implants, bionics, that sort of thing. They gotta be tested on something. Besides, we're here for one of those bodies."
On cue, an elderly Asian woman approached. "Ah, Guy. Good to see you."
"Afternoon, Anna. I'm here with a friend of mine, Santosh. Santosh, meet Anna."
Santosh gingerly shook her hand, doing his best to ignore the wrinkly skin. "Uh… hi."
Guy said, "Santosh here is interested in purchasing a duplicate shell. Do you have the photo?" He looked back expectantly.
Santosh swallowed, but he took a photo from his pocket. "Uh, here," he mumbled, handing her the photo. "I'm looking for a younger version of that man, maybe eleven or twelve years old. My father."
"Excellent. What ethnicity?" Anna asked.
"Uh, South Asian. Asian Indian." Santosh answered.
"Where do you want that shipped?"
"Shipped?" Santosh asked.
Guy interrupted. "Ship it to my place, Anna."
"Of course. Now, stand still. I need to get a few pictures of you to complete the sides and back of the head. This man is your biological father, I assume, so the facial features should be similar."
Seemingly from nowhere, Anna produced a camera that was almost as large as her chest. She circled Santosh, the camera clicking away. Then the camera disappeared again and Anna held out her hand.
"That'll be… four thousand."
Guy turned to Santosh. "She prefers Visa."
Santosh swallowed again. This was going to be an expensive venture. He steeled himself, took out his wallet, and handed over his Visa card. Anna took the card and wandered off. She returned a few minutes later with the card and a receipt. "Here."
Santosh looked at the receipt. "Uh… why does this say a diamond ring?"
"What, you're going to say 'I bought a body for four grand' on your tax returns?" Guy chortled.
"Oh. No, I get it."
"Oh! I almost forgot," Guy exclaimed, checking his phone. "Anna, do you have any psionic hippocampuses?"
"Hippocampi, Guy. Cam-pi. It even rhymes with your name," Anna scolded him. "And yes, I do. I'll pack it with the shell. That'll be one thousand. Card please."
Santosh grudgingly took out his card again. Anna took it and traipsed off. She returned five minutes later with the card and another receipt.
"A… graphics card?" Santosh asked incredulously. Anna shrugged.
"Thanks Anna. I'll see you around," Guy told her, before turning and walking away. Santosh hurried after him. "Wait, how is she going to ship it?"
"Telepod, then probably Fedex."
When Santosh was thirteen years old, his father received a call to let him know that Santosh had been expelled from the community shloka class. Santosh was shouted at and told that he was stupider than a half-lobotomized monkey. When Santosh's father finished his screaming, he informed Santosh that he was not his father any more. It would be four months before Santosh's father spoke to him again - because his cousins were visiting for Christmas.
"So, putting together the duplicate is actually pretty easy. All we have to do is slot the hippocampus into the positronic matrix. Then we open up the skull and drop it in. Then the matrix'll do the rest, and then we just upload a duplicate of your consciousness into it and bam! All done."
Santosh and Guy stood in the living room of Guy's apartment. The shell of an Indian boy lay sprawled across the coffee table. Next to it, the positronic matrix was still in its bag.
"Guy, I don't know anything about brain surgery."
"It's not brain surgery if there's no brain to speak of," Guy pointed out.
"You said it would be easier than assembling a PC."
"And it is! You have to put five different things into a PC and then ground yourself to boot. All we have to do is here open up the skull and drop the matrix into it. We don't even have to lock it in place or anything, just make sure it's not upside down when we put the skull back on."
Santosh pressed his fingers to his temple. "Fuck, man… I should've done more research… fuck. I'm gonna go fucking bankrupt…"
"Hey! Calm down! Stay calm!" Guy soothed him. "I'll pay you back once we're done. Okay? It's not that hard. Look, I've got the saw. I've got the marker. I've got measuring tape. All we have to do is mark around the skull and cut. Easy. We'll be done in two hours."
"Yeah, okay…" Santosh gingerly approached the shell, wrapped the measuring tape around its head, and started tracing a cutting line.
When Santosh was seventeen years old, he was given the opportunity to submit a CV to certain colleges. A week later, he was looking at his college applications with his father when they noticed that the CV he submitted was an older version. His father exploded, accusing him of deliberately sabotaging his application and furiously wondering why he would do that. In an apopletic rage, he declared that it must have been done out of spite and furiously asked why Santosh was so eager to spite his father.
Santosh fled into the bathroom and sobbed in the shower for several minutes. When he came out, they realized that it was a glitch in the digital application. His father apologized and hugged him. Santosh did not return it.
"Two hours, huh?" Santosh snorted. He sat in a chair in Guy's living room, wearing a suspicious-looking helmet. The shell, a rather prominent scar line circling the middle of its skull, wore a similar helmet, connected to the first by a thick bundle of cables. Another thick bundle of cables led from Santosh's helmet to Guy's laptop.
"Two hours, two weeks, what's the difference?" Guy shrugged.
Santosh narrowed his eyes. Guy chuckled in response and held up his hands. "All right, all right. Hey, we're almost done with this! Just have to scan your temporal lobe, remove everything past… 22 and copy it to the shell matrix."
As he spoke, Guy typed commands into the laptop.
"And… done. Alright, you can take off the helmet."
"Huh?" Santosh asked. "I didn't feel anything."
"You aren't supposed to," Guy pointed out. "It's non-invasive imaging."
Santosh removed the helmet. He and Guy leaned over the shell. "So… what is it supposed to do?"
"Wait for it…" Guy breathed.
Nothing happened. Then the shell's eyes burst open and it took a deep breath. Guy pumped his fists and Santosh excitedly whispered "Yes!"
"What's left?" Guy asked as he switched off the shell's cognitive matrix.
"Uh… we need to wire the VR helmet into the matrix and, uh… wire it up to the hippocampus. You already have the helmet, right?" Santosh asked.
"Yeah. It's not, you know, an official one or anything. I made it myself from a couple Virtual Boys and a Titan PC," Guy explained with pride. "But if we pass off the images as stylized, it'll do the trick."
"Yeah, alright. Grab the helmet. I'll get the drill and the wires."
When Santosh was twenty, he received a call from his mother. When he picked it up, however, his father was on the line. Santosh let him talk for a few moments. His father wanted to know how he was doing, expressed his best wishes towards his success, and reiterated how proud he was of him.
Santosh made an excuse to hang up.
Santosh's cell phone rang. He looked down at it and then noticed the caller ID.
He considered it for a moment. Then he declined the call and looked back up, admiring his exhibit.
In one corner of the Skuldir Center for the Arts and Humanities, a small Indian boy sat in a plastic chair surrounded by an intrigued crowd. Several dozen wires protruded from the skullcap on top of his head, connecting to a half-dozen red, bubble-shaped helmets currently being worn by other people sitting in plastic chairs.
Besides the child, a sign read:
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
by Guy Chesapeake and S.D.
Meet Arvind. Take on the role of his father and influence him through various critical points in his childhood. Watch how Arvind's personality and goals change based on what you tell him. Will you be the father he never had? The father he never wanted? Arvind's future is in your hands.
Instructions: Simply wear the helmet to begin interacting with Arvind. At each stage, when the bell rings, you may speak to him for up to ten minutes before the bell rings again. You will then view a brief montage of how Arvind's life changes based on what you told him. If you finish early, simply say "Shazbot razzmatazz" to trigger Arvind's response.
One woman stood up, removing her helmet. She looked vaguely disturbed. Santosh quickly pushed aside a few members of the crowd and sat down in the chair, donning the helmet.
Immediately, his vision was replaced by a black-and-white 3D bubble. He was sitting behind the wheel of a Nissan Stanza. Santosh looked to his right and saw a school. The passenger door opened and a small Indian boy climbed into the station wagon. "Dad! Dad! You remember that placement test? I got a 95 on it!"
A bell sounded. Santosh turned his head around to face the boy. "95? What happened to the other 5?"