I jolted back to consciousness, afraid. Something wasn’t right. I was in danger. Where was I?
I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t feel or taste or smell. I was awake in a void. Floating alone, without sensation or orientation. I “was,” but I didn’t know what I was. No body. No senses. No nothing. Just a mind afloat in a void.
You will wake up and feel just like you. Hardly.
The void was a vice around me and my mind desperately tried to escape. Except there was no escape, there was no comfort, there was nothing. Just my mind adrift in a vast emptiness.
I don’t know how long it lasted, time wasn’t anything I could measure. It felt like days at least, or maybe years. For that time, I wasn’t sane. My mind kept reaching out trying to feel, to sense, to know. And it couldn’t. At first my thoughts were rational—I remembered that I had been in an operating room, that I was having my consciousness transferred. I figured there was a small problem, that things would make sense shortly.
And then my mind slipped away from me and I was just terrified. Those rational thoughts would occur, but in the middle of them they would just disappear and I would only be left with a gasping desperate need.
Alone suddenly took on a whole new definition, as did terrified. A consciousness completely untethered is nothing but fear itself.
It did change, though. Eventually.
Sound first. A wash of hissing white noise, like static from an old-fashioned analog radio. No data, just noise.
Who’s there? I thought, but the hissing noise didn’t answer. It got louder, painfully loud, and then it was gone. Once it was gone, I wished it would come back.
Then came light. Sparks of white in the void like stars winking on and off many light years away. A flicker, a flash, but it didn’t last long. Even as ephemeral as this light was, it helped. It gave my mind something to do. What was that light? Maybe there is something out there after all. Will it ever come back? Oh, there’s another one. That one’s tinged with red on the edge. Red… I love the color red. Oh, there’s a yellow one, yellow like a banana or the sun.
The isolation had reduced me to being a child. I grabbed on to any sensation and held it tightly.
The hissing noise started again, and the lights went away. Except this time the noise wasn’t a uniform hiss, but was rising and falling. Wait. That sounded like “Paul.”
This went on for a long time. Noise that sounded vaguely like something that would be replaced by flashing pinpricks of light in various hues. The lights started to look like something—a tan shaded oval, two blue orbs with a slash of red below. But I couldn’t make it out.
The sound became more and more frustrating. Words were being said, but I just couldn’t understand them. Something was wrong, very wrong. I wanted to die then. For real. I wanted a cessation of consciousness. Not the void I had woken to, not these unfathomable lights and sounds, but nothing. Truly nothing.
Viola had longed for the embrace of a god. Right then I wanted to just not be. Done. Gone. Dead.
My ability to see, to hear, was that of a newborn baby, but my mind was that of an old man. I had senses, but I could make no sense of their input. Nothing went together. I had gone to sleep sane and woken to the incomprehensible and the terrifying. I was lost. I was alone. I was imprisoned in my mind.
I was pleading for the end as the lights and the sound started doing their dance of frustration together. But who was I pleading to? A force outside myself, a force stronger than me? Was I praying for an end? Was I beseeching a god I didn’t believe in?
I laughed. Well, in my mind I did. I wasn’t making any sound—that I could detect—but the wave of mirth bounced around my consciousness, and I felt (even though I couldn’t feel) lighter. I was buoyed by the humor, my very spirits lifting. “Spirits” lifting. That sent out new waves of ironic humor. A spirit implied an afterlife—a spiritual one, not the hellish technological one I was trapped in.
My mind burned with the humor of it, the irony of it, the joy of it. These were just thoughts, and except for the confusing sensory data, I was completely locked in my head, but I learned something very important then. I learned how to survive. How to be just a mind and still be a little bit sane. How to have nothing but thought and memory and be okay.
I tuned out the sound and lights, which I was surprised I could do. They were still there, I just didn’t give them my attention. I focused on humor. I started remembering jokes, really bad jokes, and running them through my mind. Word play, surprising endings, putting human fallibility into fine relief.
I found my memory to be excellent. I summoned up jokes with ease. Everything from stupid puns (Age is important only if you’re cheese or wine) to bawdy limericks (there once was man from Nantucket…). Many of them fell flat on the stage of my mind, but some of them amused me greatly.
And then when I had run through my repertoire of jokes, I started making things up. Silly things. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Consciousness. Consciousness who? Consciousness called, it wants its sanity back.
Silly or stupid, rude or nonsensical, I would ride the wave of humor as long as I could and then find something else.
“Paul? Can you hear me? Paul?”
It was the husky voice of the blond temptress doctor. The last thing I saw as a Biological was her face. The first thing I heard as a Non-Biological—as a Singular—was her voice. It was relatively deep for a woman’s voice with a rough edge to it. It was a sexy voice, the kind that you would like to hear quiet and low on the pillow next to you after a night of debauchery.
I wanted to reply, but I didn’t know how to speak. I had no body, no lungs, no diaphragm, no vocal cords to vibrate. How the hell was I supposed to speak? My humor vanished and I began to panic.
“Just stay calm, Paul. I’m right here. I won’t leave you.”
She’s the devil. The thought just leaked out, coherent and clear. I’m in hell and she’s the devil. I felt ashamed of the thought. First, I knew it to not be true—intellectually speaking—but emotionally, oh yeah, that’s what she was at that point. And, second, here I was again with theist thoughts leaking into my technological afterlife.
Husky laughter bounced around my consciousness. “I can assure you that I am not the devil,” she said.
Yes, you are, but a damn sexy one, I thought before I realized what was happening
“Well, that compliment, I will take.”
The lights had become coherent. I was looking at the lovely face of my devil-doctor. She wasn’t dressed in scrubs anymore, her long flaxen hair flowing around her shoulders. She had a white blouse on, revealing a fair amount of cleavage. I could see her clearly, and I mean clearly. I could see each and every pore. I could see the dark band around her blue irises. I could see the slight throb of a vein on her temple. She was all I could “see.” No background, none that I could sense. Just her face and her voice. That was it. She was my world.
She may have been my devil, but I clung to her with a fierceness born out of necessity.
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