Today I thought that I’d share a short story that I recently completed for a writing group. I hope you enjoy it.
A Lesson Learnt.
“Surely if what you say is true, it could have ground breaking implications.”
“Most definitely, yes,” said Professor Amelia Perryman, “With the Continuum device we can reach out to speak to the greatest minds of the past.”
Tired and drunk, she probably wouldn’t have given away the secrets of her 12 year old research project, sober. She was of course delightfully drunk , mainly due to her young companion’s endeavour. A few bottles of Merlot and a light lunch had made it easy to get the old girl drunk. After all it was perfectly fine to have a drink at the weekends.
Matthew Jacobson , the son of Professor Perryman’s closest friend, was a young English lecturer at Kings College London. He adjusted his glasses and looked around to see if they were being overheard. But nobody seemed to be paying attention to their conversation in the half filled Italian restaurant.
“Really, Professor Perryman?”
“I mean it. And not just their bodies either, I could bring back their genetic mind maps too.”
“I wouldn’t have said it was possible,” said Matthew primly.”I mean I’m no scientist but I did grasp the basics from mother. Cloning is completely feasible. But actual memories?”
“Why not? A simple matter of genetic memoral reflux.”
“You mean everyone’s memories are backed up in their DNA? But that’s quite- implausible professor.”
“Not if you know how to search the amino acid chains. And call me Amelia.”
“Well, how, Prof..Amelia, do you search the amino acids for memory?”
“Think I’m going to tell you?” asked the geneticist gravely.
She looked vaguely about for another drink and Matthew obliged emptying the bottle into her glass whilst signalling for another.
She said, “I brought quite a few back. Newton, Galileo, Mendel, Darwin. Poor chaps. They found it quite unsettling.”
“So you grew them insitue and then..how? I bet they didn’t like living in these times? But I’ll say that they would be fascinated by a modern laboratory.” said Matthew.
Maybe he had been misinformed. There was no way that a fully grown human could be cultivated from genetic material in such a short period of time. Although this conversation was beginning to become enjoyable.
“Oh, they were very interested. But we never grew them. No no. Not with the Clone laws. We filtered and extracted their entire cerebral blueprint, synapses the lot and mapped them onto a AI program.
Once the process had been perfected we mapped a whole host of greats…Not just scientists, historians, politicians, authors, poets, a thousand digital ghosts. It was fabulous, we even engineered the software to work on a normal laptop.”
“Authors, Poets? Like whom?” Matthew bristled with excitement anxious to see if the rumours he had heard were true.
“Oh Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Blake.. the usual suspects.” Amelia took a long swallow of wine and smiled with pleasure, showing a set of crimson stained teeth.”What’s wrong?”
“Just…Blake. .wow..William Blake. I wish that I could speak to him. Gets some tips you know?”
“Yeah I forgot that your an writer. How is it going? Published yet?” She asked.
“Not yet. I keep getting rejected.” He tried not to sound disheartened.
“Shame. You’ll get there one day. The thing is, there was a glitch. Maybe a cultural thing but they couldn’t… they couldn’t get used to their situation. And they could only retell their past, not help with problems of the future. I had to shut them down. The numbskulls at Mechamat made me, just before they stripped me of funding and charged me in violation of the Genome act.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yes. Great minds, but not flexible ones. Not universal.” Reaching out the middle aged woman touched his hand, briefly squeezing the fingers.
“So your writing means alot to you? I’d like to help, I still have Blake.”
“What?” yelled Matthew. This was getting closer to home.
“Don’t yell, my boy,” said Amelia. “Your mother and I were close remember. I know all about your obsession with William Blake. I remember the dissertation you wrote at university.’The many faces of William Blake’, It was good.”
“Did you say you still have a copy of William Blake’s mind?” Matthew nearly choked on the words.
“I did. We needed someone with a universal mind, someone who would be able to cope with being centuries away from his own time. Blake was a troubled man. He experienced visions at an early age. So if anything went wrong we could palm it off as an episode.”
“Have you got him on you?” asked Matthew, eyes bulging.
“Somewhere.” Amelia fumbled in one jacket pocket after another. “Ah, here it is.”
A small silver hard drive the size of a credit card and the thickness of cigarette packet was passed to him.
On one side it said: “Property of the Mechamat Industries Inc.” On a piece of paper sellotaped to the other side, was written “William Blake V.2.2.”
A wide smile filled his face. “Can I have a little look?”
“William won’t speak to you dear. I’ve asked him before. But pass me my bag up and we will try together.”
As Matthew retrieved her worn brown leather satchel from its spot by their feet, Amelia cleared some space on the table and looked over her shoulder to see if anybody was close.
Satisfied of their anonymity she booted up the laptop, and took another gulp of wine, savouring the rich taste.
Plugging in the hard drive she said “It will only take a few seconds to upload. The hard drive is fast.”
“Have you spoke to him?”
“Of course, I had to test him. Maybe it was due to Blake’s mindset but he is open to modern day literature. I had uploaded a selection of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems for him to look at and he told me that it was truncated and ineloquent, so he seemed to be kosher. I told him we thought highly of his work, even said we believed he wrote some of the greatest pieces of poetry and art ever. He was fine perfectly fine to start with. Even excited to meet you at first, but in recent weeks he has regressed. If a digital copy can regress, and now he rarely even interacts.”
“Good. Good. I mean regress? Wow I mean William Blake.” said Jacobson breathlessly.
A waiter discreetly removed the empty bottle of wine and replaced it with a full one.
“I told Blake that there was even a module at the local college with him as the main focus.”
“I do that. That’s my module it’s just finished. We even open it up to distance learning.” Matthew said excited.
“I know. We enrolled on your web course, this past term. It filled the time in between being unemployed. I never saw a digital ghost so eager to find out if he still had the talent for writing. He worked hard at it. Initially.”
“You enrolled William Blake onto my online course?” He mumbled.
Even under a cloud of wine laced euphoria, the thought staggered him.
Or was this just an alcoholic fantasy of a disgraced geneticist? He was beginning to recall a pupil, Blake Williams with an eloquent antiquated style of writing albeit with a modern twist. Not quite classic Blake but similar, like a copycat. Something tugged at the edges of his memory of a poem entitled Will I am. Matthew had thought it a parody of the highest order, but had also felt sick to his stomach that someone would dare mock the great man.Especially in the very class dedicated to his works.
“We didn’t use his real name, of course,” said Amelia. “It was a mistake, really. A big mistake. Poor fellow. We should have told you. Warned you.”
He poured himself a huge glass of wine and shook his head. “Why was it a mistake? What happened?”
“Well we submitted his work, but… look he really doesn’t want to talk to you. The harder he tried at the course, the worse things became. In the end he became sullen…broken.” Amelia said with quiet indignation.
“What became worse? His digital copy?” Matthew asked even though he knew the anwser.
“His grades dear.” Amelia typed on the keyboard for a few moments and waited for a reply. When the laptop chimed she fervently checked the screen.
“I’m sorry dear, I know he was your idol but William really doesn’t want to speak to you. I mean how much humiliation do you think a man can stand?”
“Why doesn’t he want to speak to me? What do you mean humiliation?” Matthew asked.
Professor Amelia Perryman tossed off the dregs of her wine and calmly closed her laptop, removing the hard drive and placing it in her pocket.
“Why Matthew, you fool. On his final poetry submission ‘Where there’s a William there’s a Blake’, you gave him an F.”