I know this is Peak College Student Philosophizing, but this idea is fucking me up:
You enroll in cryonics or whatever, and from your perspective you die and stay that way. “Someone else” wakes up with your body and memories, and there’s no external way to test if they have a truly ironclad claim to being Actually You.
Warm sheets, sunlight slanting through a window, the cry of birds on the breeze through that open window, a gentle sweetness of books in the air from the shelves around the room, plush carpets, paneled bookcases, a friggin vaulted ceiling — why am I waking up in this zotta’s house and who are they and who are you, secretarially-dressed person standing at the foot of this hospital bed I lay in?
She smiles at me.
“Good morning, Mr. Gates. It’s good to see you awake again. Your instructions the last time you went to sleep were to not wake you up until the Merseians declared war on Ymir, and the Forecasting Department believes that is 98% likely in the next three days. We felt it best to wake you up ahead of time to allow you to come up to speed with the situation. What questions do you have?” The secretary’s hands were crossed over a clipboard held to the breast of a very fine suit.
Do I have a mouth? I have a tongue, ah, teeth, everything moves, give it a shot.
“Who is Mister Gates? Is he who owns this place?” Something’s going on on her face, that’s not good. “I don’t mean to be rude, but … I don’t know how I got here.”
I have shoulders. It’s time to shrug.
“You are Percival Aberforth Wulfric Brian Gates, sir, and I am the Jane, the representative of your estate. Is everything alright?”
“I don’t remember him. I —” Shit.
I look back, try to dredge up any memory of this place. There the memories are, of a succession of different Janes, of past wars, of fleet and diplomatic battles won, of successions of families, of the achingly long history of a life that is not mine.
The Jane is frozen.
Try again. “Is what I’m doing now a usual reaction when you wake up Mr. Gates?”
She’s frozen like a deer in the headlights. A metaphor this body’s language centers provide, a metaphor with memory of the side road in the 20s, the car stopping automatically, her voice beside, lifting up a camera before the buck jumps away, does and fawns behind it.
“No. You — Mr. Gates — the body —” she looks for a way to address a person I am not, steels herself. “When Mr. Gates has been woken in the past, he has always remembered who he was.”
“How many times —” but she’s shaking her head already.
“It doesn’t matter. You are a new person, in the body of Mr. Gates. Do you know who I am?”
“You are The Jane, Mr. Gates’ assistant, secretary, never a lover but always there, though it does look like the twenty-fifth Jane had a thing —”
“Twenty-seven forty-nine twelve George Wilfred Young.”
That phrase means something. Here’s the response, but, oh! The other response. “How private is this place? It appears to be the study of the house on Hermes.”
“Not the correct answer, but also not incorrect. Can you stand?”
I can, and strongly. Stretch. I have no complaints about the body. I gesture around the room.
“Where shall we go?”
She raises an eyebrow.
Let’s see, a private place in this house would be … the seven-foot radius centered on the desk in the study. Conveniently over here. I sit down in the chair, which creaks a little.
On the desk there are many things, but the important thing is to draw this pen, take a notebook out of this drawer, and place the pen to the notebook while the notebook is on the writing pad on the desk. A very very old artifact this desk, from a grandfather’s study back on Earth, before there was interstellar travel.
The mechanism I have just activated is seven stories tall, powered by seven redundant generators, surrounded by seven inches of seven-alloyed armor, seven times blessed by the seven priests of the Seven Orders, and auspiciously inscribed. Mr. Gates watched over its installation in this centuries-old house two Naps ago. Mr. Gates has ritual obligations that must be fulfilled seven days from now, to apologize to the Seven Gods for the use of a privacy shield that would hide sinners from anyone, including the Gods.
The Jane walks over, and once she has crossed the invisible boundary her posture changes, slightly.
“You really aren’t him.”
“No. I have his memories, his body, apparently his assets and support. Three seven point decimal comma semicolon butts eight twelve,” the countersign to her earlier query-phrase. “Can I play him well enough to be him?”
“Correct. It depends very much on how fast you wake up and start being him. There is no infrastructure to assist you in being Mr. Gates; it is assumed that Mr. Gates is Mr. Gates and every Jane since the second has never disagreed on that subject.” Unspoken: what happened to the First Jane, and how the succession of Janes works, and who controls what Janes remember. The Jane does not Nap like Mr. Gates. The Jane is always awake.
“And there have been eighty-nine Janes, over the course of how many naps?” I knew the answer now, and asked to probe. As Mr. Gates has done.
“This was the eighty-seventh nap. Can you play him well enough to be him?”
“Don’t say ‘him’. Refer to him as me, and me as,” what did Janes call me, “Mr. Gates, and I shall call you Jane, and together we will forget that I am not me.”
And I shall dig through my memories and accesses and the like for any clue of whether this has happened before, because if a past Mr. Gates was like me, I would have left notes for myself. Or I didn’t, because the memories are the notes.