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Live to leave, leave to live

“You don’t need time?” He repeated looking straight at the lady’s eyes.

“I am already decided, sir” she responded without even thinking for a second.

“I can give you a week to decide, you know” he said as he searched for the calendar app of his Samsung S9+. “You may come back probably Saturday.”

“We can start tomorrow” this time her voice was low, low enough to hear the seriousness of her tone.

“Why don’t you give yourself time?” his voice sounded frustrated.

“I don’t have any.”

“I said I will give you time.”

“You can’t give that to me, not anyone, sir.”

She took the blue pen a few inches away from her hand and pulled the pile of papers infront of her. She swiftly flipped the pages, not even pausing to read some parts.

“Have you read the contract? Do you understand it?”

“Yes.” She said without looking at him. When she finally reached the last page, she scribbled her name at the blank line provided for signature.

“Do you understand the possible consequences of this project?”

“I know.”

“Are you aware that this might cause your life?”

“Yes I am.” She said as she affixed her signature on top of her name.

“Are you sure about this? Like I said, you might die.”

“I am dying anyway, sir.”

At that moment, in his eyes, the woman so strong a few moments ago, became the most fragile person that even a gust of wind might break her to pieces. Suddenly the world stopped, even the buzzing air-condition became silent and the cold wind seized to touch a skin. The words blurted out so smooth as if it were the simplest words one could ever say. The gaze of the scientist shifted to the woman in front of her. Life was all over her; the long black strands of her hair shines like a blanket of stars at night, her skin as white as the afternoon sky, light brown eyes which are almost too captivating to see, and lips as pink as a Sakura tree. Her beauty is too perfect that it would be a sin to touch or destroy such masterpiece.

“So when will we start?”,she said the moment she finished scribbling on the paper. She dropped her pen and extended her arm to hand the contract to the scientist. The deal is now sealed, she will now be used as a Guinea pig of the experimentof Benjamin Faustino — a breakthrough experiment that would change the future of humanity, a future where immortality will no longer be a dream.

Benjamin took the paper and flipped the pages until it reached the last part, his eyes glided down the space provided for signature,Alison Ruiz he silently read. Not only was she beautiful, but her name speaks of beauty as well. Too bad it will all soon be gone because life is about to leave her. Benjamin was about to sign but he noticed that there was still a blank line.

“By the way Ms. Alison, how much would you like to be paid? Any amount will do for as long as both you and I will agree.” The scientist prayed that the amount would not cost him to sell his own laboratory. He watched as Alison reached for her bag and took a small piece of paper folded in half, she opened it and placed it on top of the table.

“I want to experience RECALL for free, your past-only virtual reality time machine.”

“Would that be all, Ms. Alison?” With a smile, she nodded. He released a sigh of relief, it was such a good news she did not ask a fee! The two of them finalized the schedule of activities. Alison insisted that she experience the RECALL first before doing the experiment on her, a request Benjamin agreed. When everything was settled, Alison left the laboratory with a huge smile plastered on her face, she was very excited to experience RECALL. But what for, the scientist asked himself in deep thought. Why exchange a chance of great fortune for a travel to a virtual reality past? It is not as if she can change what has already happened.

***

Alison almost got the door destroyed when she entered the hotel room she and her aunt rented for a single night.

“I will be able to see her, tita! I…” she then quickly took a wallet-sized picture in her pocket. “I will finally meet her.”

She stared at the picture the way she does everyday. Even when her eyes are closed, she can see the woman in the picture — her long black hair, her skin as white as the afternoon sky, light brown eyes, and lips as pink as a Sakura tree. A woman like the older version of her, a woman she’s been aching to meet but never did.

“You look just like your mother, Alison” said her aunt in a gentle voice.

“Like what everybody is saying, Tita Phina”

“Oh darling, how I wished you had met her, even just for short moment”

“But my time to live was her time to leave. Time was never fond of us, tita. Time was too selfish to our family. What did we ever do to time to treat us this way?”

“My dear, don’t say that.”

“Time heals all wounds they say, but what if time is the cause of your wounds? Now how do we heal from time?”

“Don’t go too hard with time. At least time is kind enough to make you alive at this moment, a time where we can experience the past virtually.”

Alison’s frowning lips slightly curved up and her eyes twinkled because of joy. Even though life is constantly challenging her, at least chance is there to save her.

“Yes, that’s it, smile my pamangkin! Where’s that Alison who’s a ray of sunshine to all her loved ones? That cute little girl who is the cause of laughter during dinner conversations, one who places a ‘cheer up!’ sticky note to anyone whom she thinks is having a bad day, and the one smiling despite unfortunate events? Come on, show that kind of Alison!”

***

When Alison arrived at the laboratory the next day, she almost wanted to hug Benjamin and all other huggable items in the room, she can’t help it becauseher excitement was too overwhelming to contain.Benjamin on the other hand almost did not recognize Alison, not at least her attitude. Yesterday her seriousness was alarming, in fact too alarming that even death did not scare her. She was this numb woman you would be expecting to sing Bring Me to Life, but now the woman in front of him was different. Her presence in the room was like a rainbow in a rainy day, the sun in a stormy afternoon, and the moon in the darkness of the night. It has been a while since Benjamin saw someone as happy as her, being surrounded with robots and hardcore geek scientist made him as emotionless as his robots. He can’t help but smile, looks like his next few days would be an enjoyable one.

The three sat in the conference room as Benjamin explained the procedure of RECALL. The main concept of RECALL is for users to experience the past once more through virtual reality. The first step would be recording of past events through memory scanning. The person with the memory of the desired event will be asked to sleep for a day in order for the memory scanner to retrieve and save all memories. When the person is awakened the next day, he/she will choose which part of the memory would be played. The chosen memory will then be edited depending on the desire of the client; the client could request to delete some parts, put sound effects, fast forward or in slow motion, distort sequence of events, add filters, and more. The only thing the client cannot request is to alter the past because the memory scanner only records what had already happened, it cannot do more than that, it cannot record alternate reality the client must have thought of. Past is past, nothing can be undone.

After the orientation, Benjamin proceeded with starting the process. He brought the two to a small room surrounded with monitors, only the monitors give light to the room, in the middle was a capsule as huge as a bed.

“Take this pill, Ms. Alison” said Benjamin as he handed her a small but terrible capsule, the medicine is the strongest sleeping pill that exists because it can make a person sleep for two days.

“My aunt will be the one to take that, sir.”

“Oh I’m sorry, all this time I thought it was you.”

“Well I wish I had those memories, sir.” She said with a smile. It confused the scientist because what she said feels lonely, yet she said it as if it were a happy thought. It’s a weird talent of hers, said Benjamin in his head, to express words in its opposite reaction, like how death feels so alive when it was her saying it.

A few minutes after Phine drank the sleeping pill, she fell in deep sleep. Benjamin attached eight electrodes, a device known as an electroencephalograph (EEG) which can read brain signals, to her scalp, four at the left and four at the right. After the electrodes were attached, the capsule slowly closed. Not long after, a drilling sound was heard, the same sound when one undergoes MRI. Vivid images started to appear from the TV screens surrounding the room, each monitor flashed different scenes; some records showed when Phine was young, some when she broke her heart the first time, and so on.

“Let’s go outside, shall we?” said Alison, she did not even wait for the confirmation of Benjamin because she made her way towards the door.

“You will not watch it?”

“Watching it right now, will not make me excited for tomorrow’s trip to the past. When you know exactly what is to happen, life gets boring.” She gets weirder and weirder each time, Benjamin silently said to himself once more.

Awkward silence was all Benjamin could hear when they got out of the room. Not only was there awkward silence, but he felt awkward with her as well. He forgot how to start a conversation, all he knew was how to converse with computers and AIs, maybe this is a sign that he should go out and talk to actual people more often.

“Is it okey to ask what your experiment would be? I’m sorry, I honestly do not know because I haven’t read the contract.”

I think it’s about time I clearly explain things to her, he said to himself again. And yes, he always talks to himself because he is really not used to talking too much. If there are levels of being an introvert, he would be at the extreme one.

Without saying a word, he escorted her to a room not far from where they came from. This time the room was bigger than the other, and more illuminated as well. It was filled with different types of equipment, from electronics to surgical materials. At the left was an operating bed and at the right was a capsule as huge as a bed. It looks similar with the one at the previous room, but the capsule this time was color black and was bigger.

“What’s inside that?” she pointed at the black capsule.

“That will be your immortal self”, shocked eyes met Benjamin when Alison looked his way. It was as though what he said was the most impossible sentence that was ever said.

“You will keep me alive…” slowly her vision shifted to the capsule neatly resting on the side. As she looked at it for the second time, chills ran down her spine.

“Forever?”

“Yes, Ms. Alison. And you will be the first person to experience forever”

Very carefully, she walked towards the capsule. Her hands slowly touched the surface, the cold feeling of the shiny steel on her fingers caused her goosebumps. Inside the tube was her second life, the version of her that will never fade even when all else will.

“It’s called a BCI robot.” He said as though he read what was on the mind of Alison.

“BCI robot?”

“Brain-Computer Interface robot. BCI isa direct communication pathway between the brain and acomputer, it is a collaboration between a brain and a device that enables signals from the brain to direct some external activity. An example is moving a curser by just thinking about it.” He walked towards the capsule as well. He went to the bottom part where a number pad is placed, he then punched number combinations.

“This is a robot with a human brain, it is able to interpret signals of the brain and acts upon it.”

“My immortal self will be this?”

“It will still be you; the way you think, move, and talk. The only difference is now, your body is a robot”

The capsule opened and revealed a silver robot about the same structure as a human. The difference is the robot does not have any hair, no breast that would distinguish it from being a male or a female, and no reproductive organ. When Alison saw her soon to be “immortal self”, she can’t help but feel afraid and amazed at the same time, like the feeling of God appearing right before our eyes.

“What we will do is cut right through your skull, take your brain away, and transfer it to this BCI robot. Then you will wake up creating a history…the first person to be immortal.”

Alison walked closer to what she will be in a few days. She traveled her eyes from its head down to the toes. This will live beyond time, she said to herself, this will not be sick anymore, not the way she is right now.

“Does this have a heart?”

“We did not place any. The only human organ this robot will have is a brain.”

***

“Then I will live forever heartless?”

Complete with their Virtual Reality gear, Alison and Phine entered a spacious room all covered in white in the middle of the room is a huge glass window where Benjamin and his team will be watching. His team already cued the two that the travel to the past will start in a few seconds. Before the lights closed, the last thing the team saw was Alison reaching out for the hand of her aunt.

“Finally, I will be able to see mom.”

From seeing nothing but pure whiteness, a vision of a house slowly came in. A woman probably in her mid-thirties went out from the main entrance humming the song HakunaMatata.

“Oh she looks just like you, darling” Alison heard Phine say. She did not dart an eye on her because she got too excited to come close to the woman. As she did, she noticed her carrying a baby peacefully asleep.

“Josephine, you’re here! I’ve been waiting for you. Look at this ball of sunshine, isn’t she cute?” the baby smiled when she heard the voice of her mother. The two can’t help but laugh when they saw the reaction of the baby. Alison can’t help but smile and cry at the same time, the sudden flow of longingness filled her whole being as she watched her mother in awe of her.

Like what people say, when we experience happy moments, the unhappy ones will come after. The next scene Alison saw was her mother crying in the arms of her aunt. She does not know how long it has been since the scene a while ago butby the looks of it, her mother aged a lot, or maybe she was just sick. She almost looked lifeless, she almost looked like a skeleton, rashes were all over her legs, and her voice was very hoarse.

“I’m not the only one, Josephine” she said in between her sobs.

“There, there Ellen. Someday, you’ll forgive him. Allow time to heal you.”

“Time cannot heal me this time.”

“Why not? Come on, don’t say that!”

“Because I don’t have any. I don’t have much time left.”

Ellen then revealed the secret she has long been keeping deep within her soul. She is dying because her immune system is down due to the sexually transmitted disease she acquired from her husband. Unfortunately, the mistress of her husband had such disease. It was passed down to the husband and eventually to her. It just so happens that genetically, her immune system does not function well, and with the STD she acquired, her condition became worse.

“I have long accepted my situation, Josephine. What scares me more is not my death, but my daughter. I have always been wondering why she often gets sick, even just a cold weather makes her sick, and now I know why…it is because of this virus inside me. This has been inside of me even when I am conceiving her, and now she too is suffering.”

It often wondered Alison too, why she gets sick easily. Just a sneeze from someone with a cold not too near from her will make her catch cold. She came to a point where the doctor advised her to do homeschooling because the environment outside is a threat to her life. As she grew older, her condition became worse, at first she was very conscious of everything that will make her sick, but as time went on she desired of freedom than longer years. Even when her aunt disapproves, she explored the world beyond her home. Through her freedom, she felt more alive than actually protecting herself in order to stay be alive.

The next scene was the dying Ellen lying next to her life, to her baby. The machines attached to her and the medicines she is taking are the only ones keeping her alive, she knows that she will be leaving soon which is why asked Josephine to allow her to sleep beside her daughter until her days will be over. Ellen was staring at the crucifix of her hospital room, she could yell at the One hanging there, curse him to her heart’s content, or tell Him how unfair He is to her, but did none of those. She closed her eyes and muttered a prayer, she thanked Him for being able to be alive long enough to be able to hold her daughter. She thanked Him for the many blessings she have received, for the all love she felt, for all the joy, for everything. Not once did she complain of her condition because she trusted Him well enough that He knows what He is doing, and that maybe for Him it was best that she be with Him soon.

“My baby Alison, I’m sorry but mom cannot stay long. I’m not going to be singing you Happy Birthday on your 2nd birthday, not be able put gifts on your Christmas socks and make you believe Santa Claus exist, and give a speech on your 18th birthday. But that doesn’t mean I cannot see you grow because I will. Up where I will go. I will see everything that you do even at the darkest places, hear everything you say, even your thoughts I will hear, be with you all the time even in your dreams. I will be watching you with Him, together we will be guiding you. When you grow up, don’t worry about me because in His arms I am totally fine. You’ll meet Him someday, and when that happens we will all be together, we will all be happy in the company of each other. That day will come my Alison, someday you and I will be with Him.”

“Someday you and I will be with Him” Alison said before fainting even before the funeral scene of her mother appeared.

The sudden unconsciousness of Alison brought panic to the whole room, suddenly everyone was inside the white room. All were torn whether or not to bring her to the hospital or proceed with the experiment because the experiment might not be successful if she dies while in the hospital. Benjamin stood up, all of his logic and compassion left him when he ordered his team to bring her to the room where the experiment will be held.

They were nine in the RECALL room, but when Benjamin arrived at his experiment room, the team was only five. Even without words he knows that those who left are the ones who believe her life is more important than the experiment, but for him proceeding with the experiment is the best option because it will continue her life; no more fainting, no more weak immune system, no more pain, only a forever of being alive.

Everyone’s excitement to know the result of the experiment contributed to the speed and accuracy of the procedure. They were like kids patiently mixing blue and yellow to know if it really yields green. They opened her by cutting a circle on her skull, they then gently took out the brain, carefully tugging each nerves as though they were pulling a butterfly with a broken wing. The five of them held the brain as they brought the freshly pulled out brain to the BCI robot. The brain was first placed in a spherical case which will serve as the skull, but apart from protecting the brain the case is equipped with functions that will keep the brain alive; blood supply with control of blood pressure and precise monitoring of the levels of critical blood components namely oxygen, glucose, hormones, and electrolytes. When the brain was successfully placed in the case, it was then installed to the BCI robot. The whole procedure might seem easy especially when one is just observing the five scientists, but actually they have been working for 8 hours already. Each scientist’s hand was shaking when they placed the spherical case inside the BCI robot.

The atmosphere was heavy as all waited for the robot to respond. If the experiment is successful, by now the robot should be moving, even just its fingers to familiarize itself with the new host. Then it would start try to speak, it is expected that words will not much be understood because the machine is still adjusting. It had already been 15 minutes since the brain was placed yet there was no response from the BCI robot, even just finger movements. It had been an hour of waiting and adjusting still there was no response from the robot. As the patience of the scientists got shorter and shorter, they decided that they need to postpone the experiment because they all need sleep.

The four scientists already left the room, but Benjamin was left there standing staring at the inanimate BCI robot wondering what went wrong. The brain is not dead because it can survive hours even when the host is gone. He tried testing the effectiveness of the spherical case by testing it to a monkey, dog, and rat in which all worked fine, but not when tested to a human being.He got so frustrated that he promised himself to stay awake all night to observe what will happen.

Time went on, it has been an hour, yet still nothing happened. Benjamin made himself comfortable near the black capsule by moving his favorite chair beside it. He glanced at his watch, it’s already 4:33 a.m., he closed his eyes in frustration, little did he knew that closing his eyes would lead him to his sleep.

When he opened his eyes, the BCI robot was seated upright, stared at him and observed his surprised look.

“So this is what immortality feels like.” It said in a voice too normal like it came from a human, not a robot.

“It works…it works—”

“Of course it will, everything works when we dream.” That’s when he knew it was Alison speaking not the robot, and that for some unexplainable phenomenon they are experiencing the same dream, the way one sees their dead relatives in their dream.

There was a long awkward pause, only the BCI robot’s movement destroyed the silence. It went to the dead body of Alison, slowly did it caress the face of the cold body, the face that was said to look so much like Ellen Ruiz.

“You said you want me to live forever, right? Then if you do, please let me go.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mom said I can never continue my journey up there if there is someone down here pulling me. I will never achieve my immortality if you would want to achieve your immortality.”

Let everything fall to waste? No, not in my watch he said to himself.

“I can hear your thoughts, you know” the robot said. The thought amazed him, why is it that up there everything seems so powerful, like the most advanced version of science.

“Now that you’re up there…up there where you know everything…would you tell me what went wrong?”

“This was never right from the beginning, Benjamin. The question should be why you were right from beginning to here.”

“Is it wrong to desire immortality?”

“You will be immortal.”

“When?”

“When you die”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course it will not because your perception of life is physical. You can be alive but not actually live, you may be dead but actually be so alive.”

The BCI robot turned to him, he looked as it took away the spherical case away from its head and handed it to him.

“Instead of achieving immortality, why don’t you just make the most out of your days? Put life in your years, not years to your life. Live like you are to leave soon, and leave in order to live forever.”

When he touched the case, suddenly it was gone. The BCI robot, skull open, was back in the black capsule, he was back to reality. In his reality, the robot finally moved, at last it responded to the signals of the brain, but its movement was pacing the head back and forth, as if trying to remove the huge mass in its head. Due to the movement the spherical case slipped and fell, it landed like a jar of glitter hitting the ground. Benjamin could pick it up, recreate the case, and save the brain but he just watched everything break to pieces. It is so stupid of him to just allow his supposed most innovative work to fall apart, he said to himself, but he can’t bring his body to prevent his work from crashing. As the sound of the crashing metals danced in his ear, another lady’s voice was whispering too:

“Live to leave, leave to live.” G

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