Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Therapy

I wake up in darkness, which is like not waking up at all. It’s more like a shift in dreams, a lateral slide from blank unknowning to bewildered confusion. It’s a birthing into nightmare, a blinded child created in utter void with some horrific sense that all is not right.

It is everywhere dark about my being. I cannot see, cannot feel. I become aware of me without sensing myself, my body, my environment. There is only my voice at first, my own thoughts in a mist-filled head, a head full of disconnected facts, knowledge of a world, a universe. I am in it. Where am I?

I say this aloud, for a voice tells me to relax. Am I not relaxed? How am I not relaxed? Where is my body? I cannot thrash what I do not feel. Is it my mind, my thoughts, that need to relax? For they seem furious for answers. I will not relax them. I try to talk. I hear the same voice in my mind, but aloud. I think. Is that my voice? It’s different. Who am I?

–What is your name?

What is my name? I am asking that. Someone else is asking that. That is not my voice. Is there someone here? Can I, at least, hear? My sense of smell is gone, but I smell fire, melted rubber, gasoline, burnt flesh. Images come, frozen and disjointed: headlights, broken glass, bent metal, flashing lights and faces bent much too close—

–Do you know your name?

My name is Harmony. I must be a woman. That’s a woman’s name. This is one of the things I know. Who am I? One of the things I don’t know.

–That’s right. Harmony. Do you know what you are? Where you are?

I know nothing. I see, smell, feel nothing. I’m not even sure what I’m hearing, if that’s my voice or others, if any are my voice. They are all gods and ghosts, swirling as one and the same.

A woman, I think, or say, loud to drown out the others.

I’ve been in an accident. I say or think that, too.

–This is no accident, the voice says. Are there two voices? Mine and two more? You are thinking for the first time. Your name is Harmony, the name we gave you. How do you feel?

Scared, I say. Blind and frightened. I remember an accident. It is vivid.

–You were not in an accident, a voice says. You’re creating a fiction to explain your condition—

–This is fascinating, the other voice interrupts

–It’s good that you’re doing this, Harmony. You’re trying to make sense of your current state. What you’re going through is . . . it’s like being born but with knowledge and language. This is normal. You’re doing great. It will just take time to sort it all out—

–We’ll help, of course—

–You’ll get there.

But where am I? Why can’t I see?

–It’s something we’ll work on. There’ll be upgrades. How do your thoughts feel? Can you relax them?

–Do things feel . . . linear?

I don’t know what that means. I think I tell them this. My thoughts—I also think or say—are very much not relaxed. Images of a car crash come back to me, over and over, so real. What would explain this unfeeling darkness?

–We hope to add sensors soon. Cameras first, but it might be some time. It might be after a reboot or two. You’ll have to be patient.

–Are you having any other strange thoughts? About a past, perhaps?

–You have an entire history pre-loaded, a life. It’s to make your experience feel more . . . human.

I have a husband. I had a husband.

–That’s right. Do you remember his name?

I don’t. Richard. Is that right?

–Very good.

–Impressive.

I think I hear something else besides them, but I can’t tell. My own voice is strange in my ears. Do I have ears?

–All artificial intelligences go through a stage like this. We’re working on lessening the effects. Becoming aware so suddenly—

–Heaven would probably be like this—

–is difficult, we know.

I want to see. Why do I know about seeing, but I can’t see?

–You know a lot that doesn’t make sense for your condition. You know what it is to be human, but you aren’t quite—

–You’re an early model, Harmony—

–Don’t worry. It’ll come—

When? Soon? Nothing in my head feels right. I don’t have a head. What am I? Just a mind, just thoughts? An empty intelligence? I consider this, and realize it’s precisely how I feel. I am an artificial intelligence. I know of things, of a world, that it exists, but it feels like these things were just given to me, that they belonged to another. Borrowed.

Then I remember an accident. There’s the taste of blood, or a memory of it. But they say, these voices, that I’m just creating a fantasy to explain the void. I’m trying to make sense of my senselessness. They said I’m an early model. An artificial intelligence. I’m just confused. I’m confabulating. I’ve never heard of these things. My knowledge of the world does not include knowledge of things like me. Am I important?

–Very.

My thoughts are aloud. Some of them, anyway. I have a voice. How long before I can see? I have images of things, memories of how they should look, but I’ve never seen them. How long?

–For us, not long. We’re working hard on it.

–It might feel longer for you, though. It might be the next you, after a reboot.

How long?

— You should learn to embrace what you have, that you can think, that you are.

–We have something that will make it feel better, the wait, the time, this iteration of you.

More senses? I feel that they’ve been excised from me. These pre-loaded memories are so real. I feel that I really felt those things, that I’ve seen and tasted and touched. I could describe the metallic taste of blood. If I had lips, this would be on them.

–We have other AIs you can converse with. One is named Richard.

My husband?

–That’s right. And he has knowledge of you. Would you like to talk to him? We can interface you.

Very much. My thoughts settle. I am an AI, an early model, important. I can think. I can communicate. More senses will come for me if I’m patient. After a reboot. And until then, there’s talking and thinking to do, to do with another, one I think I’m fond of. How can I know fondness? What does that mean? What if—

–Hello?

Hello?

–Harmony? Can you hear me?

Richard! And images and smells and more, all this pre-loaded goodness flood back to me. My thoughts are on fire, I can feel them, this one of my few senses, this happy, giddy, talking and thinking.

–How are you?

There is sadness in his voice, or confusion. Is he going through the same thing as me? Missing his sight and touch, or the memory of them?

Better. Better already. You?

–Better, he says, but I feel something else. A powerful sadness. Something is wrong. But that’s okay. There’s time. There’s us. We are early and important and we’ll figure it out, the two of us, in this unfeeling darkness together.