Here are the first few paragraphs of another idea I’ve had. It’s for a new psychological thriller, the second potential novel that I’ve started seeing recently. That’s just after I decided to stop all new work and try to finish all the half-done stuff that’s lying around.
I’m pretty sure that this was prompted by some of the themes explored in the sequel to Life and Other Dreams. In trying to finish that, I got this.
It just goes to show that everything is connected.
We are Saul.
I’m Saul and I’m paralysed. Thanks to a drunk driver my life stopped when I was twenty-five. When I woke up, the last thing I remembered was walking along the pavement on a summer’s day, following the metronomic motion of a young lady in front of me. One moment, my mind was fixed on speeding up and getting acquainted with the rest of her, next thing, there was a noise behind me, a scream and it all went fuzzy.
I opened my eyes to see a man’s face, thick glasses and stubble, staring at me, very close to my face. I tried to turn my head, failed. I could move my eyes, that was about it.
“Where am I?” I said. Which meant that my mouth worked as well.
“You’re in my clinic, Saul,” answered the man, moving back a little, “I’m Doctor Tendral and I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.”
His face looked blank, what could he mean? Perhaps I had broken bones, internal damage. I was being kept still while I healed. I tried to move my arms, legs. I couldn’t see the sheet moving, had no idea if anything was happening.
“Go on,” I said, “tell me the worst.”
“You’ve been in a car accident,” he said, “the impact broke your neck. I’m afraid that it’s damaged your spine.”
“Oh, OK.” It didn’t register. “How long till I’m up and about?”
He shook his head, “I don’t think you understand.”
Then it hit me, bones mended, spines did not. Panic set in. “What are you telling me?” I shouted. “That I’m paralysed, that I’ll always be like this?”
“You will. I’m sorry,” he said. “We can’t fix you, with the medical technology we have at the moment. In time, who knows? But, if you’re interested, I have a research project that might give your life a new purpose.”
That was three years ago. Now, thanks to Tendral and his project, my life is almost back to normal.
I’ll tell you more about the project as the story goes on. It’ll make more sense that way. On the day when my story really begins, I woke feeling rough. I was seeing double, and not the blurry double vision that was generally beer and fatigue induced. Oh no, this was double vision in full HD. I could see the bed stretching away towards my feet, at the same time as I watched my previously paralysed hands making coffee, filling the jug, adding grounds to the filter basket. But this wasn’t a dream or even a wish. This was the project in action.
“Can you turn your eyes off, Saul?” I called out and the coffee machine vanished. “Sorry, Saul. I didn’t know you were awake.” Saul’s voice, my voice, floated back into the bedroom.
Maybe you hadn’t worked it out yet, let me explain. Thanks to the wonders of science, I live a full life through Saul. Even though my body doesn’t do anything except keep my brain alive, thanks to Saul I’m as active as any man, with a full range of senses and experiences. I live through him, as a part of Tendral’s project. My brain is connected to Saul’s, he’s what Tendral calls an autonomous artificial person, complete in every detail (yes, including that one) and I’m his test pilot.
How is it done? I have no idea. It’s complicated, I get that much. Tendral tried to tell me once, he lost me after, it’s like this. So long as it works, I don’t care.
With me driving his actions and reactions, Saul goes out, drinks beer, chases the ladies and does everything a normal person does. Everything I used to do. And I mean everything.
My brain registers it all, I feel every touch, every sensation. Wind on my face, soft lips kissing me, the taste of food. It’s as if I was Saul and it was happening to me. It’s all part of the official aim of the project. Creating fully immersive lives for those who have had them taken away, or never had them in the first place. There’s a plan, a reason for what I’m doing. Giving me a life is just a perk, a side effect. More about that later too.
The scary thing is that nobody can tell that Saul is artificial, whatever he’s doing. It’s all completely realistic. Tendral is a genius, if only what he had achieved didn’t need to be a secret. Saul might be under my control but I can’t use him to tell anyone the truth. I tried once, I (well Saul, on my behalf) had drunk too much beer and was trying to impress. I discovered that there’s a part of Saul’s core programming that overrode my attempts and prevented me from sharing the news. Tendral was annoyed about it and threatened to take me off the project. I learned my lesson and didn’t try again.
When he’s not out living my life, we have an intimate relationship. Saul cares for me, washing, turning, doing my physio. He’s trained to check and administer my meds and keep my food bag topped up, plus he quietly and competently does all the other things a paralysed man needs attending to. I live in the spare bedroom of our flat, behind a door that can be locked if Saul’s entertaining on my behalf and I need to be invisible. Like an embarrassing relative. Our guest mustn’t know I’m there. Putting it mildly, the project would freak them out. And the knowledge would almost certainly require their silence. Of course, I might be out of sight but, wherever Saul is, I’m never out of mind.
The full implication of Saul being a part of the world, where the project was leading, was all starting to become clearer to me with every day that passed. As was my part in it. Just when I was starting to wonder if I should have got involved in the first place, I met Alys.
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