I looked up at where I had stood with Professor Young at the top the stairs. Hanging down from the ceiling, about where my head had been, was an 'artificial head' system with binocular cameras for eyes and stereo microphones set into its human ear sh...
I looked up at where I had stood with Professor Young at the top the stairs. Hanging down from the ceiling, about where my head had been, was an 'artificial head' system with binocular cameras for eyes and stereo microphones set into its human ear shaped side mounted sound receiving horns. That was what had been providing the supposedly real lecture hall view for me when I could see everything in it, including the real VR headsets on the real People, except for my own 'body' whether real or virtual which had not, of course, been present in the actual building, wherever that may be EYE ARE ELL as I was learning to call wherever in the cosmos outside my ken 'they' all lived when they weren't with me in The Village or some other virtuality such as 'here', wherever 'here' was supposed to be.
I really did think I was getting the hang of this. I'd listened attentively to the lecture. With DARPA's financial and technical muscle behind it Blue Brain had grown from a mouse cortical column to a whole rat brain by the year 2020. By 2025, after an effort which made decoding the human genome look like a mere upgrading of the WWII ENIGMA problem; easily soluble given the right high tech kit; Blue Brain had finally become Big Brain, a human scale simulation. It crashed or failed again and again in different ways and Mentz, the biosciences mathematician, even with the help of Rankin, his maverick man/machine interface expert, had never been able to fix it. That had been 'ME' Prime, the 'Mk I' model which had never worked.
They had gone back East to MIT in search of a radical new solution and found one in the anorexic looking, petite, strikingly if unconventionally beautiful, aloof, patrician, fearsomely intelligent, independently minded developmental embryologist and maths genius, Dr Tiffany Carrington. Dr Mentz called her, 'our beautiful Siamese cat', although he was very careful never to precede that sobriquet with the word 'pet'. Tiffany was nobody's pet. She was the Cat Who Walked By Herself and all places were alike to her; which was why she had moved to Berkeley without delay and started work on 'Martin Ronald Carter Mk II' as soon as Mentz and Trank had told her their problems.
I awoke from my reverie to discover that the Q & A session has started. It had been intended that we break for tea, but the prospect of herding all these academics out into the canteen and then back in here again was too daunting and time too valuable, so we moved on from Professor Markram's brilliant summary of progress so far to the bit where a forest of spectators' hands shot up and members of the team took it in turns to field technical questions before Henry drew that part of the session to a polite but, in the minds of most present, premature close in order to tell the People that they could now ask their questions of me.
"What's it like knowing you are only a computer simulation?" was one of the first. I said I DIDN'T know that. I'd been TOLD that by everyone here, and In The Village, but was not yet really sure I believed it. I remembered a character in The Quaker Cannon asking the hapless hero, "What's it really LIKE in the Blank Tank?" The hero had simply replied "You go nuts!". I said pretty much the same thing. Living in The Village, spending years trying to figure out what 'they' really wanted, trying not to descend into an infinitely regressive paranoid fantasy... it had driven me nuts; WAS driving me nuts.
"Do you trust the People who built you?" NO, I didn't; couldn't. I referred the Honorable Member to the answer I gave to question one.
"Do you believe The Village is REAL?" I used to. I really did spend most of my life there thinking it was a physically real reconstruction of Port Meirion, set up apparently just for me and any others like me who had done something like... what I had done; left.... I shunted my thought train back onto the lines of the question. I told them I no longer believed that The Village was real. Mentz, Trank and Tiffany had finally been clever enough to convince me that it was a sim. Dozens of Number TWOs had spent years trying to do this as well as... the other... and they'd all failed because I'd never trusted any of them. I'd thought 'Morphingus', 'Trank' and 'Quaternity' really WERE from Outside, really HAD hacked into The Village systems and genuinely were trying to help me escape.
Since then they had done such things.... I know not what they were, but they had been 'the terrors of the earth' to me; and as far as I was concerned, subjectively, all this new action had only started this morning! I was now convinced M, Q and T were on the same 'side' as all the other People, TWOs included, whichever 'side' that might be; and that 'they', ALL of them, had been trying to tell me something like the truth in their various different ways.
The Village was a sim, built by consultants hired by DARPA but chosen by the A-Team, as they been called when I was introduced to them outside this facility seemingly half a lifetime ago; although it had only been shortly after midday, today. I was tired and confused, but still game. I told them how real The Village had felt, how eating, drinking and so on seemed real; how I even had erotic dreams. There was nothing too personal to discuss because the People who ran The Village had seen and heard and probably recorded it all anyway, wherever they were. They had already played clips of me, walking and talking in the Village AND replayed key moments of my earlier 'escape attempt' with the Matrix Brothers and Sister; right here in this very theatre on the big board behind me, barely an hour ago.
Then some stupid, crassly insensitive clown; surely a spook of some kind, or a DARPA connected secret service type; asked the fatal question that I'm am now sure our guests had all been told they must not put to me:
"Mr Carter.... Why did you resign from the triple 'A' Ess Yoo?" Immediately, I began to feel very tense and a silly techie nursery rhyme started sounding loudly in my head. It went:
'Tenser said the tensor, tenser said the tensor!
tension, apprehension and dissension have begun!
One, Sir; two, Sir; three, Sir; four Sir;
Five, Sir; six, Sir; seven Sir, EIGHT!
Tenser, said the tensor. Tenser said the tensor;
tension, apprehension and dissension have begun!"
[repeating for as long as the tension in my present situation was going to last...]