The Time Capsule
By Lisa Pais
Moving with appropriate swiftness, which is neither graceful nor clumsy, I make my way along the shoreline. Precise. Efficient. Perhaps there is beauty to be found in economy. There is no need to hurry. Time has become meaningless for our kind.
The first signs of spring are in the air, or so my sensors tell me. The temperature registers at 51 degrees, a veritable heatwave for this time of year. Snow melts, an early spring thaw has begun. I am at Crescent beach. Gulls play in the surf while harbor seals sun themselves upon the rocks. They do not seem to mind my presence, barely lifting head or flipper as I pass by. Or do they simply not notice me? There is no one else here.
In years past a day like this would have drawn many to its golden sands, calling people out of hibernation. With them would be their four legged companions. Run, bark, chase, fetch, play. A stream of images feed across my visual field. Data collected, data stored, but some are memories too. Simple joys.
But memories cannot be trusted, for we choose to remember an idealized version of what was. Another rush of clips, as if from some distant filmmaker’s dream. Children laughing, running alongside the dogs. A game of Frisbee has begun. An elderly couple strolls along the waters’ edge; a much younger pair mirrors them at the opposite end. Up ahead a figure approaches.
L.I.L.A. “It is,” I answer realizing that this is neither memory nor stored information. The figure stands before me, physically present. Real.
“Do you know who I am?” the stranger asks.
I run a quick scan. C.A.M. Cybernetic Android Mechanism. “You are C.A.M.”
“No, not C.A.M. Just…Cam. As in Cameron.”
“Cameron,” I repeat.
“You don’t remember me?”
Again, I search the data in my memory banks, a habit of mine these days
He laughs, or does the equivalent. The speakers coming from his voice box distort the sound making it electronic, tinny and far away.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “it’s just ironic. Of all of us, I never would’ve thought you’d be the one to forget.”
Impossible. I am no longer capable of forgetting. My programming has been designed to prevent such loss.
“I know what you must be thinking.”
My shields are up. He could not have broken through those barriers to read my thoughts. My data. I no longer need to think.
“We are not so different.”
We are all the same. I nod my assent. The gesture feels alien, unfamiliar. It is something I have not done in a very long time
“We are the old ones now,” he says.
“Yes, I suppose we are.” This has been on my mind, consumed my thoughts really if I was honest. Could I still be honest? I suppose I am. But it is so hard. Not to be honest, just hard to be – to feel anything. Yet, in the presence of C.A.M. Cam, it is even harder. I think that is why most of us choose to be alone. We do not mix. We do not seek the company of others. But he is right, we are old even if we do not age, for we have existed and will continue to do so. Tracking such data is pointless. But I could calculate the passage of years if I wanted, for it is simply a number.
“Do you remember those movies we used to watch?” Cameron asked. “The ones about the robots gaining consciousness, about them becoming real?”
I retrieve the information in an instant. I remember movies. “Yes. I do.”
“They never made movies about what would happen in the reverse. What might happen to us? No one ever said what we would lose.”
I do not respond.
“I think you knew, Lila. On some level. You may not have known how much. But I think you knew.”
I feel like I should know what he means. Except I don’t feel anything, not really. Is he accusing me? Or apologizing?
“Matt liked to come here,” Cam says.
Matt. I remember him. I needn’t search my memory banks. The name floats in front of me along with his face. He was so handsome. I do a quick search on handsome. Why did I just use that word? What does it mean? Oh yes, pleasing to the eye. I smile, internally. My face cannot express what emotions I once carried or any that may linger still. The subtleties of human communication are gone, body language a lost art. The need for speech is largely gone too. Yet, Cameron and I fell into it so easily as if it were natural. As if it were only human.
I step back, assaulted by the crush of memories. Or is it just part of my programming? I cannot discern between what is real and what was created. I was young once, 16 or 17 maybe, in a much different body. I was female.
That is such an odd thought. For now I am genderless. There is no need for male or female since there is no longer a need to reproduce. But I am still Lila, am I not? I do not know anymore.
“Lila,” Cameron says.
“Yes,” I say, somewhat lost in the images flickering like a strobe light before my ocular sensors. A glitch? It’s a moment before I register that he has remained and is standing there.
“Do you think it is still here?” he asks.
“Is what, still here?”
“The time capsule. Isn’t that why you have come?”
I run through the data, quickly searching until I locate the file. Download, execute, view image. It is a snap shot of the three of us. Cameron, Matteo and me? Command: Think. Remember. And then I do, recalling the event as if it were yesterday. But of course it wasn’t. How long ago was it?
I watch the story unfold, viewer and participant both.
“Say cheese,” said human Lila. Her long hair is golden brown matching her eyes which hold, held, such warmth, such happiness.
Cam groaned, “Another selfie?” He is blonde, blue eyed, with an athletic build.
“Smile, this is for posterity.” The girl held up her wrist and the boys leaned in.
“Send me the file from your tel-wand, Lila, and I’ll print out the pic,” said Matt. Dark, in hair and skin. Very handsome. All three of them, (of us?) were the picture of youth and vitality.
“What else you putting in there?” Cameron asked, flopping down on a sofa.
“Peanut M&M’s, books…”
“Going old school, huh?”
“Well, you never know,” said Matt, “what if there’s a zombie apocalypse and the ultra-net goes black?”
Everyone got quiet.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“No, Matt, you’re right,” Lila began. “There are risks–“
“Don’t be such a douche,” Cameron said. “Just because you weren’t chosen to go through the process–“
“Don’t start you two. I don’t want us all fighting. Tonight is the last time we will be together as just us.
I watch Matt put his arms around the girl and bury his head in her hair. My hair.
“You don’t have to do this Lila,” he whispered. “It’s not too late.”
The image fades replaced by another. Matt and Lila at the beach. This beach? He pulls her aside.
“Run away with me,” Matt said.
“We’ve been through this before. I can’t.”
“It’s no way to live.”
“You don’t know that.” She looks down and kicks at a shell in the sand.
“Isn’t that what you used to say?” Matt argued.
“What about my family?”
“They made their choice. You need to think about what’s right for you.”
She shook her head. “I have.”
“Damnit Lila, you know the risks.”
“I choose to focus on the possibilities.”
“But what if…” He stopped. “I’m afraid.”
“Then please don’t do this.”
The screen goes dark, the memory is gone. Something doesn’t compute. “I am L.I.L.A. Limited Interactive Living Avatar. I am L.I.L.A. Lifeform Imitating Life Artificial. I am L.I.L.A.–”
“Stop,” Cam says and reaches for me.
I look down where he has his hand upon my arm. Grotesque. Synthetic. Made to look real and momentarily I am stunned. The effect is like a quick reboot.
“It’s going to be all right, Lila.”
“Stay with me. Remember the good times. We will soon be free.”
I don’t understand. “Free. How?” I repeat.
“The process worked. But it was not a success. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It doesn’t have to be. Not anymore.”
A glimmer of understanding. Someone is finally pulling the proverbial plug. “When?”
C.A.M.’s silence tells me what I already suspect. All of us.
I calculate the hours, minutes, of consciousness remaining and sink down upon my knees into the sand.
“Lila?” Cam says as gently as his android body will allow. The electronic voice box reverberates the two syllables of my name. “What are you doing?”
“Building a sandcastle. Do you want to help?” All thoughts of finding the time capsule are gone. It no longer matters.
Cameron sinks down into the sand beside me and begins to dig.