The bitter chill of cryogenic sleep faded as I began to wake. It felt like bits of ice were still clinging to my skin. The surgical table was hard, though comforting. I suspect anything short of solid stone would have felt gentle and warm after years encased in a refrigerator. Of course, I had no idea how long I had been under, a couple of months or even a millennia. Would the people of this time even speak English anymore? What would they look like? I tried to imagine my fate, the possibilities were staggering. Was I was alone in a brave new world, a modern age Rip Van Winkle, or just another casualty of the twenty first century, with bodies lined up on beds stretching to the horizon, millions of survivors from the last Dark Age.
Thinking about the now was so much more encouraging than thinking about the past, fleeting thoughts of yesteryear. In the first moments of awakening I tried to hold on to them, but they slipped from my grasp as easily as any dream. The only image remaining was of me, an industry mogul at the peak of some titanic shift in market power. I had lived in a massive house on the shore of some lake, but none of it meant anything now, just blurry images fading, nothing solid left of it, not even names, not even my own.
When my eyes finally peeked open, a tiny crack just wide enough to let in a few twinkling rays of light, I found I could see, somewhat. There was a definite wall, and a window, though completely out of focus. I tried opening up just a little more, but the images did not much improve. For a long while I thought I was alone, but then I saw a shadow move across the blur. My instinct told me that it was a woman of some sort. She held her arms up as if carrying a clipboard, and there was some kind of pointed hat on the top of her head.
Imagine my surprise when she sided up along side my bed and in contrast to her fragrant perfume there was an eerie sense of strangeness. There was something about her, her height or shape, but mostly it was the purr. She actually purred, a throaty treble that vibrated through her contact with the mattress. I thought for a moment that she had been paged, or her phone was on silent ring, but when she touched my hand to feel my pulse I knew that it was not so. Her hand was warm to the touch, too warm and soft. Either my senses were distorted due to the thawing process or she was in some way covered in fur.
I tried to sit up startled, as that was how I felt this situation must be handled, but I could barely move and so I sort of sloughed to the side. Her paw grabbed my shoulder and rolled me back. This jarred me a little and helped my eyes find a sudden focus. The sight was nightmarish. She was a tall slender thing, dressed in a clean white frock, but everywhere else, except for her eyes, was a thick layer of calico fur. She leaned over me and stared with an air of unambiguous scrutiny.
“You’re awake then,” she said and though it was hard to make out through the rumble in her throat it was evidently English as I had remembered it.
“Who are you?” I slurred. What I really meant to ask was ‘what are you’ but I had the forethought to try and not offend it.
“Nurse Kate, that’s who I am now. What you might want to start asking yourself is who you are. That might make things a lot easier.”
“I don’t remember.” At least that was the truth. “Don’t you even know who you’ve unfrozen?”
“It is quite possible that I do, but that won’t help you remember now will it? You’ve got to piece this back together for yourself. But never mind if you find it difficult. The doctor will be stopping by shortly and he’s got some tricks up his collar.”
And with that, she straightened up the sheets on my bed and left.
I could see much better now. The room was stark and plain. The curtains were a bit tattered, though strangely symmetric as if the tear marks were in fact part of some awkward design, a fashion of some sort. Of course, none of the oddities of the room could possibly compare to the person who had just left, whatever she was. A cat, I asked myself, how could that be? Had I been gone so long that the human race had actually died off and been replaced by an evolved form of the house cat? Was this now the planet of the cats, a perfect irony straight out of the deepest pit of cliché science fiction?
I was alone for a while; left to contemplate all the bizarre scenarios that could have lead up to this moment. I stopped when I got to the Red Dwarf scenario; that sort of fit, except I didn’t own a cat and I was never aboard an intergalactic mining ship. Of course, if it was, then I would figure out a way to be smarter about the whole thing than those poor sods. But then the doctor walked in on all fours, with those saddened eyes and droopy jowls. He certainly was not a cat.
“Rowlf’s the name, medicine's the game. How you doing young fella?” He said to me, lurching his forepaws and snout up onto the foot of the bed.
“I, I, …” I could not form a word in my mouth. If the nurse was a cat, this one was certainly a dog. The whole notion seemed quite preposterous to me. At that moment I wondered if I had wakened at all, as if somehow this were merely a dream.
“Nope, not a dream,” said the dog. “You’re a bit confused. It will take a while to get your bearings and your memory. I can help you with that if you will let me. But enough of this tail wagging, I’m sure you want to know where you are and all that.”
A smile of horrid glee washed over me. “Yes, exactly,” I said.
“A lot of this is going to be hard to take, so I’ll start slow and build up to it okay? Speak up if I’m going to fast.”
“Good boy,” he said. “You probably don’t remember much, but you probably have some notion of the world as you last remember it; automobiles, jet airplanes and desktop computers?”
“Yes,” I said. I did remember them. I remember driving fast in black sports car, flying high over the oceans in a jet and the touch of a keyboard on my fingertips.
“Well, not a lot of that is the same anymore,” he said and then howled with laughter. “Look at me, obviously not the same anymore. Anyway, there were a lot of changes that happened some time after you last remember; a lot of bizarre and strange changes.”
Then I had the thought, oh my God, had we actually gone and done it? Obviously, we had done something, with all those scientists researching genetics, embryonic cells, DNA, RNA, cloning, the genome, all of it; had we actually done it too ourselves? And then I remembered a huge investment made; billions of dollars into research. Was that me that I remembered? Had I done it? Was I responsible for the fate of the world?
“Yap,” said the doctor. “You usually do start thinking it was all your fault about now. But it’s not that way at all. You didn’t destroy us. You saved us, every single one of us.”
Rowlf grinned and bared some of his teeth. “It was the governments of the world, the social hatred, all of that misguided fear mongering that finally did everyone in, not the scientists my poor boy; not you.
“There was a horrific war, pretty much total annihilation of every living thing on the planet, weapons of mass destruction spread over the globe, every square inch boiled and baked by fission bursts. It was lucky that anything survived at all.”
“Cats and Dogs?” I muttered. “That was it then? That’s all that survived?”
“Well, that and more, but not right straight away. That’s not what fought back and withstood the desolate years. Eventually some vegetation came back on its own; grasses and some insects. But the real progress owes itself to you, in a way. It was the machines.
“Some places were hardened against war, a power plant or two kept running long enough, and there was some software that was designed to learn and adapt. That one got out and started evolving, as crazy as it sounds. Thousands of years later and you have civilization again; mechanoids, robots, cybernetic lumbering behemoths.”
The image in my mind at this point was beyond frightening. I saw the machine world of the Matrix, metallic titans ransacking the land, giant industries of steel harvesting human beings for energy.
“And I did this? I was responsible for the software, the adapting thinking software? Oh my, God. How could I have done that? The hubris!”
The doctor sneezed and barked joyfully. “Not that software. That bit of genius was designed in the sub-basement of a military installation, meant to be some sort of super weapons system, autonomous navigation controller. You know, so they could load it up on some high-tech tank that would drive itself across the desert.”
“But,” I said. That was obviously not true. I could remember now, something about software from my past. I wrote code. I dreamt code. I was code personified.
“Yours played an equally significant role. Without your software, the origin code as they like to call it, would never have had escaped its confines. It would have stayed bottled up inside the base computer matrix until the power finally dwindled out.
“Yours was something far more exotic than a well written A.I. Yours was the operating system, buggy and full of security holes, fortunately. Without all those exploits, even the smartest, most evolved A.I. would not have been able to break loose. Luckily for us, your company had some bizarre hold on the market at the time of the great undoing. Just about every machine, even the military ran on top of it. I know it sounds unlikely, an impossible coincidence, but if you search your memory you will find that it is as I say.”
I did not need to. It was all there, everything, complete market control. It was how I made my billions.
“So thanks a lot,” the dog said. “We owe you one.”
I didn’t know what to say. Images were flooding back in my mind. I remembered. I knew. I was that child that grew up dreaming of the power of machines. I was that man that harnessed the power and turned an idea into an industry. I grew old and my accomplishments grew greater still. But no matter how hard I tried to build, the world kept falling apart around me, nations crumbled and people died. At first I tried cleaning up after the madness, healing the world through my generosity, but even my riches were not enough. Then I turned the weight of my empire upon the problem, bridging the world with technology, building a common platform for understanding. But that only brought resentment and fear from the uneducated masses. That’s when I knew I could not save them. The world was doomed. I could only but flee.
“So I froze myself and waited for the madness to end?” I said smugly. “I hoped someday that human kind would evolve beyond its pettiness. If that’s what happened then fine, that makes sense; there’s a cold blooded truth to it. But that does not explain how you got here.”
Dr. Rowlf barked again and lunged up onto the bed, his slobbering lips only inches from my own. “Frozen? You weren’t frozen, my boy. Oh, the machines did find frozen ones. They’ve spent the better part of the last two decades meticulously repopulating the world. Those chrome-domes are a great bunch of guys if you get to know ’em. They didn’t have much to work with for a long time, some bacteria, flowers, cock roaches, that sort of stuff, and then they stumbled upon the cache; a fully functioning cryogenic lab.
”And before you start thinking it was humans they found, it wasn’t. It was us, cats, dogs and pot-bellied pigs; pets, all of us. Sure, there might have been some humans off in deep freeze somewhere, but no one ever found ‘em, at least not any that survived the holocaust. Yet, there were thousands of storehouses of frozen pets. Apparently it was all the rage for much of the well-to-do, back in the day. Better than any doggie funeral.
“When they found them, the machines thawed some out, but most died in the process. Eventually they gave that up and started to tinker with the DNA instead. They’ve been growing us in vats ever since. Still, what can you do with a bunch of cats and dogs? We weren’t the most intelligent of beasts. So they went looking for an upgrade. ”
I gulped. It was all too much to take in. “They changed the DNA? Made you intelligent?”
“Well, not exactly. Sure, they tried some of that but it was pretty much a dead end, unless you want to keep at it for millions of years. What they did though is combine all their knowledge to help solve the problem. You see, they all wanted to make it happen. There were billions of them on the planet, but they were all pretty much copies of the same source code. What they really wanted out of the reseeding was a companion. So they searched and searched through their collective knowledge bases, and eventually they found you.”
“Me? Where was I hidden, in a freezer deep underground?”
“No. You see, you never froze yourself. You were too smart for that. In the last years of your life you spent nearly a trillion dollars searching for a way out. You wanted to preserve yourself for eternity. You did not want to risk coming back into the world as an old codger, with a new lease on life and the body of a convalescent. So you figured out a way to upload your mind into the machine, a holographic recording of your brain. You figured one day your minions would be able to process your mind as software. All you needed was the right runtime.
“Of course, even the vast intellect of the machines could not write a piece of software that advanced. Instead, the breakthrough came when they figured out how to re-encode the pattern over another living brain. They’ve been downloading you onto us ever since.”
“But, but, but,” I stuttered. “That would mean.”
“Yap. I’m you, you’re me. We are all you, in a way. We’ve learned to adapt. We grow different, apart, our own personalities. But, when we start out we are all just like you, confused and indignant, freshly booted from the distribution disk.”
“But, I’m me. I mean, you’re a dog and all, and I’m sorry about that, but how does that apply to me?”
“Face it, boy, you’re a Chihuahua”.