“Josie, wake up. Detective Williamson is here to see you.”
A kind female voice filled her ears.
Josie opened her eyes. Nurse Perry was standing beside her bed. “What time is it?” Josie asked, still feeling sleepy.
“It’s 6.30 in the morning,” the nurse replied.
With a slight grunt, Josie stood up. “Okay, let him come,” she sighed.
Detective Williamson had never come to meet her so early before. In fact, he hardly came at all, during the past few weeks. The last time he was here was for her birthday party, her 21st, she recalled.
Minutes later, a tall, bald person wearing a full black suit appeared beside her bed. Detective Williamson was a man who seemed to be in his fifties, with a big mustache that reminded her of Freddie Mercury.
“How are you, Josie?” asked the man kindly. “Feeling any better?”
“Yes detective, I’m feeling good,” she answered with a smile. “But my head still hurts sometimes,” she added.
“You took a bullet to your head, don’t forget that,” said the detective. “You are lucky to be alive.”
She knew exactly what he meant. And she knew he was right.
“Time heals all wounds, Josie,” he assured. “Don’t worry.”
“I hope so,” Josie uttered quietly. “So what brings you here, detective?” she asked.
“Well…there’s something I need to discuss with you,” the detective replied, taking a seat. He took a few seconds to gather his thoughts. “Umm…I suppose you’ve not heard about… DARPA have you?” he muttered, lowering his voice.
“Yes, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”
“No. I haven’t,” replied Josie.
“Well, it’s this government agency that wants to help you,” said the detective.
“Help me?” Josie asked. “What do you mean to help me?”
“Well you still don’t remember anything from that night do you?”
“No,” she uttered.
“Well, they said they can help you remember it.”
“They can help you to regain your lost memory…. The memory of that night,” said the old man. “They said they have this project. Some computer thing which can help people regain their lost memories. And they would like to test it on you.”
“Detective Williamson, I don’t think this is a good time to be joking.”
“I’m not joking kid,” the detective replied.
“Well, why do they want to help me?”
“I don’t know. I’m not allowed to say anything else until you agree to do this.”
“Do what exactly?”
“Meet them. You just have to come with me and meet them. Whatever they want to do to you, you can decide whether you want it done, it’s all up to you. Your parents have agreed to do whatever you decide.”
“No, detective,” she replied angrily. “The answer is no. I’m not some lab rat to be used for experiments.”
“I don’t expect you to give an answer right now. Just think about it. All I’m trying to do is help you.”
“I know detective, and I appreciate it. But no.”
“Okay then, just give me a call if you change your mind, at any time you want,” said the detective, preparing to leave. “Have a nice day, Josie.”
“You too, Detective Williamson.”
Josie was in a deep peaceful sleep when a sudden pain in her head occurred. She woke up with a jolt. The pain was immense. She looked at the little alarm clock beside her bed. It was just past midnight.
She stood up in the bed and buried her head in her hands. But the pain only got worse.
Suddenly she started hearing voices.
“Trent…, Trent watch it you fool…” shouted one voice. “I’m so sorry professor…. I didn’t see…” said another, after a little pause. Then it was all silence. And the pain was gone.
Josie felt like crying. She had been in this hospital for the past eight months, after suffering a gunshot to her head. The bullet had only grazed her skull, therefore protecting her from a major injury. But she didn’t remember anything from that night. All she remembered was leaving a party that she had attended in the afternoon, and waking up in this hospital the following morning. Everything between that was just blank. She had been feeling a little bit of pain now and then, after recovering, but today the pain was far worse than before. And then there were the voices. What is happening to me? She wondered.
She picked up her phone and opened Detective Williamson’s contact, the man who was investigating the case. According to him, she was not the only victim that night. Another man, some high profile scientist, had also been shot that day, murdered, at exactly the same place, at exactly the same time. And he was not as lucky as Josie. The autopsy had revealed that both the bullets matched each other, convincing the police that Josie was shot by the same person who had murdered the scientist, possibly to eradicate her as a witness. At least that’s what she was told.
Maybe I’m not as lucky as they say, she thought. Unknowingly, her mind wandered back to her 21st birthday, that was celebrated here a few weeks ago. She thought about how it could have been celebrated had she not been shot. That made her whimper.
Wiping the tears off her eyes, she tapped on the call button on detective’s contact. She was certain that she didn’t want to celebrate her 22nd here in this hospital as well.
Two weeks later, Josie was sitting in a laboratory and boy, she had never seen such a laboratory before. It was filled with all sorts of high tech equipment, advanced computers, biometric authenticators, the sorts you see in science fiction movies. Detective Williamson, who was the only other man in the room, too appeared to be fascinated by the sight.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and in came a young man, wearing a pair of spectacles. He had a lab coat on, with an ID tagged to it.
“Good morning,” he said, taking a seat. “Sorry to keep you waiting. My name is Dr. Trent, and you must be Detective Williamson,” he added, shaking hands with the detective.
“I’m sorry, did you just say your name was Trent?” Josie asked, with surprise.
“Yes, that is correct,” he replied, with a puzzled look on his face. “Why, is anything wrong?”
Yes! A voice in my head shouted your name a few days ago!… Josie thought.
“No no, I just had a bit of a déjà vu moment,” she replied. “Just forget it.”
Dr. Trent smiled. “So you must be Miss. Lanning, the one who witnessed Dr. Butler’s murder.”
“Yeah, well they think that I saw it,” she uttered. “And call me Josie, please.”
“Right,” said Dr. Trent. “So Josie, do you know anything about what’s happening here?” he asked.
“No. I wasn’t told anything,” she said, looking at Detective Williamson. “I was hoping that you guys would explain it to me.”
“Right, of course,” Dr. Trent smiled. “So, we’re DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. We are a part of the United States Department of Defense. We develop new technologies for the US Military.”
Military? Wow…Josie thought.
“So what’s this project?” she asked. “This computer thing?”
“Yes, Project Zero.” Dr. Trent replied. “Well, the goal of the Project Zero was to develop a method to manipulate, or if possible, erase traumatic memories from military personnel. To help them heal. But unfortunately, we failed miserably at the beginning.” He continued. “We realized that no man-made mechanism was potent enough to tap into another man’s unconscious mind, which is where all the repressed memories are stored. So we turned towards Artificial Intelligence. And the outcome was Eva, a highly advanced A.I. who was far more capable than we initially thought. She is capable of extracting the repressed memories stored in one’s unconscious mind, and recreating or replaying them in a simulated reality. In fact, she can even simulate two realities, simultaneously, if required.”
“Simulated reality?” Josie asked. “What do you mean?”
“Well, a fake reality,” Dr. Trent replied. “To put it simply, you will experience that night as exactly as it happened. With every little detail. That will help you regain those lost memories.”
“But will I be able to realize that it’s just happening inside my head?”
“That depends. A conscious mind may or may not know that they live inside a simulation. But in this case, I think you will be aware because this is something you have already experienced. Your mind will recall these memories at the same rate which they are unfolded in front of you, in the simulated reality. So you will know that these are just memories.”
“So, there are instances that a conscious mind may not know that they are in a simulated reality?” Josie asked, curiously.
“Yes, there could be,” Dr. Trent said. “Consider a dream. Are you aware that you are dreaming?”
“No” she uttered.
“I suppose that answers your question,” replied Dr. Trent. “Now please tell me, Josie, would you let us help you?”
She pondered about it for a while… and then gave a nod.
Soon she found herself sitting in a mechanical chair, wearing a weird looking wired helmet on her head.
“Here drink this, it will help you to relax your mind,” said Dr. Trent, offering a glass of water.
“Thank you.” She drank it at once and put it on the table beside her.
“Just relax your mind, Josie. That is important. Don’t panic. Everything you are going to see in a moment is just memories. They can’t hurt you. Eva will abort the process automatically if she detects any unusual brain activities. So you are safe in every sense of the word.”
Josie took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then Dr. Trent pressed a button on the controller.
To be continued…
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