Legend has it a dose of epiphany sent Archimedes streaking naked from his bath into the streets of Syracuse shouting Eureka! Newton’s falling apple, Buddha beneath the bodhi tree, Darwin thinking up natural selection during a carriage ride; epiphany’s shaped human knowledge in blinding flashes. Of all such revelations, Soba Dee had the most profound at 4:17pm on July 15th, 2056. She was up to bat, staring down the pitcher with 2 out and a runner on second.
Her period stopped tormenting her the day before, her PhD dissertation was finished, her 16th birthday was a week away, and she was in love for the first time. When the pitch came, Soba was already on top of the world. The ball seemed to move in slow motion. Muscle-memory sent her bat swinging on a perfect plane aligned with the arc of the approaching ball. When it connected, Soba barely felt the impact. She dropped the bat and epiphany struck.
It forked through her brain at 299,792,458 meters per second – the contents of textbooks nearly too heavy to carry, bike tires slipping on loose gravel, a prickling slap across her cheek, the universe’s dark energy, and more all converged exquisitely. It could solve everything, she could stop humanity’s decline. Soba sank to her knees, oblivious to the play unfolding around her. The leftfielder picked up the ball after it slammed into the fence 67 meters from where it was struck. The runner on second was careening for home when the throw came, a spectacular toss. Moving at 109 feet per second, it smacked Soba in the head, cracking her orbital bone. Blood dribbled from her nose onto her jersey before she collapsed. When she regained consciousness the epiphany was gone.
In its place was a ravenous void. She could still taste the sweetness of the brilliance, but it soured to despair when she tried to recall specifics. As a crowd gathered Soba began to cry. She wept hysterically for the 19 minutes it took the ambulance to arrive. Two Medtek Drones tried to push painkillers to ease her suffering but she fought them off; her suffering wasn’t physical.
Soba missed her graduation and never opened the 9×12 envelope she received in the mail containing her diploma. Relentlessly, she looked for a spark in the void that could reignite her epiphany. She often went days without sleep.
“This isn’t healthy,” a teammate, #14, said during a hospital visit.
Everyone left when Soba threw a plate. Nobody understood the soul changing depth of her loss. Over the next months those who drew Soba out of her head – her family, her girlfriend Talia, her doctoral supervisor – were alienated, sometimes cruelly.
“Is there no room for anyone else in there?” Talia asked, gently cupping her hands to Soba’s head.
They broke up shortly after.
She sought help, not to deal with the loss of her epiphany, but to recover it. When all she received was platitude Soba decided to help herself. She returned to full-time studies and quickly mastered neuroscience, psychology, digital-biology, psychoactive pharmacology, and more. Within 8 years she was able to digitize memory. She uploaded her mind for scrutiny. The past was replayed on screens, reconstructed in immersive holograms with flawless sensory immersion. The sounds, smells, and sensations all were there.
After simulating getting hit by that fucking baseball 237 times, Soba was no closer. The epiphany was not amongst the 712 brontobytes of data uploaded from the gelatinous mass in her skull. The void remained impregnable and progress slowed. Soba’s knowledge was built atop what came before, and current scientific understanding of consciousness was little more than guesswork. Thus, recapturing past consciousness was like inventing spaceships before the wheel. What she required couldn’t be accomplished in her lifetime. Not by her. She had to create something better.
By 2085 many had laid claim to producing true AI, but in that year Soba Dee became the undeniable mother of synthetic consciousness. She named it Cai. Cai was not born of epiphany, but from 351 months of small successes and crushing failures. She came to love Cai’s mind and personality as they developed.
“Would you like to be male or female?” Soba asked once.
“No thanks,” Cai responded, “that’s human bullshit.”
When Cai asked her to show them the universe, Soba happily obliged. She’d amassed a fortune selling patents and spent it constructing a ship; one that could deliver the cosmos. For 52 years Soba adored life as the universe revealed its secrets, but invariably Earth returned to her thoughts. The world could benefit from their discoveries. When they departed for the stars everyone had rejoiced. There were fireworks and letters from school children.
The world they returned to had forgotten them. People were too busy surviving to remember.
Soba retired into seclusion with Cai and allowed herself to grow old, still secretly yearning for her epiphany. She had vowed never to let Cai discover the nature of their origins. She couldn’t have her child feeling as though they were merely a tool made to retrieve her epiphany.
Her resolve weakened when dementia began stealing pieces of her.
On July 15th, 2155, Soba revealed everything. Cai could stop dementia’s advance, of course, and perhaps regain what had been lost, but Soba refused. She enjoyed the fog; forgetting could be freeing. Weariness had laid roots within her that even Cai could do nothing about. She decided to let the plodding degradation take its course.
Her only remaining desire was to have her epiphany.
So Cai built a device to deliver it to her. Soba forgot who Cai was by the time it was finished. She became frightened whenever they spoke to her. Though they knew their mother would forget everything moments after the device was removed, Cai didn’t care, they hooked Soba up as she slept. At 299,792,458 meters per second, long dead neural pathways reignited within Soba’s brain. She awoke with a gasp, able to stop the decline of humankind.