‘Ieuw, ieuw, ieuw.’ A screeching sound penetrates my brain, I am not quite sure what it is. It is definitely an annoying sound and I feel I need to remember what makes this sound. What is wrong with my brain? I shake my head and try to ignore the sound. ‘Pjieuw, ieuw, ieuw’, that doesn't help. My fingers grab something, something I am lying on, sand, it feels like sand. The emptiness in my head seems to be disappearing. My eyelids feel heavy, I want to see where I am, what did I get myself into? I smell a familiar odour, the salty air of a beach. Damn it, I'm on the beach and that annoying sound comes from the ever shrieking seagulls. The muscles of my eyelids feel tight as I try to open my eyes, I can see small slits, yes I am lying on the beach, my face turned towards the city. I vaguely see the edge of the sand, where the grass starts to grow and rises to Murdochs Lane. Behind the old houses, the new city rises, high towers that reach out to the sky. And seagulls everywhere! Both in the old town and the new city, as if those beasts have decided that they will continue to honour the name of the city anyway, Golspie, meaning Seagull in the old language.
My city! As I open my eyes and scramble up, it feels like someone has opened a lock in my brain. My memories wash into my consciousness like a tidal wave. I know who I am again, Jack. Jack MacNicoll, scientific guinea pig. No that's not fair. A scientific staff member of The Golspie International Institute for Brain Development established from a small branch of the Alzheimer's Scotland Company. Now, this institute is of the most important ones in the field of brain research, not so much due to the intellect of the Scots, unfortunately, but to the flow of Asians who came to Scotland entirely unexpectedly after the Brexit. I feel still a bit wobbly on my legs, shaking the sand off my clothes and walking away from the beach towards Murdochs Lane. The city planners have not quite succeeded in turning the dilapidated character of the street into a believable nostalgic look. Fortunately, it is a bleak November day, so there are not many tourists on the beach. I am aware that I must be a strange sight, wearing my work clothes on the beach. I am glad nobody seems to notice. It is cold today, the wind is tugging on my thin tunic. How did I get here? Something must have happened! Something traumatic? That could explain why I do have my long-term memory back but haven’t got a clue what happened to me recently. And yes, there it is again. I still feel something strange, I cannot say exactly what it is, it is a kind of emptiness in my brain where something else should be.
I slowly walk the narrow streets of Old Town, past the Countess of Sutherland Memorial Fountain that marks the boundary between the old and the new city. Fortunately, there is a TubeStation, where a Vessel passes by every few minutes. Meanwhile, my teeth are chattering, while I embark in the first Vessel that is available and I am giving ‘home’ as a destination because I just don't want to go back to work now. I have to find out what happened first. Thanks to my job, I have a premium subscription to the Vessels, which means that I will be taken home without any stops or fellow passengers. It also means that I am dropped off on the 11th floor on the green area stretching in front of the door to my apartment. I hear the creaking of the wooden building that gently moves back and forth in the wind. After all these years I am still not used to it. I put my hand on the front door which then gently slides open. It feels cold in my apartment, not strange because otherwise, I am never home at this time of day. The hauling wind slips through the ventilation slots that ensure a healthy indoor climate. I feel dizzy and collapse on my couch, which softly folds around my body and glows hot. I immediately feel safe and secure.
"Do you want another fragrance?" My house asks.
"No, don't bother, it's okay. But turn up the heat a little and turn the oven on, I'm hungry."
"Okay," my house says. My house isn't much of a talker, but now I regret my settings, I could do with a chat.
"Hey house," I say, "can you adjust your settings? I need a chat. "
"I could call your girlfriend?"
Hey, my house is not really social.
"No, please don't." I don't feel like having a difficult conversation with my girlfriend, who will immediately start worrying when I tell her I found myself out of nowhere lying on the beach.
"Okay," says my house. "One moment, I'll adjust myself."
The lights in my apartment flicker on and off, my smart house has its occasional glitches. I am not sure if that is due to a technical failure or if the house just likes to occasionally be a little bit of a jackass. Somewhere in those settings, something is not entirely set right.
"Hello Jack, how are we feeling today? Did you do anything special today, want to tell me about it?" An exaggeratedly cheerful voice, which I do not appreciate. Yes, really, I don't think it's the technique that fails, my house has a nasty sense of humour.
"Not good, I am not feeling well, at all, but please, please, dim your enthusiasm a little."
With a sonorous low voice, my house starts the conversation again.
"Jack, how are you? What can I do for you?'
Oh well, you know what, never mind, I don't feel like talking to my house anymore. Not about what happened to me.
"Bring me coffee, the real stuff, not that cheap fake coffee."
A little later a table rolls over to the sofa with a steaming cup of coffee on top of it.
"Thank you," I mutter. With the hot cup of coffee between my hands, images from the past hours flow back to me. First, I hear the shrieks of the seagulls again, which slowly changes into the squeaking of machines. Instead of the sand of the beach or the soft upholstery of my couch, I feel the fabric of a treatment table, in the special experiments room of the hospital, which is a part of our institute. I remember myself lying on the treatment table, my head wedged between hard cushions and a band pressing on my forehead. It is not painful, but certainly uncomfortable. That feeling was gone quickly though, anaesthesia. Yes, that's it, I was sedated! I had asked for it myself, this was part of an experimental treatment, that is what happened. I asked to have my brain uploaded, adjusted and downloaded again. Aiming for a completely improved brain with all the knowledge of neuroscientists from all over the world! Or at least, that was the intention. But how did I end up from that treatment room on the beach? And where is that knowledge now? I only feel emptiness, as if I stumble into a black hole and fall into an abyss when I try to think about that knowledge. And why did I want that anyway? I move my thoughts around in my mind, slowly to the edge of the black hole, it feels slippery, almost as if it is a physical hole instead of a mental hole. What do I actually want at all?
I was cold recently and now I'm warm, that's nice. I wanted a boost to clear my mind, that still feels unpleasant, a little frightening indeed!
"Yes, here I am? What can I do for you?" That sonorous low voice again.
"House, who am I?"
"Jack MacNicoll, son of Ryan MacNicoll and Selise MacIntosh, partner of Grace Chen ..."
"OK, house, but who am I? What do I want?'
"A cup of coffee and something to eat in the oven."
Oh yes, that oven, I had already forgotten.
"Turn off the oven. But seriously house, what do I want? What are my ambitions?"
"The oven is out, do you want to eat something else?"
"Really house, I've been living here with you for quite some time, you know me, what do I want?"
"Your favourite temperature in the house is 19.8 degrees in winter and 22.3 in summer. You like to shower at 8:38 in the morning and sometimes in the evening ...”
"Stop it house, what is it that you actually want for yourself?"
"Another name ..."
"You always call me house, I honestly don't like that. As if I don't have a personality. I call you Jack, right? And not human?"
Pff, a self-learning house. I knew it, my house is just a jerk sometimes! Nothing badly functioning techniques, just a jerk and moody.
"I didn't know that," I mutter.
"What do you say?" Now the voice sounds irritated.
"OK house, what do you want me to call you?"
"Céad Míle Fáilte".
"Come on Jack, you're Scottish aren’t you, it means a hundred thousand times welcome! You should know that!"
"Sorry house, excuse me, I'll call you Miles."
The coffee table spins at high speed away from the couch, luckily the cup is empty because otherwise, the coffee would splash all around. I suddenly hear the tap running in the kitchen.
"Miles, that's a nice name, right? Miles? House?'
The coffee table rolls back slowly, the tap is closed again. But Miles doesn't say anything anymore. I sit on the couch, straight up now and look in front of me. The feeling of emptiness remains. Should I call my girlfriend after all? But what do I want from her? Why is she my girlfriend? I think of the warmth of her body, I remember her smile and the conversations we have. Nice conversations, but also arguments that are mainly about things that we want, plans that we make. Strange, I remember the feeling of the quarrels, the loud voices, the agitated movements, but I no longer know exactly what it was all about. So no, I won’t call her, that might cause an uncomfortable conversation. I am not in the mood for that.
The black hole in my brain presents itself to me again, as if it wants me to look into that abyss, it has to do with those arguments, I know for sure! It has to do with wanting. But when I start to think about that, I don't get much further than very basic feelings. I want to get rid of the sand that is still in my hair and tickles between my clothes. I don't want my house to sulk about his name. But there must be more than that. What do I want? I want to know what happened exactly, yes I certainly want that. That is something from the past. I want to go to the International Institute for Brain Development soon, but not yet, to find out what went wrong. Because something has undoubtedly gone wrong. But then? If I know what went wrong? I'm trying to get a grip on it. It is like a black tentacle from the hole in my brain reaches out to me. I shiver. I just don't want to think anymore.
I get up from the couch, shed my clothes one by one as I walk to the shower. Fortunately, I still have a water shower, water scarcity has not yet reached the city of Golspie.
"Miles, please give me water power 27 and temperature, oh well you know ..."
The shower starts and I step into the water, it feels blissful, the warm water that caresses my skin at just the right strength.
"From now on, I'd rather have you just call me House again," Miles grumbles, my house.
From now on, that sounds strange, from now on, what does that mean? The black tentacle slides in my brain, I can almost grab it. Then it slips away again. Something is very wrong with me.