The earliest moment in time that Ezekiel Crane could recall was somewhere around the moment that he died and the moment that the reanimators cracked open his cryogenically frozen sarcophagus and revived him. He wasn't too happy about that, waking up so soon after thawing, as the team of surgeons, all dressed in red smocks, black masks, and plastic eye guards with microscopic pen-lights strobing on either side of their heads, were in the process of hacking his brain from his cranium at the time and digitizing what memories he had left. The process was right out of the Verner Vinge manual for brain-to-box transfers. Basically, they were using the laser equivalent to a meat carver, planing slices of gray matter a molecule's thickness across and scanning the static state of his brain. The funny thing was that Ezekiel wasn't so much awake as being emulated to some degree. He was already inside the box, his core memories intact, watching as the last bits of his gray matter were sliced like so much pale tapioca-kim chi hybrid.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Ezekiel tried to shout, only to find that the I/O port for voice was dead for the duration of the procedure. He tried another output, streaming obsenities across a nearby wall screen the likes of which the practiced reanimators had heard hundreds of times before from other recipients of their care.
"You shut up now," declared one surgeon, "We peeling last of motor cortex. You wanna walk right, yeah?"
The other surgeons laughed as the last of Ezekiel's brain was sliced and extracted from the semi-frozen cranium of his old body, moved to glassy slides, and run through a series of scanning devices before being dumped unceremoniously into a trash receptacle along with the rest of his central nervous system.
That's my goddamned brain! Ezekiel typed across the screen.
"So?" retorted the red-smocked scientist again as he tapped a button on a nearby panel. Suddenly, a hole in the floor at the foot of the surgical table opened and in one swift motion Ezekiel's old corpus, frozen for nearly a hundred years, slid like so much trash down a metal chute and out to Gods know where. "We grow you new one."
That's my goddamned body too, you fucking bastards! What the hell do you think you're doing? I'm a rich and powerful man and I demand-
"Stupid Popsicle, you not rich or powerful."
The surgeons all laughed again as the lead scientist declared, "You broke. Got no money. This a charity case. You be quiet now."
But, what about all of my stock options? Where did all my money go? This can't be-
"Mister Crane," the scientist remarked as he cut Ezekiel's communications output. "Stock market fall out two decades after you die. Rule number one: never put all eggs in one basket, especially when basket named Microsoft."
After a while of wordless screaming and ranting, Ezekiel fell into an approximation of deep sleep punctuated by bizarre, half-formed dreams and lucid thoughts. He eventually found himself strolling around a fountain in a square that was reminiscent of a very similar place from sometime in his distant past. He was talking with a woman whose curly red hair was plastered against her pale white skin because she was damp from head to foot. He remembered then that she had fallen into the fountain, and this very lucid approximation wore her very wet summer dress like a tight, thin second skin.
"You've counted the aureoles on the right nipple of this avatar's breast ten times in the past minute, Mister Crane," the woman finally declared.
"So it isn't a dream, then," he muttered, peering curiously at the creature who wore his ex-wife's memory like a Halloween party costume. "This is a simulation."
"Correct," she replied. "This is a simulacrum of a specific anchor memory--a pleasant experience which we thought you might find appealing after this morning's incongruities."
"Is that why I'm sporting an erection the likes of which I haven't had since college?"
"That's a simulation as well," she declared as a perfunctory matter of fact. Extending his former lover's slim, graceful hand, she declared, "You may call me Sil. I will be your transitional adviser while you grow used to your new environs as well as your new body."
Again, he peered into Sil's simulated face, noting minute differences between the approximation of his wife standing before him and what his memories were telling him. The eyes were right, and her hair was just the right shade of ginger, but Ezekiel swore that several of the freckles dusting Sil's face were off kilter. Grasping her hand, Sil's skin was warm to the touch, her digits and the shape of her fingernails exactly duplicated as he remembered, but the faded telltale scar that was etched into the meat of three of her knuckles was just the wrong shade of brown.
"Almost, but not quite," Ezekiel murmured, releasing Sil's hand.
"It's never perfect, Mister Crane," Sil surmised. "Memories are just a composite of differing viewpoints in time."
He took a moment to turn full circle, taking in the people, the fountain, the movement of pidgeons as they pecked at bits of gravel and trash not far from one of the benches surrounding the fountain, the feel of summer heat cooking the sweat off his brow, the awkward giddiness welling up from deep inside his gut as his youthful twentysomething hormones raged at the sight of a lithe, wet-
"This is a pretty good composite, then," he replied slowly, casting his gaze aside to stare at one of the more bloated pidgeons waddling among the refuse.
"We can build structures based upon them," she continued, tossing him a half-smile while holding a thumb and forefinger apart, "But because memory is inherently faulty, we can only come so close."
"Am I awake, or is this a dream?" Ezekiel motioned with his hand, encompassing everything. "This isn't real, and as of the moment I woke up, I wasn't real either. I perceived myself, that is, my body, being trashed. So how will I be able to tell the difference between what you show me here, and what you say the real world will be? How can I tell if you are real if you're wearing my ex-wife's skin from fifty years ago?"
Sil paused for a long moment, then turned, ambling slowly toward one of several buildings ringing the fountain plaza. She took a moment to scoop up a pair of red sandals that were haphazardly tossed onto the ground and continued to saunter barefoot toward a broad three-story affair.
"Come on," she finally replied, tossing her hair to one side as she gazed back at him. "I'll show you."