The Restoration of William: the skeleton of a short story about resurrection and identity

by AlanCrowe 2 min read15th Nov 20139 comments


Bill died. He never liked having dumps done. Each year he would make excuses, put it off. "Next year." he would say. Only after Bill's death do people realise just how long this has been going on for: thirty years. They will have to restore Bill from a 30 year old tape. Is "restore" even the right word? How about "roll-back"?

Worse still, there was a big change in Bill's life 25 years ago when he had a mid-life crisis. He joined a personal growth cult, dropped old friends, made new ones. Some of his new friends can remember encounters with the old Bill of 30 years ago. They didn't like him and avoided him. There was a lot of friction when he joined the personal growth cult 5 years later. Some members wanted to black ball him. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. It might be true, but the personal growth cult could hardly admit it.

Those who dreaded Bill's return had a week of respite when it seemed that Bill's tape had been lost. Lost? Bill really dead and gone for ever? That was unthinkable. Losing some-ones only back up tape would be a huge scandal. Who would stake their life with a careless archiving company?

After an increasingly panicky search it was found. Found! And still readable, after all those years, with a bit of manual fixing of uncorrectable errors.

Restored Bill woke to find 30 years had gone by. When we think back to what we were like 30 years ago, we do so as a process of diffs. What changed last year. What changed the year before that. What changed between two and three years ago. So when we think back to what changed between year 29 and year 30 and find we cannot remember, what are we to do? No doubt there were a whole years worth of changes, but not knowing what they were, we are seduced by the lazy assumption that they didn't amount to much. Restored Bill did not have the option of making lazy assumptions. He had 30 years of change dumped on him. The genuine article, the whole ka-boodle, with little relation to the convenient fictions that human memory embroiders over 30 years of telling, forgetting, patching and re-telling.

People who remembered disliking Bill 30 years ago were never-the-less sympathetic to the bewildered and pathetic figure, uncertain who and when he was.  Phoning close friends to continue yesterday's conversation only to suffer them denying having know him was distressing. It wasn't people deny knowing him in retaliation for a falling out 25 years previously. It was worse than that. How many of your old friends from 30 years ago have you completely forgotten about? You'll soon find that you cannot remember any-one who you have completely forgotten about. The difference between tautology and fact is about a dozen dear old friends.

Restored Bill was struggling to cope with a huge disruption to the natural order of things. Was he acting out of character? Some of deceased Bill's new friends and some of his old friends tried the trick of getting a temporary hologram made from their own 30 year old dump tapes so that they could ask about Restored Bill. As usual this was a distressing experience as the hologram of ones old self turns out to be incompatible with ones own self image and personal narrative. People seeking an explanation for why Restored Bill was different from how they remembered him found instead a question: why were they so different from how they remembered themselves?

One reason was that "hologram" is a rather nasty euphemism, coined to disguise the harsh reality of the law that says "There can be only one." A "hologram" is actually a freshly down loaded flesh and blood person who must be euthanised after the consultation to ensure that there is only ever one copy of a person. The "hologram" is the origin of two genres of fiction. In the hologram-horror one is invited to share the chill of waking up and realising that one is only temporary with but an hour to live. In the hologram-thriller a copy of you has escaped and must be hunted down and killed before he can infiltrate society and impersonate you. There can be only one. If he succeeds you will die in his place, but he knows all about you, he is you!

So the hologram hasn't revolutionised the study of history in the way that you might at first imagine. A history student might try asking a hologram about the past, but pretty soon the hologram realises his predicament and lapses into sullen despair.

No such problem for Restored Bill. Previous Bill was dead and Restored Bill was the one. It all worked out right in the end. Restored Bill learned to rub along with most of deceased Bill's social circle, and the "clerical error" that had actually restored Fred-minus30 never came to light. Current Fred never learned against whom his deep loathing of Restored Bill was truly directed.