Maddie, Maddie. My memories, my reminiscences,
Maddie and I were at school together - most
mornings, even arriving together: I on my bicycle, she
on the county bus that criss-crossed the countryside,
scooping up sleepy passengers from isolated, stranded
stops, depositing them just outside the gates.
Ah, so adorable, those times. We always seemed
to be ridiculously early, and the sixth form common
room was therefore ours alone for 15 minutes, 'til the
other students came along. Oh, how I loved those 15
minutes, just myself and Maddie, there, together. What
delectable, delightful days...
You see, we weren't just good friends - great
friends, even - we we kindred souls, a fact, however,
only we two knew. Like most girls of that era, Maddie
studied wordy subjects: English, economics, history,
French. Me, I was science: mathematics, physics,
chemistry, computing. So, our 15 minutes spent, we
hardly saw each other through the day. Who was to know,
or even guess, we had a special bond between us?
Maddie, Maddie, saviour, confidante. We both
had minds, you see; we recognised in one another sparks
of life, of thought, intelligence, that no-one else
we'd ever met had shared. Oh, other people knew that we
were bright, of course, but not beyond what we
revealed, and only Maddie ever saw through my persona;
only I through hers.
The rôle she chose to play was cheerful loner:
friendly, helpful, never distant, yet, except for me,
not close to others either. Short hair, trousers,
pretty face but make-up-free - the macho-boys had
better game to hunt than her. We often commented on one
another's public characters, suggesting ways by which
we could protect ourselves, deflect attention, keep our
masks intact. Before each other, though, we dropped
The freedom to be me, with Maddie...
Maddie, oh, the joy she was!
* * *
My story, yes: it starts one morning, in our 15
minutes. Usually, we steered away from talking
schoolwork, but that day I'd brought a transcript in I
wanted her to see. Upon the mainframe (this was 1978,
they had them then), I'd found a new computer game,
Adventure. Standard VR stuff we'd call it now, except
that this was single-user, ASCII text, not jack-in
neural overrides. Text! Can you quite believe that?
Still, we hadn't seen its ilk before, and Maddie was
impressed - so much, in fact, she said she'd like to
try it out herself.
* * *
And that's how come we both skipped lunch one
day, so I could show her. As the teletype (yes,
teletype) was noisy, soundproofed space was allocated
for it, and that meant we could be us inside, instead
of our invented selves. Well, Maddie grasped
Adventure's principles immediately: choice points, each
a pathway to a different future. Action in the virtual
world effected change, resulting in a new world,
slightly different from the old. Thus, any world, plus
any action, specified a consequential world, so worlds
fanned out indefinitely, ever-branching, each an action
further from the opening state. Of all these worlds, a
few comprised the goal set: playing was a process of
discovery, of choosing actions which, applied sequentially, would map a pathway from the starting world
through other, different worlds, until a goal world was
The next day, we discussed Adventure. Maddie
said she wouldn't play it further, as she didn't have
the time. I pointed out it had a 'save' command, a
meta-action whereby world states could be dumped to
disc. She smiled, but still declined, "I'd just fall
back on saves if things got tough, select a different
path, and try again; it's mechanistic."
"But," I said, "what if the real world worked
like that? What if, ten years from now, you found your
life screwed up and had the chance to start again, from
She laughed, "I guess I'd do it, yes, but
surely first I'd have to do a save?"
"Let's try one then, preserve the instant!
Later, we can figure out a way to load it back into
Another laugh, "You're crazy!" but she felt the
pull, the niggling insight, maybe it was possible, not
then, not ten years thence, but sometime, far-flung in
the future; and if not? So, twenty seconds wasted.
"Right," I said, "we'll need a definition of
the moment that we're saving, like a key with which to
index into time, to isolate this single point."
She paused, she nodded, "Well, if time's
contiguous, the world we save should be the one
immediately following some action. Furthermore, the
action should be joint, and something we have never
done before nor ever will again." Perhaps. "A kiss?"
I reeled, the "ever will again" bit got me, and
I'm glad it did - the ninety years elapsed since then I
would have found unbearable if that had been the price
for tracking back. I mumbled, "No, let's slap right
hands together, someone might come in, might see us if
Maddie flinched. She almost looked hurt, but
she raised her arm, all the same, and then, in unison,
we clapped, our left hands held behind our backs.
Maddie changed. Our 15 minutes fell to 10, and
then to 5, before finally they disappeared. I found out
later that she alighted one stop early from the bus to
buy a snack to have with her lunch. I also noticed that
she rôle-played all the time, even when we were alone,
and even when I asked her if she'd drop her silly guise
and be herself. Maddie, Maddie - why did she want to
submerge herself in ordinary, weary, dry existence?
* * *
There was only one occasion, just before we
started our exams, when Maddie spoke to me again
without charade. I sat, revising, when I heard her
voice behind me.
"What do you think?"
Turning round, I froze, for Maddie stood there
in a skirt, mascara, faintly-tinted lipstick.
"Why?" I asked.
She shrugged. "Because I can," she said; she
knew my meaning.
"Will I ever talk to you again?"
"It's possible, I guess."
I steeled myself. "Can - can I kiss you, then,
"Why bother revising maths? It's all just
multi-choice isn't it?"
She'd left me.
During the Summer vacation, between my first
and second years at university, I was back at home. Our
town held a small carnival in the first week of July,
and it was there that I next saw Maddie, eating an ice
cream as she watched the tug-of-war. Her hair was
longer, and she was sporting higher heels, but I knew
her, knew my Maddie, straight away. Carefully,
circuitously, and keeping out of her line of sight, I
managed to position myself right next to her before she
noticed. For a moment, her eyes flashed in sudden,
unconcealed, elated recognition, but almost immediately
they reset, doused, took on the dreary-drab indifference of everyday deadness.
* * *
"My husband's in the red team, at the back,"
she said, surveying her ice cream. "His name is Tom,
and he's a doctor." Looking up, she raised her arm,
beamed him a smile I knew was meant for me.
A dark-haired man resplendent in a scarlet
rugby shirt waved back. I put his age at maybe 10 years
more than ours, which only made him touching 30; at the
time, though, I recall, he seemed antique.
"How do you cope?" I asked.
"In some ways," she replied, "the lack of
"In some ways, yes, but how frustrating!"
"Well, he loves me."
"But the waste - "
"Tom!" she shouted, as the next pull started.
"Go for it, Tom!"
I'd lost her again.
When was the next time? I may have seen her
driving past in a car once when I was home visiting my
parents, but it wasn't until the sixth form's 21-year
reunion that we actually spoke again.
* * *
I didn't go over to her at once, because my old
friends would have seen, wondered why. Instead, I spent
an hour or two exchanging general pleasantries and
anecdotes, sipping at my Britvic orange juices while
about me everyone else got slowly sozzled - well,
everyone, that is, except for Maddie. How I thrilled at
that - I realised she had not succumbed to hazing out
her life, was still alive in there, still vital, still
herself, still - somewhere - Maddie.
The recent nationwide publicity of my appointment as the UK's first Professor of VR had made me
something of a celebrity, and I was continually
accosted by people from my past who I barely, if at
all, remembered. Looking to escape one particularly
tenacious woman who was insisting that life was simply
marvellous with 6 children, I noticed that Maddie had
worked her way around the room and was standing close
to the lavatories. Following her plan, I pleaded
limited bladder dimensions, and made for the relative
sanctuary of the gents. Upon emerging, whom should I
bump into but...
"Hello, Maddie isn't it?"
She looked absolutely stunning. Older, yes,
with one or two small lines upon her face, but how she
stood and what she wore showed off a flawless figure.
Even I felt grateful that her hair was long now, lush,
luxurious, and silk.
"This noise is giving me a headache," Maddie
said, flat, vacantly. "Shall we go out to chat? It's
We did, and Maddie metamorphosed into Maddie
"There's no-one else," she said. "I thought
that what with two of us in our year at school, there
must be plenty more, but everywhere I've looked there's
"I know," I answered. "I teach Britain's -
Europe's - finest minds, but somehow none of them have
quite the flair, imagination, humour, depth..." I
sighed. "Perhaps I'm getting far too old..."
She smiled, her old smile. "Hey, it's me here,
Maddie! Why, you great, galumphing - "
"Excuse me? Madeleine? Is that you? It - it
is!" A large-framed, lumbering woman approached from
the dark, her face only vaguely recognisable beneath
the grout-like cosmetics.
"Sarah! You made it!" Maddie held out her arms
in ostentatious welcome. "Mwwwah!" They kissed 10cm to
the right of each other's face.
"How are you Madeleine? How's Tom? And the
children? Oh do let's go inside, who else is here?"
I wasn't! By then, I'd made it to the safety of
That was the last I saw of Maddie until last
week. I thought of her often, of what she would be
doing, how she might look, whether she still had that
spark. Maddie, Maddie, my life's love. How precious
those ancient 15 minutes' seemed to me then.
But at last I had a plan; I'd made my
discovery, I'd done it. That's why I emailed her the
ticket, that's why I knew she'd come.
I was honoured guest speaker at the VR
conference. The virtual centre in which it was held was
crammed with uncountable images, yet Maddie's was
distinct, obvious, open. Everyone else was animated,
mobile: polymorphic chromaforms swimming in a lake of
Maddie was solid, statuesque, with mobile eyes
and mouth but little else. The virtual me, alone among
the 5,000 VR experts present, appeared similarly. Yes,
that's right, I hadn't let the surgeons tap a link into
my spinal cord: I still interfaced through my senses,
not my nerves. If you let unvetted input charge your
brain, then sooner or later something will go in you
don't want there. I wouldn't take such risks with my
personality, but no-one I explained myself to ever
really understood. Maddie, though, the real Maddie,
she'd thought out how bad a thing it was, herself.
Ah, my aged heart - my love still lived!
After the talk, we met. VR is logged, recorded,
monitored, so all we could do then was fix a rendezvous
in somewhere real. Next day, my chauffeur drove me to
her house, complaining all the way about the distance,
then I let him go; I knew I wouldn't need him any more.
Let me see, now, I haven't had time to think
about this, so I'd best describe it just how it
Maddie was frail, but dignified; noble, even
for one approaching the end of her eleventh decade. I'd
been in a chair since the early 2060s, but that didn't
bother me any now, I was glad still to be there.
"Maddie," I began, "this is something I've
wanted to tell you all my life - all of it. I don't
suppose there's much left, now, so I'd best say it
today, while I can." I cleared my timeworn throat.
"Maddie, I love you. I always have, and I always will,
and I wish I'd told you 90 years ago."
She smiled, that exquisite smile. "We were
friends; we respected each other. You thought that if
we were lovers, we'd lose all that. We had our minds,
but no experience."
"It was fear of rejection." I coughed. "I
couldn't declare my feelings, because knowing you
didn't share them would have killed me. This way, at
least I had nearly a century of hope."
Her eyes were wide. "Rejection? By me? You
soft - " Tears suddenly began to fall. "I thought, when
I offered the kiss, you might accept..."
"You mean, I rejected you? But - " The truth
hit me like a wall. "You hid yourself away, your true
self, because you thought your love was unrequited? Oh
Maddie!" I put my arm around her, held her tight.
"Now's a fine time to find out," she sniffed,
"we're both nearly dead, I've got great-great-grandchildren." She laughed, sobbed. "But this is
simply the happiest moment of my life."
"Maddie," I said, "listen. I can do it: I can
get us back. It's not quite as simple as we dreamed,
but it can happen."
"Map us into a virtual world? What kind of
existence is that?"
"No, I mean here, in reality, in this world.
I've tried it, it works."
"Tried it?" She'd stopped crying.
"Around five years ago, I figured how to back
up to a saved world. All you have to do is to index
into the moment. Remember how we slapped our hands,
instead of kissing?"
"If we do that again, we're back?"
"Yes, but in itself that's not good enough. If
we reinstated the world we saved, everything would
proceed from then on exactly as before, deterministically. I've looked into this at the sub-quantum level,
and it's true even there: any initial state which
encapsulates the very means by which it is changed
implicitly defines only a single time-line. If we went
back to our saved world, then because we were part of
the world we saved, we ourselves would be reinstated
exactly too. We'd relive precisely similar lives to the
ones we have done already, then 90 years later we'd
backtrack to the save point again. The same 90 years
would cycle through time, again and again, until
Maddie was nodding, her wrinkled face intense
in thought. "So we have to reinstate a slightly
different world to the one we saved, where we can
somehow remember details from now."
"Exactly, and it's that which I now know how to
do. I'd been taking the wrong approach: I thought that
we needed to apply some action to the saved world which
would generate a new world identical to it except for
our memories. Instead, what we do is save a partial
world, just the bits we want to keep, and then try to
"It sounds to me like it would cause reality to
"It does - and that's the crux!" Oh the
gladness in witnessing her mind, still so quick, so
clear, so dear to me. "The rest of the world is
extracted from the previous save!"
"So it's an incremental dump? And this works?"
"I can prove it. Think of a nonsense word."
She did. I thought of one as well, used it as
my key to that moment.
"What's the word?"
I thought again, saved the state of my
memories, then restored that partial world. It fleshed
itself out from the save I'd done just before it.
"Your word's balter," I said.
"You asked me?" She smiled. "Of course you did.
But that's as far as you can back up now, isn't it? You
can't return to an earlier save of your own, because if
how you've described it is true, then only the most
recent compatibly-saved world can count. To regress any
further, you'd need to force a different original dump
to be used. That means you now need me!" Her smile
became a smirk. "Now suppose I don't co-operate? I'd
lose my children, my grand-children, all the friends
I've come to know in this reality. Suppose that 90
years of waiting for revenge has twisted me against
you? Do you think you could re-run these past twenty
seconds enough times to get me eventually to change my
For a moment, I felt very, very cold. It hadn't
even occurred to me she'd think of that, but she was
Maddie, yes, of course, she would, she had done! Oh,
the sheer sublimeness of her...
And how it hurt, so much, to think what awful
cruelty unknowingly I'd done that distant instant: 90
years of pain inflicted on her soul. Whatever she now
knew I felt, revenge was hers, and justified.
"It's OK, dear" she grinned, "I'll do it. But
you have to promise: I must choose the second key we
use, the one discriminating that of this reality which
houses our minds."
The bliss I felt wash over me at that was
total, but the second key? "Well, if you like, go right
ahead, it's not significant at all."
"Oh no?" She smiled, "I think it is: a kiss..."