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I read this funny short story a long while ago probably 1980s. It stuck in my mind.

A weedy man goes to a house party. One of the other guests has brought a machine he invented which, he claims, takes a snapshot of a person's brain. The man thinks it's just a party trick icebreaker thing to impress the ladies. The inventor tries it out in most of the guests and the man has a go too.

Immediately afterwards, the man wakes up alone in a lab complex. Only now he has a bigger, stronger body and handsome looks. He has no memory of how he got there.

Soon, he is visited by an assigned staff member who speaks comically halting English (despite being considered a relative expert in C20th history and language). This character is funny.

This historian explains it is now far into our future and that the man is in fact now an android. The lab complex is an android production plant in Cleveland.

The company have been experimenting with installing memory files from a cache of recordings that has been unearthed by archaeologists. They had a few attempts but very limited success as the tapes were degraded.

The historian shows the man around the site and explains things to him whilst encouraging him to reactivate his installed memories. The man manages to remember some bits of his past and the circumstances of the house party where the brain recordings were apparently created.

Presently he discovers there is already an android at the complex, a woman. She also has memories installed from the party tapes. They are encouraged to spend time together to improve their memory recall, although her memories are sparser and less clear than his.

She is as beautiful as he is handsome and they bond over their share experience, but she doesn't even remember her name or identity. Which one of the party guests was she?

They are strangely drawn together and fall in deeply love then suddenly he realizes who she is...

...himself. She's just an earlier attempt using the same tape.

Anyone know this?

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    This is Echo by Walter Tevis, obviously. Apr 18, 2022 at 6:48
  • @DraganMilosevic OK, I've found it on readfrom.net and, yes, that is definitely the story. However, you haven't thought it worth posting this as an answer, so I can't accept it yet. Apr 18, 2022 at 18:08
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    @DraganMilosevic Are you going to answer? If not I'll add a community wiki answer identifying the story. Apr 19, 2022 at 5:53
  • Oh do it, please, I don't really have much to add to the answer. Apr 19, 2022 at 6:10
  • @PotatoCrisp if that is the story you remember, please mark it as accepted.
    – jo1storm
    Apr 19, 2022 at 9:34

1 Answer 1

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As identified in the comment by Dragan, this is Echo by Walter Tevis. I read it in the anthology Far From Home, which I think is the only time it has been published in an English anthology.

The protagonist is Arthur Franks and the story is as you have described. After a short description of Arthur trying the helmet at the party he wakes in the forty seventh century:

So he sat and drank his drink and watched Mel finish checking out the helmet and submitted quietly when Mel placed the heavy thing on his head. He could just barely see beneath and around dangling wires and he was wondering how long he would have to put up with it to please his wife and Mel when he heard and slightly saw Mel walk over to the recorder and heard him say, “Here we go, old buddy.” Then he threw a switch….

And Arthur awoke to a world askew and furred. Something was madly wrong with his vision, even though the wires were gone. His eyes could not encapsulate the scene for him; all he really saw were pale colors, pale lights, some slight movements. There were smells somewhere, too, but they made no sense: roses, maybe, and vinegar. Somebody somewhere was singing in Chinese, or Anglo-Saxon. He closed his eyes.

Arthur meets and begins a relationship with the mysterious woman as you describe:

Ben left the room for a while and returned with another woman, different from the others, and stood with her near the door and talked for a moment. Arthur looked at her. She was dressed like the others in some kind of a tan robe. But her hair was cut short and her face had a puzzled animation about it and a sense of some quality—urgency maybe—that was missing in the others. She had very pale skin and auburn hair; she was tall and her figure was splendid. Ben brought her over and introduced her to him as Annabel. Surprisingly, she spoke English. He was astonished at this at first, until she smiled and said, “Ben tells me I’m from the same century you’re from. We thought it was the twenty-second at first.”

“Don’t you remember?” Arthur said.

“No,” she said, “I don’t remember. Something about the way the tapes were played into this body, Ben says. I know how to speak, but I don’t remember a thing…” She looked toward Ben.

“It is always amnesia,” Ben said. “She was the first to be made from ancient tapes a year ago. But the tapes were not right for her brain so she forgot it all. She forgot all the time long agone when she lived before. Then we made you and did always better with your tape.”

It's only at the end of the story that the woman remembers a chess move and realises they are also a version of Arthur:

“That’s the King’s Gambit,” she said. “Morphy’s Attack.”

Something prickled at the back of his neck and he heard a tremor in his own voice. “Yes, it is,” he said.

“And the next move is bishop takes bishop’s pawn.” She turned and stared at him, her eyes wide and her lips trembling.

“Yes,” he said. “Bishop takes bishop’s pawn…. Not many people know that.”

“I’ve known it since high school,” she said. “Grover Cleveland High School. Where I was…”

“Captain of the chess team.” His voice was like gravel in his throat. His heart was pounding and his mouth was dry. “Ben’s mistake,” he said, whispering because his dry mouth made him whisper it “You’re Ben’s wrong body.”

And she whispered too. “I’m Arthur Franks,” she said.

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