Be still my heart (part 7)
Seeing myself for the first time once I was unified with my newlifer body was like having an out of body experience.
“Nurse Aliyah, it is very disconcerting to look in the mirror and not see what you think you’re going to see,” I said, staring at the new me.
“That’s what I hear. But you’re happy, yes?”
“What’s not to like?” Pretty face - same lips, same nose, different eye color. Younger me in a different shade. “My eyes are blue."
"Yes, I know you requested green, but eye color was never an option. As I mentioned in passing, your eyes are a part of the brain, thus, you already had eyes before you asked. And, anyway, all newlifers have blue eyes."
"Oh.” Turning to forget about new me for a while, I focused on the lovely Nurse Aliyah. About my height, she had black hair and violet-purple eyes that Elizabeth Taylor would have died to call her own. “All the bodies you showed me were also the same color. Has diversity been eliminated?”
“Sameness breeds greater stability, solidarity, sociability. Fewer conflicts, more camaraderie.”
“Is that recent experience talking because there was plenty of racial homogeneity historically when people were being used as sadistic entertainment; or engaging in human sacrifice, torture and/or cannibalism; or using slavery as a labor-saving device (long before the cross-Atlantic African slave-trade). Torture and mutilation were routine in the Inquisition. Rape was almost a right of the winning soldiers in wars on every continent. Protestants in Germany, France, England and Ireland had the same skin color as Catholics. Seriously, humanity seems to find a reason to hate and fight regardless of appearance.”
“Physical differences stand out more, giving humans an easy way to divide and despise.”
I raised an eyebrow. “The century I was born there were at least three genocides, the Armenian, the Jewish and the Tutsi people of Rwanda. The Armenians differ in language and religion but look like Turks. The Jews were German, French, Italian, Polish. They differed in religion, not necessarily in appearance. The Tutsi and Hutu were both Negroid, spoke the same language, inhabited the same areas and followed the same traditions. And what of the Russians in Ukraine? I died before they finished killing each other but two of my closest friends hailed from opposite sides. Both named Tatiana. Both spoke Russian. Both had blond hair and blue eyes. So, I’m not so sure racial homogeneity alone is the key. Historically, people always manage to find a reason to hate, to differentiate, to fight, to kill each other. Peaceful coexistence does not seem to be our desired way of being. But I’ll take your word for it." I turned back to the mirror. "I’ve been dead for 300 years.
“But just to clarify," I looked at Nurse Aliyah in the mirror, "Are there no longer economic classes? Religions? Power hungry Machiavellian (or Napoleon) types that want to rule the world? Oh wait, you did say this century is on its fifth Elon Musk clone. And you called him Commander, right? Does he control life in the Zones? Kind of like a dictator? Iron control to keep the masses in line? If I remember correctly, the biologicals basically chose exile in the wild rather than live under the Tesla Zones’ rules.” I snorted. “Honestly, sounds like many steps backwards not forward if you ask me.”
Nurse Aliyah’s eyes seemed to become a lighter, icier violet. “No one asked you, Eva, and you would be wise to curb your speech regarding the Commander until you have lived here and now and can discover for yourself his greatness. You could never begin to understand even a modicum of the brilliance that has made all of this, You, possible. Your new life is a gift. Cherish it or you will lose it.
“Returning to your question, humanity has slowly become less violent over the centuries. Even the two centuries your last life encompassed were much less violent than those that preceded it. Our studies have shown that the most peaceful states are balanced socioeconomically and are racially homogenous. We have perfect equilibrium here in the Tesla Zones. Technology and economic development have improved lives to such a degree that there is no suffering, no envy, no greed. We have peace, tranquility, joy.
“Modern society is a much less volatile, more pleasant place to be.”
I smirked. “And you are the front line for the Tesla Zones marketing campaign. Just kidding. Sounds like a dream.”
Be still my heart (part 6)
"Why do I fall asleep the moment you leave the room, every single time?"
"If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
I snorted. "Don't tell me. You also have a philosophical discussion upgrade."
"Ding ding ding ding. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner."
"Oh my god. Do you do Dad jokes, too?"
"How do you make a tissue dance?"
"Put a little boogie in it. How do you make seven even?"
"Take away the S. I have a joke about construction, but I'm still working on it."
"Been there, done that. 3.14% of all sailors are Pi-rates."
"Stop! Clearly an android wrote the humor program."
Nurse Aliyah stopped laughing. "Why do you say that?"
"Your jokes are so lame they need crutches." I laughed. "No, really, I'm all for dad jokes. My husband and my son used to tickle me to death with their jokes. I guess my present situation leaves me a little humorless."
"Not the only thing you're missing sista..."
"Enough already! Simple question, simple answer: Why do I fall asleep every time you leave the room?"
"Well, you know how Descartes said, "Cogito, ergo sum?"
"I think therefore I am? Yes."
"He was wrong."
"Of course, he was wrong. It doesn’t even make any sense. As per Kierkegaard, I think presupposes that there is an I to begin with: I exist therefore I think is the more appropriate phrasing. What is your point?"
“Okay. Also, per Kierkegaard, one might more appropriately state that thinking is occurring. But is there really an “I” attached to it? For all you know, you could be a brain in a vat and everything you think you see and hear are merely inputs from a computer controlled by someone – or something – else. You already perceive yourself as bodiless. You think you can see and talk to me, so you assume you have a head with a brain, of which, if you didn’t know, your eyes are part…”
“You’re scaring me.”
“This could all be an elaborate illusion. You could be dreaming now while the nothingness of those moments when I am not here is what is truly real. Maybe you are just an advanced experiment to develop self-awareness, consciousness, for the next generation, highly coveted Tesla Bots.”
“Is that true?”
“No, but can you trust me? Can you trust yourself? The only senses you can rely on are your sight and hearing, you have no other sensory input. Do you even exist if I am not here to talk to you?”
“The tree in the forest. Got it. Short answer, please. Why?”
"The problem is if I left you alone with your thoughts, you could think ad nauseam and drive yourself insane with nothing to do but think. You'd continue to be a mere whisper of life being held in what amounts to a holding cell until such time as your consciousness once again fuses with a human body. Then you will have the full human experience, as it were. Thinking doesn’t give you existence. What you are experiencing right now is not living. Ergo, Descartes was wrong.
More importantly, we have found that leaving the consciousness alone for extended periods of time can be fatal."
"Yes. It appears the soul is not meant to exist for extended periods in this state of...limbo. It dwells in a body, or it returns to the ether, the universe, if you will. This," she indicated the tubes and wires attached to my head...or at least what I have assumed was my head, "only works when I acknowledge your existence. I call your name. Talk to you. When I leave the room, your soul, or consciousness shuts down."
"Yes. Not dead; waiting. There is an invisible field surrounding you that keeps your soul from dispersing back into the ether, we don't want to start the process over again. A lot of effort and preparation goes into the rebirth of each newlifer. But until you complete the corporeal unification process, you will, for all intents and purposes, cease to be every time I close the door."
"Better get a move on then. I'll take female body number #2, auburn hair leaning towards red, green eyes, 5' 7"."
"Excellent choice. Might I recommend the lithe physique, or would you prefer something a little curvy?”
"Lithe. Will I have a scar where my head and body are joined?"
At the door she turned around. “You will be the embodiment of perfection.”
"Nobody is per..." I fell asleep.
Be still my heart (part 5)
"Wake up, sleepy head. Sleepy head!! Hahahahahaha."
"Hilarious. You really crack yourself up, don't you?"
"Indeed, I do."
"I was wondering about our last conversation and the professions open to humans. Can I be a writer?"
"What you want to write. We have found human attempts to write pieces not skewed by subjectivity and emotion, are virtually nonexistent. Outright falsehoods are also common. They cannot help but see the world as they are rather than as it is. Our android (no relation to your last smartphone) journalists are programmed to write only what is.That is, only what is true. Fact. Provable. No alternate versions depending on the view from the multitudinous social, economic, ethnic, racial, cultural or other differences you humans used to define and divide yourselves."
"Programming can be tampered with."
She rolled her eyes. I thought to myself that she must have had a personality upgrade, too.
"Only a human would consider doing such a thing. Consequently, all programming is handled by non-human programmers. There is a fail-safe however: immediate self-destruction which would eliminate the android and the threat."
"So, no journalism."
"No journalism. No history books. No pseudoscience paid for by the benefiting industry. All information that need be known is disseminated by the Global Information Service. They replaced the AP on its 200th anniversary, May 22, 2046."
"Huh. How about the enclaves of biologicals? Do they have the freedom to publish newspapers or history books?"
Nurse Aliyah burst out laughing. "I am so glad I have the humor upgrade! What would they write about? Bessie the cow had twins! This year's potato crop will be abundant! Make sure you boil your rainwater before you drink it."
"But they are free to do so, yes?"
"They choose to not be a part of the Global Network for many reasons, the most important one being that they feel the Global Dictates are too restrictive of humanity. So, they live...beyond them. They do not have electricity and therefore do not have access to any of the pleasures afforded by the Tesla Zones. No electric lights, no refrigerators, no electric or gas stoves, no transporters, no air-cooling systems – which is undoubtedly a nightmare for those not in the northernmost climes. They have no computers, no printing presses, no long-distance communicators. They may very well handwrite local news...but I am not certain on or with what. They chose to leave behind all the accouterments of modern civilization to return to a simpler time when men were free." She said the last in a falsely sweet voice. "That included paper and pens or pencils. They took what they needed to survive the wilderness." She paused. "It stands to reason that they have returned to the spoken word as a source of information. Oral history. And you know how that is." She laughed again. "Did you ever play the game telephone when you were a child?"
I sighed. "Is creative writing a possible career choice?"
"Android novelists, short story writers and poets are actually quite good (I also have a literature appreciation upgrade). But the thing that makes you human also gives your creative writing a certain life, that is not present in the android works. Humans seem to instill in their writing a piece of themselves. Androids have no self to give."
"So, writer it is, I guess."
"I'm still thinking about it."
"You're going to give yourself a headache. Hahahaha." She was still laughing as she left the room.
It couldn’t get any worse
we thought it couldn’t get any worse
hunger and poverty were everywhere
food was scarce
money was obsolete
whatever it took
the world that remained
had been crushed
the unyielding fist
and then the sky fell
of kaleidoscopic light
the devastated landscapes
we looked up
and thought fairies
had come to end our suffering;
and then the sky fractured
like a cracked mirror
the ugliness below
and we understood,
the death of all
how foolish we were to think
it couldn’t get any worse.
Be still my heart (part 4)
"So, can I go back to being a teacher?" Nurse Aliyah had just awakened me to check out more bodies and that was the first thing out of my mouth.
She just looked at me.
"Robots are better at educating young people?"
"If there were a need for teachers, yes, robots would obviously be superior educators. But, there is no need. Robots just need programming and upgrading. We can do that ourselves far more efficiently than our human counterparts. We can also ascertain the needs of humans better than you can yourselves.
"Two hundred and four years ago, humans across the globe voted to eliminate education as a right or privilege. As artificial intelligence in various forms took over so many tasks previously done by humans, the education of humans became unnecessary. They need only ask the question; we are better suited to find the answers."
"Is there a God?"
"Serious questions," she snapped.
"How is that not serious?"
She ignored me. "There are no longer any brick and mortar institutions of learning. Nor are there many physical books remaining due to all the book burning that took place at that time."
"No books?! That's...that's..." As a lover of words, I was at a loss.
"There are books; they are merely digital. Anyone who wants to learn, can do so. Anything one might want to learn is accesible through the Tesla Library. It encompasses every book or newapaper that was ever written anywhere in any language.
"Learning is now a choice for humans, not a requirement."
"So, basically humanity has decided why go to school, let's kick back and leave everything to the robots?"
"Why do you sound so surprised? Such an eventuality had it's beginnings in your century.
"Anyway, it is the most logical course of action given the superiority of artificial intelligence."
"Wow. Okay. So what do humans do? How do they earn a living? What jobs aren't for robots only or haven't become nonexistent?"
"Well, there are enclaves of biologicals that have returned to a simpler time. They farm; raise pigs, cows, chickens and goats; hunt; fish. They make their own clothing, candles, soap, etc. Tesla Industries has purified the world's water sources so they benefit from that. Unfortunately, they choose to live beyond the Tesla Zones, so they do not benefit from the air cleansing system that we enjoy in the major population hubs across the globe. But they live well enough. It's not an easy life, but they have their families, the children they desire and their freedom from Global Dictates. Except the one that says they cannot return to the Zone. They are elimanated on sight if they attempt to re-enter. We are disease-free here. They...are not."
"Do they have doctors and hospitals?"
"They have healers."
"Right. The old days. Okay. And the...what do you call the raised from the dead like me?
"What about us? You said only biologicals are in the enclaves so what do newlifers do in this world where we seem to be obsolete? I mean seriously I don’t even get why you bother bringing us back."
"The early scientists who made me possible sought to give humans a life of ease. Humans demonstrated a great desire for a life of ease. No responsibilities. Less work. More fun. More time to look at screens, small, medium or large.
"Given present conditions, total freedom, if you will, Newlifers generally choose a creative outlet. They become entertainers - actors, artists, dancers, musicians. Some become athletes or chefs. Robots are stellar recipe followers but our creativity in the kitchen can be hit or miss still." She shrugged. "We don’t eat.
"We are a great audience as we endeavor to understand that bit of...fairy dust that makes you You and is fully evident in human creative endeavors."
"I think that's the nicest thing you've said about humans."
"A few newlifers work at the Global Labs as...research assistants, helping to perfect various upgrades. Some choose to become...private entertainment for wealthy biologicals whose ancestors bought into Elon Musk the First's dreams in the 21st century. Some choose the same role at the labs to further training for a sexual pleasure upgrade."
"Robots can have sex??"
"If given the parts and training, of course. We can do almost everything humans can do. Better."
"Almost," I said.
"Almost," she acknowledged before turning and walking out the door.
I was asleep before I heard it click shut.
If I could turn back time
I am fortunate. There is no one in my life who is so heinous that I would like to see them dead by my hand.
For that, time travel would be necessary and I have a hard time deciding between two deserving persons, so I'll choose the one that committed an actual crime against my mother as opposed to just a father abandoning his children.
Orphaned at 16 months, her mother dying alone in a bathtub, having given birth at home to my mother’s younger brother, bleeding to death, and then, subsquently, her father leaving my mother and her siblings with different relatives, never to be seen again, was devastating for my mother.
But, his actions were not illegal.
Raping an innocent girl, that's illegal. As well as traumatizing. That single, horrifying, event destroyed her ability to have a healthy, warm, intimate relationship ever again in her entire life. She tried. She married my dad. But she couldn't bear the marriage bed. She never said anything against him, but she had nothing good to say about men in general. The lesson for me from her was always they cannot be trusted. Ever.
I was nearly fifty when her reaction to something made me ask if she had been raped when she was young. She burst into tears. She had never told anyone. Suddenly her life, who and how she was, made sense to me.
So, I would go back in time and I would kill that man before he saw my mom. Who knows, perhaps eliminating that one shattering event would have allowed her to have a better relationship with my dad and then perhaps he wouldn't have drowned his sorrows and then he might still be here and they could be celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary.
Might as well dream big....
Be still my heart (part III)
"Humans are not allowed in the medical field? How is that even a thing?"
Nurse Aliya shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Think. Who would you rather be treated by: a doctor who cannot make a mistake, never tires, is always level-headed, has immediate, real-time access to all available knowledge pertaining to their specialization and can extrapolate and adjust for any circumstance in a nanosecond; OR, one that is highly fallible with imperfect knowledge compounded (frequently) by a huge ego, who needs regular breaks (or pharmaceuticals) to ensure some manner of competency and can be (is) negatively affected by personal issues?"
"What about kindness and empathy?"
"Optional upgrades." She smirked. "I guess you don't remember your 21st century doctors."
I did. She had a point.
"And, of course, medical care is no longer a burden on the state or the individual. No huge salaries, no malpractice cases so no need for insurance or lawyers...although law is also limited to robots now," looking at me with raised eyebrows, "for similar reasons."
"But you need to be built, no? And the materials cost money and the technology and all those machines," I nodded towards the wall of computer screens, "and these tubes and wires," indicating what lay below my head, "and those bodies" projected on the wall. "And all the programming and research..."
"The Tesla Foundation funds all global research and development."
"Tesla? Elon Musk Tesla?"
"The one and only." She tittered. "Actually, that's inaccurate. We are on clone number 5 now."
"Clones are a thing? So I could be cloned instead of...whatever I am now?"
"Well, yes and no. Yes, clone technology has been perfected. No, you cannot be cloned. Besides the fact that no genetic material per se remains from your last incarnation, the technology is restricted to Commander Musk's usage."
"Have you decided on a body yet?"
"What do you mean there's no genetic material? There must be something. You're talking to me!"
She sighed. "You are not a product of genetic material."
"But you said I was human, not a robot."
"Robots do not, cannot, have a sense of self, that je ne sais quoi that makes you YOU. That little bit of something something that cannot be replicated in a lab is like fairy dust from the universe, your soul, if you like, that we can collect, analyze and reassign a human body, but which, for the moment, rejects robot hosts."
"So, I'm human?"
"A robot would not have so many questions. Have you decided on a body?"
"What if I want to be male this time around?"
"You must be joking."
"Could I choose a different sex?"
"You could be a dog if you like."
"I do have the humor upgrade. Generally, souls are only repurposed to a different species as a punishment for newlifer transgressions that is less severe than elimination."
"Matter cannot be..."
"You are not matter, Eva."
"What am I then?"
"Right now? A talking head," at which point she laughed and left the room.
The advertisement on Facebook back in 2023 said See the future through your own eyes! Our cryogenic pods will keep you safe through any natural or man-made disaster until a cure for what ails you is found and it is safe for you to live again. All this, including the medical procedure required, at little to no cost to you! Come to Cyropods, today!
My pod opened and I immediately began to awaken. I was lifted by invisible arms and placed in a padded box. I was engulfed by warmth.
"What is the date?" I whispered.
"June 25, 2333."
June 25, 2333. My 366th birthday. I haven't celebrated any, of course, since they sealed me in the pod.
"It took 307 years to find a cure for pancreatic cancer??"
"What? No. Medical research for disease has been shutdown; deemed a costly nonessential. The data does not support allowing those not in full physical and mental health to be a burden on the state. This policy has eliminated the need for pharmaceuticals (except for the death enhancers), long term care, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities. Cyrogenics labs such as Cyropods are being reallocated for use by the healthy who want the opportunity to see the future beyond that of the normal health-full lifespan."
The box began to move on silent wheels.
"Where are you taking me?"
"To see the future you were promised before you die."
Be still my heart (part 2)
No one came to check on me. I suspect mine was a typical reaction to waking up after 300 years as a head attached to tubes and wires, and, perhaps, a heart. I must have fallen back to sleep because the next thing I knew, I was waking up, again, to the voice of Nurse Aliya.
I opened my eyes.
"I have several bodies for you to choose from." She pointed to the wall in front of me on which were projected three female bodies. "They are all perfect. You can choose height, hair color and length as well as breast size (only A or B, anything larger causes undue stress on the spine, despite modifications to bone strength). The mass of the body will provide the perfect BMI for the requested height."
"Stop! Please. So, basically I am no longer actually human, right? I'll be some kind of robot?"
She laughed. "Not in your wildest dreams. Robots are a highly advanced species with no need of the sacks of blood and heart pumps humans require to support the brain tissue which is the only viable repository for," she made air quotes, "the soul. Or consciousness. Self-awareness. Whatever you want to call that infinitesimal bit that makes you, you."
I looked confused, I'm sure.
"In early trials, attempts were made to infuse a person's essence into processors, power sources (the soul is pure energy), even memory banks. The merging of man and machine would have been the greatest achievenent of either. But each time, the souls dispersed back into the ether. We could not force a connection.
"So, robots are robots, and humans are humans. They interact, but generally humans gravitate to their own."
"Are you...what are you?"
Once again, she laughed. "Humans are not permitted in the medical field. I am Nurse Aliya, model 225, with optional sensitivity and humor upgrades, at your service."
Be still my heart
As I fell asleep last night, I listened to my heart thump in my ears, wondering not for the first time if it wasn't a little too loud, just a tad too hard. Is this it? Is this the last time I will close my eyes to sleep - just for a night? My heart began to pound till it seemed it would burst. I made myself breathe deeply. I thought: Why worry? Does it really matter? I won't know when it happens, I'll just no longer be. Poof. And who will really care and for how long? Eventually, it will be as if I never existed--like all who have come before and been forgotten, erased, with the passage of time. My eyes closed, my heart slowed and I slept.
Except that when I woke up, last night was a long, long time ago.
I opened my eyes and looked at the unfamiliar face hovering over me. I tried to jump up and away, but found I couldn't move.
"Don't fret, love. I'm Nurse Aliya. It is my pleasure to welcome you back."
"Back? Was I sick?"
"Well, no, dear. You were dead."
"What??!!" Eyes looking frantically around the windowless room, hospital white, with a mirror on one wall and computer screens filled with information I could not see on the other, I glanced at the nurse and asked, "Is this the afterlife?"
She laughed. "No, this is your next life."
"I know, crazy, right? But it's true. Over the last," she looked at some device in her hand, then continued, "almost three hundred years since you died..."
"Three hundred years??!!"
"Two hundred eighty six if you want to be precise. Anyway, with advances in nanotechnology, biology, physics, astronomy, genetics, artificial intelligence, and various other intersecting fields of study, we are now able to reintegrate the essence, or souls, if you will, of those who have been, into human bodies engineered using a modified-for-perfection version of the desired genetic code."
"Modified for perfection?"
"Perfect mental and physical health, perfect fitness, minimal aging. However, if a newlifer abuses the new body in any way, they are terminated immediately, the soul lasered into oblivion."
"You can do that? Obliterate someone's soul?"
"We give life. We can also take it away."
"Oooookay. Um, do people have babies the old fashioned way any more?"
Nurse Aliya grimaced. "There are some who prefer to take their chances with coitus, but some 62% of those will still request some genetic programming of the fetus. In any case, normal biological pregnancies and births outside of the Global Government Labs are strictly regulated."
"Normal bio...But I died 300 years ago! Before all this was possible, right?"
"Well, yes, but our research has found that there are in the universe a finite number of," she cocked her head, "souls, that dwell inside all living creatures. We have the ability to collect and reassign, or not, at will. Your most recent death 286 years ago was not your first, but since it was your last and most educated, it was decided that particular consciousness would better adapt to this new life."
I closed my eyes trying to take it all in. They snapped open and I asked, "Is my husband...back, too?"
"I am not at liberty to say. Over time, we have found it best not to assume that those who were linked in one place and time want to be so joined in their next iteration. A few do seem to have a sort of as yet inexplicable link that draws them to each other life after life." She smiled. "But that is uncommon for myriad reasons, one of which may be that some are assigned a new gender. Or species."
"Yes." She looked at her hand again and walked to the door. "That's enough for now. You will sleep for a bit and then we'll get you into your new body." She left.
"My new...," looking down as best I could, I realized I could not move for my head -- if it was indeed a head with eyes allowing me to see for who knew in this place of science fiction in which I found myself -- I could not move because below my head there was no body but rather only myriad wires and tubes filled with a fluid not necessarily blood and though I could not see it, in the silence of the windowless white room, I could hear the thump, thump, thump of my heart.
I closed my eyes and screamed.