Saturday, August 22, 2020

Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida: Deeply (Part IV)

I blink and look around, immediately seeing a mirror next to my chair. It’s facing away from me, though, so I turn it. It’s my old body. Well, no it’s not. But it’s at least my original face. “Report,” I say to the girl standing on the other side of me. I just keep looking at my reflection, though.
“I was gonna put you back in your new body,” the girl replies, “but then I thought maybe you would prefer to look as you did before. Everything my father explained to you about how it works—how strong and resilient this substrate is—remains true. Now you look like yourself, though.”
I sigh, and lean my head back. I close my eyes, but it doesn’t have the same relaxing effect as it once did. Even after I started upgrading my body with technology, this would help make me feel better. Way back in the day, futurists would boast about how powerful we would one day be. They were right, I installed incredible physical strength, endurance, faster processing speeds, and lots of other stuff. What they failed to realize was just how beautiful it was to be a living organism. These upgrades cause you to lose something about what it feels like to be alive. Sleep was something I always took for granted, because it took eight hours out of my day, and I didn’t have a choice. Ancillary to that was the ability to close my eyes, and shut the world out. While I could still hear, suppressing some of the stimuli still helped slow my brain, so I could calm down when my emotions got the better of me. I actually had to downgrade my systems after I realized I added too much, and lost my ability to sleep. But that only lasted so long. I never want to age or die, so I later had to upgrade again. Sleep and immortality just don’t mix, I guess; I don’t know.
The only solace I took in my new situation was that I could turn my systems off. I could shut myself down, not entirely, but close. I could still maintain my perception of the passage of time. Other people would find this horrific, existing inside a void, conscious of their own existence, but unable to do anything. I embraced it, because it was the closest thing I could find to sleep. In fact, I loved it so much that I set a timer to not wake me back up for five hundred years. I wasn’t even in there for a hundred and fifty years before this girl’s father forced me back awake by transferring my mind into a new body, and then promptly destroying the old one. I don’t blame her, though. I’ve only known her for a few minutes, but she doesn’t seem to be on his side. She may actually be the best person I’ve ever met in my life. After several seconds of my eyes closed, I start feeling a sense of sleepiness. It’s not enough to make me fall asleep, or even start nodding off, but it’s definitely more what I’ve been missing for centuries. I almost feel human again. “What’s going on? I’m a little tired.”
She smiles. “That means it’s working. I modified more than just your face. I installed a hibernation mode. You still won’t need to sleep, but you can, whenever you want. You’ll also wake up if, say, a saber-toothed cat shows up to attack you, but you should otherwise be good.”
“That asshole could have given me the power of sleep, but chose not to?”
“With more time, yes,” the girl answers. “He didn’t think to include that, but I’ve been working on it for months. You’ve been completely dormant this whole time.”
I stand up out of the chair. She’s right about how she changed me. I’m a little weak, like a regular person would be. It’s nothing I can’t get over,’s amazing. “Oh my God, thank you so much. I don’t think I could explain just how important this is to me. I haven’t felt this great in centuries.”
“I’m glad you like it. My name is Abigail, by the way.”
“Oh, yes, sorry. How rude of me. I’m sure you know this, but let me introduce myself. I’m Thor Thompson.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you. I grew up on this planet, and I passed your storage case every day to get to Trinity and Ellie’s labs. I always wondered what you were like.”
I accidentally release a scoff, but it’s a Freudian slip, because what she said deserves it. “I’m not that great,” I admit.
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that. Way I hear it, you were one of the first colonizers of Mars, and you were directly involved with Operation Starseed.”
Project Stargate was a secret endeavor to send automated ships to every single star system in the galaxy, so people could travel to them instantly with quantum communication technology. Operation Starseed was a super secret companion to that, which added biological samples from Earth, so life could be seeded on those planets. The public wasn’t sure whether they wanted us to conquer the Milky Way, which is why a few key people in the government gave the greenlight without telling anyone. The public was pretty much completely opposed to Starseed, though. Some people were cool with it, but the majority found the prospect irresponsible, and upsetting. Together with my friend, Saxon, I was in charge with transporting the samples to the launch site in a star system called the Gatewood Collective. Only an even fewer number of government officials, time travelers, and time-traveler adjacent people knew anything about it. “Those are just accomplishments, and they say nothing about my character. Your father is quite accomplished too, isn’t it?”
“That’s true, but Trinity and Ellie have said good things about you, and I trust them.”
“Are they still here, or did they move on?” I ask.
Abigail checks her watch. “They’re at work right now.”
“Why did use airquotes?” I question.
“It’s because of something I learned about in my studies,” she says. “People used to have set hours that they would work. They had these things called jobs, so they could make money and if they wanted to survive, they had to have one.”
“They didn’t have to have a job, or even money, to survive; only if they wanted to live in town. They could go off and live off the land, if they wanted to. But go on.”
“Obviously we don’t have jobs anymore. People just work on things that they want to do. But Ellinity like to pretend it’s the olden days. They live farther away from their workspaces than they used to, and they go into work every day. They don’t leave until the work day is over.” She seems to think this is silly, and it is.
The old ways made some bit of sense at one point, but not in a galaxy where quite literally all work can be automated. I have a better appreciation for it, though, since I grew up in a time period where work was ubiquitous. The only people who didn’t have jobs were too rich to need them, or too poor to get them. The irony in that is precisely why we did away with money. I nod. “That’s hilarious.”
The doorbell rings. Abigail answers it, then lets Trinity and Ellie into the room.
“Mr. Thompson,” Trinity says. “How are you feeling?”
“Better than ever.”
They look at me funny, not because it’s a bad answer, but because it’s uncharacteristically genuine of me to say.
“No, really, I am. I’ve always wanted to live forever, but never wanted to lose what it means to actually be alive. If I were to ever consume the Immortality Waters, I wouldn’t take Energy. I like sleep. You guys get it.” They’re both immortal too, but in their own ways, and they’re still fully biological.
“That’s great,” Ellie says. She almost sounds bubbly again. It’s not that she was faking it, but she does kind of have two sides to her. When she meets someone new, she’s really outgoing and carefree, but once she learns to trust them, she’ll let a little bit of that go, and act more reserved. I hope this doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel she can trust me anymore.
“What are you two working on?” I ask them.
They look at each other, like two secret agents, who know they can’t talk about their work with their old roommate from college, who they’ve just run into in a bar.
“Whoa, sorry I asked.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just—” Trinity closes her mouth tightly, not to keep herself from explaining, but so she doesn’t say it the wrong way.
“It’s a crazy idea.” Ellie can’t go any further either.
I look to Abigail, who shakes her head. “They won’t tell me either. It has something to do with dead people.”
“We didn’t wanna say anything until we knew we could do it.” Trinity finally feels like she’s ready to talk. “Making ourselves look insane is a lot easier now that we know it’s a real possibility. We’re just not sure about the ethics.”
“And some of the logistics,” Ellie adds.
“Come on guys, what is it? Dead people?”
Trinity gestures towards Ellie. “I’ve learned something about her ability. She can teleport people’s minds. Regular people. Of course, you can upload yourself into another body, but she can do that with anyone, or herself, with no technology.”
“We’ve figured out how to harness that, and mass produce it,” Ellie explains.
“You’re gonna use that to bring dead people back to life?” I imagine.
“Yes,” Trinity answers. “All of them.”
“All of them?”
“Literally everyone who has ever died.”
“With these.” Ellie holds up a stack of microscope slides. “I call them synthetic central nervous neurolemmocytes. They will change everything about everyone.”

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