The Renouncement Ceremony was formal and William Hu was nervous. All of his descendants were present. Those who could not make the journey from the space stations and colonies where they lived attended with full function two way holos. They sat in rows ordered by age and each one wore somber ceremonial robes emblazed with the Hu family crest. A hundred thousand eyes were upon him, the eldest member of the family, as he walked down the aisle.
He was not worried about flubbing his lines or tripping on the carpet. His anxiety had a much deeper source. His petition had been accepted. William Hu was about to become an ancestor.
He ascended the dais and his wife’s brother asked, “Do you renounce immortality?”
“Yes” he said and was grateful his voice did not crack.
The injection was painless.
Is this how the ancients felt, he wondered, when they faced death? In the early dark years of humanity when death was inevitable and frequently unpredictable, did they feel this strange mixture of awe and dread?
In the Days of Celebration which followed, he was almost too busy to notice the changes in his body. He had always been perfectly healthy, just like everyone else. Now the sides of his throat, his armpits, his groin were slightly tender. His joints were just a little bit stiff. He felt vulnerable.
His children told his life story with a series of plays and musicals. Most of the details were correct. As he watched he realized he had no regrets. Not all of his choices had been wise ones, but he had lived long enough to put everything in perspective. He no longer felt the need to defend his mistakes or gloat over his successes.
During the feasts and parties he spent time with each member of the family. He gave each of them a gift. The same gift. It was a small brown pebble with his name and his face and his date of birth and date of death.
Finally, he had no more pebbles to give. The Rite of Translation was formal and William Hu was relaxed. All of his descendants were present. The medical equipment had been designed to give him privacy in his final moment.
He stepped into the cocoon and his wife’s brother asked “Do you accept the responsibility of becoming an interactive ancestor?”
“Yes” he replied and his wife’s brother shut the door of the cocoon.
At first he could only hear the machine hum, then he could feel it changing him. He was cold and sleepy. Just as he began to sleep he turned into liquid and swirled down a very long funnel. He came to rest in a warm bright place where everything was out of focus.
“Now you must give yourself a shape my son.” The voice of his father gently guided him until they were sitting together in a garden.
It was not until he saw his grandparents that he realized he was now in the family’s digital repository. At that moment he felt himself stretched thin until he snapped into thousands of pieces. Suddenly his entire family was talking to him at once.
“Grandfather, how do you feel?”
“Grandfather, are you at peace?”
“Grandfather, please say something!”
And he answered all of them at the same time.
This story was inspired by a conversation with my good friend at swongnet.com