Metamorphosis

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

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Choice

Blessed is the Creator who created me as half of a pair. My partner and I were conceived and shaped to be a mated couple. We have never known a time of being apart. We have never known attraction to other beings. Because our union is perfect, we are content.

But my curiosity has been stirred and is distracting me from my partner. Our Creator has extended friendship to another Creator who lives on the other side of the void between the stars. They have exchanged gifts. Our worlds, our lives have changed.

One of these gifts is dark and brooding and alone. He remains aloof as if he knows how strange we find a being without attachments. We wondered if his isolation would cause instability. When I approached him to assess his needs he gave me a brief smile and acted as if he were tolerating my bad behavior.

We do not understand him and my partner is inclined to ignore him. The Creator has given us a delightful prearranged life. My partner is only interested in enjoying the experiences laid out for us. Why waste time and attention on that which was not part of the original plan?

I am fascinated by this glimpse of the alien, the other. This being was fashioned by another Creator, has lived in a society vastly different than ours. He pursues pleasures that are not ours. His mind makes connections that we would never consider. I want to know him better.

He rewards my interest with occasional moments of intimacy and gentle humor. Even in these quiet times, I am aware of how jarringly incompatible he is with me. Compared to my partner he is unsuitable in every way possible. We do not have a shared history or shared assumptions or shared preferences.

It wasn’t until I saw him unclothed for the first time, that I began having fantasies about joining with him. At first I thought only about a physical exchange. How different he would be, the sensual explorations we could pursue. Then I realized what it would mean to open myself to a whole range of experiences outside of what was available in my native Creation. A relationship with him would be endlessly challenging, endlessly enlightening.

I felt almost certain that he would accept what I could offer. How could he not? He was alone and far from his own kind. But, I could not imagine leaving my partner and all I had ever known.

Although my life is preordained, I am a free willed sentient. It would be possible to walk away from my partner, but I don’t want to. It would be possible to stop interacting with this alien male and his mysterious potential, but that would not satisfy my curiosity.

So I entered the replication chamber and created a second myself. She is me, in all ways that matter. She has all my memories, all my traits, all my desires. I have sent her to be with the stranger. I have stayed with my partner. I hope that one day she returns to me and shares the experiences of her unplanned life.

Duplicate

I ignored the dull ache that started in the back of my head and slowly spread down my spine. The process has been fine tuned and perfected for centuries now, but no one has ever been able to bypass the initial discomfort it causes. The pain is always worth it. It is a small price for the miracle which follows.

The ancients reproduced without thought, guided only by instinct. Their short lives were haphazard and messy, governed by random events. I have always been grateful to be designed in a more civilized time.

The ache blossomed into a slow burning fire as my heart stopped and my lungs ceased to take in air. Cold seeped over my skin like a lover asking permission and then took control of me. I was aware but unmoving. Then my consciousness winked out like a flame being snuffed. My cells ceased to function, my neurons no longer fired.

I did not see the pale blue light descend over me. I only know it was there because I have watched others submit to it. I did not see the fog of raw materials coalesce into a shapely, solid form, assembled atom by atom. I did not perceive the subtle fields of energy woven into her physical substance.

And when the cold receded and I was released I found myself staring into eyes exactly like mine. Every molecule, every atom, identical. For a few seconds we were one being contained by two bodies.

She took her first breath and became subtly, irrevocably, different from me. The atoms in her lungs were not the same atoms in my lungs. Her neurons began firing in a slightly different pattern than mine, stimulated by a different position in relative space.

She had all of my memories, everything that I had ever experienced up to the moment when I became utterly still. In that sliver of time before she drew her first breath, she was me.

I wondered who she would become as she continued to diverge from her original.