This is the last revision I made to my first attempt at this novel. It's going to be rebooted, and very different, so this needs to go away from the public eye once the real Winkle please stands up.
Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts!
“You’re aware that the critics claim this procedure is assisted suicide in disguise, right Mr. Lieder?” the doctor asked, one eyebrow raised in skepticism.
His addressee, a withered, bald, and too-thin old man, gave a heavy sigh. “And you know that’s exactly why I sought this procedure, right? I have no misconceptions about it.”
“Yes, well, forgive my caution,” the physician replied, averting his eyes. “But most people come in here ready to do anything except die.”
“When I was born, it was rare for someone to live for more than a century. I’m one-hundred and thirty years old. I don’t think I’m entitled to more time just because most people are living to see one-fifty.”
“That’s a noble stance to take, but not one I encounter often.”
“We should make all legislators work your job for one week,” Lieder declared. “I guarantee they’d legalize euthanasia afterward. I bet it wouldn’t even have to be voluntary; when the powers that be think you’re too far gone, then it’s time for you to go.”
“Oh, come now. I like my work, and I don’t think they would hate it bad enough to justify such an overreaction.”
“I don’t know, man. To be blunt, I think your job sucks.”
“Carl, my job suits me, and that’s enough,” another elderly man argued from his nearby wheelchair.
“Sorry Alex, you’re right. Your job’s awesome.”
“Alex, honey, you’re retired now, remember?” the woman standing behind him reminded gently.
“Krystal!” Alex’s eyes widened in excited recognition. “Will you marry me?”
“That happened before the retirement, dear.” Krystal donned a patient smile.
“So, as you’re probably aware,” the physician attempted to reclaim the conversation. “Even the first computers were designed with the human brain as their model; finally, modern computers are sophisticated enough to interface with their original inspiration…”
“What, are you quoting the brochure now?” Lieder interrupted. “We did the consultation last week, I’m here now to get the thing done.”
“I’m aware.” The doctor’s patience was forced. “But there’s a reason they require you to have a witness, Mr. Lieder. These witnesses need to know exactly what it is you’re doing.”
“They get the idea,” Lieder asserted.
“Do we?” Krystal asked. “You told me you had found a legal method of euthanasia. I don’t know anything more than that.”
“That’s all there is to it.”
“No, that’s not anywhere near the truth,” the physician insisted. “The only reason it’s legal is because its pioneers were able to convince the world it’s not euthanasia.”
“Or they had some really good lobbyists.” Lieder offered a sly smile.
“Lobbying has been illegal for a long time now,” The doctor pointed out.
“You think that stops it?”
“Anyway…” Krystal interrupted forcefully.
“Yes, anyway, we call this process ‘digitization;’ as the name implies, we’ll convert Lieder to a digital format. Mr. Lieder’s reasoning is sound, the odds are against anyone ‘waking up’ from the procedure. In such a scenario, as far as I can tell, they could be considered dead. However, there is a very real chance he could be revived one day.”
“There’s a very real chance I’ll win the lottery jackpot that’s been building up for three years now,” Lieder observed. “I haven’t bought a single ticket and there’s still a chance. Who knows? Someone may have bought one as a gift for me. I’m pretty sure I won’t win, though.”
“This chance and that one are worlds apart,” the doctor refuted. “Technologically, we’re very close to the capability. It’s the ethical problems that will govern whether or not anything will be done with you afterward.”
“And those ethics are what make me so certain that this is assisted suicide.”
“So is this procedure a way of making some kind of artificial brain?” Krystal asked. “Are you saying you’re going to store Lieder in a computer program?”
“You’re close to the idea,” the doctor answered. “We can’t make prosthetic brains yet; the development of such technology could be what allows Lieder to wake up one day. Your second question is close, though. We will break Lieder’s brain down into a digital blueprint. Though the process seems destructive to the untrained eye, we extract Lieder’s ‘software’ and process it. While that may sound like storing him in a computer program, it would be more accurate to say he becomes a computer program.”
“Is there really a difference?” Krystal asked.
“Yes, a big one, though it isn’t very obvious to anyone outside this field of study. There’s no such thing as a program that modern computers can’t store, but there are programs that cannot run on current hardware. Lieder would be such a program. There’s too much we don’t know. What’s it like for a human mind to operate without a human body? Such things require experimentation, and while we’re experimenting, we could be subjecting our patients to torture without realizing it.”
“You’re going in an interesting direction, though,” Lieder mused. “Maybe they’ll use this technology to put us digital people into one big video game someday? Like, us program-people all live in some virtual fantasy world and make little avatars for ourselves and fight dragons and stuff.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but then you need to consider how games are dependant on competition, and can competition exist when everyone uses identical hardware?”
“You hear that, Alex? We might be living a video game one day!” Lieder ignored the doctor’s valid argument.
“Hook up the Super NES, let’s play Secret of Mana.” Alex responded.
“Well, it’s more likely that, if you were to wake up one day, they’d put you in a body they cloned with your DNA, which we will also store today. In many ways, it would be much harder to sustain your consciousness in a virtual world than it would be to reverse this process by downloading you to your vacant clone body. That’s the obstacle we face. Current cloning laws forbid the creation of clones, and even if they didn’t, a massive amount of experimentation would be required to create a clone body that does not develop its own consciousness. Do you think the practice of abortion is morally ambiguous? Try legislating the artificial growth of human bodies. Even if we ignore the issue about denying its natural development, the biggest problem our world faces right now stems from how overpopulated we are. How would you justify growing a new body to a government that regulates the amount of children being born?”
“Fascinating,” Krystal commented. “We really are on the verge of a kind of immortality, aren’t we?”
“In a sense, yes,” the doctor nodded. “It only gets more complicated, too. For instance, you could still be murdered or die in some kind of accident. Is there anything that could be done to prevent or reverse such deaths?”
“Well, if you could convert someone into data, what would stop someone from making a copy of that data?” Krystal asked. “You could keep a copy of yourself, in case something ever happens. If an accident does occur, they could then download the backup information to a new body, just like they might do to Lieder.”
“Indeed, madam. With that in mind, take the concept further: someone could download themselves to a new body without the stipulation of dying first. You could make a perfect clone of yourself: body, memory, personality, and all. How could you reconcile that with the general populous? How might they cope with the idea that someone could make a literal army of themselves? Further, if you’re religious, what does this say about the existence of the soul? Does it prove or disprove the soul’s existence? If the human soul does exist, would you be creating a new soul with every copy of a single person, or would one soul exist in two or more places at one time? I find it likely that, rather then dealing with such heavy questions, humanity would simply outlaw the whole practice.”
“Incredible. This is almost frightening…” Krystal was entranced by the possibilities.
“Yep, but as he just pointed out, I’m going to sleep, and then it’s going to be illegal to wake me up,” Lieder proclaimed.
“Likely, but I’m not sure how you feel so certain,” the doctor shrugged. “You treat the odds like they’re ninety-nine to one. I’d say the ratio is closer to seventy-thirty.”
“I can’t tell whether you’re being optimistic or pessimistic.” Lieder was trying to be obnoxious, hoping he could annoy the doctor into starting the operation sooner. “Still, I do know that your projection is way off.”
“Regardless, do you feel you understand the operation now, ma’am?” The doctor’s demeanor suggested that Lieder’s tactic was working. “Do you have any objections?”
“I may, but Carl’s capable of making this decision for himself,” Krystal replied. “Despite the impression he’s given you, I guarantee he’s given it more thought than any of your previous patients. I’ll consent to his will.”
“Maybe you should do Alex while you guys are here, it might cure his hilarity,” Lieder teased.
“You already know you can’t expect Alex to follow you into this,” Krystal replied. “He’s not going to make that decision for himself, and I’ll be damned before I make it for him.”
“I’m afraid digitizing his consciousness wouldn’t do him much good,” the doctor added. “Even if they do find a way to reverse the operation one day, it won’t bring back any of the memories he’s lost.”
“Lost, what are you talkin’ about? Everything Alex ever was is still in there. Watch this:” Lieder inhaled in preparation for a feint of anger. “Randall, would you please quit yawning when you talk over over the VOIP?!”
Without hesitation, Alex chimed in. “Randall, I swear to God, if you can’t learn to yawn before or after you push the button, I’m gonna buy you a monkey and train it to punch your uvula every time you open your mouth!”
“Now Alex, please.” Krystal shot Lieder an exasperated glance. “Don’t talk that way about the dead.”
“Are we settled, then?” The doctor found renewed patience. “Are you sure you don’t want more time to consider, Mr. Lieder?”
“I’m sure. I’ve thought about it plenty, thanks,” Lieder assured, suddenly polite.
“His assets have been squared away, and a ceremony’s been planned,” Krystal elaborated. “We… well, I came today under the impression that he was literally going to die. He’s as committed as he can be.”
“Very well, then. Please lay back, Mr. Lieder.”
Lieder obediently lifted his legs and rotated them to rest on the foot of the bed. He leaned back, clenching his artificial teeth tighter as the pain of such motion grew progressively worse.
“We’ll see you on the other side, Lieder,” Krystal said, her tone sad but certain.
“Yep.” Lieder’s reply was nonchalant, though he was the opposite of certain that an afterlife existed. “I’ll see you both there.”
“Oh, is Carl leaving?” Alex’s eyelids flittered in almost-realization. “See you around, Carl.”
“That’s right, old friend. I’ll see you soon.” Lieder tried to sound ominous.
“James Kirk wasn’t fit to captain a short bus,” Alex asserted, vehement.
“Kirk? Star Trek Kirk?” Krystal asked, confused.
“He’s a worthless philanderer,” Alex argued, convinced that someone had disagreed with him.
“I think when I said ‘old friend,’ I triggered a Spock recollection,” Lieder explained, ignoring the menial pricking of an intravenous needle being inserted into his right arm.
“I must be missing a reference or two,” the doctor muttered.
Lieder had been many things in his life, but a physician was never one of them. Still, he knew enough to recognize that the sedative was already being administered into his bloodstream. This was finally it. The deep fear of death that hounded his youth had slowly transformed into curiosity as he aged. Now he was plunging towards it, and he was intent on experiencing every nuance.
Part of him wondered if there was something more he should say to the last friends he had, the only ones that had survived him. An adjacent portion considered praying or repenting. Still, the dominant part understood that he was prepared, and regret was not on the list of things he was bringing to the grave.
He had wanted to try and focus on every minute detail of his death, but as always, his thoughts began to wander as he slipped into unconsciousness.