This was the first version of the first attempt at this thing. We're rebooting it, and lots is changes. As such, it's probably best if this thing isn't somewhere so public when the new one is ready. Once I decide how best to do so, this story will be deleted. Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts and helped me grow!
"You're aware that many believe that this is tantamount to assisted suicide, right Mr. Lieder?" the doctor asked, one eyebrow raised in skepticism.
His addressee, a withered, bald, and too-thin old man, sighed heavily. "And you know that's exactly why I settled on this procedure, right? I have no misconceptions about it."
"Yes, well, forgive me," the physician replied, averting his eyes. "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. Just because the average lifespan is approaching one-hundred fifty doesn't mean I get to feel like I deserve more time."
"That is a noble stance to take," the doctor began, his tone between caution and reluctance. "But not one that the majority of my patients can accept."
"Something tells me they'd ratify an amendment guaranteeing the right to euthanize if our politicians had to work your job for a week."
"Carl, my job's not that bad," another elderly man argued from his nearby wheelchair.
"Nope, your job's awesome, Alex," Lieder agreed.
"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, honey." Krystal smiled patiently.
"So, as you're probably aware, even the first computers were designed with the human brain as their model; finally, modern computers are sophisticated enough to successfully interface with their original inspiration..."
"What, are you quoting the brochure now?" Lieder interrupted. "I'm not here for a consultation, I'm here to get the thing done."
"I'm aware," the doctor replied with forced patience. "But they require you to have a witness for a reason, Mr. Lieder. These witnesses need to know exactly what it is you're doing."
"They get the idea," Carl asserted.
"Do we?" Krystal asked. "You told me that you had found a legal method of euthanasia. I don't know anything more than that."
"That's basically all there is to it." Carl shrugged.
"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 that it's not euthanasia."
"Or they had some really good lobbyists." Carl smiled slyly.
"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. It's true that he's not likely to ever 'wake up' after the procedure has been completed. In such a scenario, as far as I can tell, he could accurately 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."
"This has an exponentially higher chance of success than that," 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."
"Tell me, what might he be 'waking up' from?" Krystal asked. "In what manner would he be 'sleeping?'"
"As I was beginning to say earlier, the operation was, in a way, conceived at the same time as the computer was. As computer software and hardware improved, their combined capabilities have come closer and closer to matching those of the human brain; functionally, that is, not operationally."
"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're not sophisticated enough to have hardware that can replace the human brain; the development of such technology could very well be what allows him to wake up one day. For now, though, what we will do is take a kind of digital snapshot of Lieder's brain; we are able to map out the details of his mind, memories, and how the unique physiology of the brain itself interacts with these concepts and then convert the resulting schematic into data that can be stored digitally. While that may sound exactly like storing him in a computer program, it would be more accurate to say that he actually becomes a computer program."
"Is there really a difference?" Krystal asked.
"Yes, a big and fundamentally important one, though not obvious to anyone outside this field of study. There's no such thing as a program that modern computers can't store, given enough hard drive space, but there are programs that cannot run on current hardware, or at the least they experience incompatibilities with certain proprietary platforms. Lieder would be such a program; all the data would be there, but as of yet, we couldn't 'run' him quite yet, and even if we could, there are further complications. What's it like for a human mind to operate without a human body? Would we need to delete the portions that are meant to control different parts of the body, and what would we need to change to allow them to use the hardware of the computer they're stored upon? How could we figure out what code needed to be changed without mistakenly damaging a patient's data?"
"Oh, you're going in an interesting direction here," Lieder mused. "Maybe they'll use this technology to make humanity into one big video game one day? 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 heavily dependant on competition, and can competition exist when humanity exists on identical hardware? Could anyone gain an edge with equal computing power and without any real hand-eye coordination requirements?"
"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, I wanna play Secret of Mana." Alex responded.
"Yeah, me too," Lieder empathized.
"Well, it's more likely that, if you were to wake up one day, they'd simply put you in a body they cloned using your own DNA. In many ways, it would be much harder to sustain your consciousness in a virtual world than it would be to reverse the process you'll undergo today and download you to your vacant, brain-dead clone. That's where the obstacle is created; 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 growth of artificial human bodies. Even if we ignore the issue about denying its natural development of a consciousness, the biggest problem 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 that can be born a year?"
"Fascinating," Krystal commented. "We really are on the verge of a kind of immortality, aren't we?"
"In a sense, yes," the doctor nodded. "However, there are even more issues. 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 download that new information to a new body, just like they'd do to Lieder."
"Nothing would stop you, except maybe a law," the doctor answered. "What would stop someone from downloading themselves to a new body without the stipulation of dying first, in that scenario? 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 that say about the existence of the soul? Does it prove or disprove the soul's existence, and if so, would you be creating a soul with every copy, or would the soul exist in two places at one time? I find it likely that, rather then dealing with such heavy questions, humanity would opt to simply outlaw the whole practice."
"Incredible. To think it would come to something like this…" Krystal was obviously entranced by the possibilities.
"Yep, but it's all null, because this is going to put me to sleep and I'm not going to wake up," Lieder proclaimed.
"Likely, but I'm not sure where you get that level of conviction," 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's words were part of a strategy to 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 entirely capable of making this decision for himself," Krystal replied. "Despite the impression he's given you, I guarantee he's thought all of this out well before deciding on it. I'll consent to his will."
"Maybe you should do Alex while you guys are here, it'd probably cure his hilarity," Lieder teased.
"I think you already know that you shouldn'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 chimed in. "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 is and ever was is still in there. Watch this:" Lieder inhaled deeply, mentally preparing a feint of anger. "Randall, would you please quit yawning when talking over the VOIP?!"
Without hesitation, Alex angrily 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 glare. "Don't talk that way about the deceased."
"Are we settled, then?" The doctor asked patiently. "Are you sure you don't want more time to consider, Mr. Lieder?"
"Nope, I've thought about it plenty, thanks," Lieder assured, suddenly polite. "We're settled."
"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 sat on. He slowly 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 replied nonchalantly, though he was the opposite of certain that an afterlife could exist. "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 said, intentionally exaggerating the ominous implications concerning how much time Alex had left.
"James Kirk wasn't fit to captain a short bus," Alex asserted vehemently.
"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 the IV the doctor was inserting into his right arm. "Either that, or he's pointing out the irony that 'live long and prosper' may have been more of a Vulcan curse than it was a farewell."
"I'm clearly missing a reference here," the doctor muttered as he continued his work.
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 converted into curiosity as he aged, and now that he was plunging towards it, he was intent on experiencing every nuance.
Part of him wondered if there was something more he should say to the last true 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 fully prepared, and regret was not on the list of things he was leaving behind.
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.