Tag Archives: musing

Brain Ports

by Jason Gibbs

“There is no such thing as a soul!”

“Well, that was emphatic.  Can we at least ask…”

“No, that was the last question I am willing to take.”

With that, the minister stormed off the stage, leaving the press shaking their heads and laughing.  It was a game they liked to play with the new appointees, and normally they didn’t get such a good response.

#

“Minister Roberts…”

“I know Simkins, I should have held it together, but those press people, they’re like rabid…”

“Don’t worry minister, here is your coffee.  Also, Mrs Youre is on the line.”

“The Prime Minister?”

“Yes, minister.  Here she is…”

With that Simkins switched the mirror over and Roberts was face to face with his boss.

“Roberts.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Ah, Prime Minister, um, I, I’m sorry, I should have been prepared…”

She laughed, and then smiled at him.  He realised she was having as much fun as the press people.

“Don’t worry Roberts, that was actually perfect.  Your last two predecessors were too cool, I think the press were starting to wonder.  Your, let’s call it a performance, yes, your performance was brilliant.  They’ll be chuckling to themselves for months.  And not bothering about the other stories,” she stared at him.

“Yes, Prime Mini…”

“Your job Roberts, is to keep them off the scent for as long as possible.  We know this is going to get out, but we’ve managed to keep a lid on it for three years, and we’d like a little more time.  My people tell me they think they only need a couple more months, but they said much the same last year.  You hold on.  Do whatever is necessary.”

“Yes, Pri…”

She cut off.  Roberts was tempted to swear but held himself back.  She might reappear, and his day had been getting worse since she’d called for him that morning.

#

As he was driven back to the ministry he stared into the middle distance, remembering the brief feeling of joy when he’d received the call.  He was finally getting noticed.  He assumed it would be a junior position, but, the only way was up.

Instead she’d sat him down and told him straight, “Roberts.  You are cannon fodder.  The likelihood is you’ll do this and be consigned to the back benches for the next decade.  But your country needs you, I need you, are you willing to do it?”

There was obviously no answer to that.  He’d nodded, trying to look serious and ministerial.

“You are going to be our new Minister for Galactic Transport.  The fourth in 18 months so my aides tell me.  The last three are… well the wilderness would probably be preferable.  They slipped up.  You must not.”

He just stared at her.  The job was a poisoned chalice, and yet nobody knew why.  Ministers just didn’t last.  Maybe it was the souls thing?

“Now, I only have five minutes, so I’m going to give you the fast brief.  Your team in the ministry will give you background, but this is so important you need to hear it from me.  Firstly, the official line is that there is no such thing as a soul, and YOU WILL STICK TO IT.  DO you understand?”

There was a sharpness to her smile.  He nodded understanding.

“We have had some issues with the replication technology with teleports, this is true, but we believe that it is the central computer.  There’s a bug, a switch set to one, nothing more.  And you will not entertain any notion otherwise.  Got it?”

“Yes, Prime Mini…”

She’d stood up, and ushered him out, newly minted, a proper minister, and yet, a sword hanging over his head.  The previous minister had lasted 17 weeks, so at least he had a target.

#

“Right, so, Simkins, can you explain to me what the difference between the official line, and the unofficial line actually is, so that I might avoid abject humiliation next time I’m up in front of the press?”

“I’m afraid not Minister.”

“What?”

“There is no difference.”

Butter wouldn’t melt.

Roberts took a deep breath.  “Fine, tell me what the issue is, and why people keep mentioning souls.”

Simkins eyed him, but then clearly decided to take pity on him.

“Well Minister, do you know how the transportation works?”

“Yes, yes, brain ports, we get one put in, it maps the brain, a plug sucks the map out, spits it across the communicator and then we’re printed by a giant 3d meat printer at our destination.”

Simpkins nodded, though Roberts thought he detected a slight grimace.

“Quite so minister.  Though we tend not to use such… colourful language.  We’ve been doing this for some years, more than a decade of commercial licence in fact.  In the beginning we had strict rules, only one copy of a person at a time.  Obviously when the original person was, um, transported, they ceased to exist in their first location…”

“Why?” Roberts asked, he’d always wondered.

“We believe it’s the mapping process.  Nonetheless, from a legal perspective it makes it easy, one legal person, transports to another location, no duplicates, no… dare I say it, clones.”

They both shuddered.  Not worth thinking about that.

“Right, so what about the souls.”

“Minister please let me explain,” said Simkins sounding a little pained.

“Yes, sorry Simkins, go ahead.”

“And then two years ago there was the De Freito case, and suddenly the floodgates opened.”

Roberts looked blank.  “Um, if you could just remind me?”

“De Freito claimed that his human rights were being violated, because of the restrictions he was unable to be at home with his family and travelling at the same time.”

“Ah yes, I seem to recall something…” said Roberts, though he really couldn’t.

“So, they tried to send him to his destination, and a copy back round, and it failed.  He threatened to sue, it got a little ugly, and then… there was a small mistake and he ended up at a terminal station, which is at least a decade away from being able to send him back.”

“A mistake?”

“Yes, minister.”

More butter.

“Souls?”

“Of course, minister.  The tests didn’t stop there, they just found some more amenable subjects.  But what they found was that no matter what they did, there could only ever be one copy of a person in the galaxy.  The data would duplicate, triplicate or whatever, but whichever copy arrived first would be the person, even if the time difference was almost nothing.  The other copies would just… fail.”

“Ah, this is that glitch the Prime Minister mentioned, something to do with a switch.”

“That is the official line, Minister.  They are concerned about the fallout if people start thinking they have souls again.  Can you imagine?”

The wars of religion had been brutal, and religiosity was frowned upon in these enlightened times.

“What do they think it is?”

“Well, they have performed many experiments, even putting two ports into one candidate.  Nothing worked, no matter what they do, only one copy of a person can ever exist.”

“Do they know why?”

“Yes, they’re fairly certain now.  Empirically, there is a single point, a sort of essence of a person, which cannot be duplicated.”

Roberts nodded wisely.

“Ah, excellent, and what are they proposing to call this?”

Simkins looked at him with an expression approaching pity.

“A soul, minister.”

###

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The Truth About God

It’s been a while, not least because the world has been moving on apace, and I often feel out of sync with it.  This story picks up on that vibe…

 

The Truth About God

“I’m Mike, and I’m the last person on the planet who believes in God.”

The room was silent for a while and then my-name-is-Alison-and-I’m-here-to-help said, “Mike, this is an alcoholics anonymous meeting, I’m not sure we’re equipped to deal with someone with such a… um… eccentric problem.”

I left before it got awkward.  Or more awkward.  I don’t try to proselytise, I never did.  To everyone, Gods don’t exist.  Why question that?  Or the sun, or gravity, or evolution?  I had an embarrassing insanity.

After the AA meeting I decided I needed a break.  From people, from society.  I would go into the hills, restore my faith, and return better able to face the looks of incredulity from my work colleagues, my now ex-friends.  It was probably best my mother was dead.  She’d bought Pascal’s line, and believed just in case.  That’s not belief to me, but she’d have worried about me.  At least someone would have.

The mountain was lovely.  It was behind the wooden shack, and all around were trees.  Going on and on.  The brochure had mentioned wild animals, in a slightly cautious manner.  I was excited about them.

I’d brought supplies.  Food, water.  Enough for a couple of weeks.

Each day I’d start by going outside and greeting the sun.  I’d think that but for God’s grace I wouldn’t be able to, there would be no sun, no mountain for me.  It felt hollow.  I was starting to have a sneaking suspicion.

I read somewhere that for God to exist, people have to believe in him.  If they stop believing, then, well, he just fades away.  Or she.  Either way, the divine entity is gone.  Was my belief enough to sustain a being capable of creating the world in six days?  I was mildly confident I could believe in a divinity who’d take the seventh day off.

At the end of the second week I walked out in the morning and greeted the sun, accepting it was only there because of physics.  Complex physics yes, and we still haven’t worked out how Dark Energy works, but that doesn’t require belief, just observation and maths.  I’d been the last believer.  Now I was just like everyone else.

That day there was a knock at the door.

“Hello?”

“Hi, are you Mark?  That believer fellow.”

“I am Mark.”

“Don’t believe any more?”

I paused.  But then I knew saying it would be the final step of my freedom.

“No.  There is no God, or gods or whatever.”

The man whooped and started jumping up and down.

“I won, I won!”

“Won what?”

Loki turned to me and winked, “My bet with Odin.”

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Lambing

Lambing

The early morning mists shroud the fields, smothering sound and isolating us from the frantic world. The ewe bleats as I approach, perhaps in greeting, though given her Herculean efforts overnight it may be pride. As I get closer, the mists both parting and settling on me in a damp cloak, I see the products of her labour. Three small, brown lambs, still wet from the amniotic sacks they’ve only just escaped. Their mother licks them, trying to dry them off, while the cold morning endeavours to do the opposite, potentially life sapping dew forming on the little creatures. When I am almost on top of them she bleats again, but this time with a mother’s warning. I retreat, and stare at the new arrivals, small bundles of ephemeral joy. Tomorrow, or the next day I’ll have to catch them, and castrate the boys and dock their tails; a chore which is unpleasant but less unpleasant than the alternatives, yet it tarnishes our relationship. From that point they will never trust me again, whereas now, mere hours into the world, they view me as a curiosity and I can take unalloyed pleasure in their very existence.

The early morning was never a source of delight in the city. It would usually mean another day of drudgery, of smog, and smut and the life-draining dreariness of work. The only brief moments of happiness were those found during alcoholic fuelled hazes, where the world appeared to have possibilities again. The ewe bleats again, she is not interested in my musings. I tell her to shush, as even her gentle warning may attract the others. The rest of the flock is out there, currently oblivious to my presence.   If they detect me, via sound, or some other emanation, they will descend, their hunger driving them and making them careless around the lambs. I do not want to see the little ones knocked about by their gluttonous elders. I quickly enter the feed hut and gather a saucepan of food. The ewe has worked hard in the small hours, and she deserves both a treat, and to recharge her energy reserves. With three mouths suckling she will have to toil further to fulfil her maternal duties. I hold my hand out, full of feed. Normally this ewe would be wary, but she is hungry and exhausted and she voraciously chomps at the nuts and grains I offer her. The rest of the saucepan I up-end onto the floor, and she dives in, all concentration on the concentrates I’ve provided her.

The early morning will soon become just the morning, and my normal duties will start again. Till that time I can watch the first unsteady steps of new life. I can even capture some of it on my camera, though when I look back at the photos they will be missing the ethereal beauty of the breaking day, and that loss will render them flat in their two dimensions. I turn away, taking some pride from overseeing the birth, like any father at the arrival of their progeny, despite the paucity of their contribution.

The early morning mists are lifting as I walk back to the house. My day will start now, but I will spend it lifted, my connection with life reaffirmed.

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