Omnia potest occidi.
Everything can be killed.
That is the one phrase I’ve been running from my entire life.
It started off when I was young. We had an old dog, a golden retriever. My mother adopted him before she met my father. He was three when I was born. He was 15 when he died. He lived a long, happy life. He was great with kids. He went peacefully. But I was 12 when it happened, so I knew the reality of it. I knew he died. And in a weird way, I somehow understood that on an existential level. It occurred to me that death was just the end. That when the time came, there was no more, for me, for the dog, for anyone.
Max was his name, by the way. Not really important to the story, but names… Well, they’re all I’ve got.
So I started studying robotics. I figured that that was the way out. If you could put your mind in a machine, suddenly, you could live forever. Sure, everyone thought I was crazy, and in a lot of ways, I am. But when the replacement legs worked perfectly… Well, let’s just say their tone changed.
Of course, the legs were a prototype. A very risky prototype. That’s why I took the chance on my own legs. I’d be a hell of a lot more interested in fixing them if they were my legs. Thankfully, they worked. Next, the arms. Simple enough, once again: the neural links were the only issue, and even then, science caught up with us and gave us that little boost.
The torso took a lot more work. A LOT more work. Planning how to perpetually power an entire machine for all eternity with little to no plugins or problems is a bit tougher to solve than you’d imagine. Not to mention that we had to go from converting neural signals from the spinal cord to outright replacing those signals. Again, I was the only volunteer for the torso; I was so scared of dying, I volunteered to be paralyzed. Surprisingly, the torso worked. First time, every time. In fact, of all the parts I installed, I kept the “heart” from the first one around. Struck me as funny to have a tin man with a heart. The heart, of course, was only necessary to keep the brain alive.
Ah, the brain, that most terrifying of transitions.
See, we were sure that I’d be able to live for at least the next 500 years if the only original part of my body was my brain. But 500 years isn’t forever. 500 years isn’t even close. So to live forever, I had to risk dying.
See, there was a lot of thinking that went into this final conversion. Initially, someone proposed that we just download my brain and put that information in the body. No, I said, because that wouldn’t be me, it’d be a perfect copy of me. If you took a text document, copied all of the contents, pasted it in a new document, then deleted the original, it’s not the same document. I told them that they could copy my brain all they wanted, but it wouldn’t make it me. If you could turn on a machine containing my brain, my personality, and I could converse with it, then it is not me. It’s a copy. And bringing a copy to life was not my intent. My intent was to live forever, to see eternity, with my own two eyes (or, at this point, with my own consciousness). So I told them that copying and pasting would never do. We had to imagine it like moving water from one cup to another: it is the same water, in a new place. Naturally, they protested, but my innovations had made their predecessors rich; they’d listen to me one way or another.
The first bit was easy. A small portion of the cerebrum was copied and replaced. I figured that if a man can live and remain mostly himself without the ability to form memories or with a hole in his head, I should be able to live with a copy of my brain jammed in with the rest. Slowly, we copied more and more and put it all in there, and consolidated groups of storage devices into smaller, individual devices.
Each procedure was a new existential horror. Which part of the brain would contain my soul, I wondered? Every time I went under, I worried that I’d never wake back up. That it wouldn’t really be me this time. I thought for sure replacing the thalamus would “kill” me, but I woke back up again, same as ever. I’d say that we’d tricked God, if I didn’t think He’d be at least a little impressed.
Finally, the day came when all of the conversion was complete. Every bit of it. My entire body was robotic, yet it was me. Like the Ship of Theseus, but with a definitive answer: yes, I am still myself. I kept my name, I kept my form (though it took a few more replacements to look the way I had), I kept my soul, if you could call it that. I had aided the careers of three generations of doctors and robotic engineers in my own endeavor to be an undying boat.
But there is always a price.
I was married when the conversion began. I asked my wife what she thought of the whole process, and she seemed… Less than excited. We had a daughter on the way at the time, maybe she was worried the child would have no father. So I had to convince her that this was alright.
I asked if she would still love me if I lost my legs. She said yes without hesitation. So, I asked if she would love me still if I replaced my legs. And again, she said yes.
I asked if she would still love me if I lost my arms. She started to catch on to where I was going. She admitted that she would love me even if I lost my arms and, yes, even if I replaced them.
So I asked a tougher question: say I had a heart attack and needed a replacement. They had just introduced artificial hearts at the time, far better than natural ones. She admitted that she would still love her tin man of a husband.
And I told her that I would never replace my mind for fear of losing my soul. She smiled when I said that, because that was all she was really worried about. And so, the conversion happened.
By the time the torso was finished and installed, our daughter was married and had a daughter of her own on the way. My wife had watched me become a machine, but she and our daughter still loved me. They were braver than I am. They chose to die rather than go through conversion. It wasn’t dangerous, I told them, but they wouldn’t budge. It was the principle of the thing. When my brain was fully converted, my wife had been dead for two months. My daughter was expecting a grandson. And I watched as she grew older than I ever did. Just like her mother. I had the engineers set my perception of time as constant, so I could appreciate the eternity I was given. It was a blessing and a curse. A blessing to see my progeny grow up and live fulfilling lives. A curse to see my progeny grow old and die. Just like my wife. Just like my daughter, and her daughter, and her son, and his children, and their children, and so on and so on.
My wife, Jen, died on March 15th, 2117. She was 107 years old.
My daughter, Taylor, died on July 22nd, 2160. She was 122 years old.
My granddaughter, Marie, died on December 12th, 2201. She was 131 years old.
Those three deaths stung the most. Attending your wife’s funeral is difficult. Attending your daughter’s is painful. Attending your granddaughter’s is almost unbearable. And believe it or not, I still keep up with all of the kids in all my extended family. Every year, I’m invited to many weddings, many baby showers, and many, many funerals. Every day I get letters and emails from all corners of the galaxy showing how wonderfully everyone is doing. And I’m glad I can see this.
And for a while, I was sad because Jen, Taylor, Marie, and everyone who followed would not get the same chance.
And then I had an idea on how to give them that chance.
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.
© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.