Friday, April 29, 2011

Diaspora Stories: Options and Decisions

Knowledge that is not applied is worthless. Andrew had lived his life by that maxim for most of his one hundred twenty two years. It was the guiding principle that he had clung to throughout three divorces, six children and eighteen operations that had replaced various and sundry joints, bones and organs with either synthetic substitutes, cloned analogs or mechanical prosthetics.

Now he looked down at the spiraling vortex of the commode and felt his life slipping away from him in a way that even cancer hadn’t threatened to do. Biometric nanoware embedded in the facilities of his modest home had detected early indications of the onset of dementia. Alzheimers. There was no doubt about it. He could almost feel the impending wave of incipient memory loss coming in towards him like a gentle wave on the beach at low tide. It was only a matter of time before his memories were compromised, his behavior shifted and his identity degraded into a sad parody of his accustomed self.

At least cancer only devoured one’s cells, claiming your body bit by painful bit. This was worse. Far worse. It was the slow death of the personality that would eventually consume even the ability to know what was going on. 

Andrew looked in the mirror at his well-maintained face and reasonably toned body. He was still fit and in decent condition for a man his age, all things considered. With luck and good choices he could expect to live another hundred years, barring accidents, violence or acts of random bad luck such as walking into an urban riot or falling victim to some pointless act of terrorism. 

It wasn’t fair.

But then little, if anything was ever really fair in life.

Comfortable but not super-rich, Andrew occupied a modest flat overlooking the reclaimed parkland skirting the Northern Exurb-cluster of the Greater Minneapolis Reclamation-Zone. He lived in the midst of an artistic community that claimed over a hundred years of continuous responsible occupation and eco-stewardship of the region. His studio was one of thousands in the immediate area. It was a comfortable, post-Bohemian community filled with established artists and fashionable galleries. Eudyce would have loved it.

It had been his last wife who had selected this community.

It had been her choice. He had only gone along at the time because that was what one did with Eudyce in their life.

He had never been so good at going along before her.

He'd always been something of a rebel growing up.

Now he wondered to himself if he had made the right choices in his life.
Doubts and regrets have a way of poisoning even the happiest thoughts.

Did he have many regrets?

Art and culture had always been essential, central to his identity and the overriding passions that drove him, fuelled his ambitions and guided his course. Sculpture, photography and digitography, mask-making, costumery and theater; it had all called him onwards with a siren-like intensity that had carried him past every obstacle, through all the challenges, onwards ever onwards into the unknown with the unbridled enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity of a man possessed by his Muse. 

Now he plunked down upon his ratty old leather-upholstered futon and looked around himself at the accumulated bric-a-brac and debris from all his various ventures and shows, all the experiments, projects and showings.

It all felt cold.


The taste was gone flat, all the excitement had been bled dry like an old fashioned internal combustion motor devoid of oil about to seize up. It was only a matter of time before his brain stopped working right, betraying him into a shadowy half-life of misremembered and mangled memories. It terrified him. After so many years of intellectual activity, of decades of artistic enterprise to have it all torn down by a slow motion descent into dementia seemed like a bad joke.

A terrible joke.

It wasn't funny.

It’s not right.” Andrew whispered into the silence of his apartment. He sat on the futon and looked blankly at the empty wall before him. It had been left devoid of ornamentation and free of shelving so that it would challenge him, act as a spur to his creativity. Now it mocked him in its barrenness. He grew angry with the wall’s impudence. How dare it ridicule him after all they’d been through together.

I do not accept this.” He yelled out loud, making a fist and shaking it menacingly at the blank wall before him.

A ridiculous display of impotent emotions.

He felt embarrassed, almost ashamed.

Then he got angrier still.

He stood up, glared at the wall and walked to his old fashioned kitchen nook. Brewing coffee and unraveling a piece of hydroponic fruit from his own greenhouse alcove. He looked at the cold piece of fruit. It was a hybridized peach-tangerine that his last wife had designed decades ago. He missed Eudyce. She had died in the protests. When such things still seemed to matter.

Andrew sat down at his counter and watched the brewing brown liquid in the coffee machine’s transparent carafe as it sloshed around. He bit into the tangy, sweet yet tart flesh of the hypertrophied pink-orange fruit and let his mind wander around like a bruised animal within his skull. Self-pity was a lousy hobby. He'd spent decades trying to replace it with better things. Now it was sitting on his heart like a gargoyle.

He was scared. Not for his flesh-and-blood life, nor even for his career or any of the usual things. He was afraid of losing himself. He did not want to go quietly into the good night.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and sipped it black and hot. It reminded him of the old days, back when he had been younger, angry and hungry, an ambitious man consumed with his passions and pursuing the Muse with the zeal of a flagellant-monk crying out for salvation. The taste of the hot, bitter brew awakened something deep within Andrew. Memories stirred. Anger wasn't the only thing that had occupied his waking days and sweaty, passionate nights. Nor was it the only thing that seeped and echoed up from the depths of his memories, buried under so many layers of contentment, comfort, complacency. He set down the coffee and stared at his half-eaten fruit. Then it came to him full force.

“I don’t have to accept this.” 

The words spilled from his lips.

For a moment he wondered if it truly had been him who had spoken.

Maybe the dementia was already playing cruel tricks upon him?

But no. He knew better.

He balled-up his fist and shook it at the walls around him.

He was getting angry. Truly angry. The diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's was not a death sentence. It wasn’t a verdict without appeal. Alzheimer’s could be fought, even beaten, if one was willing to pay the price.

Machines built at the molecular level could record his memories, preserve them, make them accessible even if his brain degenerated and eventually failed. Nanosystems had been developed that could take up residence in his central nervous system, maintaining his personality, modifying his behavior so as to mitigate the worst effects of the disease. There was talk out on the Nets that some folks had even been able to fully beat the scourge and upload themselves entirely into a cyberlogical prosthetic neural network. Where once such a thought had filled him with trepidation and a cold dread now it gave Andrew a sense of hope. For a man who had already replaced elbows, hips, knees, pancreas and various other parts of his anatomy the idea of supplementing his brain with cybernetic processes to assist his endangered memory, to stave off the degrading effects of Alzheimer's no longer sounded quite so bizarre or outrageous.

So what if his mind had to be propped-up by implants and resident nanoware? It was just another form of prosthetic, a different kind of technological replacement for failing and ailing biology.

Andrew closed his eyes and sent a query to the local Net requesting a search for all available information on options for the treatment of Alzheimer's. In a matter of seconds his internal diagnostics and analysis filters were hard at work sorting through all the data, advertising packets and infomercials. Testimonials, medical studies, research white papers and a host of other materials flooded past his subsidiary AI and integral software, each item sorted out according to his already established personal preferences and in direct response to his current mood. Significant patterns emerged from the onrush of chaotic inputs, shapes began to present themselves from out of the morass of live data and ever expanding information sets drifting down from the Nets like digital snowflakes in a blizzard of unmediated knowledge, hyper-prejudiced data and raw opinion.

Andrew let the information surge through his buffers. He relaxed and let it all play across his consciousness as the filtration routines sorted it all into some sort of sensible order for him. He had already accepted numerous forms of mental enhancements such as the data filtration subsystems that allowed him to work within the Nets that operated at bandwidths and processing velocities far in excess of anything an organic brain could hope to match. It wasn’t that far a leap from accepting the things he already took for granted to uploading his brain, his memories, his mind into a nanolitic or even an artilectic prosthetic.

Less than three minutes after beginning his search Andrew’s resident systems had downloaded everything deemed pertinent to his situation and sorted it all into appropriate sub-sets that were then arrayed before him in an integrative gestalt that soaked into his conscious awareness.

Fear drained away.

Anger receded back into memory.

Knowledge filled his mind and Andrew sought out some kind of understanding. He intended to make his decisions from a place of certainty, not doubt and definitely not out of ignorance. There had to be options. Choices. A way to beat this thing.

There were thousands. Millions. Even more if he wished to expand his personal parameters a bit.

He poured over the offers and enticements of thousands of clades, clans and other factions who offered one version or another of the core technology that he now knew beyond all doubt that he needed and would accept. His internalized subsystems carefully analyzed and compared the thousands of pitches, slogans, enticements, blandishments and inducements of the various recruitment presentations. Thousands of options boiled down to hundreds, simmered down to dozens, evaporated into three choices that fit all his personal criteria. Three options presented themselves from out of the babbling morass of choices pleading for his attention, asking for his consideration, begging for his acknowledgement.

Andrew ran the three pitches against each other looking for differences or some sort of contrast that would help him make a final decision.

The Meergazzi Hivist Clade offered him the unparalleled opportunity to join into a collective consciousness, a meta-group awareness that would integrate his individuality into a dynamically collaborative existence within one of the techist hive-states claiming entire worlds. The notion of contributing his personal sense of style and artistic vision to such a collective appealed to him, but the inevitable loss of old fashioned independence nagged at his vestigial sense of autonomy. It would be a radical departure from the sort of linear consciousness that he had grown up within, but perhaps it was time to experience such a radical shift, like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, or a mass of bees more appropriately.

A consortium of Orbital Clans offered Andrew the opportunity to join their ranks and earn his way into whichever clan he found to his personal preference over the course of his acclimatization and indoctrination process. They would outfit him with the nanoware he needed to maintain his identity, he would retain his rights and privileges as a citizen without interruption and would gain access to the various habitat-states where he could expect to live for multiple hundreds of years thanks to the cybrist technologies he could subscribe to as a clan-member. It was claimed by some that the cybrists could offer a form of technologically-enabled immortality, so long as one didn’t mind becoming more machine than human. Where that had once seemed vaguely distasteful to him, now it intrigued Andrew. He had lost his fear of embracing technology first in terms of supplementing his failing body, and now in the face of losing his mind and identity to a biological condition that he could escape. There were worse things than becoming a Cyborg.

But then there was the third option before him. The black trapezoid of the Necrosophic Enclaves blinked slowly, demurely before his inner-vision, an induced interactive hallucinatory daticon offering him access to the mysterious, ultra-selective faction known to only accept the terminally ill, the dead and the dying into their ranks. They offered a chance at preservation of consciousness, continuity of memory and identity in a variety of modalities suited to the individual. And more. Necrosophics believed in the transcendence of physical death as a right of passage into a form of adulthood. They looked down on the living as immature, neotonous forms of proto-humanity at the mercy of unbridled emotions and lacking the perspective that comes only from having died to the world and become something other than hormonally-enslaved organic accidents at the mercy of chance, heredity or environment.

Andrew mulled over the three options before him

He could join something much bigger than himself, perhaps risking the loss of his ego but gaining a strange, wondrous sort of shared continuity that might be as close to an enlightened socialist immortality as one could ever hope to accomplish.

Taking the second option opened up the possibility of joining a society dedicated to truly long term meta-projects scaled for millions of years, projects that their ever-updating technology offered the chance of his actually seeing come to fruition. The notion of helping to terraform entire solar systems according to his personal aesthetics or assembling cloudlike Dyson spheres and even more ambitious pursuits was tantalizing, slightly daunting but extremely tempting. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing God for a few centuries?

But then there was the third option. What lay beyond organic consciousness? Who would he become after passing the threshold of the gates of life and death guarded by the Necrosophics? That too pulled at his mind with the seductive allure of an altogether different kind of immortality, what they referred to as amortality. What would existence be like as an amalgamation of man, machine and hyperconscious AI that had transcended the limitations of fallible flesh and decrepit biology? To become so much more than he could even imagine from his limited, living perspective.

That was heady stuff indeed.

Three roads ran out from where he was now, off into wildly divergent futures.

Behind him lay a rich and varied life of artistic accomplishment and achievement that was now effectively coming to a close. The curtain was falling and the audience was clapping their final ovation. The show was over and would not go on in the same way ever again. 

Falling into the decaying behavior of dementia was not an option.

Not for Andrew.

Not for anyone who valued independence or who had fought in the Revolution as he had done during his forties.

He scanned the three choices laid out before him. Each one had distinct, obvious benefits that appealed to him in their own, unique ways. All three were definitely alluring, offering him some version of the things that sang to his imagination, piqued his interest, offered him adventures and excitement that would both incorporate and challenge his artistic vision to the fullest, offering him forms of expression beyond anything that he had ever experienced before. The options for personal transformation he contemplated were exhilarating and exceptional, intoxicating and overwhelming. But he had to decide on which one to pursue.

Or did he?

Andrew made another query of the Net and almost instantly had his theory confirmed as a possible option.

Instead of choosing one over the others he would elect to undertake all three choices simultaneously. If they could enhance his central nervous system, back-up his memory and capture his consciousness within their respective technological milieus, then why not let each of them copy, transfer or upload him into all three options at once?

Smiling to himself Andrew solicited the Public Access Representative for each of the three factions and enlisted a probationary client with the stated intent to advance towards citizen-shareholder status upon completion of integration protocols and assimilation training, but under the express contractual condition and legal contingency that he be accepted into all three at the same time.

It was a novel solution. The Reps collected his information and initiated the preliminary induction process while the Local Authorities sorted out the legalities and details of Andrew's tripartite enrollment.

Seconds later, as he bit into the remainder of his fruit and poured himself a fresh mug of coffee, Andrew received confirmation of his acceptance into all three factions. The Local Authority approved his decision and he was still considered of sound mind, so there was no way for anyone to contest his decision, beyond the conscientious objectors who always protested such things. He closed down his public access address and converted all his personal communications to a black box filtration routine to keep the crazies out. His public access inbox had already been spammed, slammed and attacked over 2,700 times as   all manner of earnest pleas, well-meaning petitions, and religious form-letters requesting him to reconsider his 'obviously ill-informed decision to endanger his immortal soul' flooded his inbox. He purged it without looking at any of it.

None of that mattered. It wasn't their choice, it wouldn't be their mind that paid the price of their heartfelt convictions. It was his mind, his brain that was going to fail. It was his choice.

And he'd made it.

He would not slip away into that dreaded miasma of nightmarish dissolution and dementia. Not at all.

Instead, he would potentially live forever, his life splitting into three new selves growing apart, developing, learning, becoming far, far more than he had so far managed to become on his own.

It was a fitting denouement to a lifetime of pursuing his Muse.

Within a few more seconds he had arranged his tripartite induction at a local clinic and the integral subsystems residing in his bones and blood set his affairs into order.

His Living Will would become enforceable within 24 hours of his Induction.

That would take care of the children and relatives, most of whom had been too caught-up in their own lives to visit him in over ten years. And that was fine. He had always raised them to become self-sufficient, to go out into the world and build good lives for themselves. He was proud of his children and his grand children.

He had led a good life.

Andrew considered the implications of his decision. How it would impact his family. How it might affect the few friends he still kept in touch with.

He scheduled the transition ceremony for three days out in order to give his friends and family a chance to say their goodbyes and to tender their regards. It would have to be enough. He didn't want to lose his newfound confidence.

For the first time in a decade Andrew was beginning to feel the nervous excitement brought on by making an irrevocable, life-changing decision that he had lost without realizing it.

It was good to be alive again. Really alive, and not just going through the motions.

It was going to be even better to get on with what awaited him just around the corner.

The future was bright and exciting, and he felt like a small child anxiously waiting to open his birth-day presents. It was going to be hard to wait three more days for his three new lives to begin in earnest.

To Be Continued over at the Hereticwerks blog...

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Wonderful way to transcend the dilemma of having to say "no" to everything else in order to say "yes" to what is most desired.

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