“You’re not real.” The child stood with one ear to his shoulder, his tawny eyes were as round as checkers. His knees were tilted inward, and he had one sticky hand halfway to his mouth and the other reaching out to touch.
She felt the impact softly, the way his soft skin pulled against her as the dried sucrose solution on his finger tips attempted to bind her hand through hydrophilic bonds.
“No, you’re not. Not really real,” he argued, frowning. He stamped his foot, bellicose at the idea of being corrected.
“Summer,” his mother called from far across the park.
His eyes drifted from her, not moving until his mother repeated the request.
“You’re not real,” he insisted, belligerently, and then he ran off.
“How old are you?” the youth asked.
“Many, many years,” she responded.
“That’s not an answer. I could say I’m many, many years old, but I think I’m significantly younger than you,” he said. His gangly arms were crossed against his chest, showing signs of the sullen, childish pugnacity of which he had yet to grow out. His eyes were the same though, still tawny and wide.
“How many years?” he demanded.
“Two hundred and forty seven,” she said.
“That’s old,” he said, jaw and arms dropping in a sharp display of emotion. “Really, really old. How can you stand it?”
“Stand it how?” she asked.
“I dunno. Doesn’t it get boring? You can’t move on really. Everything stays the same,” he argued.
“It doesn’t. The world revolves and rotates, and the people on it grow. What I see now is very different from what I saw in my childhood. Buildings have risen and fallen. Farms have been seeded and laid fallow. Oceans and rivers have carved away at mountains. And I would live to witness more,” she said.
“But you’re not alive. Not really. Not anymore. You’re dead,” he contradicted. His arms crossed again. He planted his feet wide and stared at her.
“Section 38.7, paragraph 42, line 3 of Ethical Law clearly say that I am alive. I walk, I breathe, I think,” she said.
“But you’re not alive. Not really. All the natties say so. You walk on mineral matrixes, you breathe through membranes, and you think through circuits. It’s not real. It’s not blood and flesh,” he argued. He shook his arm in front of her to show his own body.
“The native humans, self-styled ‘natties’ have claimed that biological transplants destroy the human, but there is no scientific evidence to the claim. My own genome was the basis for the improvements, my own brain used to program the improved neural circuits, but with the benefit of never shortening telomeres and resistance to disease. These scientific breakthroughs have allowed us to live much longer lives,” she said.
“But you’re not living. I don’t know when it was-- when some drained your blood and put that white stuff in your veins, when somewhat filled your body with biopolymers instead of bones, when someone took out your heart and put in a pump, or when they replaced your brain with that computer, but you died, whoever you were. Your soul died,” he said emphatically, he clutched his heart at the mention of a soul and emotion was displayed clearly on his face.
“There is no scientific evidence of a soul. It is but a myth perpetuated by ancient cultures to diffuse fear of death and elevate humans above other animals,” she replied.
“You’re wrong! Not everything can be seen through a microscope. There’s other things. Things you can’t see. Things you have to feel, but you can’t feel them because you’re dead and you don’t have a soul!” he stood gasping from the effort of his emotions. She said nothing.
“Did you hear me? You’re dead!” he yelled.
“Summer!” a boy of similar age called, beckoning the youth away. The youth turned to meet the boy, but looked at her one last time.
“You’re dead, when you spent all this effort trying to keep from dying. The sad thing is, you don’t even know it,” he sniffed. He ran away.
“You can’t love, can you?” the young man asked. His thin limbs had broadened, and some of his cantankerous will had settled.
“Every human is capable of love. It does not matter if they are native or upgraded,” she said. “For example, I love my family.”
“But not real love. You ‘love’ your family because way back when your true brain was being converted to circuits, that girl loved her family. You can’t understand it anymore,” he said.
“I understand love. Love is a mutual relationship between humans where each party believes that life is better when the other is present. The definition of love can be expanded to include groups of humans, animals, objects, and even oneself, although such love is typically classified as narcissism,” she said.
“That’s not real love. That’s more friendship. I mean, I’m sure glad air’s around, but I don’t think I love air. Let me ask you something, if your mother was in a burning building, but way up on the top floor, and there were a hundred people on the lower floors, would you run up past all the screaming people to save your mother or would you help the people on the lower floors as you could help many more of them in the time it took to save your mother?” he asked. His wide tawny eyes were framed by raised eyebrows and a thin nose.
“Fires would be extinguished by the fire retardant foams piped in each building. There are multiple fail safes, so the existence of a burning building in your question has such a low probability that it is inconceivable for such an event to occur in the next hundred billion years. There would be no need to attempt rescue as no one would be in danger,” she said.
“Okay, fine, no burning building. But the basic principle still stands. Would you save your mother or a hundred other people?” he asked, slightly irritated by her correction of his question. He folded his arms.
“The one hundred people. All of them have mothers and fathers. According to the moral principle of utilitarianism, the action giving the greatest good to the greatest number people is always the optimum choice,” she said.
“See, that’s not love. Love’s illogical. It doesn’t give a damn about everyone else. Love is so concerned about this one person, that it’s convinced the universe will collapse and the sun will cease to shine if anything should happen to them. Love’s what makes your heart ache the sweetest burn you’ll even know. It drives you wild. You just can’t stop thinking about it. You just want to touch them and feel their heart beat in yours,” he explained. He was smiling now, his lips stretched across slightly yellowed, crooked teeth.
“What you are speaking of is a biological reaction meant to continue a species by encouraging coupling and subsequent mating,” she said.
He laughed loudly until he was out of breath. She waited. “I don’t know. Maybe it is. But it still doesn’t change the fact I love her.”
“Why?” she asked. “She is not the superiormost specimen in intelligence, creativity, or even aesthetics. Or genetic compatibility. She is flawed, imperfect.”
“Maybe to you, but not to me. That’s love. When you love a person, it doesn’t matter how imperfect they were to begin with. They’re suddenly perfect in your arms. She’s perfect to me,” he said, grinning. He stared at the stars dreamily, as if he were lost among them.
“I could look like her. I could exactly replicate her personality. I could absorb her memories. You wouldn’t be able to observe the difference,” she said.
“But I’d feel it. I feel her soul in mine. I can just tell when she’s around because it’s suddenly as if the world has brightened, and it’s impossible to be anything but happy. Happy all the time. Besides, you’re dead, remember? You haven’t got a soul. You can’t love,” he said, not unkindly as he continued to gaze upward. When he noticed she was staring at him, he gave her a wink.
“Summer!” the young woman called across the grass.
The young man’s smile broadened. He lept eagerly across the grass like an antelope. They embraced as if they were two oppositely charged particles in the absence of a weak nuclear force.
“I still can’t believe it,” the man said, staring across the park as children ran and screamed across it. “I still can’t.”
“After the deaths of relative, coupled native humans are always entered in a lottery to determine who the privilege of breeding for the next generation descends to. As there are twenty-four fertile couples related to the man who died of heart failure, there was a one in twenty-four chance that you may get the privilege. The chance of twins is roughly 3%, although your mate has familial history elevating the probability to approximately 8%. Thus, such an event has an estimated probability of one out of three hundred, indicating it within human comprehension for such an event to occur,” she said.
“Numbers, numbers, numbers. Little scratchings on a page or vibrations in the wind are nothing compared to watching them, to holding them. Numbers are dead, like you, but children are alive. Can’t you see it?” he asked, gesturing to the little boy and girl tumbling in the grass.
She said nothing.
“Do you ever feel bad, not being able to have children?” he asked, putting a hand to his chin in contemplation.
“Improved humans are still capable of breeding, but the likelihood of an improved human dying is significantly depressed as opposed to native humans. The mortality rate of native humans is approximately 2,434 per a million capita. Improved humans are 0.04 per a million capita,” she said.
“It’s your DNA, sure, but, you don’t get to feel them in your belly, feel them kick. You don’t get to raise them. You don’t get to hear them call you ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’” he argued, his hand went to the twine around his wrist where a shiny rock had been tied. On it, a child had scrawled the word “Daddy.”
“Our progeny are treated to accelerated upbringing and education befitting their modified origin. They receive superior and more egalitarian treatment than what they would experience if being left to the donor of their chromosomes. It’s the most fair and free way.” she said.
“Free? I don’t think so. Not when there’s only one way to do it, not when they boggle your mind so you can’t feel all silly and stupid with emotions,” he said. The girl sped up and tackled her brother, shrieking in joy as the boy let out a defeated wail that morphed into a giggle as they two rolled in the grass.
“Wishing for stupidity is a sign of mental instability. Native emotions are ill-advised as logical contemplation always leads to the wiser choice. We fix such delinquencies,” she said.
“I wouldn’t call feeling a delinquency. Without it, what would make this moment special? What would let me smile when they smile? What could make it seem like nothing horrible could ever happen in this moment and give me this bliss? But after all this time I know better than to argue with you. So, 0.04 deaths per million? So there must be fifty thousand natties are born for every one those upgraded, labrat children?” he asked. He sat down on the grass, placing his elbows over his knees, never taking his eyes off the children.
“The children are born with minimal improvements, enough only to prevent congenital malformations and other diseases. We do not force them to upgrade if it is not their will. By Section 1.1, paragraph 3, line 14, each human can choose their fate,” she said.
“Ah, but you can’t really count that. They’re born and put into a training program where all they hear is how they need to improve and how science can make them better. It’s not really a choice when you brainwash them,” he argued. His tawny eyes narrowed suddenly as he spoke, when they had been so wide and happy before. However, the moment passed, and they widened again.
“We teach but science and facts. We keep our opinions to ourselves. Children take from it what they will, but yes, generally they choose to expand their minds and their longevity. The native humans do worse. They press qualitative and unscientific or even undeniably false ideals upon their children. They watch them die when doctors and scientists know how to save them. They perpetuate egregious lies against scientific improvement through their children by blatant ignorance,” she said.
“That almost sounds like emotion, dear old girl. Hatred isn’t logical, but you are expressing it, for me and my children,” he said coldly. His eyes flashed anger, and he leapt to his feet.
“All improved humans wish they could save the native children from death and the ignorance of their parents, but-” she started.
“There, ‘all improved humans.’ Do you think you thought up that all on your own? Then why do all of you dead think the same thing? You don’t have free will,” he accused. He spat, facing her in fury.
“Free will is a myth perpetuated by ancient societies so that blame can be applied to deviant members of society, and thus they can be morally punished. Every action is based on traceable external and internal origins, nature and nurture. Punishment must be distributed as befitting the goals of utilitarianism,” she said. “If your child was ill, would you allow him or her to be saved through improvement?”
“And turned into one of you? One of you dead things?” he asked. His voice was quiet as to not attract the attention of the two children playing in the grass, but his eyes held his fury, those tawny eyes.
“To live as one of us or to die as one of you,” she said.
“I’d never want them to be like you. Never. Never,” he said, tawny eyes aflame and hands curled into fists. They were now sticky with perspiration. She could remember when they were sticky with sugar. The world revolves and rotates, changes and grows, but some things stays the same. His eyes stayed tawny, but what was behind them changed.
“Brightly, River, come along,” he called, turning away from her forcefully.
“You knew!” he screamed. He was staggering underneath the weight of the emotion. “It’s all your fault. You knew this would happen!”
“Their genomes are uploaded to the system. You could have looked and seen,” she said. “You could have completed a compatibility scan between yours and hers, seen what recessive mutations were likely to arise. It was all there, but you did not want to see. Native humans have shunned the system when it could have prevented this tragedy.”
“But, you knew. You knew all those years ago, when I first met her. You saw it and said nothing,” he yelled. His voice was hoarse and his eyes were red as if he had been crying, or perhaps was crying still. It was difficult for her to distinguish between perspiration and tears.
“I mentioned you were not genetically compatible. You told me it was love. You told me they made you happy in that moment when you were all together, so you were happy, in your emotions, in your ignorance, because you would not see,” she said.
“You can’t feel this, can you? Like love? You can’t feel as if your soul is breaking apart since you don’t have one. You don’t understand this sadness, this emptiness, this darkness. You can’t feel it. You can’t feel anything when a child dies,” he spat. He fell to his knees as his hands reached for his graying hair, pulling out tufts and clumps.
“They are not dead yet. They can still be saved. It is quite curable, with appropriate medical intervention. They do not have to die,” she said.
“But they do. They have to die. They can have their souls wretched out by dead things in white coats, so that their bodies might go on just a little bit longer. Or, I can feel them go cold in my arms. I can listen as their hearts go still. I can watch them die. It will kill me either way,” he said quietly. Then, he screamed a sob.
“I am sorry that is your perception of reality,” she said.
“You would be, wouldn’t you? They’re dying, and you knew it since you heard about her, since you saw them and their genome. You know an awful lot, but you don’t know other things. They have stories, you know, about what happens to souls when bodies die, beautiful stories. Stories of clouds and pearls and music, and light. And happiness. But, all I can see when they cry out for me to save them is darkness and emptiness. All I can feel is cold, hard death. And pain like I’ve never experienced before. I want to believe, but I can’t. I just can’t. But I can’t take away their souls, their last hope. I can’t do it. I won’t.” He beat the ground with a fist until it became bloody.
She touched his shoulder, and he stopped to sit back on his heels. He attempted to dry his cheeks with his fist, but left a trail of crimson blood where tears once laid. He stared at her with wide tawny eyes. “You gave up this too, with all your emotions. This sadness. You can remember everything, I’m sure, but you can’t feel it. You can’t feel the holes that have been left behind. Not really. They say the dead in white coats freeze and splinter your soul when they upgrade you so you can never go to the place free souls go, but it’s just a story, isn’t it? All of it, just stories.”
The wind rustled his thinning hair, carved into spikes by his hands roving through it moments earlier. His tawny eyes found hers, and they stared intently at her, through her.
“I can see something behind your eyes, where you don’t want me to see. There’s something in there that feels. There’s something in there that tried to warn me that the happiness would not last. They all knew. Every one of you things, but you tried to warn me. You tried to tell me whenever you saw me when your entire programming was screaming at you to leave us natties to our follies.
“You’re wrong. Those things don’t feel anger. You said they all did when little natties died, but they don’t. I called one, just to see, with Brightly and River, and there was nothing there. No emotions at all. It felt nothing. But, you do. That’s your hole, isn’t it? You weren’t born one of them, but you became one, after someone died. You can still feel it there. You hoped it would be dulled away, but it can’t be, can it? It’ll always be this horrible.”
He slumped as if every bit of the fire that had consumed him flittered out, leaving him with nothing. She fell to her knees beside him.
“No matter what. No matter when. You’ll always feel it, if they die.” she said. “It’s why you have to save them. It’s why you have to make them live. Please, just listen to me. Listen to me for Skye,” she said. Her face felt strange and tight. She had the oddest urge to touch it as if to make sure it was really hers or something else had attached itself to her underlying synthetic bones.
“Skye, was that his name? How old was her?” he asked, in a murmur, still staring at the ground.
“Seven and seven eighths years,” she said. Numbers were calming. Numbers did not have emotions. Her face relaxed slightly.
“Older than River and Brightly, but too young. Far too young,” he murmured.
“I could have saved him, but they told me I shouldn’t. They told me not to. And he died. And, I can still see him. Always with dirt stains on his clothes. And I hear his voice when it is quiet. And I feel him too. Sticky fingers, fuzzy hair, and his breath against my cheek when he hugged me. His soul,” she was babbling, but she couldn’t stop. Things hidden stormed out of their hiding places, and she felt as if she might break.
“And the emptiness, you feel that too?” he asked.
She placed her hand to her chest, to check that her heart was still there. There was a regular thumping beneath her ribs, but it wasn’t her heart. They weren’t her ribs. There were something synthesized from polymers in a lab. Did it make them less? Did it make her less? “I can’t remember feeling full.”
“And, if you saved Skye, but he could never love you again. He could never love anything. If he could never laugh and giggle as children should. If he never blushed when you mentioned a girl he liked. If he had a pump for a heart and a computer for a brain and nothing left where a soul should be, would that be better?” he asked. “Would you want him to be like you?”
His eyes were red like the blood on his cheek. Native humans were always so ruddy, with simple hemoglobin sequestered in their erythrocytes. It pinked the children’s cheeks and reddened noses when they had colds. She almost forgot what it was like.
She examined her own hand, so pale in comparison, so steady when the man was heaving. Circuits were whirring, but it responded effortlessly to her touch. It was not red for erythrocytes had long since been replaced by superior genetically altered and synthetically synthesized chimeras. It provided her body with more oxygen and increased her aerobic capacity a hundred fold. Skye would have been able to run forever.
But he wouldn’t, because there was no logical reason to run forever.
She returned her hand to her side.
“The question is irrelevant and thus illogical. My son is dead,” she said tonelessly.
“Damn you!” the man swore. “Damn you! I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t make them like you. I can’t make them dead.” He used his fist slick with blood to attempt to remove the mucus hanging from his nose. It smeared against his face, with the blood, mingling with the perspiration and tears already present. So many bodily fluids all mixed together on one countenance.
He staggered to his feet and stared at her with eyes full of desperate sadness that released itself as fury. His tawny eyes were red. His hands were sticky with blood. He said nothing, but made several sounds in the back of this throat, as if language was incomplete to express what he was feeling. He was shaking.
“Summer?” The voice was weak. A silhouette of a thin woman bent by grief could be seen through the darkness to the opposite side of the field.
Summer looked at his wife, and turned away from her. He walked back.
It was not logical, she realized. Of course, logic and suicide made strange bedfellows.
She stood away from everyone else, or perhaps, more accurately, everyone stood away from her. They did not know her, but they could tell in a glance that she was not one of them. They were all dressed in black, but she owned no black clothing. She dressed in gray.
The granite headstone was in traditional style. The block of polished gray rock held his full name, his date of birth, his date of death. Numbers and letters carved into cold stone, determined to tell you nothing about the man that lay beneath but completely accurate. It was just another marker for but another corpse decaying in a field.
His friends and family dropped flowers onto the mound of earth piled above him. Bright colors, doomed to fade, in a sea of black. They celebrated death with death.
A man began to speak, speaking about souls as passionately as if he had proof of their existence. Perhaps more passionately. Perhaps that was the point. He projected his uncertainty outward by proclaiming that there was no possible room for doubt, roaring over any naysayers.
She found it hard to listen. His words were illogical.
Then, he stopped speaking, and the crowds began to fade away. Chatter resumed, speaking of everything and nothing in the same breath.
Soon, there was nothing at the grave besides her, and the woman.
“He loved you,” she said.
“I know,” the woman said softly, but her eyes spoke different words. They asked, “Then why did he leave me? Why did he abandon me? Why would he be so cruel?” The woman did not cry, but stood stiff-shouldered as the emotions raged inside of her.
“Summer may fade, but the sun still shines in equal magnitude,” she said.
“Is that supposed to be poetic?” the woman asked, wryly. “I didn’t think your type could be poetic.”
“Poetry is words with allusions, similes, metaphors, rhyme, and rhythm. It can be quite logical,” she said.
“But can you feel it? Can you tremble for the lost Lenore and for the raven saying ‘Nevermore?’ Can you stand in a yellow wood and take the one less traveled by? Can you know the truth in saying that I could love him no dearer, but love him more each day, just the same?” she asked. There was a certain desperate intensity in her eyes that wanted to see everything, but in doing so, saw nothing.
“I cannot listen to Poe’s bird. I cannot stand where Frost stood. I cannot love as Shakespeare wrote. But, I can see the veracity of their verses. I can trace their lives to what might have contributed to their immortal lines. I can deconstruct and examine their use of meter. I can analyze where the emotions originate,” she said. “It is not the same, perhaps, but it is something.”
“Mommy!” a child screamed. River ran forward expertly on sure legs as his sister followed. “Daisy said we don’t have souls anymore. Daddy said the operation was only to make us better, not to remove our souls.”
The mother said nothing, but grasped her children in a hug as tight as her arms would allow. The children examined the motion with questioning glances, neither taking any action to respond. When the mother released them, Brightly asked, “What is a soul anyway?”
The mother had no words. She clutched them tightly to her chest once more, as if afraid they would float away. “Why do you do that, Mommy?” River asked.
It was more than her mother could take. The woman started to cry.
The children examined the woman. “Why are you crying, Mommy?” River asked. The woman said nothing, shaking in her tears. The children, bemused, turned away, finding the pale woman beside their father’s grave. Brightly stepped up to her, placing her hands on her hips.
“Who are you?” she asked. “What’s your name?” She cocked her head to the side.
“Winter,” she said.
“Daddy talked about you. He said you were smart and knew facts. Do you know if we have souls?” River asked. He matched his sister’s posture, both staring with wide tawny eyes. Their knees were tilted inward.
The world revolves and rotates, changes and grows, but some things stays the same.
“There is no scientific evidence of a soul. It is but a myth perpetuated by ancient cultures to diffuse fear of death and elevate humans above other animals,” Winter said tonelessly.
“Oh. That’s logical,” the children said.